SLO County Hike of the Week: Harmony Headlands

Hiking Harmony Headlands State Park

Follow the trail from Highway 1 to the Pacific Ocean at Harmony Headlands State Park.
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Follow the trail from Highway 1 to the Pacific Ocean at Harmony Headlands State Park.

The trail: Headlands Trail, Harmony Headlands State Park. From San Luis Obispo, take Highway 1 about 5 miles north of Cayucos. When you see the Linn’s of Cambria billboard in the distance, you’re almost to the trailhead. Resist following your sweet tooth to Cambria, and turn left into the trailhead parking lot across from the billboard.

Distance: 4.5-mile lollipop loop; it’s about 1.5 to 2 miles from parking lot to Pacific Ocean view.

Difficulty: Easy and fairly flat. You’ll see 7-year-olds, 70-year-olds and moms with BOB strollers.

Tips: If it’s whale-migration season, you may see a few spouts out at sea (or, if you are lucky, a whale breaching), so bring binoculars to get a closer look at the show. It’s always a good idea to bring along water on any hike, and because the beginning of the Headlands Trail is sometimes much sunnier and warmer than the often windy and foggy conditions right along the coastline, dress in layers. Last but not least, as a sign at the trail’s entrance warns, beware of ticks.

Dogs: Leave your four-legged best friends at home. (Note, also not allowed: bicycles.)

Parking: The parking lot just off Highway 1 can accommodate about 10 vehicles.

Facilities: There is a portable toilet near the beginning of the hike next to a historic ranch house. Need to take a rest? There are a couple of benches along the way.

Description: This easy hike has a big payoff: panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that when you take your first steps west. The trail in the 784-acre coastal park starts in a grassland valley that was once a cattle ranch and a dairy. Follow the relatively wide trail through several habitats between ridges. In addition to the grasslands, you’ll encounter a corridor of thistle, rocky outcrops, a manmade pond and coastal scrub. Along the way, songbirds will serenade you, and you’ll likely spot some lizards and maybe even a brush rabbit. As you near the ocean, the cool breeze will kick in. The ocean will stay mostly hidden until you round a corner marked by a single tree. And then there it is: arguably one of the best views along San Luis Obispo County’s coast. Marvel at the beauty of the terrace dropping off into the ocean, where there are otters at play — or, even whales. If you follow the trail to its end, you hit a lollipop loop and can walk at the continent’s edge (there isn’t a route down to the water). The full hike doesn’t take more than two hours to complete, unless, of course, you take a seat and become mesmerized by the waves.