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Pescadero State Beach

Sequoia Audubon Trail
From Pescadero State Beach to North Marsh is 2.5 miles round trip;
to North Pond is 2.5 miles round trip;
Precautions: North Pond area closed 3/15 to 9/1.

Bring a pair of binoculars to Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, the largest marsh between Monterey Bay and San Francisco. Pescadero Creek and Butano Creek pool resources to form a lagoon and estuary that is a haven for birds, and a heaven for bird-watchers.

Peer through willows, tules and cattails, and you might spot diving ducks, great egrets, or yellow-throated warblers. More than 180 species of birds have been sighted in the preserve.

Best bird-watching is in late fall and early spring. To protect the birds during breeding season, the northernmost preserve trail is closed. You may take one of the walks described below, or simply wander the perimeter of the marsh to one of the wooden observation decks, and begin your bird-watching.

Directions to trailhead: Pescadero State Beach and Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve are located off Highway 1, some 15 miles south of Half Moon Bay. The state beach has three parking areas. The largest area is at the south end of the beach, where Pescadero Road junctions Highway 1.

The hike: From the southernmost beach parking area, follow the beach north. If it’s low tide, you’ll get a good look as some fascinating tidepools.

A half mile of travel brings you to the mouth of Butano Creek. You may have to hike inland a bit to find a good place to ford the creek.

Turn inland and pass under the highway bridge. You’ll join Sequoia Audubon Trail, which meanders between the south shore of North Marsh and the north bank of Butano Creek. Take the first fork to the left and loop toward North Marsh. A right turn, as you near the marsh, will allow you to loop back to the Sequoia Audubon Trail.

To North Pond: Walk north on Pescadero Beach. A half mile beyond Butano Creek, you’ll come to the massive cliff faces of San Mateo Coast State Beaches. (With a low tide, you could walk along the base of the cliffs to San Gregorio Beach.) Turn inland to the northern Pescadero State Beach parking area. Directly across the road from the entrance to the parking lot is the trailhead for North Marsh Trail.

Follow the half mile path as it loops around North Pond. Cattle graze the slopes above the pond, and abundant birdlife populates the surrounding thickets. The path climbs a small hill where a wooden observation deck affords a grand view of the large North Marsh.

You can return by taking the trail south and to the left. It leads to Sequoia Audubon Trail, which in turn takes you under the Butano Creek Bridge. You then follow the beach back to your starting point.

West Butano Loop: For another fine bird walk, transport yourself 0.5 mile up Pescadero Road. Entry to the small, dirt parking area is almost directly opposite the San Mateo County road maintenance station.

The unsigned trail leads north from the parking area, and winds through a wide, lush meadow. When you get to the creek, follow the trail east (rightward). As you follow Butano Creek, you’ll be walking the tops of dikes which once allowed coastal farmers to use this rich bottom land for growing artichokes, brussels sprouts, and beans. Adjacent lands are still carefully cultivated by local farmers.

Watch for blue herons and snowy egrets. Perhaps you’ll even spot the San Francisco garter snake, an endangered species. After following Butano Creek through the marsh, you’ll join the trail to the right to return to the starting point.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at