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Heat wave hike: Cooling off on the Point Buchon Trail at Montana de Oro State Park

As an early September heat wave sweeps across the western states, getting out for a hike that is both refreshing and not crowded is a challenge. There is a state park on the central coast beyond the town of Los Osos called Montana de Oro. Driving past crowds of bikers, trail runners, and sightseers, there is a lesser-known trail at the end of the park called the Point Buchon Trail.

Gate to trail for a hike during a heat wave.
Open. Walk past this gate to the guest kiosk.

After signing in at a guest kiosk, the well marked trail takes you straight to the coast through fields of dry brown grass dotted with surprising clusters of orange California poppy flowers. Wildflowers in September are not something one would expect, but the cliff hugging fields of yellow goldenbush say otherwise.

A coastline with flowers.
Coastal bluff wildflowers. Fields of yellow goldenbush.

The trail follows the coastline with stunning views of sea arches, tide pools, kelp forests, and rocky reefs. No fishing or take of living marine resources is allowed in this protected area. Once home to the Native American Chumash culture and later to seven generations of Japanese farmers, it is now managed as a fire-dependent ecosystem.

Two girls hiking.
Girl power. Sea arches, tide pools, and kept forests line the coast of Montana de Oro.

A most shocking view comes into focus at the end of the 3.4 mile trail before turning around. The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, nicknamed “two tits and a toaster” for its twin domes and generating house, rises ominously against an otherwise hazy and monochrome background. A recent order by California’s Governor Newsom will keep the plant operating until 2030.

Gate to trail for a hike during a heat wave.
Dead end? Diablo nuclear power plant is at the end of the trail.

Like the triple digit inland heat, the threat of an aging nuclear reactor is soon out of mind. As you head back the way you came, attention is directed to the cool air from the cold ocean waters, the humpback whales breaching beyond the shoreline, the sea otters pruning amongst the kelp beds, and the endless moaning of the Point Buchon buoy.

Clusters of orange poppy flowers.

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Hi. We are Paul and Cindy, two biologists, fit and over 50, who enjoy exploring, photographing, and blogging about our outdoor travel. Our journey is to find outdoor activities that are away from crowds, kind to nature, and authentic. We carry backpacks, stay in clean accommodations, and feel that good food is as important as good friends.

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