Three for One
Pedro Point, Milagra, Devil’s Slide
Neil Wiley

It’s a long drive up to Pacifica, but here are three parks worth a trip. You could walk through all three in a day, or pick the one that suits your fancy. Just remember these parks often have heavy fog and limited parking, so before you go, check Pacifica forecasts and avoid weekend crowds.

Pedro Point is my new favorite. It offers dramatic ocean views, jungle-like eucalyptus forests, and walks around the rim of a huge grass-covered canyon. Milagra has a more urban, neighborhood feeling. The ocean views are wider but less dramatic, and the trails are shorter and less challenging. Devil’s Slide sounds threatening, but the park discloses lovely ocean views from a tourist-friendly paved road above the sea.

Pedro Point Headlands

The first time I visited Pedro Point, I hiked the narrow and rough Arroyo Trail through a forest of giant eucalyptus trees, tall bushes, colorful poison oak, and wild grasses. I felt like an explorer as I scrambled through a tunnel of coyote bush, California sage, ceanothus, sticky monkeyflower, lizard tail, and coffeeberry. It was wild, unkempt, and primeval.

As I neared the top of the ridge, the eighty-degree jungle warmth was replaced by fifty-degree cold winds and heavy fog. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me, but strangely enough, I liked it. The nearby bushes took on mystical shapes, and when the wind stopped, it was profoundly quiet. As the fog thickened, I retreated back to my car, but I promised myself I would return on a clearer day.

I did return, but it was to a totally different experience. This time, I chose the South Ridge Trail. Instead of entering heavy forest, I looked up at a groomed green hill worthy of a country club.

The trail was wider than a single-track, and smoother than a baby’s bottom. Rather than conventional switchbacks, the trail formed a graceful curving path with margins defined by matted young green grass.
To the south, I could see the sculptured portals of the Devil’s Slide tunnels through the trees. To the north, the view extended across the 255-acre canyon, where I saw workers planting grass on grades so steep that they looked like busy ants on a wall. But the most spectacular views were west to the ocean and the beautiful jagged peaks of the San Pedro Rock emerging from the sea.

The South Ridge Trail connects near the ocean with the Arroyo Trail to form a 2.4-mile loop. Before finishing the loop, you might want to take the Bluff Trail to the Judy Johnson Overlook and the Pedro Summit. On a clear day, you may see Cliff House, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Farallon Islands.
To reach the Pedro Point Headlands, drive north on Highway 1 to Pacifica and park at the Devil’s Slide parking lot, just north of the tunnel. The park entrance is well hidden and probably temporary, but walk back to the highway and along a walkway to the green gate or up through a ditch. You should see a construction yard and the trailhead signage.

I’ll be back to Pedro Point. Perhaps you will visit this semi-secret place, too. All are welcome, if they can find it.

Milagra Ridge

This relatively small 275-acre open-space park located off Sharp Park Road on College Drive in Pacifica is a mild, not wild place to see the ocean, Sharp Park State Beach, and Pacifica Pier. It’s a little island of nature surrounded by residential development where you can smell ocean air, see flowers, enjoy solitude, or walk your dog. On my walk, I saw only two visitors. One told me that he often saw a family of coyotes. Another said that he had seen 22 whales on one walk. You may see threatened and endangered butterflies and red-legged frogs.

A short climb on the Milagra Summit Trail takes you along the southern border of the park, past several outlooks where you may see Montara Mountain on one side and Mt. Tamalpais on the other, a Nike missile launch area, and a World War II gun-battery building. Most trails are less than a mile long, but you can continue down through the Lower Milagra Ridge on the Coastal Trail to Highway 1.

You also could drive from the Milagra trailhead past Sharp Park Road to Skyline College, then walk about six miles on Sneath Lane Trail and Sweeney Ridge to see more Nike sites, a mountain finder etched in rock, and a monument dedicated to the Portola expedition’s first sighting of San Francisco Bay.

To reach the Milagra Ridge open space, take Highway 280/35 north, turn west (left) on Sharp Park Road to College Drive. Or take the scenic route on north Highway 1, and turn east (right) on Sharp Park Road to College Drive.

Devil’s Slide Park

I call this a walk on the slide side. When Caltrans was blocked from building a six-lane freeway over Montara Mountain, they built a pair of parallel 4,200 feet tunnels. The 1.3-mile coastal road that was left is still available for emergencies, but San Mateo County invested $2 million to create a beautiful paved trail, with two lanes for bikes, and one dedicated to walkers. The park includes paved parking lots, bathrooms, drinking fountains, bike racks, interpretive signs (created by mountain residents Gay Kraeger and Holly Reed), and bench seating with telescopes to enjoy the unobstructed views, all perched 900 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

It’s not a hiker’s trail, but it is easily accessible and a nice walk. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the trip.