California Coastal Trail

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The California Coastal Trail, or CCT, is an environmental project adopted by the California Coastal Conservancy, an organization developed with the purpose of enhancing coastal resources and providing access to the shore, in 2001.[1] The trail is designed to connect the entire coast of California by forming an extensive hiking trail. Upon completion, the trail will be 1,200 miles long spanning from Oregon to Mexico.[2] The trail is currently about halfway complete,[3] and expenses are predicted to reach $668,350,000 when finished. "The California Coastal Trail will not be one single pathway that connects the entire coastline. It will consist of different, and approximately parallel trails that accommodate the needs of varying visitors. Some portions of the trail will be for beach walkers, and other sections will be for bicyclists and equestrians. The trail will also have paths to detour around seasonal nesting grounds or other sensitive sites." Though the paths may not all be physically connected, whenever possible all trails will be “within sight, sound, or at least the scent of the sea.”[4] A two volume trail guide has been written about the California Coastal Trail entitled, "Hiking the California Coastal Trail." [5] The California Coastal Trail has its own website.


1769 marked the beginning of the California Coast exploration by Europeans.[6] The Portola Expedition was the first to make the journey on land, and the de Anza expeditions followed the Portola Expedition soon after. The paths taken by the expeditions are now remembered by the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. The Juan Bautista trail shares a portion of its route with the Coastal Trail.

The Coastal Initiative stating that “A hiking, bicycle, and equestrian trails system shall be established along or near the coast” and that “ideally the trails system should be continuous and located near the shoreline” was passed in 1972 with 55% popular vote.[6] Policy makers and coastal managers have envisioned a continuous coastal trail in California for generations. Governor Davis and the White House Millennium Trail Council designated the California Coastal Trail as California’s Millennium Legacy Trail in 1999. Due to its new recognition, federal agencies began to aid in the development of the trail. In 2001, state legislation approved the completion of the trail, which led to its designation as a state trail. In 2001, the State Coastal Conservancy was directed to provide the specifications needed to complete the coastal trail and their report came out in 2003. Activity on the project since 2003 is listed in the "What's New" section on the California Coastal Trail website.[7]


The California Coastal Conservancy has six goals for the California Coastal Trail:

  1. To “provide a continuous trail as close to the ocean as possible”
  2. To have full support of the state
  3. To better the public's knowledge of the good that will come with the California Coastal Trail
  4. To have all the policies related to the trail respect the rights of the private landowners (SB 908 Report 8)
  5. To design the trail to create positive experiences for the public while at the same time protecting the environment
  6. To have the trail connect to other trail systems and provide a way to the coastal area from urban areas

The conservancy expects that the trail will improve the economy. The trail will attract tourists, create jobs, and make selling surrounding real estate easier. The trail is also hoped to protect the environment. People looking to enjoy nature can do so without hurting sensitive areas if they stay on the trail. Another goal is to improve quality of life through recreation by encouraging people to use the trail for exercise. Finally, the conservancy wants people to think of trails as a means of transportation (SB 908 Report 9). To achieve these goals the trail must meet four requirements. It must always be within sight or sound of the ocean. It must serve as a starting point to reach various destinations. It must be separated from all motor traffic. It must respect the current environment and not disrupt the natural habitat.[8]


For planning the Coastal trail, the Coastal Conservancy awarded Coastwalk a $600,000 grant in 2000.[9] Approximately 1 million dollars from the remaining funds of Proposition 12 will be given to California State parks to employ Conservation Corps. Legislators and the public are being encouraged to raise $350 million more to complete the trail.[10] Now a Millennium Legacy Trail, the California Coastal trail will receive a $10,000 grant from American Express Company.[11]


Fifteen projects are being worked on along the California coastline in the counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. The conservancy is also encouraging the state to implement five statewide policies. The first is making a formal commitment to completing the trail by promising funding for the trail that would continue after completion for maintenance and repair. The second is to include the California Coastal Trail into state transportation by incorporating it into the current transportation improvement program. The conservancy also suggests that the state increase its focus on improving the non-motorized transportation area safety. Third, the state should adopt the trail into the State Outdoor Recreation Plan and evaluate its accessibility to children, seniors, and those with disabilities. Fourth, the conservancy thinks all state programs should help complete the project. Finally, the state should remove or redesign any artificial object that impedes the public's access to the shoreline.[12]


In order to complete the California Coastal Trail, issues including environmental protection, private and quasi-public ownership of lands along the shoreline, and cooperation among many agencies and individuals will have to be resolved.

The coastal environment is quite fragile, and the trail must ensure that it will not threaten natural habitat. The coast is home to endangered species like the California least tern, and consists of fragile tide pools, beaches visited by elephant seals to bear and raise their pups, and areas of sensitive vegetation.[6] The trail aims to prevent people from entering sensitive sites, yet still bring visitors within view of other sights in order to educate them on the shoreline ecosystem. Developers of the trail believe that by informing people, it will spread the mentality of respecting and protecting the environment.

Over the years, many structures have been built too close to the shoreline. As a result, they became threatened by the ocean’s force and owners built revetments as a form of defense. However, the armoring has narrowed the beach severely in certain locations. Public access to the beaches has also been reduced in areas where development exists in an unbroken line contiguous to the beach. The properties act as a border to visitors and the public by preventing entrance to the shore. Vertical access is also restricted, stopping public roads leading to the shoreline.

Ownership of coastal land is divided among many individuals as well as companies and other organizations. In order to unify the trail, the developers of the California Coastal Trail will have to achieve cooperation of all owners of the land. Several agencies like state, community, and Federal agencies along with quasi-public land-holders will have to communicate and discover ways to increase coastline access.


The maps of the California Coastal Trail are found in the trail's "Hiker's Guide" and have six different types of markings.

  • A red line means that the area the line is over needs substantial improvements. For example, a particular part of the trail may need to increase ocean accessibility through major changes.
  • A green line on the map means improvements are adequate. This means that the marked section of the trail is open to the public and does not need major improvements.
  • A blue dotted line represents the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route.
  • Thick black lines represent connecting trails including existing trails and ones in the process of being completed.
  • Blue hatched shading represents continuous shoreline passages of the California Coastal Trail are completely open to the public and always usable by able-bodied people.
  • The pink areas mark all state, federal, and local parklands.


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