The Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail is a 3.6 mile gently graded path along the coastal bluffs between Cowell Ranch State Beach at the north end of the trail and the Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail parking lot to the south. Cowell Ranch State Beach parking lot is about three miles south of Half Moon Bay. There is no fee for parking, but the small lot is often full on the weekends. Some visitors choose to park along the highway. If you do so, make sure you leave room for bicycles to safely pass. There are restrooms at both ends of the trail. The Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail begins at the west end of the half mile long gravel road that connects the parking lot with the coastal overlook. 

The compacted granite trail is mostly level and relatively smooth except where it dips down into the Purisima Creek canyon at the crossing of Purisima Creek. That section may not be accessible to people with disabilities. Three sturdy metal bridges cross creeks along the route. 


The only beach access is at the north end of the trail in Cowell Ranch State Beach. The beaches along the trail to the south are used by Pacific harbor seals to haul out on the rocks to rest, give birth, care for young, and shed their fur in the annual molt and, as such, are off-limits to visitors. In March and April, you may see seal pups with their mothers. Look for pelicans, black oystercatchers, double-crested cormorants, and red-tail hawks along the route. Bobcats and coyotes are also native to the area. Binoculars are recommended! 

The Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail is a project of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) and the State Coastal Conservancy. It is managed by the San Mateo County Parks Department. In 1988 POST acquired the development rights to the 1,726-acre Cowell family ranch so that it could continue to be used for agriculture and wildlife habitat. Brussels sprouts, artichokes, pumpkins, and peas continue to be grown on this property. A fence separates the coastal trail from agricultural land. Please respect the farms and stay on the trail.

The Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., though the gate at north end is sometimes closed on weekdays. Horses, dogs, motor vehicles, smoking and camping are prohibited and keep an eye out for poison oak where the trail crosses Purisima Creek. 

This is truly one of the most scenic trails in our Coastside State Park system. Enjoy your visit!

Article written by Tom Taber​, Coastside State Parks Association Board Secretary