This weekend, I hiked the Avila Ridge Trail (also known as the Shell Beach Bluff Trail/Ontario Ridge Trail) and it was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done. I was trying to find more detailed information about the trail online before going, and was confused by reading the online trail maps. So I decided to write a post about it myself, and how we navigated the hike.
It is listed on http://www.hikespeak.com to be a 2.8 mile hike with 675 feet of elevation gain, and summits at 735 feet. It’s longer if you park along El Portal Drive, or if you make a detour to Smuggler’s Cave toward the end. It isn’t very well marked where to start on the Ontario Ridge Trail coming off of Bluff Drive, but if you would like to take that route I have circled it in red on the map below.
I would recommend starting on the Ontario ridge trailhead by the highway, 101 South, as it is a less challenging incline than if you were to start at the entrance by Pirate’s Cove, called “Cave Landing Trail.” Below on the map, the red circle represents where we parked, and the blue arrows represent the official entrance to the trail.
We walked along the road El Portal Drive to the Trailhead by the freeway. There is lots of parking along the side of the road as long as you don’t disturb the residents of the neighborhood.
The hike is not an extremely long hike, but is extremely steep at parts. The beginning where we started was the steepest part going up, and there was a steady incline until we reached a plateau view of the ocean to the southwest including Grover Beach and its gigantic sand dunes.
When you get to the top, there’s a rope swing and a couple bowls for dogs to take a drink from. In fact, we encountered many dogs on the way up. If your bring your pet, it’s important to remember to pick up after them, as it’s the last thing another hiker wants to step on.
When you continue along the trail, you’ll come to another rope swing with an even grander view of the ocean. If you’re like me, it means you’ll take 300 pictures in every possible pose/silhouette scene/different lighting/focus.
As you continue on the trail, it begins to get steeper. You can see a clear view of Pirate’s Cove now, and the slope begins to angle more sharply downward. This is another place that you can start the hike, but again I would recommend beginning at the other entrance.
When you reach the bottom of the steepest hill you will ever walk down, you’ll be in the parking lot to Pirate’s Cove and it’s famous “Smuggler’s Cave.” Continue down the trail to the right to get to Smuggler’s Cave or the Pirate’s Cove beach. It’s a clothing optional beach…
We walked down to Smuggler’s Cave and enjoyed the view from there for a while.
Continue back up the trail to Smuggler’s Cave the way that you came in, and then turn right to get onto Shell Beach Bluff trail which turns into a boardwalk as you get closer to the water. Continue straight on this trail until you reach the end of the trail, or continue onto El Portal if that’s where you parked, like us!
This is a map to the parking lot and official trailhead. There is also street parking in the neighborhood.
Trailhead address: Indio Drive & Bluff Drive, Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Trailhead coordinates: 35.174558, -120.707748 (35° 10′ 28.40″N 120° 42′ 27.89″W)
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