Exposed ocean cliffs, pygmy trees, intricate sandstone formations, lush wildflowers – welcome to Salt Point State Park, a coastal outpost in northwestern Sonoma County that is worth a visit.
The park, located nearly 20 winding miles north of Jenner on Highway 1, has long been a popular destination for campers, abalone divers, beach-goers and rock explorers. Even artists can be found sitting on the banks of the cliffs sketching seascapes from above.
The 6,000-acre park stays at a cool 60 degrees in the summer, and it is diverse and sprawling enough that fog doesn’t completely blanket the terrain. The marine life spectrum at the park is quite varied, with underwater kelp forests visible from any of the beaches, which are accessible by navigable trails.
About 150 years ago, boats would carry sandstone from Salt Point and nearby Fort Ross to become streets and buildings in San Francisco, but as that economic engine sputtered to a halt at the end of the century, the park turned into an environmental showpiece. Tafoni is the term to describe the honeycomb-like ruts throughout the stone cliffs, making them a lot of fun to scale and explore.
A hike from the Gerstle Cove parking lot north to Horseshoe Cove is a ten-mile roundtrip jaunt, and while not technically difficult, it can easily be a day hike or can be shortened into a more manageable trek. The payoff is a coastal walk with epic views. A mile into the hike, stop at Stump Beach, get your toes in the sand, and explore the tidal pools. Or continue on to Sentinel Rock Overlook, an ideal lunch spot to watch the waves come in and scout for occasional gray whales.
None were seen on a recent visit, but sea lions were in abundance. Along the way, the impact of the water and salt over time on the rock formations has created numerous alcoves and chances for trail detours. At the staffed visitor center and entrance kiosk, historical information is available about the park’s evolution and scope.
At several points along the northern trail, hikers can choose to take thin coastal paths or stay inland and meander into the woods a bit. Bonus hike: cross Highway 1 to the Woodside Campground and take the 1-mile interpretive trail to the Pygmy Forest, one of the few left in the area.