Thursday, October 8, 2015

A hiking loop in the Rancho Corral de Tierra foothills: French Trail and Clipper Ridge Trail

Clipper Ridge Trail's steep downhill path through chaparral with Princeton and the Pillar Point Peninsula at the bottom
About one mile north of Pillar Point Harbor, several trails crisscross the foothills at the southern end of Rancho Corral de Tierra. A few trails lead uphill, traversing steep slopes and long ridges. They are flanked by tangled shrubs and, in many places, by nonnative pampas grass. The views are spectacular: Montara Mountain further north, Princeton-by-the-Sea just “down the hill” and Half Moon Bay in the south. French Trail and Clipper Ridge Trail are rough dirt-road tracks through the Rancho area between Denniston Creek and Deer Creek. They make the upper Rancho terrain accessible.  

Invasive elegance of pampas grass
For a clockwise loop hike, follow the northwest-bound trail beginning at the end of Coral Reef Avenue. Pass its junction with Flat Top Trail and continue on the uphill trail you are seeing ahead of you. There are some trail markers, but until now I haven't found trail names posted at junctions or intersections. Fortunately, this is open space with an open view, supporting orientational place recognition and trail spotting.

Upper Clipper Ridge Trail
After climbing French Trail for about half a mile, you'll find a sign on your left, saying that there is no access to the “agricultural protection area.” Keep climbing. After about another mile, the French Trail meets the Clipper Ridge Trail. Before turning right and returning downhill, you may want to continue uphill for another mile to reach the level section of Clipper Ridge Trail with trees, shade and magnificent vistas. Further east, Clipper Ridge Trail bends into Deer Creek Trail, which goes downhill into Quarry Park and El Granada neighborhoods.

From the French Trail/Clipper Ridge Trail junction, you passed earlier, Clipper Ridge Trail starts its steep downhill course—shown in the top picture. After about one mile of descend, you will arrive at the junction with Flat Top Trail and Almeira Trail. Hike right on Flat Top Trail and at the next junction turn left and take the trail that takes you straight through a stand of eucalyptus trees to the starting point at Coral Reef Avenue.  

Getting there
Rancho Corral de Tierra is located about ten miles south of San Francisco, California. From Highway 1 (Cabrillo Hwy), about half a mile northwest from the traffic-light intersection between Princeton and El Granada, turn right on Coral Reef Avenue. Follow this road uphill to its end, which is a tsunami evacuation site with a few parking spots.

From Cabrillo Hwy to Rancho trailheads: Coral Reef Avenue
Trailheads and tsunami evacuation site at the upper end of Coral Reef Avenue

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