The Hidden National Park - Rancho Corral de Tierra

Have you ever heard of Rancho Corral de Tierra?

Well there it is, Peak Mountain at Rancho Corral de Tierra, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (National Park Service) in my San Francisco Bay Area backyard, a National Park that I did not know about and I bet a lot of Bay Area residents don't know about it too.  A few months ago we were driving down Highway 1 from San Francisco and I saw trails above Montara (south of Pacifica)and told my husband, "I want to hike there!".  I pulled out my phone to find out what park that was but it didn't show the "green area" which designates a park other than McNee Ranch State Park, which was next to the area I wanted to hike in.  I thought it must be private property and forgot about it.

Labor Day Weekend was coming up and my husband had seen an article on an addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Rancho Corral de Tierra only to find out it was where I was wanted to hike a few months earlier.  I started researching for hiking trails, seen if anyone else had written a post or been up there with toddlers but I couldn't find anything in the particular section we wanted to hike.  Only a very rough "trail map" by the National Park Service with a warning about steep, eroded trails.

"Rancho Corral de Tierra", Map., July 2013.,  National Park Service. Web. 12 Sep. 2013.

If you haven't noticed by now, we like adventure and when we figured out that this was a "rarely visited", underdeveloped park we were immediately intrigued.  Before I even start writing about our hike, I would like to state that we knew this was NOT a kid-friendly hike and I would not encourage beginner family hikers to hike this mountain.  With that said I know our abilities, my husband and I are strong hikers/backpackers (for years) as well as my children's limitations. We felt that we were capable of doing this hike with our children.

Rancho Corral de Tierra Farallon Trailhead

Finding the trailhead was a little difficult, I kind of eyeballed it and we decided to meet up with our friends, Eliu, Lorena and Esdras at Montara State Beach.  Then we drove a few blocks across Highway 1 to 2nd Street and Farallon/Kanoff Street.  Low and behold we found the trailhead and the end of Kanoff Street.

I normally don't put our GPS information at the beginning of a post but it is needed as a point of reference as you read about our this hike.  The Farallon Trailhead is where the black arrow is located. 

We started our hike (red line) heading northeast from the trailhead towards McNee Ranch State Park, on Farallon Trail. That is the last trail name that will be written because there were no more named trails in this park! If we continued on Farallon Trail it would have taken us to McNee Ranch State Park.  

Peak Mountain shrouded in Fog

The beginning portion of the trail was dried up grass fields and low lying coastal plants. 90% of the trail was uphill until we reached Peak Mountain.  I guess I knew that it was going to be all up hill but the fog had rolled in so we couldn't see HOW much of the trail was uphill.  We made it to the top of our first hill and took a break to figure out where in the world to go next.

Not even THE steep hill!

Siri, Where are we?

With no trail markers, we weren't lost but we really didn't know where to go next, my husband pulled his GPS, I inspected my phone and we still couldn't figure out with certainty where to go so we made and educated guess and headed east down the hill. But before we left the top of our first hill we saw our first and only wildlife during the trip.  I believe it was a Garter Snake, the specifics I would not know but if you can identify this snake please leave me a comment!

Garter Snake?

In the picture below, the trail is visible but at the time we didn't know where we were going. The trail eventually started on the right middle side of the picture, followed the ridge to the pine trees, followed the ridge and to the left you can see a faint trail going in between some power lines to Peak Mountain on the left side of the picture.

Looking for the trail.

But before we actually reached the first ridge, we came down this hill and walked into a forest of pine trees that reminded me of scenery at

Point Reyes National Seashore

.  We found an illegal "campground" or a dump site...a fire ring with broken mattresses, recliners, tires, trash, remnants of illegal fireworks and last but not least condoms hanging in the trees....thanks people who probably don't love the environment.

From Left to Right: Esdras, Lorena and Eliu

All of our hiking buddies were our musician friends from church.  From the right we have Eliu who plays and makes guitars, Lorena (who has hiked with me before at Tilden Regional Park) is a great singer, and Esdras (on the left, who plays almost every instrument) is a piano player and our worship leader.  We had Mexicans, Salvadoreans, Peruvians and my husband who is an "Honorary Latino" (he's Caucasian) hiking and exploring at an unknown National Park, Fantastic!

Lorena, where's the trail?

We followed what we thought was a trail but ended up turned around in some tall grass bushes and decided to turn back to where the had trail split off.  If you look at the map above, we turned back in the middle of the trail (red line) where there is a tiny loop and headed south through the forest.  I pulled out my phone again to check out Google Earth, to see if we could find our way to the "actual" Rancho Corral de Tierra.  I don't know if at this point we were on private or county land but we continued on through the pine forest.  My husband was the first to emerge from the forest and he started laughing and says, "Come and look at this!" and this is what we saw....

Up we went....


This was the steepest trail we've ever done with our children, I've never had to actually use my hiking poles to jam into the ground so I could pull myself up mountain.  I did that quite often on this hike!  My son was having a blast, crawling on all fours at some points saying, "Mommy, I'm rock climbing!", not really buddy but ok!  The circled area is this steep section, a 50% grade (pictured below).

We all survived the steep section and relieved to find a flat trail/fire road at the top, still not knowing if we were going the correct way (trespassing signs were around us) we headed north on the trail and we were finally happy to see that our efforts had paid off and we had found the elusive Rancho Corral de Tierra!!!

It took us a little while to find the actual entrance with possible trespassing, but we were determined to find it and we did.  I felt like I could finally relax and enjoy the steep hike!  The hike went along the ridge line along the tall grassy bushes, by the pine trees, and followed the ridge.  During sections of the hike Lorena and Esdras would race up the trail and I'd though to myself, "Is that how much energy I had when we didn't have kids?" Hah! I told them they would pay for it later with being sore...

My daughter was being carried most of the time since the trail was too steep for her but steep trails seem to energize my son, until he actually gets tired from hiking straight up a mountain.  We still didn't know where we were going exactly but at some point I turned to my husband and said, "I think we are going up that mountain between the power lines...".  My husband said, "I think we are too..."

It took us four hours reach the top of Peak Mountain at 1,825 ft from sea level.  The last half mile, my husband had to come back from the peak because my son was too "tired".  When we reached the peak, my son ran around like a wild mountain child...he wasn't tired and hike most of the way down the mountain.  We had amazing views of the Bay Area, from Point Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, Mission Peak, Half Moon Bay and of course the Pacific Ocean. (View pictured at the beginning of the post).

We had a Curry Chicken Wrap (without Curry) or as my husband dubbed them on this trip, "Mountain Tacos", Trader Joe's Salami, Cheese and Banana Chips for lunch and took our glamour shots on Peak Mountain!

Photo Courtesy of Lorena Armas

We could see the other peaks and the actual trails from McNee Ranch State Park that had many hikers on it.  We did not see any hikers on this side of the mountain until we were hiking back and saw a couple of hikers on their way up to Peak Mountain.  After lunch, we packed up and headed back down to sea level also known as sliding down the mountain. All of us at some point almost fell down or in may case slid down the trail on my rear end with a child strapped to my back, ouch!  There a no switch backs on this trail, 1,800 feet straight up a mountain.

None of us wanted to go down the extreme steep section near the fire road so we headed down the fire road which eventually dumped us in a residential neighborhood, so we "urban hiked it" to our cars through the streets.  We actually saw an alpaca farm,  Alpacas By the Sea walking through the neighborhood which was nice to see!

Our friends said if we had shown them the mountain we were going to hike in the beginning they would have been very intimidated and I told them if it wasn't for the fog covering the mountain I would have been intimidated too!! Seven hours, 6.3 miles maybe some bumps and bruises but we all made it to Peak Mountain in Rancho Corral de Tierra - Golden Gate National Recreation Area!  It was an adventure.

Related Posts and Links

  1. Rancho Corral de Tierra - Golden Gate National Recreation Area - National Park Service
  2. Rancho Corral de Tierra - Map by National Park Service
  3. Tilden Regional Park - 2013 Trails Challenge Completed
  4. The Ever Changing Point Reyes National Seashore
  5. Curry Chicken Wrap by Backpacker Magazine
  6. Montara State Beach - California State Park