History of Montaña de Oro
The human history of Montaña de Oro State Park begins with the Chumash people who lived here long before the first European explorers arrived. It’s been estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 Chumash people lived across California’s Central Coast between Morro Bay and Malibu. In 1542, Spanish explorers noted how open and welcoming the Chumash people were when they greeted them from their canoes.
The Mission Period began when Don Gaspar de Portola came to claim this stretch of coastline for Spain. Sadly, with the introduction of European viruses, most of the Chumash people died. Those who survived fled their villages, and the Chumash way of life all but disappeared. Remnants of Chumash culture like middens (ancient refuse heaps) can still be found throughout Montaña de Oro State Park.
After Mexico ceded Alta California to the U.S. in 1848, ownership of Montaña de Oro changed several times, as did its borders. Part of Montaña de Oro, called Rancho Cañada de los Osos, combined with Rancho Pecho y Islay to the south to comprise 32,431 acres.
Key Facts About Montaña de Oro
In 1892, Alden B. Spooner established a section of that property as Pecho Ranch & Stock Co., with a dairy, ranch and row crops. He built a home, sheds, stables, a creamery, barns and even a water mill for power. Spooner and his sons made use of a nearby cove by building a warehouse, chute, and a boom to load steamers below. To the north, Alexander S. Hazard established agricultural crops as well as a dairy. He also planted a forest of eucalyptus trees, hoping to sell timber across the state. Sadly, eucalyptus trees produce wood unfit for commercial uses. (The mistake was a common one across the Central Coast, as evidenced by the thousands of eucalyptus trees across the Central Coast.)
Hazard Canyon saw several natural events in the 1940s, including a flood and a wildfire that burned down Hazard’s diary. The property transferred from a rancher named Oliver C. Field to Irene McAllister in the 1950s. (McAllister is the one to first call the land Montaña de Oro ― “mountains of gold” ― for the poppies and wildflowers that grow there.) The property went into bankruptcy in the 1960s, during which California Governor Pat Brown launched a park acquisition program. The state stepped in to purchase Montaña de Oro and it became a state park on April 24, 1965. Today, Rancho Montaña de Oro is some of the most untouched publicly-owned land in the state.
Virtually hike the trails on Google here.
Hiking in Montaña De Oro State Park
This 3.4-mile out-and-back trail skirts rugged coastline, bluffs, and tide pools. Look for the trailhead near the Montaña de Oro visitor center and Spooner Ranch House. The trail begins with a wooden bridge, followed by ocean vistas. After a half mile, stop at Corallina Cove or continue hiking for more primitive trail to Quarry Cove.
Valencia Peak Trail
At 4.5 miles round trip and 1,275 feet in elevation, this hike offers a 360-degree view in return for hard work! The peak itself is 1,347 feet and one of Montaña de Oro State Park’s tallest. The hike begins at the parking area just beyond Spooner’s Cove, across from the Bluff Trail trailhead. Take the single-track Valencia Peak Trail inland through wild sage, a series of switchbacks and some steep terrain. At the top, sit at the picnic table and enjoy views of Morro Rock, Cerro Cabrillo and Point Buchon. The trail requires no fee or permit, but bring sunscreen as the hike offers little to no shade. No dogs.
Hazard Peak Trail
This essential Central Coast hike offers clear views of Morro Bay and beyond from its 1,076-foot peak. Round-trip, the hike spans 6 miles and climbs an elevation of 950 feet. Unlike the Valencia Peak Trail, Hazard Peak Trail ascends steadily, rather than steeply. Stay to the right throughout and pass by sagebrush, eucalyptus groves and expanding views of the ocean. At the top, find benches and a picnic table for taking in the 360-degree view. The trail doesn’t require a fee or permit, but remember that dogs aren’t allowed on the trail. To reach the trail, just after entering the park find the trailhead on the left, before Spooner’s Cove. Park on either side of the road.
Islay Creek Trail
At 6 miles round trip, the Islay Creek Trail offers a gentle canyon hike with access to a small waterfall. Elevation gain clocks in at just 300 feet. Start the trail at the mouth of a stream at Spooner’s Cove. Take the dirt trail inland from Spooner’s Cove, past the Islay Creek Campground. Look for great views of both Valencia Peak and Hazard Peak. Find a waterfall after just 1.4 miles in Islay Creek. At 3 miles into the trail, turn at the abandoned barn for a 6-mile-total hike. Fees and permits are not required. No dogs.
Oats Peak Trail
At 1,373 feet tall, Oats Peak lies further inland from Valencia Peak, but offers better views of the Irish Hills to the east. A gradual trail with plenty of switchbacks ascends 1,325 feet over 10.8 miles, round trip. Along the way, wide open views abound. To begin, find the trailhead behind the Spooner Ranch House along the road to Islay Creek Campground. A sign for the Reservoir Flats Trail and Oats Peak Trail stands beside a dirt trail. Any time a junction mentions the “Old Oaks Peat Trail,” stick with the New Oats Peak Trail, as it is complete and more gradual. (Most trail intersections are marked well along the way.) Along the ascent, find patches of shade, a trickling stream, and expansive views of the ocean. Note: the last 0.15 mile section of the trail is the steepest, but it’s worth the effort! Find picturesque views of Morro Rock and the San Simeon coastline beyond at the summit.
Reservoir Flats Trail
This two-mile loop takes in a 200-foot elevation gain and offers a variety of views. Find the trailhead between the Spooner Ranch House and the Islay Creek Campground entrance, marked by a sign. After 0.3 miles, bear left at the junction of Reservoir Flats Trail and Oats Peak Trail. Walk through the empty reservoir which once served the Spooner home below. Enjoy a forested walk through a canyon of cottonwood trees and oaks. At the edge of the Islay Creek Campground, walk through the campground to return to the trailhead to finish.
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Mountain Biking in Montaña de Oro
Picturesque views and well-maintained trails make Montaña de Oro State Park a mountain biker’s paradise. Depending on the trail, a full suspension bike is best (but not necessarily essential) for most. Note that hikers and bikers share trails; please use a bell for the safety of everyone on the trail.
Distance: 2.3 miles, point to point
Elevation: +142 feet / -77 feet
Avg / Max Grade: 2% / 6%
Hazard Peak Trail
Distance: 4.1 miles point to point
Elevation: +915 feet / -308 feet
Avg / Max Grade: 6% / 12%
Islay Creek Trail
Distance: 3 miles, point to point
Elevation: +68 feet / -352 feet
Avg / Max Grade: 3% / 7%
Oats Peak Trail
Distance: 11.3, out and back
Elevation: +1,433 feet / -1,438 feet
Avg / Max Grade: 5% / 36%
Reservoir Flats Trail
Distance: 2 mile loop
Elevation: +132 feet / -187 feet
Max Grade: 4.4%
Free Hiking and MTB Maps
The Highway 1 Discovery Route Stewardship Travel Program partners with local organizations to offer free hiking and mountain biking maps. Visitors and local residents are invited to download free maps for trails across Highway 1.
Volunteer Trail Work Days
As part of the Stewardship Travel Program, volunteers are welcome year-round to help build, restore and maintain hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. All work day events and classes are organized by the Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers group, a non-profit organization since 1987. They require no experience to jump in and help!
The annual volunteer trail workday in Montaña de Oro State Park is the first Sunday in February. Opportunities for volunteering on trail restoration include at least one trail work session per month. Two major workdays are offered each year and are called TRAILWERKS: all-day events with free meals, tee shirts, and raffle prizes for participants.
The Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers group encourages everyone who enjoys California trail systems to volunteer for workdays as well as practice important trail etiquette that helps prevent trail erosion, reduces user conflicts, and ensures trail access. More detailed information, trail guidelines, and volunteer locations can be found at their website. And if you can’t join a trail work day, consider donating toward the purchase of trail building tools for volunteers.
Montaña de Oro Tide Beaches
Beaches at Montaña de Oro State Park include quaint, protected coves, long stretches of sand, remote shores and ideal surfing conditions.
Spooner’s Cove Beach
At the point where Islay Creek drains into the ocean, Spooner’s Cove Beach offers a comfortable place to wade, explore tidepools, and picnic. Interesting rock formations invite climbers to play, particularly at low tide. The beach lies just across the street from the Islay Creek Campground, and allows dogs (on leash). As a central point in Montaña de Oro State Park, many trails begin nearby. Amenities include restrooms, picnic tables, and free parking. Find Spooner’s Cove Beach to the right, just before the campground.
This long beach begs for long walks on soft sand, and the dunes beg for jumping! The sand spit that gives the beach its name continues north, almost all the way to Morro Bay. Amenities at Sandspit Beach include restrooms, free parking and picnic tables. To find the beach, make a right into the Sandspit day-use area, and look for parking at the end of the road. Then make the short walk on a trail to the beach. Enjoy views or Morro Rock and watch surfers ride the waves. Note: Sandspit Beach is an advanced surfing area. Sharks have been known to swim in these waters; surf at your own risk.
Hazard Canyon Reef
A dramatic, rocky section of coastline, Hazard Canyon Reef is one of the best tide-pooling locations in the state. Visit at low tide to see creatures like sea anemones, urchins, sea stars, and crabs in abundance. (Check tide information for best times to tidepool.) Other activities include walking 1.5 miles to Sandspit Beach to the north, and perhaps even several miles further into Morro Bay State Park. Find sand dunes near the parking lot to jump, roll and play on. Explore the reef by following the trail north from the parking lot to a deep drop to the water. Amenities include free parking and equestrian use. Surfing is also popular here, though this is an advanced surfing area; do so at your own risk. To find this beach, enter the park, pass the eucalyptus grove and look for the Hazard Canyon Parking sign.
Coon Creek Beach
The most remote and untouched of Montaña de Oro’s beaches, Coon Creek sits at the southern end of the park. To reach the beach, drive to the end of Pecho Valley Road (the park’s main thoroughfare) park, and follow the Point Buchon Trail to the beach, only open Thursday through Monday. Enjoy tidepools and caves, but remember there are no facilities for visitors to Coon Creek Beach.
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Montaña de Oro Camping Overview
Camping in Montaña de Oro allows visitors from across the globe to experience California in its natural state. With nearby hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, surfing, and fishing, these campsites can be reserved at ReserveCalifornia.com.
Islay Creek Campground
This secluded campground with coastal views offers 50 campsites during summer and 25 during winter. With some shade from pine and Monterey cypress trees, each site can accommodate up to 8 people. The campground also offers six primitive sites for backpackers and equestrian sites for those with horses. Trailers, vans, RVs up to 27 feet, pets and campfires are all allowed. Amenities include fire pits, primitive toilets, electrical hookups, potable water and picnic tables. Reservations are essential during summer months, and first-come, first-served during winter. Islay Creek Campground is open year-round. Find the campground entrance just across from Spooner’s Cove, along a half-mile-long loop.
Hazard Canyon Equine Camp
This campground offers 40 sites for either tents or RVs and 4-5 horses each. (Note: electrical hook-ups are not available here.) Two group sites (Madrone and Oak) accommodate up to 50 people and 16-18 horses. Amenities include stalls, pit toilets, fire rings and water for horses. Guests are asked to muck-out their stalls, bring potable water, and keep dogs off equestrian trails. Campers must have a horse to camp at Hazard Canyon Equine Camp. Find the entrance to the horse camp to the left almost immediately after entering the park.
For more options for camping in Montaña de Oro, try hiking into one of its four environmental, primitive sites. These sites can accommodate up to 8 people, but note that they do not allow dogs or campfires. Fees for environmental campsites are $25 per site, per night, plus $10 per vehicle. Environmental campsites can be reserved at the Islay Creek Campground. Find the Bloody Nose Camp and Hazard Grove Camp just north of the Islay Creek Campground. Badger Flat Camp and Deer Flat Camp can be found to the south of the Islay Creek Campground.
Spooner Ranch House
No visit to Montaña de Oro State Park is complete without a visit to the old Spooner Ranch House. Built in 1892, this historic building houses a museum, gift shop and general store for the park. Learn about the Central Coast’s rich agricultural, cultural and natural history with a self-guided tour of the house, which has been lovingly restored by volunteers. Find the Spooner Ranch House just before the Islay Creek Campground, across from Spooner’s Cove.