A Stroll to Burleigh Murray’s Dairy Barn at Half Moon Bay

Have you ever heard of Burleigh H. Murray Ranch? We hadn’t, and we live just 10 miles away. The California State Parks parcel in the foothills east of Half Moon Bay features just one trail and a unique 19th-century barn. Sparse? Perhaps. But check it out.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, California State Parks, Half Moon Bay. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking.com

We stumbled across the 1,325-acre ranch while running a socially distant errand on Higgins Canyon Road, best known as a primary route to the popular Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. The ranch signage and tiny parking lot slipped briefly into MontaraManDan’s peripheral vision as we zipped past. We slowed for a closer look on the way home. And then, we hopped online.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, California State Parks, Half Moon Bay. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking.com

Burleigh’s father moved from Vermont to California in 1852 to work the gold mines in Placer County, according to the California State Parks historians. Five years later, after the gold fields had petered out, he settled on the property along Mills Creek with some livestock and began a dairy farm. Burleigh was born here in 1865.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, California State Parks, Half Moon Bay. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking.com

Built sometime in the late 1800s, the 200-foot-long Mills Barn could have housed up to 100 dairy cows back in the day. We’re guessing there was no shortage of milk and cheese for the workers who were busy clear-cutting the coast redwoods up the road at Purisima Creek 120 years ago. Pity the lactose-intolerant logger.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, California State Parks, Half Moon Bay. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking.com

Purchased by the park service in 1983, the property extends eastward to the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains at Skyline Drive, but most of the park is not accessible. The tiny parking lot was more than sufficient for the smattering of visitors to the park on a Thursday afternoon in January.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, California State Parks, Half Moon Bay. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking.com

The country lane that serves as the solitary trail – two miles out and two miles back – meanders gently through the foothills among groves of eucalyptus trees. The pastels of early spring were visible on the hillsides and along the trail and creek during our walk.

We spotted the Mills Barn – a rare California example of an English Lake District bank barn – about a mile up the trail, leaning heavily on 4×4 timbers in a state of “arrested decay.” Rusted farm equipment and picnic tables dot the grounds.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, California State Parks, Half Moon Bay. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking.com

Park visitors are not allowed inside the barn, but we made a slightly muddy 360-degree walk around it and peeked in a few windows and between missing strips of siding.

 The two-story barn is built against an embankment held back with a stone retaining wall. The design, once common in the northeastern United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, allows access to both levels from ground level. The California State Parks history notes that the barn’s foundation and a nearby arched stone bridge were built using Italian know-how that dates to the Roman Empire.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, California State Parks, Half Moon Bay. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking.com

The pleasant trail continues for another mile beyond the barn, fringed at times with rows of mature birch trees. Eventually, the path dwindles to a single track rife with the usual assortment of poison oak and other troublesome undergrowth common to the Coastside and loathed by The Geek and most sensible hikers. So, we turned back.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, California State Parks, Half Moon Bay. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking.com

Loop trails are nice, but the winter lighting highlighted different color and detail on our out and back walkabout.

This is an easy hike. And the wide road that serves as a trail makes social distancing easy, too. Bring the family. Bring your bicycle. (Don’t bring your dogs. They are not allowed.) It’s difficult not to enjoy a walk in the country.

4 thoughts on “A Stroll to Burleigh Murray’s Dairy Barn at Half Moon Bay

  1. Stop blowing up small parks. You’re ruining everything. Parking is limited, so people park dangerously on tiny narrow streets. The already horrible weekend traffic is getting even worse. There’s so many people on the trails that every weekend is a COVID super spreader event.

  2. I understand where “Jizin” is coming from (I have been here for over 35 years and hate how it has changed) but I think the message is misdirected. Don’t blame small guys like this local blogger. Blame the big guys like Via magazine who told hundreds of thousands of readers that Gray Whale Cove was the next best thing! They are the ones ruining our beloved town. I enjoyed this blog because I have walked this trail many times and didn’t know the history. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for a reminder of what a gem this small park is. Years ago my late husband and I stopped on our way to the Purisima redwoods trail. So glad we did. After that visit he often brought his small group of adult DD clients to this park because the trail was easy, yet stimulating. They enjoyed this trail every season of the year. “Tis true abut the poison oak, etc at the end of the trail but it was an education on nature opportunity :-D.

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