Central Coast Day Hikes for the Imperfect Hiker

As seen in the SLO Journal Plus, August 2105

Washburn Camp View
Washburn Camp View

Through a prehistoric campground, a historic ranch, and near an alleged tar seep, I have three favorite day hikes from San Simeon to Morro Bay. These three hikes accommodate my imperfect and aging body.

I’ll explain. After a series of physical mishaps I decided to walk away from the couch and hike some local trails instead. It’s a near weekly event now. But finding a trail that is kind to my age and physical condition, yet just challenging enough to make me feel like I did something good for myself is my new mission. I also favor trails that don’t make me feel like a salmon swimming upstream. In other words, less people to meet and greet.

My three most favorite local day hikes—hikes that average between three to five miles—are the San Simeon Trail that begins at the Washburn Day Use area at Hearst San Simeon State Park, the Santa Rosa Creek Trail in Cambria, and the Black Hill Trail thru Morro Bay State Park.

San Simeon Trail
Hearst San Simeon State Park


Park in the Washburn Day Use parking lot. The trail begins on a boardwalk and the San Simeon Creek Trail. The San Simeon Trail is a right hand turn just before Washburn Campground Road. The 3.3 loop trail passes through the 13.7 acre Pa-nu Cultural Preserve, a significant prehistoric archeological site. Archaeological finds include mortars, pestles, hammerstones, core tools and six intact rock ovens. You will have to use your imagination of prehistoric people living in this bit of paradise, as there are no signs.

The scenic trail also wanders through several different environments and lends beautiful vistas.
At loop’s end, I recommend having a lunch ready in your vehicle, and take a quick walk to the beach for a picnic. You can also barbecue at the Day Use area.

Santa Rosa Creek Trail

Swallowtail on the trail
Swallowtail on the trail

Just west of Highway 1 and Moonstone Beach Drive on Windsor, is ample parking for this fun trail that you can make as long and as difficult as you choose. Look for the waste water treatment plant. That is the north end of this trail. The first 1.5 miles of this trek is filled with singing birds, flitting butterflies and (when not in drought) a bubbling Santa Rosa Creek. It ends at Highway 1. If you’re feeling spry, dash across Highway 1 and the trail continues through the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve—a historical ranch with Chumash, Spanish and Anglo history. The scenery is pastoral and inspiring. As you near a pumping station, you can bear left, cross a bridge over Santa Rosa Creek, and end up on Cambria’s Main Street. Your lunch options are endless.

You have an option of skipping this bend in the trail and follow it to its end at Rodeo Grounds Road which takes you to Burton Drive. Three options await you. 1) Take those steep stairs on your right and get some fabulous views of Cambria; 2) Walk down Burton Drive, make a right hand turn at Center Street, and rest at Greenspace’s historical Creekside Reserve where a Chinese Temple stands; or 3) Take a delightful turnaround walk back to your vehicle.

Black Hill Trail
Morro Bay State Park

Morro Rock from Black Hill
Morro Rock from Black Hill

Black Hill is a volcanic plug, one of the Nine Sisters, and boasts talks of a north side tar seep. Now this a bit more challenging than the first two trails. There will be up and downhill climbs. But if I can do it, I’d bet you can too. One of the reasons I like less populated trails is I can stop, catch my breath (and sometimes my dignity), and no one speeds pass me like I’m some ancient tree hanging on to life.

I want distance, so I park the car at the State Park Marina. I cross into the State Park campground, and begin walking east toward the hill. The trail is marked at the eastern end of the group campground. (Midway through the campground, I had to ask a park employee where the trail began—he was friendly and helpful.) Basically, the golf course is your guide. The trail shadows the south end of the golf course, meanders up a service road, then through eucalyptus, oak, pines, to a water tank, and then straight up to the payoff—the most glorious view of Morro Bay possible.

Because I managed the up and down I celebrated with a late lunch at the cafe at the Marina.

There are many trails that await you and I. These three laid a pathway through my heart.

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