Hazard Peak
Elna Peak

Sun, May 8, 2011
Etymology
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Montana de Oro State Park is a wonderful Central Coast landscape consisting of pleasant beaches and moderate hills nestled between Morro Bay and the Diablo nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County. I had been to the park once before several years ago and had wanted to return ever since. I had a free day on my way back from a family vacation in Pismo Beach in mid-Spring. I hoped to visit three of the summits in the north half of the park. The only one of the three that actually lies within the park is Hazard Peak, a popular destination for hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. The main trail to the summit is maintained primarily by a volunteer coalition of mountain bikers, but all three groups seem cooperative in sharing the area with each other.

It was around 11a when I had driven my Miata to the trailhead parking in Hazard Canyon. There is an equestrian campground located here and it appeared quite popular. The initial hike up Hazard Canyon is on an old ranch road, the continuation of the dirt road I had driven in on. The section to the campground is maintained, but beyond that it is gated and no longer maintained for vehicle traffic. The chapparal-covered hills were freshly green from ample spring rains, and the flowers were starting into their bloom. It was not yet full season for the poppies whose color had given the park its name, but it was a delightful day all the same. The weather could hardly have been more cooperative for hiking.

At a trail junction half a mile from the trailhead, I took the single track Manzanita Trail which follows more closely the drainage up Hazard Canyon. This soon led to the junction with the Hazard Peak Trail where a runner caught up and passed me. Not appearing on the 7.5' topo map, this trail appears to be a more recent creation. There are periodic benches and other ammenities along the route that was sponsored by the mountain biker's association. As the name implies, the trail leads to the summit of Hazard Peak in about a mile. Half a dozen mountain bikers came by in several groups as I was making my way to the top. Poison oak is plentiful in the area, and care needs to be taken not just in cross-country travel (discouraged in the park) but also along the trails. I'm not sure that all the mountain bikers were aware of the poison oak as they sped by, some of them surely brushing against the stuff. Live and learn...

I reached the summit before noon, finding a spacious clearing at the rounded top with a number of wooden benches to relax on while taking in the views. One can see north to Morro Bay and Morro Rock, east and south to more of the surrounding hills, and west to the Pacific Ocean. A group of hikers were nearing the summit from the trail up from the west side, so I left before they arrived to allow them to have it to themselves much as I did.

I headed back down the Hazard Peak Trail to just before the junction with the Manzanita Trail. Here I took an old trail shown on the topo map heading east towards the park boundary. The trail was likely closed due to the erosion that has left deep gouges in the center of it. I didn't realize there was a reworked alternate route (that switchbacks and has better water diversions to avoid the erosion problem) until I found the East Boundary Trail a short while later. By 12:30p I had reached the fenced boundary at the east end of the park. Where the trail continues south following inside the boundary, I headed east through the tall grass and brush, over a fence, and into the adjacent property where a herd of cattle were milling and grazing around a small pond.

From here my route followed a roughly west-east ridgeline along grassy ranch roads that are still serviceable but little-used. Elna Peak lies about 2 miles east of the boundary along these roads. A fenceline separates one property from another along the ridge. In places the grass is cut short by the grazing, but in others tall grass and flowers abound. There are ranch buildings visible in the small canyon below to the south, but my route traveled outside the property in which it is enclosed. I could see no buildings in the canyon to the north, but there was another herd grazing down below the ridgeline on that side.

By 1:20p I had made my way to the summit of Elna Peak, dominated by large transmission towers atop it. Because the summit is higher than Hazard Peak, it affords finer views to Morro Bay to the northwest. Much of Montana de Oro is spread out to the west. Southeast lies Stoney Peak which I had hoped to also visit, but a modern ranch spread lies atop the peak, obviously occupied. I would have to leave a visit to Stoney off my agenda unless I wanted to incur the probable wrath of the ranch's occupants. There was also a good view looking north and northeast along the Seven Sisters and into Los Osos Valley. I did not find the ELNA benchmark indicated on the topo. It was either hidden in the tall grass or had been obliterated by the construction of the towers.

I spent a little more than an hour returning to Montana de Oro and back to the trailhead in Hazard Canyon via much the same route. A party of equestians were just heading out from camp as I neared the end. They seemed set to have as much fun on their outing as I had had on mine. I was done by 2:30p, a short 3.5hr outing that only whetted my appetite for more. Time to head back, so I'll have to save Alan Peak and the rest of the park for another visit.


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Doug comments on 01/29/16:
Bob, you were risking a meeting with the local sheriff by hiking around there on our property (Elna and around there)and our neighbor's property without permission. It is NOT public property and we want to know WHO is on the property due to past problems with vandalism and cattle theft.
By-the-way, Elna does have U.S. Geodetic Survey marker in place but it is hard to see.
If you get the itch to hike into the private lands outside the park again (near Elna), call me for permission first. I can coordinate things with the owner of the ranch spread you saw on Stony. 805-709-4468. Doug Campbell, son of the owner of the Elna property.
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