(an unofficial information page for)
McNee Ranch State Park
General Information: McNee Ranch is open daily 8 a.m. to sunset. No admission charge. For more information, contact the State Park area office in Half Moon Bay at (650)726-8819.
(From the book "Montara Mountain" by Barbara VanderWerf, Gum Tree Lane Books)
"McNee Ranch State Park, on the southern flank of Montara Mountain, offers hikers, bicycle riders and horseback riders magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and the San Mateo County coast. From the park you can reach North Peak, the highest point on Montara Mountain (elevation 1,898 feet). If you make it to the top - and there is no fog - the view of the Bay Area, spread below your feet, will take your breath away. Where else can you scan from the Campanile at U.C. Berkeley to Hoover Tower at Stanford University, from Mount Diablo to Mount Tamalpais, from the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay, and from Point Reyes to Pescadero Point?
"Within the boundaries of McNee Ranch State Park, you can trace all the human crossings of Montara Mountain, from a Native American Costano trail to the Ocean Shore Railroad to present-day Highway One. You can explore WWII bunkers and contemplate other WWII military installations from afar. You can imagine an old mushroom farm in Green Valley and an old dairy ranch on Martini Creek.
"All trails lead through Montara Mountain Coastal Scrub and Coastal Chaparral communities. Here you can observe plant associations found nowhere else on earth.
"McNee Ranch State Park shares a boundary with San Pedro Valley County Park. A good day hike (4.3 miles one way) begins on the north flank of Montara Mountain in San Pedro Valley County Park and ends on the south flank at Montara State Beach."
(Excerpted from the Park Brochure:)
"Welcome to McNee Ranch. This 625-acre park is a unit of the California State Park System. Visitors to the park are treated to sweeping vistas of the Pacific Coast, San Francisco Bay, and the rugged coastal hills. McNee Ranch is located on the west face of Montara Mountain, north of Half Moon Bay and south of Pacifica. Two beaches are within walking distance of McNee Ranch - - Montara State Beach and Gray Whale Cove.
"McNee Ranch is a diverse area of grasslands and coastal scrub. The native plants are drought tolerant and help the mountain resist the natural forces of erosion. McNee Ranch is home to three native plant communities: the Coastal Scrub community, found at lower elevations, includes Coyote Bush, Coast Sagebrush, Seaside Daisy, and Coast Buckwheat; the Coastal Chaparral community, found at higher elevations, includes Ceanothus, Yerba Santa, Manzanita, Golden Chinquapin, and Coffee Berry; and the Marine Chaparral environment (the only location on the San Mateo Coast), consists of Manzanita, Salal, and Lupinus.
"Birds and animals are abundant at McNee Ranch. If observant, you will notice tracks of Coyotes, Fox, Bobcats, Deer, Raccoons, Squirrels, Brush Rabbits, and other small mammals. Mountain Lions live in the area, but are rarely sighted. McNee Ranch is home to California Quail, Ravens, Flickers, Hummingbirds, Wrentits, and other species. During the fall, you will notice a remarkable increase in the number of hawks as they migrate south along the Pacific flyway.
All plants and animals are protected. Take only pictures - and leave only footprints.
Trails and Recreational Uses
"Hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, and dogs on leash are allowed at McNee Ranch on roads and trails unless otherwise posted. Use courtesy on the trail, travel at a safe speed, and announce yourself when approaching others."
McNee Ranch has three main trails:
Gray Whale Cove Trail: 1 mile, between Gray Whale Cove lot and Martini Creek gate. Moderate, level with mild inclines on each end. An easy and spectacular wildflower walk in the spring months.
Toni Corelli's Plant check List for Gray Whale Cove Trail
Old San Pedro Mountain Road: 3.2 miles from the ranger's residence at Martini Creek to the northern park boundary beyond the Saddle Pass above Pacifica. Moderate to rigorous, sea-level to 930 ft elevation - a good tour of the park's many habitats. Road continues on down into Pacifica to become the city's Higgins Road. Intersects with North Peak Access Road just before Green Valley.
North Peak Access Road: 3.9 miles, rigourous, sea-level to 2,000 ft elevation. Intersects with Old San Pedro Mountain Road, and Montara Mountain Trail from San Pedro Valley County Park.
No water or public phone is available at McNee Ranch or Montara State Beach. The nearest phone is at the Chart House Restaurant, .5 miles south on Highway 1. Chemical toilets are available near the Ranger Residence. Picnic tables and benches are available along the trails.
Poison Oak grows in abundance at McNee Ranch. Stay on fire roads and trails to avoid it. This year's El Nino conditions have produced many small mud slides and slippages. Stay on marked trails and obey posted signs for closed trails. Sections of McNee Ranch and Montara Mountain are very remote - do not follow "renegade" trails or wander off the marked trails - unless someone knows where you've gone and when, it may take days or even weeks for a rescue or search team to find you.
The image above shows the Overlook ridge in McNee Ranch State Park. Highway One is in the foreground; Gray Whale Cove Trail can be seen winding above the Highway. Montara State Beach is to the right, Gray Whale Cove State Beach to the left. The Martini Creek watershed is on the right, Green Valley on the left. The ridge road at the top center continues on to the peak. Photo courtesy of Bill and Barbara VanderWerf,
Elevation and Weather
Most of McNee Ranch is steep, with trail elevation gains to 1,800 feet. The Gray Whale Cove Trail, which follows Highway 1, is a level grade with a gentle climb from Gray Whale Cove or the Martini Creek parking lots.
The weather can change quickly on the coast. Dress in layers, as the fog may move on or off-shore at any time and drastically alter the temperature. Sunny and warm conditions at sea level can turn wet and cold by the time you gain a little elevation.
Dogs and other pets are welcome at McNee Ranch, but must be on leash. Guide and helper animals are allowed in all areas. Horses are allowed on designated trails.
Free parking is available at Gray Whale Cove State Beach on the inland side of Highway One, and also at Montara State Beach on the ocean side of Highway One, .2 miles south and across the highway from the Martini Creek entrance. Parking for only a few cars is available at the Martini Creek entrance on the inland side of the highway; Do not block the access road.
McNee Ranch is approximately 24 miles south of San Francisco on State Highway One. From the peninsula and points south, take Highway 92 west to Half Moon Bay, then Highway One north for 8 miles.
There are two entrances to McNee Ranch: Gray Whale Cove at the north and Martini Creek at the south. Both entrances give access to the main trails through the park.
The Gray Whale Cove Parking lot is approximately 3 miles south of the Linda Mar Avenue stoplight (the last one in Pacifica) on the inland side of the highway. The Martini Creek entrance is about 1 mile further south, on the left or about 8 miles north of the town of Half Moon Bay.
By Public Transit: The Samtrans 1C and 1L lines runs past the park, but do not stop there. You can get off at 2nd and Main in Montara and walk back to the park, about one-third of a mile. Or, if you have a nice driver, you can try asking them to stop at the Montara State Beach parking lot. Samtrans info: 1-800-660-4BUS.
McNee Ranch has two of the most popular and well attended volunteer programs in the Bay Area District. The McNee Ranch Trail Volunteers meet the last Saturday of each month to work on a variety of projects throughout the park. 9 AM - Noon, meet at the Ranger's residence at Martini Creek. Contact the local office for more information at (650) 726-8819.
The Montara Mountain Habitat Restoration Project usually meets the third Sunday of each month to work on restoring the native plant habitat at the old quarry site up the road from the ranger's residence. 10:30 AM - 1 PM, with impromptu hikes afterwards. Call (650)728-8239 for more info or email.