Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail
Central Coast

How To Hike Ontario Ridge To Shell Beach Bluff Trail

Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail is a scenic hike in Avila Beach that offers excellent views of the coastline. This hike is only a 15-minute drive from Pismo Beach making it a popular trail option for those visiting Pismo Beach for the weekend.

Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail Loop is only 3 miles long so it’s great for a quick morning workout or if you’re looking for a nature escape on the Central Coast.

In this hiking guide, I cover where the Ontario Ridge Trailhead is located, what to expect if you plan to hike it, and other trail tips!

If you’re looking for a trail that’s located closer to Pismo Beach, I recommend checking out the Spring To Spring Trail At Pismo Preserve.


Avila Ridge Trail Swing along the hike.

Ontario Ridge Trail Highlights

Here is a quick Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff loop trail overview before I dive into more details:

  • Length: 2.8-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: Around 750 feet of elevation change
  • Time Needed: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dogs allowed?: Yes, this trail is very dog friendly

Ontario Ridge Trail Location & Parking

The Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff trail loop is located between Avila Beach and Shell Beach towns in San Luis Obispo County.

If you’re using Google Maps, you can look up the visitor parking lot location as ‘Pirate’s Cove Beach Parking’. If you plan to use the AllTrails hiking app, you can look up the hike under ‘Ontario Ridge To Shell Beach Bluff Trail Loop’ and set the directions through the app. Both will lead you to the same starting point.

Pirate’s Cove Beach parking lot.

Once you arrive, you can park in the small dirt lot that overlooks the ocean. The visitor parking lot has limited spots so it’s best to come early in the morning if you want to secure a parking spot.

This is a very popular location and the parking lot is shared by mountain bikers, hikers, and those visiting Pirates Cove Beach & nearby caves. It can fill up quickly, especially on busy weekends.

Once you park, you will need to walk on Cave Landing Road until you see a steep uphill dirt trail. There isn’t a designated trailhead map or any markers pointing to which way to go. During the hike, I used the AllTrails app to find the Ontario Ridge Trailhead and stay on track with the route.

Ontario Ridge Trailhead

About Ontario Ridge To Shell Beach Bluff Trail

The Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail (also called the Avila Ridge Trail) is a 3 mile hike that connects multiple trails into a longer loop.

Map of the trail:

Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail Map.

The most popular option is to hike the trail clockwise starting with Ontario Ridge Trail and then connecting with the Shell Beach Bluff Trail. This way you’re getting the steep uphill climb out of the way first while enjoying the beautiful ocean views from the ridge before climbing back down.

Overall, the trail is short enough that you can finish it in a couple of hours, but long and steep enough that you’ll get a good workout in. I quite often visit Pismo Beach on the weekends as a quick getaway and I’m always looking for outdoorsy things to do in the area. And this trail did not disappoint!

Views from Ontario Ridge Trail.

The trail climbs around 750 feet in elevation and there is one extremely steep section. I recommend wearing sturdy hiking shoes, especially after rain when the ground is extra slippery.

There are some shaded sections along the ridge at the summit, but overall this trail is very exposed to the sun. Be sure to bring a hiking hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water bottles for the hike.

Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail Loop.

We hiked this trail in Spring while the weather was mild and sunny. Try to do this trail early in the morning to avoid the hottest parts of the day, especially in the summer.

Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail is also dog friendly so you’ll see many people out and about with their four-legged friends. Be sure to bring extra water for your pup as there are no water sources along this trail.

The stunning scenery of the rugged cliffs and Avila Pier in the distance.

My Experience Hiking Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail

Here is the detailed breakdown of the Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail covering what the trail is like and some of the main stops.

After arriving at the Pirate’s Cove Beach Parking area, we walked to the Ontario Ridge Trail starting point. California has experienced some heavy rains this year so the trail was completely overgrown with wildflowers and weeds.

The first half mile is the hardest part and climbs up a steep 700-foot hill. The higher you will go, the steeper the climb will get!

Views of Avila Beach and the surrounding hills from Ontario Ridge Trail.

I was quite surprised at how difficult this section was and I’m glad that we decided to get it out of the way going up. If you plan to hike the loop counterclockwise, it can be hard walking down the slippery hill at the end.

In 0.5 miles the trail will flatten out and continue along the top of the ridge. Here you’ll get to enjoy stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and San Luis Obispo Bay. If you venture left, you can also connect this hike with the Sycamore Crest Trail.

Secret swing along the Avila Ridge Trail.

Once you reach the top, be sure to keep an eye out for the Avila Ridge Trail swing. This is a beautiful rustic swing that hangs off an ancient oak tree with the ocean as its background. There is another swing on the opposite side of the trail overlooking the city, but it was broken and didn’t offer as good of a view.

After the swings, we continued hiking along the Ontario Ridge Trail. This trail was a lot more rugged and beautiful than I expected, despite being so close to surrounding cities.

On sunny days the water looks especially blue!

In 0.7 miles the trail will start gradually climbing down. With the turquoise water and rugged bluffs all around, this is truly one of the best hiking trails on the Central Coast!

As you near 101 Highway, the loop will end and start turning around. To continue, walk down towards the houses along a steep path. You will have the option to continue along a narrow ridge or follow a walking path next to the houses.

View of Shell Beach and Highway 101 from the trail.

We decided to walk down and follow the trail next to houses that provided a bit of shade and escape from the heat. By now it was close to noon and the heat had started to pick up.

The next part is not very exciting as you follow the grassy path along the Fire Access Road. Eventually, the path will end and you will need to pass through a gate to continue along the Shell Beach Bluff Trail.

A well-maintained path along the Shell Beach Bluff Trail.

Past the Cave Landing Trail Parking lot, the route will follow a paved path surrounded by beautiful gardens full of exotic trees, plants, and flowers. The right side of the Bluff Drive road is home to giant mansions so this section won’t feel as rugged as the first part of the hike.

Once the paved path ends, you will need to walk past a gate and continue on a wide road until the end of the trail at Shell Beach trailhead.

The endpoint of Shell Beach Bluff Trail.

If you have any energy left after the hike, we recommend checking out nearby Cave Landing, Smuggler’s Cave, and walking down to Pirate’s Cove Beach to cool off in the water.

Do note that Pirate’s Cove is a clothing-optional beach so you may want to pick a more family-friendly beach to visit if you have little kids with you.

Pirate’s Cove Beach.

If you’re looking to fuel up on some local delicious food, be sure to stop by Avila Valley Barn where you can buy fresh fruit, veggies, baked goods, and BBQ lunch. At the Avila Valley Barn, visitors can also pet and feed farm animals so it’s a good option for the whole family!

 Other popular attractions nearby include Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa and Avila Hot Springs.


Scenic bench along the Avila Ridge Trail.

Other Visitor Tips

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind before you head out to hike the Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail:

  • There are no restrooms at the trailhead or along the hike.
  • There are no trashcans so be prepared to bring out any trash including your pet’s.
  • Bring plenty of water for the visit, especially if you plan to hike with your dog. We packed several bottles of water each and used most of it before getting back to our car. We also carry a collapsible water bowl for our dog.
  • This trail has a few steep inclines so slip-resistant hiking shoes are highly recommended.
  • I always pack a first aid kitheadlamp, and a portable phone charger, even on short day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
  • In the warmer months, I recommend wearing sunscreenlip balm, a hiking hat, and polarized sunglasses to battle the harsh California sun. While some portions of this trail are partially shaded, other sections are exposed to the sun.

Where To Stay In Pismo Beach

Planning a trip to Pismo Beach from out of town? Here are some of the best hotels in this area:

SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel

Photo by SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel

SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel is one of the most popular hotels to stay in Pismo Beach. Situated just steps from the sand, this beachfront hotel offers a great place to relax on a beachy getaway.

The hotel has excellent amenities including an outdoor swimming pool, 3 hot tubs, and a rooftop terrace. Guests can also make use of the onsite BBQ grills for eating al fresco.

The elegant rooms feature a fridge, microwave, and coffee maker. In the mornings you can enjoy a continental breakfast to start the day off right!


Inn At The Cove

Photo by Inn At The Cove

This beautiful hotel sits on top of a cliff with easy access to the nearby beaches and the Dinosaur Caves Park. Inn At The Cove features beach-inspired décor that’s complimented by the oceanside location.

Many of the rooms come with balconies and spectacular ocean views so you can sit back in the lounge chairs and enjoy the sunset at the end of the day. Every room also features a coffee maker and a fridge for convenience.

Other hotel amenities include a heated outdoor pool and a hot tub. In the mornings the hotel offers a complimentary continental breakfast so you can fuel up on energy before heading out on fun outdoor adventures.


Oxford Suites Pismo Beach

Photo by Oxford Suites Pismo Beach

This comfortable hotel is conveniently located off Highway 101 in Pismo Beach and offers spacious rooms. Oxford Suites Pismo Beach is the perfect place to stay for families and you have the option to book a Family Queen Suite that can sleep up to 6 people. This hotel is pet friendly and it even has a small dog park on-site!

After a long day out hiking and exploring Pismo Beach you can relax in the outdoor pool, hot tub or get a workout on at the fitness center. The hotel offers complimentary coffee and an on-site convenience store in case you forget anything while traveling.

Other noteworthy amenities include an outdoor lounge space with fire pits. You can also enjoy some downtime in the beautiful indoor lounge area that comes complete with Spanish-style décor and a fireplace.

Read Next: 15 Best Places To Stay In Pismo Beach For a Coastal Getaway


We hope this guide has helped you prepare for a wonderful day hike near Pismo Beach! Here are a few other Central Coast posts that you may like:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, may I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *