Pillar Point and Mavericks Cliffs Trail
When the weather is stormy and the surf is high, bundle up and head to Pillar Point Bluff in Moss Beach. The easy 2-mile trail along the bluffs is also called Mavericks Cliffs Trail because of the great views of the famous Mavericks surf break.
Even if waves at Mavericks aren’t setting records, this hike has stunning views of the Half Moon Bay harbor, the agricultural valley against the coastal mountains, and the Pillar Point Air Force Tracking Station.
You’ll want to bring some binoculars because the bird watching and whale watching is excellent from the top of the bluff. There’s a large variety of sea birds to be seen, and hawks and raptors hunt on the bluffs and marshlands. If it isn’t whale migration season you can still look for seals. The protected waters and beach of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve can be seen from the bluff and at low tide seals gather on the rocks below.
This is a family-friendly hike, but keep children close to you when walking near the edge of the bluff.
Getting to Pillar Point
There are several starting points for this hike. This route begins at the trailhead near the Half Moon Bay airport. Use Google Maps to map to Pillar Point Bluff Parking Lot.
From Highway 1 head West on Cypress Avenue. After 0.3 mile turn left onto Airport Street and continue for 0.9 mile to the Jean Lauer Trail Staging Area and Pillar Point Bluff Parking Lot.
The parking lot opens daily at 8am and closes at sunset.
Know Before You Go
Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails, but they are not allowed on the beach.
The park is open from 8am to sunset.
You can download a map with all of the trails in the park from San Mateo Parks website.
There’s a pit toilet at the trailhead, but no water.
You can download my GPS tracks for the Pillar Point hike from CalTopo.
Detailed Trail Report for Pillar Point Bluff Loop
Pick-up the trail next to the sign board. Shortly after crossing over the wooden boardwalk the trail splits. Stay straight (the trail to the right) to follow the Pillar Point Bluff Trail. Continue to follow signs for the Pillar Point Bluff Trail. When you reach the junction with the Jean Lauer Trail make a right and head towards the water.
At the next junction stay straight to take the Frenchman’s Reef Trail to a signed viewing area. Take in the views to the south from the viewing area before turning around and re-tracing your steps back to the last junction. Make a right at signed junction #3 to follow the Frenchman’s Reef Trail. When you reach the junction with trail marker #6 stay straight to continue on the Jean Lauer Trail. Near this marker is a nice bench and a viewing area.
At trail marker #8 make a slight right to continue walking along the edge of the bluffs on the Ross’ Cove Trail. Continue to stay straight on the Ross’ Cove Trail. At marker #16 make a left to head back to the Marsh Parking Lot. (If you want to extend your hike about a half-mile longer, stay straight at marker #16 and continue to follow the trail until it meets with West Point Ave. Then, follow signs to turn back toward the Marsh Parking Area.) After .2 mile make a right at marker #12 and follow the sign towards the main parking lot.
Mavericks Surf Competition
Waves rolling into the Mavericks surf break routinely reach over 25 feet high, and winter storms routinely bring in 60 foot waves. Mavericks surf competition began in 1999. Every winter organizers would invite 24 of the world’s greatest big wave surfers to ride the waves.
As more people learned about the contest its popularity grew outside of the surfing community. Each year people would flock to the cliffs to see the big wave greats take on some of the largest waves on the west coast.
Unfortunately in 2019 the World Surf League announced that the Mavericks surf competition was cancelled indefinitely. Even though there isn’t an organized contest you can occassionally still see surfers being towed out by jet skis to surf the big wave.
There are multiple trail heads that connect to this loop. This trailhead is located on Airport Street, across from the Half Moon Bay Airport. The trailhead has parking for about a dozen cars and a bathroom with a pit toilet.
Shortly after crossing over the wooden boardwalk the trail splits. Stay straight (the trail to the right) to follow the Pillar Point Bluff Trail. At the junction with the Jean Lauer Trail make a right. Stay straight to take the Frenchman's Reef Trail to a signed viewing area. Take in the views before retracing your steps back to signed junction #3 to follow the Frenchman's Reef Trail. When you reach the junction with trail marker #6 stay straight to continue on the Jean Lauer Trail. At trail marker #8 make a slight right to continue walking along the edge of the bluffs on the Ross' Cove Trail. Continue to stay straight on the Ross' Cove Trail. At marker #16 make a left to head back to the Marsh Parking Lot. After .2 mile make a right at marker #12 and follow the sign towards the main parking lot.
Parking: Parking for about 10 cars is available at Pillar Point Bluff Parking Lot. Additional parking is available on the street.
Restroom: Pit toilet at the parking lot
Water: No water at the trailhead or anywhere along the hike.
Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.
Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.
Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!
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