Located 1/2 mile south of Pacifica, the Devil’s Slide Trail offers spectacular ocean views along a 1.3-mile stretch of former California Highway 1 roadway. The paved multi-use trail opened in 2014, after Highway 1 was rerouted through the Tom Lantos Tunnels, giving pedestrians, hikers, runners, bicyclists and equestrians access to what was once a white-knuckle drive along the rocky coastal cliff.
Devil’s Slide Trail is part of the California Coastal Trail, a 1,200-mile network of trails that will eventually extend from Oregon to Mexico. Separate lanes for hikers and directional bike traffic make the trail safe for families, including leashed dogs, and amenities include overlook areas with benches and observation scopes, interpretive signs, restrooms, drinking fountains, bike racks and pet waste stations.
Devil’s Slide Trail is great for whale-watching and bird-watching. California gray whales pass going south in January and, with calves in tow, the mothers stick closer to the coastline on the return trip in spring to avoid Orcas. Humpbacks can be seen year-round, typically a bit farther offshore. Minke whales, orca, bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins, as well as solitary harbor porpoises have been spotted (bring binoculars!). Harbor seals, California sea lions sometimes rest on San Pedro Point, the rocky outcrop at the park’s north end. More rarely, a stray Stellar sea lion from the rookery on the Farallon Islands (26 miles to the west and visible on a clear day) or a roaming sea otter from Big Sur down south have been reported.
Devil’s Slide Trail is one of the best place along the California coast to see dozens of species of marine birds: gulls, pelicans, cormorants, sooty shearwaters, black oystercatchers, and the occasional albatross visit. A nesting colony of common murres, wiped out in 1980s mainly from gill nets and oil spills, has been restored on Egg Rock toward the south end of the Slide. Local school children were involved in the effort to place decoys of birds, chicks & eggs on the rock along with sound system playing murre calls. The project attracted birds back and created the self-sustaining colony visible today. Look closely as you pass the first hill on the left from the south for the park’s resident peregrine falcon pair. Hawks, ravens, vultures and songbirds also can be seen.
The geology of the slide is spectacular. On the northern end, you’ll find soft sedimentary layers of dark mud and lighter sand.
Formed by turbidity flows, fine-grain sediment settles to bottom of sea forming the dark layer, then an earthquake or big storm that moves in a distinct layer of sand. On the southern end, the fractured Montara Mountain Granodiorite was formed 5-7 million years ago beneath the earth’s surface along the San Andreas Fault, then pushed up and northward by tectonic processes. Devil’s Slide lies between the San Gregorio Fault and the Pilarcitos Fault, just southwest of the larger San Andreas Fault line.
Both sides of the trail are home to uniquely adapted native plant communities of more than 200 species.
Archeological evidence suggests native people occupied the lands around Devil’s Slide at least 9,000 years ago. The village of Pruristac, on San Pedro Creek near Sanchez Adobe, was home to a local band of less than 100 people who called themselves Aramai. Gaspar de Portola’s discovery of San Francisco Bay in 1769 from nearby Sweeney Ridge marked the beginning of the Spanish Colonial Period. In 1822, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, these lands became part of large ranchos that were granted to Mexican soldiers and political allies. Eight years after Mexico ceded California to the United States, rural San Francisco became San Mateo County, but the coast remained isolated until the first road was cut from Colma to Half Moon Bay in 1879.
In 1905, construction of the Ocean Shore Railroad began (the bench of the old railway is still visible from the southern overlook). Earthquakes, slides and competition from trucking as roads were built caused the railroad to cease operation in 1920. State Route 1 (later called Highway 1) was completed in 1937 and was closed at Devil’s Slide by erosion and landslides for the first time just three years later. After extended closures in 1983 and 1995, San Mateo County voters approved legislation to build permanent tunnels through Montara Mountain. Construction began in 2005 and was completed in 2013. In 2014, the old Highway 1 became the Devil’s Slide Trail.
The military bunkers at the southern end of the trail were part of an elaborate coastal defense system. The triangulation and observation stations were abandoned after World War II, when modern air defense systems removed the threat once posed by battleships.