California Nuclear Power Plant Hike

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Point Buchon Trail on the way to Califronia's Nuclear Power Plant

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

Just South of Cayucos and Morro Bay, there is a place we like to visit called Montaña de Oro State Park. We have visited it many times over the years. But near our normal walking paths and sunset views, there is a large fence with razor wire looming on top. The fence stretches inland from the beach and cuts off access towards the South. The first few times we visited, we simply wondered why the fence existed.

Just South of the gates on PGE land while hiking to a nuclear power plant in California. California Nuclear Power Plant, Diablo Canyon.
You can see the fence snake down the rocks on the right side of the image.

On one trip, we finally decided to find out why that section of coast line was restricted. The answer, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is California’s last functioning nuclear power plant. It sits right on the coast, just south of Morro Bay and Los Osos. Marine charts show restricted waters and for years there was a TFR (temporary flight restriction) placed over its airspace. So is that section of the California coast simply off limits? We wanted to find out.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

As we started our research, we found that PGE owns all the land South of the state park. They own and operate the nuclear power plant. We also found that they do allow limited numbers of people access to the land and hiking trails on certain days. But there are limits. And once that limit is reached, they close the gates.

Hiking to a Functioning Nuclear Power Plant

We decided we wanted to give it a shot. The map showed an out and back trail that totaled about 6 miles. The trail terminus is about 3/4 of a mile North of the power plant. We left early so we could be sure to enter before the daily limit was hit. We hiked from the parking lot, toward the fence. The fence had a small pedestrian gate that was open. There were signs with instructions telling anyone who enters to proceed directly to the booth to sign-in.

Check out the video for a better idea of how to access this stretch of coastline.

The small booth had a PGE official who went over the rules and reminded us that we had to be out by 3:15PM. There was also to be no deviating from any of the trails. After agreeing to not hold PGE responsible for any injuries, we began our hike. And what a hike it was.

The California Coast Like We’ve Never Seen It

This stretch of coast past the fence is seriously the coolest part of the California Coast we have seen this far South. Imagine a 10-mile stretch of rugged, rocky coastline that has never seen a highway or housing development. There are parts where the green hills seem to roll right into the sea.

And this stretch of land has even more history and notoriety than just the power plant.

History of These Parts

Before World War II, there were families of Japanese farmers that lived and worked on this land. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government got nervous about having Japanese nationals, who may still be sympathetic to their homeland’s cause, living so prominently on the west coast. So the US government removed them from their land.

Hiking to California's Nuclear Power Plant.

Today, PGE partners with local ranchers to graze cattle on the land. The herd is regularly rotated to different pastures to be sure that the vegetation is reduced, but not decimated.

Disney-on-the-Land

There is also one more piece of history that I find especially interesting. I really like finding out old film history or locations. And I find it even more interesting when it relates to Walt Disney and his teams. So this part of the area hit both of those for me.

Walt Disney Productions built a lighthouse out on Disney Point for the movie Pete’s Dragon back in 1976. The film crew had plans to remove the lighthouse, crate it up, and ship it to Disneyland as an attraction in the park. But the lighthouse did not survive the shoot and disassembly. Only the name, “Disney Point” remains.

California Nuclear Power Plant. Walt Disney Pictures builds the lighthouse for the movie Pete's Dragon in 1976.

The Hiking Trail

The trail that winds along the coast in this area is called The Point Buchon Trail. It is well marked and, generally, a very easy hike. There are some areas that increase and decrease in elevation. But they are generally not too steep. It is worth noting that the trail can get very narrow at points. There are a few parts where the trail is cut into the side of some pretty steep hills.

That being said, if you are able, take the time and effort to make it all the way to the end. It’s a pretty cool sight to see the Nuclear Power Plant rise out of the mist on the horizon. On the day we went, it looked like it was a matte painting for a sci-fi movie special effect.

California Nuclear Power Plant. Diablo Canyon near the end of the Buchon Trail in California.

So, if you are in the area, or will be soon, check out this amazing piece of the California Coast. It will not disappoint.

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent and informative write- up about an area of the CA coast I knew absolutely zero about! Now I totally wanna go hike it! Thanks!!

    1. Thanks! Su’s family has been vacationing in Cayucos for years and we only discovered Montaña de Oro a couple of years ago. And this year was the first year we explored the idea of going out to the power plant. Apparently you can get tours of the plant too. So that’s on the list for the future.

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