Twenty miles north of Jenner on Highway 1 lies Salt Point State Park, sandwiched into the few miles between the Pacific Ocean and the San Andreas Fault. This onetime timber port and sandstone quarry (rock for San Francisco's streets was extracted here in the mid-1800s) is a great example of the rugged beauty of the Northern California coast.
From the campground parking lot, take the dirt path inland through tanoak and redwood groves. In spring, the area is sprinkled with the pink blooms of the plant that gives adjacent Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve its name. The trail climbs over several miles to an eerie pygmy forest of pines and cypress stunted by acidic, hard-packed soil. At the highest point in the park (about 900 feet), a broad expanse of coastal prairie offers good views of the bluffs and the ocean below.
To explore the coast, park by the Gerstle Cove visitor center. To the south is Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve, a protected area favored by scuba divers and tidepoolers. To the north, Salt Point Trail traces the edge of marine terraces above rafts of seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Stump Beach Cove, a rare stretch of sandy beach, provides an ideal location for a picnic or a sunset viewing.
Getting there: Take Highway 1 north. Ten miles past Fort Ross, turn off at either Gerstle Cove or Woodside Campground. Ample parking; camping available year-round; selected trails open to horses and bicycles.
Hike by David Carroll, originally published in the July 2007 issue of Bay Nature magazine