Trail to the Coast
Map of Harmony Headlands State Park
The sole entry point to Harmony Headlands State Park is on the west side of CA 1, 12 miles north of Morro Bay (8 miles south of Cambria), at a small trailhead with space for only about a dozen vehicles, though more parking is available on the far side of the highway. Two tracks lead towards the hills, one to a working ranch that adjoins the park to the south, and the other to the coast, now used as a trail. This passes a gate, crosses the overgrown streambed of Ellysly Creek
and runs along the floor of a shallow, grassy valley, mostly level apart from a gentle descent at the far end. The hills at either side are unremarkable; smooth-sided, lacking any exposed rocks or patches of woodland, bearing such flowers as California poppies and lupine in spring. A rather excessive number of notices have been placed at closely spaced intervals, warning people not to leave the path 'in order to protect the environment and ensure visitor safety'. Features en route include a restroom after 0.4 miles, beside an old wooden bunk house, a seasonal pond after 0.7 miles and a fainter side track on the right after 1.4 miles, not for visitor use. The main path enters a short, narrower valley that contains a tiny creek, then opens out to grassy terraces above the ocean. In the valley, a large, statuesque dead tree makes a good photographic subject; framed by the hillsides, with the Pacific beyond. The track continues northwest another third of a mile to the north edge of the state park, marked by a fence and more warning notices. This section of the shoreline is paralleled by a lesser path right along the cliff edge above the band of intricately eroded sandstone, which is colored black in the intertidal zone, grey around the high water mark and orange higher up.
There are several places were climbing down to water level is possible, descending either to small sandy beaches, pebble banks or semi-submerged rocks with pools, all usually pounded by fierce waves. The lesser path ends in the south at the edge of the creek, but walking further is easy for a little way, along a much fainter trail, then more difficult because eroded ravines start to cut deeper into the hillside, which becomes steeper, so following the shoreline requires climbing quite high up, descending if desired to specific locations. Otherwise, all of the coast in the state park is similar, though the tafoni formations seem to be a bit more extensive further south. Seals are often in view, on rocks a little way out to sea, and the tide pools are home to other typical sea life including anemones and sea stars. The shoreline hereabouts certainly has a distinct feeling of isolation; a rare section of the central California coast without any nearby roads.