McPherson Peak - Why not just drive there???

19 Jun 2012 - by John Sarna

Having but a few days sans kids to travel up the coast looking at houses with my wife on our first wedding anniversary trip, I began looking for a good 1-day climb not too much out of the way. McPherson and Peak first came to mind, since I'd offered to lead a Sierra Club hike up these HPS peaks many years ago, one which didn't come to fruition for lack of participants. This was probably due to the long drive from where we were in Sacramento. The attraction for me then was it started from a campground at the end of a paved road, there was a trail to the top, and it'd be a good workout, especially if we bagged Peak as well as McPherson. As it was, getting 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

So, after spending our anniversary in Solvang (planning a hike on our anniversary was a non-starter), it was a relatively short drive to the Aliso County Park campground. We were able to begin hiking at 9 am, though, feeling the heat of the day even that early, I soon regretted not camping overnight to begin at dawn. The McPherson Peak Trail was easy enough to find. There's a signpost marked "trail" only 20' up the right trail-fork as you leave the west side of the campground. Following it along the first third of the climb was fairly straightforward. However, the trail lost its nicely constructed switchbacks on the second third, making some sections quite steep. On the last third of the climb, we intermittently lost the trail to the brush, sometimes so thick it was difficult to believe anyone had ever walked there. In those areas, red ribbons tied to the head-high tops of the brush helped stay on the trail, or sometimes just break through the brush to find it again. The worst was a the next couple hundred feet up from 5300' elevation.

The only cool section of trail was under a number of trees just below the top--the buildings providing the only shade on top. The register was easy to find. Five folks signed in this year before us, all, like most others before, driving either up to the peak or to a spot to bike or walk in along the road coming from Peak Mtn. We decided not to continue to Peak for a couple reasons. A branch struck my wife in the eye while in the thicker brush, and, with it stuck closed, I was uncertain if we'd need to get her to an urgent care clinic sooner rather than later. She's also told me her new-fangled CamelBak carried 3-1/2 liters of water, revised down to 3 on way up, and she forgot to tell me she'd only filled it up part way. I'd already gone through 2 of my 4 liters, and, she with only a pint left, made it a quick decision to next take on the brush going down, which was much easier than going up through it.

So why not just drive there, following the drive-up directions in the HPS Guide? Well, even with the brush, it was worth it to avoid many miles of dirt roads. I'd just rather be hiking than driving.

For what they're worth to anyone, I've uploaded the GPS coordinates for this route under McPherson at

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