A Lonely Highway

May 2019 Hiking Photo & Video


The tale

A few decades ago, one stretch of Highway 1 near San Francisco earned a reputation for vehicle accidents, even before it officially opened. Erosion was eating an upthrust of sandstone and shale, causing landslides and other problems.

Vertical sandstone layers
Sandstone laid down in layers were shifted over millions of years, sometimes to extreme degrees.
Massive erosion barriers
Massive barriers and metal nets protected sections of the trail from landslides.
Slanted layers of shale beside the highway
Roadside geology.

This part of the highway was closed in the 1950s, and a tunnel allowed the highway to burrow through the hills. Today the old road is a wide, paved, well-kept trail for pedestrians and bicyclists.

I arrived early at the north parking one hazy Saturday morning. That was a good move. The lot only has 12 parking spots, and was full a few hours later. But when I arrived before 9am, the lot was almost empty. The road itself is paved, well-kept, and easy to walk. My trekking poles stayed home.

Highway 1 is famous for its coastal views, and this mile-and-a-half trail didn’t disappoint.

Parking area overlook
The southern parking lot (look closely, it’s there) has a grand view of the ocean.
Beaches under a hazy sky
Rocks and beaches continue south of the trail.
Telescope and view of the ocean
Telescopes stood at rest stops with benches. Views cost 50¢.
Wildflowers with an ocean view
May wildflowers were more common in the south.
World War 2 bunker and ocean
The WWII-era bunker isn’t part of the trail, officially, but is an easy walk away.
Bunker and graffiti
Heavily tagged, today the bunker looks as eroded as the cliff on which it’s perched.

When I left, the weather was still hazy and around 55°F. The sun was blazing on other side of the hills, easily fifteen degrees warmer. The two-hour walk along Highway 1 was worth the 45-minute drive along Highway 280.

For next time

  • Arrive early. Parking is scarce.
  • I didn’t need water, but having some isn’t a bad idea.
  • I didn’t need my trekking poles.
  • Driving in, the north parking lot is only accessible from the north. If you approach from the south, then the southern lot is your only real option.
  • Although it climbs a few hundred feet over its 1.5 miles, this trail is an easy stroll.
  • Minutes away by car, Pacifica has many dining options — but gets crowded on weekends when half of San Francisco decides to go surfing.