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Hiking the Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park

The Bluff Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park is a stunning, easy hike, perfect for anyone that enjoys beautiful views. So if you are planning to visit the Central California Coast, add this great hike to your itinerary!

Likely the easiest trail in the beautiful state park, the Bluff Trail is also one of the most popular Montana de Oro trails. On a nice day, you’ll see families, couples, and single visitors all enjoying the walk by the water.

If you are planning to hike the Bluff Trail during your visit to Montana de Oro State Park, here’s what to expect, plus a few things to know before you go!

What Can You Expect on the Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro?
Essential Facts About the Montana de Oro Bluff Trail
How to Get to the Trailhead for the Bluff Trail
How Long Does it Take to Hike the Bluff Trail?
What to Bring on the Montana de Oro Bluff Trail Hike
Tips for Hiking the Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro

What can you expect on the Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro?

Spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, the sound of waves crashing over the rocks on the shore, and ocean breezes ruffling your hair!

Seriously, this trail is soooo ridiculously scenic that you’ll be stopping every few feet to take yet another photo.

Scenery and Wildlife

The rocky cliffs along the rugged coastline are dramatic, with ridges, layers, and striations made for photos. The sandy brown of the rocks and cliffs contrasts beautifully with the deep blue of the water on a bright sunny day.

Rock formations Bluff Trail Montana de Oro Central California
A view of rock formations off the Bluff Trail

Views looking inland are just as gorgeous, with terraces of coastal scrub and grasses, with Valencia Peak and other hills in the background.

Looking inland from the Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park California
The beautiful view looking inland from the Bluff Trail

You’ll hear seabirds calling overhead, and see hawks flying high in the sky. Look for otters playing in the water, squirrels and rabbits in the brush, and wildflowers in season.

If you’re lucky, you may see California gray whales on their migratory path to or from Baja Mexico. They migrate south from Alaska in late fall and return northward in early spring. You may also see dolphins cavorting in the water, or sea lions or harbor seals.

In the spring and early summer, lots of wildflowers pop up in the park, including along the Bluff Trail. In fact, the park’s name, Mountain of Gold, comes from the yellow and gold wildflowers that grow here in profusion.

If you enjoy birding, look for land birds such as warblers, red-tailed hawks, and turkey vultures, and sea birds such as brown pelicans and oystercatchers. If you are lucky, you may even spot the threatened western snowy plover!

Seabird Bluff Trail Montana de Oro California
A seabird takes flight above the stunning rocks

Points of interest

While the entire trail is scenic, you’ll want to take special note of some extra special photo spots and fun places to stop and explore.

Right at the start, before you turn left onto the trail, you’ll see Morro Rock in the distance, rising up out of the water. This is a great photo spot!

View of Morro Rock from Bluff Trail Montana De Oro State Park
Morro Rock seen from the trail

And just after you start walking south along the trail, you can get a view of Spooner’s Cove Beach below you, if you look north.

About a half mile into the hike, you will come to Corallina Cove. You can take the side path down to the beach, and look for sea creatures in the many tide pools here. You may see orange and purple sea stars, mussels, sea urchins, anemone, and snails.

In a half mile from Corallina Cove, you will come to Quarry Cove, another fabulous tidepooling spot. And a little over a quarter mile from Quarry Cove is Grotto Rock, a stunning large rock with eroded openings at the bottom through which the water rushes.

All along the trail look for beautiful rock formations caused by erosion and tectonic action on multiple rock layers deposited here over time. They make for beautiful photos!

Rock formations in Montana de Oro State Park
A close look at one of the beautiful rock outcrops along the trail

Essential Facts about the Montana de Oro Bluff Trail

The Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro is a little over 2 miles each way, but you can walk as far as you want and then turn back. If you explore some of the side trails that lead off the Bluff Trail, you could be looking at a total length of 5 miles or so.

To return, you can either do the slightly shorter inland loop, or retrace your steps along the water for equally mesmerizing coastal views from the opposite side. On the inland loop, enjoy the beautiful coastal scrub and aromatic California sage.

Bridge on the Inner Loop of the Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park
Going back via the inland loop

The trail is a wide gravel path, fully ADA accessible. The elevation gain, over the length of the trail, is only 140 feet. In fact, if you only walk up to the point where the trail still hugs the water, the elevation gain is only about 100 feet.

Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro
The Bluff Trail is wide and ADA accessible

The Montana de Oro Bluff Trail is classified as easy, and suitable for all skill levels. Hikers and bikers are permitted on the trail. No dogs are allowed.

You can hike the Bluff Trail all year round. Enjoy wildflowers in the spring and summer, and wildlife and birds year round.

California Poppies along the Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro in spring
A couple of California poppies glow in the green foliage

Montana de Oro State Park does not have an entrance fee, so the Bluff Trail is free!

How to get to the trailhead for the Bluff Trail

Montana de Oro State Park is located on Pecho Valley Road, just a few miles south of Morro Bay and Los Osos along the Central California Coast. The park is also an easy 20-minute drive from San Luis Obispo, along Los Osos Valley Road and Pecho Valley Road.

There is plenty of parking at the park. From the parking lot on the right side of the road just past the Visitor Center, the trailhead for the north end of the Bluff Trail is just a few steps. Look for signs pointing to the Bluff Trail, across from the trailhead for Valencia Peak.

How long does it take to hike the Bluff Trail?

You could walk the Montana de Oro Bluff Trail in about 80-90 minutes, but with so much stunning scenery to admire, wildlife to spot, and tidepools to explore, we suggest allowing at least 3 hours.

Looking down into a cove at Montana de Oro State Park
Looking down into a beautiful cove along the way

We spent an entire afternoon along the Bluff Trail, enjoying the many activities along the way, and taking a zillion photos. There are benches where you can sit and admire the beauty of your surroundings, and picnic tables if you’ve brought food and drinks.

What to bring on the Montana de oro Bluff Trail hike

Water

You’ll want to stay hydrated, so carry plenty of drinking water. About one quart every two hours per person is recommended, but make sure you have enough for your needs, especially if you plan to linger.

Snacks or Picnic Fixings

If you plan to spend either the morning or the afternoon on the trail, you can find lots of great places to eat in Morro Bay or San Luis Obispo. But if you enjoy picnics, bring along a picnic hamper and enjoy a meal on the beach or at a picnic table along the trail!

We always carry protein bars and some fruit on hikes. There are benches along the Bluff Trail where you can sit and have a snack while you enjoy the views!

Digital camera with Zoom Lens

We never go out hiking or adventuring without our pocket camera with zoom lens. No heavy gear to carry, and it allows us to take pretty good photos of birds and wildlife.

Western Bluebird California
The Western bluebird is one of many land birds you may see along the trail!

We use the Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70 and love it. It has a 30X zoom and Leica lens, and it’s small enough to go into a pocket.

Binoculars

We also always bring our compact binoculars if we expect to see birds or wildlife. I love my Celestron Trailseeker compact binoculars: they are waterproof and perform wonderfully in the light of early morning or late evening.

Sun Hat

There is no shade along the Bluff Trail, so you will want to bring a sun hat for protection.

Sun Protective Clothing

We’ve started wearing sun protective shirts and pants or shorts on hikes and outings where we know we are going to be in the sun for much of the day.

Sunscreen

You’ll want to protect your skin when you hike. Waterproof sunscreen lotion would be perfect for this hike.

Comfy Walking Shoes

We wore our sneakers for this trail, but comfortable walking shoes or sandals would work as well.

Bug Spray

We use a natural insect repellent for most hiking trails, and it’s what we used on this trail. You can, of course, use regular bug spray as well.

Tips for hiking the Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro

Here are some tips that will hopefully make your visit to the Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro an enjoyable one!

Find Out and Follow safety guidelines issued by the park

Pick up a park brochure at the Visitor Center, or check the California State Parks website for hiking safety guidelines. It helps to know ahead of time if you are likely to encounter any potential problems on your walk, from poison oak to rattlesnakes!

Visit early or late in the day for more solitude

The Montana de Oro Bluff Trail is hugely popular because it is both scenic and easy. The trail tends to get busy during the day.

If you visit early or late, you will likely have a quieter walk. Plus you will have a better chance of seeing birds and wildlife at these times. You may also get beautiful skies at sunrise and sunset.

Trail at Montana de Oro State Park
A quiet section of the trail in the morning

We started out early and had the trail almost to ourselves on the way out, but by the time we made our way back, there were quite a few people making their way in.

You might also want to consider visiting on a weekday rather than on the weekend.

Allow more time than you think you’ll need

The Bluff Trail on its own is supremely scenic and will make you stop every few feet, guaranteed, to take in the views and snap photos.

Rock formations Bluff Trail Montana de Oro State Park
Allow plenty of time for photos!

But you’ll also see side trails you’ll want to explore, coves to wet your feet, and tidepools to explore. The local flora and fauna are fascinating as well.

So give yourself plenty of time to enjoy this beautiful section of the central coast!

Check the weather before you Visit

Although it’s true that you can hike the Montana de Oro Bluff Trail any time of year, you’ll want to pick a bright sunny day if your schedule allows. The water views are exponentially more gorgeous on a clear bright day.

Pacific Ocean from Montana de Oro State Park
The water views are amazing on a bright clear day!

But also know that there is no shade along the trail, so come prepared!

That said, I also love the California coast on mornings when there is some wispy fog to make everything magical. It generally burns off later in the morning, so you will generally get blue skies and sunshine as well.

Dress in Layers

You’ll encounter microclimates along the California coast. Plus, it can be cool and breezy on the cliffs above the water, even on a warm summer day.

Dress in layers, especially if you plan to visit early or late in the day. We always throw our windcheaters or light jackets in the car when we go on hikes or road trips, and they’ve come in handy more than once.

*****

Enjoy hiking scenic trails? Check out these other articles on California hiking trails to walk:
Bird Island Trail in Point Lobos State Park, Carmel
Hiking Hidden Valley Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park
Hike the Barker Dam Nature Trail in Joshua Tree
The Best Hiking Trails in Point Lobos State Park
Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park
Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in Cambria, California

Did you like this article? Pin it for later!

Hike the scenic Bluff Trail at the Montana de Oro State Park near San Luis Obispo. Beautiful views, photo ops, and wildlife!
Hike the super easy and super scenic Bluff Trail at the Montana de Oro State Park in Central California! Cool rock formations, tide pools, and sea birds!
Visiting the central California coast? Check out the super scenic Bluff Trail hike at the Montana de Oro State park for beautiful views, sea and land birds, and wildflowers in season!

Dhara

Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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