The Beach and Tidepools
Visitors can access the sandy Pescadero beach from two of its three parking lots on Highway 1. (There is a charge for parking only in the north lot, which directly abuts the beach.) To reach the beach from the center lot, descend to the walkway along the highway on the stairs at the south end of the lot and walk south, over the Pescadero Creek Bridge, to steps leading to the beach.
Walking north on the beach, you may see some snowy plovers feeding along the surf line or nestled in footprints in the sand. In the summer of 2012 a pair of plovers nested on the beach for the first time in over 30 years--a major success for this small bird, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. During the nesting period a portion of the beach may be cabled off from foot traffic to protect the plovers and provide them room to nest again. Watch the plovers from a distance and do not disturb them--this is their home.
If you turn south on the beach at low tide in the summer, when a sandbar closes the mouth of Pescadero Creek, you can easily reach tide pools in the rocks below the central parking lot bluff. There you will usually see harbor seals and sea birds in the water and on the rooks.
There are also tide pools to explore below the southernmost beach parking lot (also free) just across the highway from Pescadero Creek Road. The large rock off shore (Pescadero Rock)--now blanketed with greenery and patches of yellow goldfields--often serves as a roost for seabirds and egrets.
Picnic tables below the parking lot provide a comfortable place to eat lunch and enjoy the flowers, birds, and breaking surf. Don’t miss the spectacular wildflowers clinging to the rocky soil around the tables, including goldfields and the odd looking blossoms of sour clover.
There are many ways to explore the marsh, on the east side of the highway. One of the best is to join one of the free guided walks led by state park volunteer docents twice a month—at 10 AM on the first Sunday of the month and at 1 PM on the third Sunday of the month. The walks begin by the stairs in the central parking lot and may follow either of two trails through the marsh depending on the interests of the participants.
Sequoia Audubon Trail
The Sequoia Audubon Trail was named for the local chapter of the Audubon Society, which donated generously for the protection and maintenance of the marsh as a unique and important bird sanctuary. The trail follows Pescadero Creek into the marsh, along the way giving you a chance to observe unique marsh plants and many wildflowers.
Across the marsh you will be able to see the rookery (colonial nesting site) in an old eucalyptus tree where herons, egrets, and cormorants are now nesting.
North Pond Trail
Guided walks also sometimes take the North Pond Trail, which is reached by crossing a footbridge built and installed with donations from several local organizations, including CSPA.
The trail winds up along a hill above the north end of the marsh--around North Pond--ending across the highway from the north parking lot. Along the trail you will have spectacular views of the marsh and may see many wildflowers and birds.
State park volunteers monitor the rookery and report on the nesting birds to the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.
Another eucalyptus tree along the trail is a favorite of young visitors. Its broad twisted branches invite them to linger and climb. Press your ear against its branches and you will hear sweet sounds that have given it the name “the singing tree".
Further down the trail you may get a chance to spot a western pond turtle sunning on a branch above the creek.
The trail ends at an overlook on a hill from where you can get a view back over the marsh to the ocean.
There are other trails you can explore on your own that will take you deeper into the marsh. To help you find your way, download a map from the CSPA website or pick up a brochure with a map from a docent or one of the CSPA stores.
For a massive display of wildflowers most of the year and a chance to see marsh water birds, take the Butano trail. The trailhead is off Pescadero Creek Road, just east of the junction with the highway. Park on the side of the road and follow the dirt road, which changes into a narrow trail as you descend into the marsh. A small footbridge leads to a levee you can follow through the marsh.
The levee trail along trail along Butano Creek is almost blocked with wildflowers by late summer.
Round Hill Trail
Very few people know about Round Hill Trail, which follows Pescadero Creek as it enters the marsh. The riparian woodland along the creek and ponds along the trail are favorite spots for birders.
You reach the trailhead by following Water Lane, which turns north off of Pescadero Creek Road 1.6 miles east of Highway 1. The lane ends at some old state park buildings. Park in front of the sign for day use parking, under the willow trees. You will see the trail leading off just beyond there. You may see barn swallows flying into the old white building—but steer clear of entering it.
As you start up the trail, watch for white-tailed kites, which sometimes nest in the pines behind the buildings and can often be seen flying over the marsh.
At the top of the hill a short distance up the trail, you will see two ponds on your left filled with cattails and tules. You are almost sure to see red-wing blackbirds there and, if you are very lucky, a secretive Virginia rail or green heron might make an appearance.
As you walk further down the trail, watch the willow thickets for warblers, kinglets, nuthatches, and other small birds.
The trail crosses a flower-filled meadow, then curves west at the foot of Round Hill, ending where the water and marsh plants begin at the back of the marsh.
To Top off Your Day
After exploring Pescadero State Beach and Marsh, you might want to take a side trip to the nearby town of Pescadero, just 2 miles east of the highway on Pescadero Creek Road at Stage Road. The town encompasses only a few blocks, but includes much to delight a visitor--restaurants featuring local produce, working farms that welcome visitors, and antique stores and art galleries showcasing local artists and craftspeople. You will see why Pescadero was recently said by Coastal Living magazine to be one of the 10 happiest seaside towns in America.