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Hearst San Simeon State Park

San Simeon Creek Trail

3.5 miles round trip

What’s there to see in San Simeon besides the castle?

It’s a common question asked by thousands of travelers on their way to Hearst Castle.

The answer is found at San Simeon State Park, which boasts a diversity of scenery from shoreline to Monterey pine forest. A new trail, complete with interpretive displays, a boardwalk that crosses a wetland, and numerous benches that offer a place to rest and observe the tranquil surroundings. The pathway circles the park’s San Simeon Creek and Washburn campgrounds. About 0.25 mile of the path is wheelchair accessible.

Back in the 1880s, the park’s 500 acres of backcountry were part of Ira Whittaker’s ranch and dairy operation. Eucalyptus was planted, both as a windbreak and for firewood to fuel the dairy’s boiler to make cheese.

Botanical highlight is a stand of Monterey pine, part of the famed Cambria pines, and one of only four native groves left on earth. In winter, monarch butterflies, more often seen on the Central Coast in eucalyptus trees and other nonnative flora, cluster in the park’s Monterey pines.

San Simeon Creek is habitat for the endangered red-legged frog and Western pond turtle. Many migratory birds can be counted at the park’s seasonal wetland: cinnamon teal, mallards, egrets and herons.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 1, just south of the turnoff for San Simeon Creek Campground, turn inland and park at Washburn day-use area. Walk inland along the service road to the signed trailhead on your right. Campers can walk to the trailhead—just west of San Simeon Creek bridge—along the campground road.

The hike:
The path tours the eastern fringe of the seasonal wetland and soon reaches a boardwalk that leads across it from one viewing area to another. Beyond the boardwalk the trail junctions. The right fork leads southwest 0.2 mile to the Moonstone Gardens restaurant and Highway 1. Along this side trail, Eagle-eyed hikers might get a glimpse of Hearst Castle located five miles north.

The main trail climbs onto a flat-topped, Monterey pine-dotted ridge. A sometimes overgrown path detours left (north) two hundred yards to a scenic overlook.

Our route descends from the pines into lush riparian area and turns north. A boardwalk crosses a boggy lowland filled with willow, cottonwood and a thick understory of wax myrtle and blackberry bushes.

The path next ascends grassy slopes along the eastern boundary of the park. From the former grazing land, you look out over a scene from the California of a century ago: a windmill, pastoral slopes dotted with cows, the unspoiled beauty of the southern Santa Lucia Mountains.

The trail skirts the edge of the campground, then leads west. Savor the mountain vistas as the path heads southwest on the bluffs above San Simeon Creek.

About a quarter mile from its end the trail splits. The path you’ve been following continues above San Simeon Creek back to the day use area. A second branch crosses the campground road and leads toward the wetland boardwalk, where you turn right and retrace the first five minutes of your walk back to the trailhead.

© 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