Salt Point State Park is 6,000 acres of diverse beauty just north of Fort Ross along the Sonoma County coast. With 20 miles of hiking trails that go from ocean bluffs to forests and prairies, this makes for an amazing for hike hikers of all levels to explore!
We have hiked along the bluffs between Gerstle Cove and Stump Beach several times and love it every time! Gerstle Cove has THE BEST tidepools we have been to along our coast and Stump Beach has a nice sandy beach to hang out at. Highly recommend getting to both early to avoid the crowds!
The parking lot at Stump Beach was empty when we got there at about 9:30 am. When we left, the parking lot and overflow parking across Highway 1 were full! A lot of people had the same idea as us to beat the summer heat!
Take the trailhead that leads down toward Stump Beach. Careful when you near the bottom, the trail is somewhat eroded now and can be tricky to go down. Enjoy the peaceful sandy beach (if you get there early enough!) and then cross the little stream to your left and head up the overgrown path that leads to the top of the bluffs overlooking Stump Beach. During early summer, the bluffs are covered in wildflowers! We were at the end of the wildflowers but still were able to enjoy some!
Head south along the trail until you see a trail through the grass that heads up toward Highway 1. You’ll more than likely see cars parked along the road at the top. Carefully cross Highway 1 and go to the south end of the parking area (looks like a turnout that is now parking) and look for the entrance to North Trail.
The North Trail is a steady climb toward the pygmy forest. Along the nice wide trail, you will see various trees such as young redwoods, Douglas Firs, Tan Oaks, Madrones, Bays, and lots of ferns and huckleberry bushes. Watch for educational trail signs along the way!
This hike has a total elevation gain of 1,220 feet and most is done along the North Trail. It is gradual which is nice! We only saw a handful of other hikers during this part of the hike which is always a good thing!
The forest is dense in some places but once you reach the Pygmy Forest it opens up and lots of sunshine is let in!
Have you been to a pygmy forest? You’re probably wondering what it is. We have a few up here in Northern California and they are all a little different. What IS the same is they all have trees with stunted growth due to inhospitable soil conditions. Yet, they all seem to survive for a long time and continue to persist even though they were dealt a very bad hand. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze us!
The pygmy forest at Salt Point is at the highest point in the park, and also one of the sunniest! If you continue on you can check out the Prairie trail and get some more vitamin D! The pygmy forest includes redwoods, cypress, and pines. Also a ton of bushes (we think huckleberry)! This highly acidic, nutrient-poor soil has stunted their growth but not stunted their desire to carry on. The forest is pretty dense but since the trees are so short they let a ton of light in! This is a must-see along the trail! Trust us, you’ll know when you reach it!
Follow the North Trail along until you come to the junction with Central trail and hang a right!
Someone got real creative with the trail names here! 🙂 Central Trail parallels the North Trail for a bit but then heads a little south. If you don’t feel comfortable hiking along Highway 1 or taking a random overgrown trail with trees down then take Huckleberry trail back to the North Trail and retrace your steps. You will miss part of the Salt Point trail along the bluffs though.
The Central Trail looked a lot like the North Trail but with a wider and more fire road feel to it. It was nice to gently descend back down toward sea level.
There’s a flushing toilet in the parking lot of the Woodside Campground which was really nice to see along the way! Follow the campground road to Highway 1. Here’s where you get to make the decision to walk a short way along the narrow Highway 1 OR carefully cross Highway 1 and take a bit of a longer route to get down to Gerstle Cove.
We opted to cross the road and take the trail. It said .6 miles to Gerstle Cove so we figured it would be about the same length and would lead us to the same place. We were wrong. It happens!
Trail with No Name
If you choose to go the way we did, cross Highway 1 and take the trail with no name. It probably doesn’t deserve one anyway. We felt like we were following more of a deer trail but really, there is a trail sign stating it’s a real trail. Maybe the deer put it up, not sure.
The trail is narrow and overgrown in spots but all of that doesn’t matter, we started feeling the ocean breeze! The young thin trees were swaying in the breeze and we could hear some limbs falling. Thankfully not on us!
Since the trail was short it wasn’t that big of a deal going around and over downed trees. We reached a paved road and followed it toward the ocean. It took us to this great little picnic area and the south end of Gerstle Cove’s State Marine Reserve that we hadn’t been to.
We checked it out and then followed the “trail” north toward the Reserve’s visitor center. Careful! If you go too far, you run out of the trail and would end up in the ocean. Look for a deer trail in the grass and head in a little and then down to cross a stream and continue on until you reach the paved road for the visitor center. Then you have reached the main part of Gerstle Cove!
Salt Point Trail
If you have time and the tide is low, drop down into Gerstle Cove State Marine Reserve to enjoy the tidepools! The tide was up when we went so we continued on along the trail. Little lizards were enjoying the sunshine and scattered when we came upon them. The first part of the Salt Point trail is paved, further north it is a dirt trail.
This is one of our favorite parts of the hike! Look for all the succulents growing in the sandstone and all the wildflowers along the trail. If you go onto the sandstone you can see some tafoni, a naturally occurring phenomenon in the sandstone. The design is so beautiful! A historical note, the sandstone from here was used to help build the streets and buildings of San Francisco. And you thought this was just about beautiful hiking! 🙂
Enjoy your hike along the ocean listening to the waves crashing and breathing in the salty ocean air. The Salt Point trail will lead you right back to Stump Beach. Look for seals playing in the cove as you descend down to the beach and start your way back up to the parking lot.
We enjoyed a nice picnic in the car at one of the vista points along Highway 1 on our way back home. Wine was enjoyed later! If you are looking to stop at a winery on your way back, check out Fort Ross Vineyards. They have this Pinotage that is pretty unique for this area oh and stunning views from their deck!
Parking at Stump Beach is free, parking at Gerstle Cove is $8. A very primitive toilet is at Stump Beach. Sorry, no dogs on trails or beaches. 8.79 miles and 1,220 elevation change, moderate hike due to the length. The nearest food is Timber Cove. Check the tide charts when planning your hike to see if you can enjoy the tide pools!
Things We Love
Layers are a must on this hike! Along the coast, it is chilly and windy and once you reach the forest it can be warm especially climbing uphill. The hubs and I recently purchased Sunday Afternoon hats to keep the sun off our ears but keep the airflow going and comfort level. These worked great for the majority of the hike! The hubs attempted to keep his on even in the wind along the bluffs but resorted back to his beanie instead.
The Sunday Afternoon hat is water and stain-resistant, with perfectly placed ventilation around the crown of the head, adjustable sizing, and UPF 50+! There’s a chin strap to keep it on your noggin and it handles being stuffed in the backpack nicely. It bounces back just perfect. Check them out at the link below!