The Cowell-Purisima Trail lies just south of Half Moon Bay. It is a part of the California Coastal Trail which will one day span the entire length of the state. It is, by far, one of our staff’s most cherished trails. The views of the Pacific, pastoral setting and gentle grade make this arguably one of the most enjoyable trail experiences on the California coast.
Keep your eyes open for harbor seals, pelicans, hawks and wildflowers along the way.
Distance: 3.6 miles one way (if you arrange a ride back to the start)
Elevation change: Flat
Hiking time: 2 hours
Trail surface: Gravel, fully exposed
Best season: Year round
Managing agency: San Mateo County Parks
Parking lot location: Click here for directions
This trail is approximately 3.6 miles from one end to the other, winding along the bluffs with views of the ocean. There is parking available at both the northern and southern trailheads. Both trailheads have ample parking and the difficulty of the trail from either end is the same. Cowell Ranch Beach is only accessible via this trail. It’s worth the effort to hike the short spur trail down to the sand and its remoteness keeps this beach clear of large crowds even in the summer months.
For those in wheelchairs, note that most of this trail is wheelchair accessible with the exception of some steep terrain in the middle where the trail crosses Purisima Creek. It’s a short section of trail, but the grade there is steep and not recommended for wheelchairs. We recommend that those in wheelchairs pick an end of the trail (north or south) and make an out and back trip to this point, unless assistance is available to safely make it up and down this grade. Note that the southern trailhead has a wheelchair accessible bathroom and a space for a full-sized van.
The Cowell Ranch, once owned by the Cowell Family, was put on the market in 1985 to raise funds for the Cowell Family Foundation. Developers were eager to acquire it, but POST stepped up and protected this land in 1988. Since that time, POST has partnered with the California State Coastal Conservancy, landowners, farmers and others to build this trail. Today, the trail and spectacular beaches are part of the California State Parks system for all to enjoy.