Great hiking, sleeping, and eating
Although Niki Lamb and Nancy Cole suggested this hike several times, I could never find the time to do it justice. I wanted two days in a row to see and photograph views at dusk and dawn, walk several trails, and enjoy a dinner at the Costanoa’s excellent Cascade restaurant. Between several confirmed events, I managed to squeeze in one late afternoon and one morning. It was just enough time to create a wonderful experience.
After touring Evergreen Cemetery and lunch in Santa Cruz with the Mountain 55-plus group, I drove up the coast past the Año Nuevo main entrance about two miles, then turned right on Rossi Road. If you value your car, don’t turn right on Whitehouse Creek Road, a very rough gravel road that takes you up to a trail in the Cascade Ranch unit of Año Nuevo. (See Cascade Ranch trail under hikes and explorations at www.mnn.net.)
It’s a short drive up to the resort on a paved road through a grove of giant eucalyptus trees. I stopped at the lodge reservation center and was lucky enough to rent a cabin for the night. There were lots of rooms and campsites available in February, but I would book ahead in warmer months.
It was late afternoon so I asked at the reservation clerk about hiking after dark. She didn’t recommend it because of the wildlife. (On my hike, I saw several dangerous-looking rabbits and the back end of a frightened bobcat.)
After stowing my stuff in the cabin, I walked down to the Whitehouse Creek Trailhead to the right of the Douglas Fir cabins, At the first fork, I made a left to cross the Whitehouse Creek Bridge. Small signs guided me, first to the left, then to the right junction toward Ohlone Ridge. The climb was gradual across grassy meadowland on a pathway distinguished by soft, green grass. It was easy on the feet, like walking on a carpet. It was also easy to follow the trail through browner prairie grass and tall white-feathered pampus grass. To make it even better, the ridge top offered a wooden bench and four comfortable chairs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Año Nuevo Island.
The loop brought me back to the Whitehouse Creek Bridge. The trail had good footing, except for a short section that was muddy, even after a month of no rain.
The three-mile loop was an easy hour-and-a-half walk, with lots of time for photography. Although I reached the end of the trail near dusk, I was not attacked by the dangerous rabbits. They did pose for pictures, but hopped away before close-ups. It was a beautiful walk.
After a hot shower at my little rustic cabin, I walked a hundred yards or so to the Cascade restaurant where I enjoyed a fabulous dinner. I loved everything on the menu, but chose an apple-marinated pork tenderloin with cranberry-roasted root vegetables and spiced port redux. Although there were many fancy desserts to choose from, I decided on a simple chocolate pudding that surprised me with pudding smoothness contrasting with almond rosemary crunch. If this is camping, I’m in for more overnights.
After an afternoon of hiking and an evening of good food, I hibernated like an old bear. The last thing I remember was the low continuous roar of the ocean.
Refreshed, I woke up at 6 a.m., quickly downed a snack bar, and headed for the nearby ocean. I walked over to Eucalyptus Camp, the last row of campsites, then down a wide trail to Highway 1. I crossed the highway to the Franklin Point trailhead of the Año Nuevo State Reserve. I followed a narrow path through the tall grasses, dunes, and marshland. The little hummocks and grasses often obscured the ocean views, adding a bit of mystery, but I could hear the crash of the big surf. Then I was out on the beach, enjoying the spectacular beauty and power of the untamed ocean.
I saw a big bull elephant seal. He was either sleeping or dead, but I split the difference and gave him lots of room.
I turned left to Franklin Point, where I followed cable guardrails to a deck view site. I was overwhelmed, laughing and crying like a wild man. It was a peak experience.
I followed the cable guardrails to the south and east to the North Whitehouse Creek Trail entrance, and then crossed the highway to Rossi Road. A few steps up the road, I saw a wide dirt road paralleling the resort entrance road. I liked this option better than a paved road. It took me up to the center of the resort.
I enjoyed every step of the three-mile Franklin Point/Atkinson Bluff loop, but you can shorten your trip to two miles by walking to Franklin Point and back.
While walking these trails for two days, I never saw another person. The beauty and solitude made this a perfect hike.
Here are some other options. If you want a more challenging trail, take the eight-mile Upper Vista Point hike. It rises over 1000 feet in the last 1.25 miles. If you want to explore tidepools, take the trail parallel to Rossi Road, then veer left through the eucalyptus grove to Whitehouse Creek Road. Cross Highway 1, and then follow the trail to stairs that take you to the beach and lots of tidepools.
If you have a car, truck, or jeep with lots of ground clearance, you can take Whitehouse Creek Road up to the trailhead in the Cascade Ranch Unit. The drive to the trailhead is rough, but the climb up to the view sites is even tougher. Your reward—some great views that extend from Año Nuevo Island all the way to the Pigeon Point lighthouse.
Other nearby attractions include Año Nuevo elephant seals, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, and Butano State Park. You can drive a little farther to see Big Basin, Waddell Creek, or the quaint town of Pescadero.
Thank you, Niki and Nancy. This was a great trip, even without a horse.
For more information about Costanoa, visit www.costanoa.com.