Treadmill Rating (out of 10):
Distance: 10 miles
Max Elevation: 1,248 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet
I have to admit I’m a little embarrassed that it took until November of 2009 to hike this trail, as the trailhead is literally 10 minutes from my house. I’m embarrassed because of all the hikes on the central coast, this could be the crown jewel…and its right down the street from me! It took so long because unlike the popular Bishop’s Peak or Montana De Oro hikes like Valencia Peak, not too many people are aware this hike exists or is open to the public. For several years access was denied by the U.S. Air Force as it does pass through part of Vandenberg Air Force Base. Thankfully, they opened the trail access again.
To check if the trail is open to the public, you can link to the Air Force website here: http://www.vandenberg.af.mil/pointsalaccess.asp
Its not often on Central Coast hikes that I stop in my tracks and just stand on the trail marveling at the beauty that surrounds me. Don’t get me wrong, there are few places that match the Central Coast for hiking…but Point Sal…this is something different. Spectacular vistas of deserted beachline with bright blue clear water. It reminded me a little of Taormina Sicily or Oia on the Greek island of Santorini because you are at about 1,200 feet overlooking the ocean and coastline with a steep decent to a beach that reminds one of paradise!
You’ll head toward the “city” of Guadelupe, California. Take Highway 1 to Brown Road. Turn west on Brown road and follow that till you hit the Point Sal/Brown Road Intersection. Park here. There will be a gate blocking Pt. Sal Road, this is where you want to enter and begin your hike.
The public is granted access by Vandenberg Air Force Base. This access can be denied at any time, so please follow the posted rules so that we may all enjoy this incredible open space. Passed the trail’s entry gate onto Vandenberg Air Force Base, there is no photography allowed. Out of respect for this, I lifted the below photograph of Point Sal Beach from the Bureau of Land Management’s website. It does not do it justice.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
Not technical, but when you are coming back up from Point Sal Beach, it is quite steep. It looked like about 1,248 feet in 3 miles to me. That is a little over 400 feet elevation per mile. Relating that to a popular hike that millions have done, the hike from the Yosemite Valley floor to the first bridge below Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park is similar. Paved (albeit somewhat washed out) cement at a tough incline. You’ll want to be in decent shape and have plenty of water. Take breaks as you need them.
WHO CAN DO THIS HIKE?
The hike to the trail’s crest at 1,248 feet is not too tough, consisting of mostly dirt road with a comfortable incline. I saw a family of 5 pass me while I was taking a break. A husband and wife, 3 young children under 12. The man was pulling a red “radio flyer” wagon tied to his pack with the day’s picnic. They probably stopped at the top, spent a few hours taking in the scene, and headed back down.
Now, descending the 1,200 feet to the beach on the other side of the crest, I saw only two fit and experienced hikers. This was a sunny Saturday in November. A perfect hiking day, so this will give you an indication. Its steep coming back up. 1,200 ft in 3 miles is not a stroll in the park. Be in good shape and have water.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
Year round this hike will be stunning. When I went in November it was a cloudless sky, a cool 65 degrees and the hills were green as can be. There is quite a bit of fog during the fall and winter months, so check the weather. It could have just as easily been foggy and cold. There is no tree cover on this hike, so the summer would make for a pretty hot day…at about 10 miles for the entire hike, in the sun with no shade, you should go as early in the day as possible.
Not being a casual hike, but more of a strenuous one, I would advise that you actually so some training for this hike. Cardio, such as hiking and running would help. My heart was pounding pretty hard coming up from the beach. Treadmill at a sustainable speed for 40 minutes, and of course, hiking with similar gear up steep trials would be the best training.
I think it would be well worth it to just hike up to the crest and back down to the parking area for an enjoyable moderate hike, so don’t rule this one out if you are not in top shape. The view from the overlook at the crest is fantastic, so you don’t have to make your way down to the beach for a great Central Coast hike.