Fort Ord Dunes State Park is a state park of California, United States, located in the coastal area between Monterey Bay and Big Sur Coast. The park consists of two units on opposite sides of Highway 1 along the Pacific coastline; one unit lies north of the highway, the other south. Together they cover more than 2,400 acres (970ha). The northern section includes Point Cabrillo Light Station, which was built in 1876 to guide ships into San Francisco Bay.
There are over 200 campsites divided into tent sites and RV sites. Most of these have running water and vault toilets, but there are also yurts available for rent. There are eight miles of footpaths and bike paths in the park, plus seven miles of horseback riding trails. Horse rental is not permitted on the hiking/multi-use trails, but stables nearby allow owners to take their horses onto those trails daily. There are ten miles of mountain biking trails, six miles of equestrian camping loops, and four miles of beach cycling routes.
There are no swimming beaches at Fort Ord, so bikers and hikers can ride their bikes right up to the sand. No dogs are allowed on any trails or on the beach. Horses are also prohibited on the beach between the west side of Highway 1 and east side of Highway 101. The park provides ample parking for people traveling by car, with easy accesses to Highways 1 and 101. For travelers arriving by train, the nearest rail station is in North Santa Cruz, where the Altamont Corridor Obeyesekere State Trail meets its eastern terminus; from here it is less than .5 miles to the entrance of Fort Ord Dunes State Park.
The park offers sweeping ocean views from every vantage point. From the top of Half Dome, which sits directly above the campground, 360 degree vistas can be seen stretching from the Sierra Nevada range in the east to Cape Mendocino in the west, and almost to Mount Shasta in the northwest. Views are even better from the westernmost vista point, Dewey Point, which is accessible via a 0.8 mile hike from the main park entrance. Dewey Point offers a fine view of the entirety of the South Coast Wilderness Area, including much of the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the headlands surrounding Fort Ord.
Today, the park boasts approximately 700,000 annual visits, and supports many activities, events, and programs throughout the year.
In World War II it became an active coast defense station with three gun batteries. Two were destroyed by enemy action and only one remains as part of Fort Ord National Monument. The southern portion of the park contains Camp Reynolds, a former military installation that now hosts large outdoor gatherings such as music festivals. It is adjacent to Pebble Beach Golf Course. On February 3, 2016, the park received a new governor, Gavin Newsom, who signed an executive order re-opening the entire park for public recreation. This came after several years of closure due to budget cuts.
The park has been closed since October 2011 because of massive budget cuts and layoff of park staff. However, thanks to a deal worked out among all parties involved, including the federal government, the state government, and private donors, the parks department was able to reopen some areas of the park in time for the summer of 2012. Areas reopened at the beginning of June included most of the campgrounds, picnic sites, and trails within both parks. A total of five areas remained closed, however. These include the dunes themselves, areas around dead-on-arrival stations, the beach near the Lifeguard Tower, the lower end of the beach near the Guard Station, and portions of the trail leading from the parking lot to the summit of Half Dome.
According to the Los Angeles Times, about half of the park’s 782 full-time employees had been laid off or furloughed during the shutdown. Those remaining work primarily on maintenance tasks like mowing and cleaning up litter left behind by previous visitors.
The park features a number of short, steep hills called dunes. Although they appear to be barren, smooth patches of sand surrounded by rocks, these dunes are covered by wildflowers, mosses, lichens, and woody plants. Some of the larger dunes are designated Natural Landmarks. One of them, named McWayne’s dune, is named after George Wyth Memorial Hospital doctor Frederick J. McWayne, MD, who while on vacation in 1938, purchased the 120 acre property sight unseen and then proceeded to build his home overlooking the dunes. He named the dune “McWayne” and the rest of the property “Ord.”
After he died in 1959, his wife Edith sold 280 acres back to the hospital for $1 million and kept 100 acres for herself. She subsequently gave 300 acres back to the hospital, which developed the site as a retreat center named Camp Reynolds, honoring her late husband. When she died in 1965, she willed the remaining 30 acres to the state, requesting that it be set aside as a memorial to Dr. McWayne and used “for the purpose of establishing a state park bearing his name”. Fort Ord Dunes State Park was established in 1968.
The original plan was for the construction of a freeway interchange and bridge across Highway 1, thus providing direct access from I-580 in Milpitas to the park. Local environmental activists protested, claiming that the project would destroy habitat for endangered tidewater goby, and succeeded in getting the whole thing scrapped. Eventually, a smaller segment of the bridge was constructed, and the remainder abandoned.
In 1976, a second attempt was made to construct the interchange. Again strong opposition from local citizens forced the state to abandon the effort. Finally, in 1980, legislation authorizing a study of building a road to the park through alternative means was passed. A year later, a bond measure approving a feasibility study for a road to the park was approved by voters. Despite this success, funding for actual construction still eluded the planners and politicians. Construction finally began in 1984, but again encountered strong community opposition. Once completed, the roadway opened in 1987, allowing access to the park’s campground, which had been severely damaged by fire in 1983.
Among the wildlife of the park are:
- gray foxes
- black bears
- mountain lions
Other animals observed by visitors include:
- harbor seals
- harbor porpoises
- sea otters
- bottlenose dolphins
- Steller’s sea lions
- bald eagles
- Canada geese
- bald eagles
Birds of prey found in the area include:
Raptors observed by visitors include:
- golden eagles
- red-tailed hawks
- black-throated gray warblers
- ring-billed gulls
- common ravens
- trumpeter swans
Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles observed by visitors include:
Amphibians and reptiles live on land in the park, including:
- garter snakes
Fish species present in the marine environment around the park include:
- chum salmon
- steelhead trout
Plants commonly found in the park include:
- beach pea
- chaparral honeysuckle
- coyote bush
- creek dogwood
- Fremont cottonwood
- white alder
- big leaf maple
- Douglas fir
- incense cedar
- interior live oak