[Editor's Note: Watch for this column each Thursday on Patch by local hiking enthusiast Tom Davids. Below is this week's suggested hike to Hazelnut Loop Trail in San Pedro Valley County Park.]
The Hazelnut Loop Trail
San Pedro Valley County Park
By Tom Davids
Directions: Take Highway 1 to Pacifica to Linda Mar Boulevard. Turn east and go to the end. Follow the sign to park entrance.
Grade: Moderate. Elevation gain of 800 feet.
Distance: 4.3-mile loop.
Time: Three hours.
Map: Go to San Mateo County Parks and search for San Pedro Valley County Park
Special Conditions: No dogs allowed. Open 8 a.m. to dusk. Vehicle fee. Nice visitor center and picnic area. Operated by San Mateo County.
San Pedro Valley County Park includes 1,295 acres, two freshwater creeks, steep ravines, abundant wildlife, and views that go forever.
It started with the Indians, but Gaspar de Portola put it on the map. Captain de Portola was searching for Monterey Bay in 1769, when he landed at what is now Linda Mar Beach. He made camp in San Pedro Valley and climbed to the ridge (Sweeney Ridge), where he discovered not Monterey Bay but San Francisco Bay. Disappointed but not defeated, the captain recorded the moment and went on his way. Soon after, the valley became an important link in the Spanish mission system, serving as the bread basket for Mission Dolores in San Francisco. With good soil and able Indian workers, the valley provided grain, fruits, vegetables, and cattle to sustain mission operations.
The recent history of San Pedro Valley includes cattle grazing on the hillsides and commercial farming in the meadows. Pumpkins and artichokes were two productive crops, but the valley was best known for the trout farm operated by John Gay on the south fork of San Pedro Creek. Interesting photos in the visitor center show the trout farm days, which came to an abrupt end in 1962 when the winter storms washed out the entire operation. The county brochure notes that the south fork is now a water source for the city of Pacifica, supplying 10 percent of its drinking water.
The Hazelnut Trail is a 4.2-mile loop trail that climbs 800 feet toward Sweeney Ridge and Montara Mountain to the east and south. You can access the trail from Weiler Ranch Road, adjacent to the Walnut Grove Group Picnic Area or from the Plaskon Nature Trail behind the visitor center. This description is for the Weiler Road option.
From the entrance station, turn left to the parking lot for the large Walnut Grove Group Picnic Area. Cross the bridge, and walk past the picnic area and horseshoe pits to the multi-use Weiler Ranch Road Trail. Turn right and walk about a mile along the valley floor, crossing a bridge over a creek. Several benches are located along the trail with good views of the valley, Montara Mountain and the surrounding hills. As you near the end of Weiler Ranch Road, watch for a junction with Hazelnut Trail on your right beside another bench.
From this point, the climb starts. Some 800 feet elevation gain later, you will have hiked through 19 switchbacks with continually expanding views of Sweeney Ridge to the east and Linda Mar and the ocean to the west. At the high point, the trail levels out and gradually descends along a ridgeline between the middle and south forks of San Pedro Creek along a ridgeline and through a strand of old eucalyptus trees. From there are another 20 or so switchbacks as you return to the visitor center. Along the way, you pass through an area of hazelnuts, the shrubs that give this trail its name.
At the end, the trail passes through a lovely group of old oaks and joins the Plaskon Nature Trail at the south fork of San Pedro Creek. This creek and also the middle fork provide two of the few remaining spawning areas for migratory steelhead trout in the county. The spawning typically occurs from December to February.
By the Way….Check out the park Visitors Center. Nice displays, lots of history boards and worth-while trinkets for the kids.