Valencia Peak P500 LPC / CC
Oats Peak CC

Sun, Sep 5, 2004
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
Valencia Peak later climbed Sat, Apr 14, 2012
Oats Peak later climbed Sat, Apr 14, 2012

Montana de Oro is a gem of a State Park (one of California's largest I was to find), located a short distance south of Morro Bay along the California central coast. "Mountain of Gold" is named not for any such mineral deposits, but for the exceptional wildflower displays that burst forth in the springtime. Or so I'm told. In summer it can be hot - very hot, and all the hills have baked to a golden brown. I had no intentions of hiking here before the weekend started. I was with my family on vacation in Pismo Beach for four days, but somehow or other I managed to fanagle a four hour time slot to run off for a hike.

Leaving Pismo Beach at 1:50p, it took some 40 minutes to drive north towards San Luis Obispo on US101, then west on Los Osos Valley Rd. Though somewhat remote, the park seems to be pretty popular judging by the number of cars and people I saw in the park on this holiday weekend. The trails in the park are geared primarily for equestrians (and there were quite a few horse trailers throughout the park), secondarily for bikers and hikers. A primary draw is a protected beach called Spooner's Cove near park headquarters, with maybe a hundred beach goers enjoying their Sunday afternoon as I drove by. While I had been in Pismo Beach, I had been curious by several signs giving Siren Information, telling you what radio frequency to turn to if a siren sounds. I had thought that these were leftovers from the Cold War era, but here in the park there were more signs and it was prominently displayed on the park map. Reading further, one finds that the "emergencies" in the park for which the sirens are designed cover hazardous material spills, tidal waves, fire, or an emergency at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. The first four are just covers - what other parts of California's coast have tidal wave warning sirens? It is the nuclear power plant that had caused the sirens to be installed, though that seems to be downplayed. The power plant lies a few miles south of the park along an isolated part of the coast sheltered from all land views. If there was a release of nuclear material from the plant, I suppose the sirens would give you enough time to say your prayers before your skin starts to tingle and you develop cancer ten years later.

Near as I can tell, the park lies along three ridgelines running roughly northwest-southeast from the Pacific Ocean inland about 7-8 miles. The route I ran/hiked long was the middle of these three, starting from the Badger Trail TH. I picked this route for no other reason that Valencia Peak and Oats Peak are on some peak list or other - pretty arbitrary really. I left the TH at 2:25p, climbing a short ridge to Badger Camp, and environmental campsite ("environmental" means no water, I think). It is a lovely little hill with the only trees for some distance around, and a fine view of the ocean. There were a couple tents set up there when I went by. I veered off the maintained trail and followed an old jeep trail that took a more direct line for the West Ridge of Valencia Peak, and I followed the ridge up to the summit. I passed a couple who paused to watch me job by in the 90F heat of the afternoon. "You're crazy," was all she could think of, which got a chuckle out of me and a reply to the effect, "Yes, I've been called that before..."

At the summit I found three guys hanging out, having arrived not long before. I did a fast job of taking in the views in all directions (SW - W - N - E), signing the summit log I found there (it was only a few months old and already had many entries), and then bidding the others adieu. I took the East Ridge down from the summit, a short-cut of sorts to intersect the maintained trail that skirts the north side of Valencia. A thin use trail was extremely helpful, in fact it probably would have been impossible without it - the chaparral covering the hillsides here are virtually impenetrable. It had taken only half an hour to climb Valencia, and about another half hour to make it to Oats Peak. The trail is thinner beyond here, seeing fewer visitors. Though slightly higher than Valencia, the views (W - N) on Oats are no better than Valencia and lack the fine views of the Pacific. I decided to continue east heading for Alan Peak. From the map it looked like it would take 40-45min, but after only 20 minutes I came upon a knoll with a sign indicating Alan Peak. I was suspicious, not really believing the sign, though from the graffitti it looked to be 20+yrs old. I wondered if the government moved the sign in recent years as a ploy to thwart would-be terrorists looking for a backcountry route to the nuclear power plant. That seemed far-fetched - I decided it was probably just misplaced. Interestingly, a trail continued east from the sign along the ridge and I began to follow this. I had another 15 minutes before I needed to turn around, so I thought I'd see where it went. It was barely more used than an animal trail one finds out here, but the chaparral had been pruned back to allow a person to make his way through, though I was often hunched over to half my height to get through the underbrush. No horse trail, I wonder if the park service had groomed this trail to the real Alan Peak on the eastern boundary of the park. I followed it for as long as my time allowed, but I came up short by maybe a quarter mile of reaching Alan Peak. It was a bit of a puzzle how and why this trail was maintained in it's odd state, but I wasn't going to solve it today.

I retraced my route to Oats Peak, then took a left turn down a trail leading to Coon Creek. I followed this trail to its terminus at the end of the paved road, then followed the paved road for another mile and half or so until I got back to my car at 5:20p. Total time was just about three hours. I made it back to Pismo beach within 5 minutes of my expected return time, so overall I did pretty good at time management. It would have been nice to have another half hour to explore the rest of the Alan Peak Trail, but perhaps another time - I think I'll come back in the spring next time when the wild flowers are out and the weather cooler.

After reviewing the maps a good deal when I got home, I'm fairly certain that Alan Peak summit sign is misplaced.

Jeff Yeackle, comments on 09/27/04:
While climbing up the side of Valencia, I looked down and saw someone running up the lower trail. About 10 minutes later he was over the first hump and gaining on us. When we got to the top, he was right below us. Like the woman you passed, crazy was one of our expressions of awe. Especially given the current temperature. :)

Did you have any water on you? We didn't see any water bottles, much less the camera you used to snap our picture. We'll need royalties for that btw... ;)

Picked up your site from the journal entry you made. Last time I was up Valencia before Summer there was an older log book in a twin soup can rig, which was already mostly full. It was more of a geocache for the GPS users ( Valencia sees a lot of traffic, this was the first time in a long time of hitting the top and not already finding someone there. It's one of my favorite peaks in the area due to the view. As you found out Oats was fairly bland in comparison. In the Spring though, the vegetation explodes in full bloom, it's very beautiful. So is the rampant poison oak which was thankfully scarce.

I know you're a peak-bagger, but when you're in the area again, head into San Luis and head over to the adult school which is on a hill above San Luis High School. There's a trail up from behind the baseball diamonds that goes to the top of the ridge, one of the best views next to Bishops peak (also in SLO).

In order from left to right: Chris, Jeff, Eli.

Just figured I'd drop you a note. We enjoy your site!


Corinne Lehr comments on 12/08/06:
The peak with the sign is False Alan. False Alan is 0.9 miles from Oats Peak and is at an elevation of 1440 feet. Alan Peak is 3 miles from False Alan and is at an elevation of 1649 feet. The trail to Alan Peak is unmaintained but apparently passable. I haven't gone all of the way but probably will sometime this winter.
Corinne Lehr comments on 01/10/09:
Finally got around to hiking all the way to Alan. Really enjoyable trip. The trail was brushy, but as mentioned mysteriously somewhat maintained. Some log piles blocked progress, yet others seemed to be cut through with a chain saw some time previous. From the sign that says Alan peak, it took us about another hour to Alan peak (but we're not that fast). The "trail" mostly follows the ridge, then drops south off the ridge and around the side down to the low point before climbing back up to the peak.We couldn't find a marker of any sort at the peak, but that's not surprising. Even if there were a marker, it could be hard to find amongst the brush. Past the summit, a nice ridge drops north, where there's an open spot and a view of Islay canyon down to the ocean. This open spot can be seen from Oats as the ridge with pine trees. From this spot, there seemed to be more brushy trails leading down to Islay creek and Prefumo canyon??Cori
Bob comments on 01/11/09:
Thanks Corinne!
I'm glad to know the trail "goes". I've had this one in mind for some time, but haven't managed to get back there. I'd like to do it the spring for the wildflowers.
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