In late August, 2011, Peninsula Open Space Trust announced the opening of the Cowell-Purisima Trail south of Half Moon Bay, CA. This scenic trail begins off the existing Cowell Ranch Beach overlook, and extends 3 miles south along the blufftop. The southern trailhead is about a mile south of Purisima Creek and middle Verde Road, opposite Bob’s Produce Stand. The northern 2.1 miles of trail are closed on weekdays in the summer (June-September) so the farmers can spray the adjacent fields without endangering trail users; the southern 0.9 mile is open year-round. The trail is open to bicycles and hikers — no horses or dogs due to agricultural regulations. The entire trail from either end is about a 6-1/2 mile round trip.
This stretch of coastal terrace rolls gently along the seaward edge of the farm fields. Two substantial steel bridges carry the trail across deep gulches vegetated in coastal scrub and near its midpoint the trail switchbacks down to a shorter bridge across Purisima Creek.
The land has been farmed for well over a century; POST’s conservation easements have helped stave off development pressure from nearby Half Moon Bay and hopefully will ensure the farm operations are viable for generations to come. The main ranch complex — several houses, outbuildings, and a white barn — is just north of Pilarcitos Creek. In early Fall, the northern 3/5 of the terrace was planted in brussels sprouts and beans; the southern 2/5 was fallow pasture and a dormant pumpkin patch.
The chance to wander this landscape at a walking pace offers a whole new perspective. You can look down on these pristine little crescent beaches at several points along the new trail, and gaze back at the hills. Pelicans and gulls fly just off-shore at eye level, coasting on the wind rising over the blufftops. We also saw a number of little songbirds and at least a dozen bunnies. The trail is distant enough from Highway 1 that traffic is hardly heard. The southern viewpoint has a glorious view north all the way to Pillar Point.
On our August, weekend visit there were dozens of people fishing on Cowell Ranch Beach, with carts for their fishing gear parked near the head of the stairs, plus picnickers. Its popularity also means the northern trailhead tends to fill up (with overflow parking on the east shoulder of Hwy 1 if you’re careful). At first we saw few people along the trail, but I’m sure as it gets to be known that will change.
Here’s how the trail looks added to my Trails of the Coastside map. Feel free to copy for personal use. I’m doing a 2nd edition of the Coastside map in mid-2012 (If you have an old map and would like a page of stickers to add the new trails early, drop me an email at the Pease Press website). – bp