This broad, sandy beach backed by low bluffs isn’t as dramatic as the coastline farther north, but it is pretty. A campground with three accessible sites is nestled against the bluffs, partially sheltered by trees and shrubs. Dogs are allowed on the beach here (on leash), and on my visit I saw many happy hounds romping with their...
This broad, sandy beach backed by low bluffs isn’t as dramatic as the coastline farther north, but it is pretty. A campground with three accessible sites is nestled against the bluffs, partially sheltered by trees and shrubs. Dogs are allowed on the beach here (on leash), and on my visit I saw many happy hounds romping with their owners. A beach wheelchair is available and the beach has two level entries, one at the northern end of the day use parking lot, the other near the middle. Getting to the water’s edge may be a chore, however; you have to travel some distance across the sand and up and down some gentle terraces.
The Kortum Trail meanders through coastal prairie along the bluff for more than 3.5 miles above Wright’s Beach to Blind Beach, but only two short stretches, near Wright’s Beach and near Shell Beach, are accessible. The hike is particularly lovely in spring, when a variety of wildflowers are in bloom. On my visit in July I saw several egrets stalking the bluffs, probably hunting gopher snakes; a hiker I met told me she counted five along one short stretch of trail.
State Parks Advisory:
Many of California's state parks are reducing hours of operation and limiting access to facilities because of budget cuts. We recommend that you consult State Parks' website
and contact the park directly before planning a visit.
Kortum Trail—Wright’s Beach Segment
Trailhead: From Highway One, exit at Wright’s Beach and take the first right turn into the parking area for the trailhead
Length: Under one mile total
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Gentle
The dirt-and-grass trail, somewhat overgrown and clumpy on my July visit, is likely impassable when wet.
From the trailhead parking area, the level, hard-packed dirt and gravel trail heads north along the bluff. A few old trees screen you from the ocean at first, but then the vista opens up to a broad expanse of ocean dotted with offshore rocks. The meadow on the right is studded with thick clumps of coyote brush; Highway One travels behind it, not far away, but when I was there I could barely hear the traffic noise over the sound of the waves below. Golden-brown hills rise beyond the highway, their tops disappearing into the fog. This section of trail is as wide as a single-lane road, and when I was there the grassy verges had been mowed recently.
As you stroll along the bluff, more of the rocky coastline to the north opens up, jagged and dramatic. People and dogs hike the long beach below. On my visit in summer, a profusion of blooming plants—tall cow parsnip, yellow-blossoming lizard tail, wild mustard and radish—added color to the brown grasses, and I could hear both California quail and seabirds piping in the breeze.
After a quarter-mile or less, the gravel road ends at a little loop, but a mown-grass trail takes off to the right from the beginning of the loop. This trail averages about 30 inches in width and is very bumpy because of the tufts of grass interspersed with gravel; if you can navigate it, you shortly come to a boardwalk that is 40 inches wide and fairly level, though the surface is uneven in places.
Traveling inland and gently uphill toward the highway, the boardwalk passes through weedy grasslands where swallows swoop and skim, then curves north toward a grove of old eucalyptus trees near the highway. Ferns and horsetail are evidence of the creek whose deep channel you soon see cutting a path toward the sea. Soon the boardwalk ends in a short ramp and the trail reverts to bumpy, clumpy hard-packed dirt and grass. If you manage to forge ahead a little farther, you shortly come to a wood bridge over the creek, just past the eucalyptus grove. Little yellow finches dart about in the brush here. Past the bridge, the dirt-and-grass trail narrows but may be passable in a wheelchair when the grass is mowed; on my visit, the unfavorable trail conditions discouraged me from exploring beyond this point.
Kortum Trail—Shell Beach segment
Trailhead: North side of Shell Beach parking lot
Length: Less than .5 mile
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Gentle
Clumpy grass makes the trail surface bumpy, and it is likely to be impassable when wet.
From the Shell Beach parking lot, this wide, level trail heads north across a broad coastal terrace, with views of the ocean and offshore rocks to the left and the top of Goat Rock peeping above the grasslands directly ahead. I scared up a number of rabbits right near the trailhead on my visit in July. Paintbrush and lizard tail splashed red and yellow blossoms across the brown fields.
You soon come to a junction where one trail heads left toward the edge of the bluff, while the other curves right toward a boardwalk. Grass clumps narrow the left-hand trail, but it was still navigable and provided some stunning views of the rocky cove that shelters Shell Beach. The trail peters out as you approach the bluff’s edge, but not before providing another lovely view, of the rocks to the north.
Back at the junction, the trail to the right is very grassy and bumpy, but navigable for the short distance it takes to reach the boardwalk, which is level and 40 inches wide. The boardwalk travels across a marshy meadow; at its end, the trail is once again hard-packed dirt overlain by low clumps of grass. If you’re willing to slog through a few hundred feet of this, you can reach another boardwalk over a riparian area, but the vegetation overgrowing the end of this boardwalk made further travel impossible in a wheelchair.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
First-come, first-served; ask at the camp host’s site.
There is no designated accessible parking in the Wright's Beach lot, but this lot is level, hard-packed dirt and gravel; drifting sand may be a problem in some places, and portions of the lot may be inaccessible after a rain. There is one designated van-accessible spot at the Wright’s Beach trailhead for the Kortum Trail, and the Shell Beach parking lot has several.
At Wrights Beach campground and at Shell Beach parking lot (no sink or 5' x 5' turnaround space).
Accessible campsites have accessible tables, but the day-use tables near the entry kiosk are on grass.
Reviewed by Eileen Ecklund, August 13, 2010