Just six miles southwest of Morro Bay and an hour's drive from Paso Robles in the County of San Luis Obispo is Montana De Oro State Park. On a clear day, a drive into Montana De Oro State Park reveals scenes of crystal blue waters crashing into tall bluffs, powdery beaches and a long stretch of sand dunes below. Further along to the left, rolling green hills and deep canyons provide the inspiration for the park's name, Spanish for "mountain of gold." Come springtime, the hills are filled with golden wildflowers. Besides the stunning views, Montana De Oro State Park has numerous trails, beaches and sand dunes for visitors to enjoy.
Upon entering the park on Pecho Valley Road from the center of Los Osos, stop off at the Visitor's Center, located in an early 20th-century ranch house that belonged to the Spooner family. Near the main house are old barns, sheds and even a 1910 milk house. Open every day during summer and during weekends the rest of the year, docents answer questions while park rangers lead nature walks on Bluff Trail.
Hiking, horse riding and camping
The park has numerous hiking trails. The most rewarding hike, and the hardest, is the Valencia Peak Trail. The moderately strenuous hike, about four miles round-trip and rising up 1350 feet, provides 360 degree views of the entire area. Famous Morro Rock in Morro Bay can be seen on a clear day. A word of caution: small shrubs of poison oak are found along the trail.
Along the way, hikers may spot a horse or two as the park has six horse camps. Located along Hazard Canyon Road, horseback riders can park their horse trailers and camp overnight at these camps.
Popular with families are the 40 campsites situated a short distance from the Visitor's Center. However, camping at Montana De Oro State Park is not for the faint of heart as winds can be strong and there are no showers or flushing toilets. Those who would rather not squat should stay at a nearby motel instead.
Across from the campground is Montana de Oro State Park's most popular beach, Spooner's Cove. Along the wide sandy beach, children build sand castles while their parents picnic and enjoy the sun. While swimming along the coast is generally not advised, snorkelers can be seen exploring the waters right off of Spooner's Cove when the waves are calm. The south side of the beach, near the bluff, is quieter than the rest of the beach.
Heading back north on Pecho Valley Road toward the park's exit (about half a mile past the Visitor's Center), there are two giant sand dunes open to the public. The trail leading to the sand dunes is not hard but is partially covered by spiky branches in some parts. On any given day, people with bikes and cardboard sheets fly down the dunes. The sand is so soft and clean that it's not a bad place to picnic considering the ocean views. While the sand dunes contained in the Morro Dunes Natural Preserve further up north are taller, they are not open to the public due to environmental protection.
With all that Montana De Oro State Park has to offer, the views, the recreational activities and the dunes, be sure to make a stop at the park even if for just a few hours.