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USA Parks
San Francisco Bay Area Region
Salt Point State Park
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Salt Point State Park © Mick Valiyee
Salt Point State Park Wild Flower at Salt Point SP © wei lian
Salt Point State Park Salt Point © Azael Ozzie Fregoso
Photo was taken from beach just below the main parking lot on the beach.
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Rocky promontories, panoramic views, kelp-dotted coves, and the dramatic sounds of pounding surf; open grasslands, forested hills, pristine prairies, and pygmy forests- you can experience all of these coastal wonders within the Salt Point State Park. With 20 miles of hiking trails, over six miles of rugged coastline, and an underwater park, you can enjoy a variety of picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, skin and SCUBA diving, and camping. The weather can be changeable along the rugged Northern California Coast. Even summertime can be cool as fog hugs the coastline and ocean winds chill the air. We recommend layered clothing for your visit.

Sandstone and TafoniEver wonder where the streets of San Francisco came from? Sandstone from Salt Point was used in the construction of San Francisco's streets and buildings during the mid 1800's. If you look closely at the rocks at Gerstle Cove, you can still see eyebolts where the ships anchored while sandstone slabs were loaded onboard. Quarried rocks can still be seen scattered along the marine terrace north of Gerstle Cove. Look for the drill holes along the edges of the rocks that were used to separate the large rocks into smaller slabs.

Tafoni is the Italian word for cavern. It is a natural phenomenon that is common along the sandstone near the ocean's edge at Gerstle Cove and Fisk Mill. Look for a honeycomb type network carved into the rocks forming pits, knobs, ribs, and ridges.
Nature of the Area
Land Plants and Animals

As the terrain rises northeast of Highway One, coastal brush and grasslands blend into lush growths of bishop pine, Douglas, fir, madrone, tan oak, groves of second growth redwood and quiet meadow areas. At the top of the coastal ridge, at about 1,000 feet elevation, there is a large open "prairie" where elk once grazed. At Salt point's highest elevation, you will find pygmy forests where stands of pygmy cypress, pine, and even the normally gigantic redwood grow only to stunted sizes. This is caused by the combination of a highly acidic soil that is lacking in nutrients and a hardpan layer just below the soil surface. Similar stands of pygmy forest are found all along the Pacific Coast from Monterey County northward to Mendocino County.

Black-tailed deer, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, gray foxes, badgers, striped skunks, and dozens of varieties of rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks, and field mice are native to this area. Bears and mountain lions occasionally range the area, although visitors rarely see them.

The forest, grassland, and ocean's shore host a huge variety of birds. Look for pelicans, ospreys, woodpeckers (including pileated), and oyster catchers. Be wary of Steller's jays and ravens who ravage unattended campsites in search of food.Marine Plants and AnimalsBull kelp thrives along the Pacific coast. In April, no kelp is visible from the shore, but its growth has already begun. Attaching to rocks with a holdfast, it will grow up to 10 inches per day as it reaches for sunlight at the ocean's surface. In August, the water is dark with the lush kelp forest that provides homes for numerous varieties of rock fish and marine organisms.

Sonoma Coast is famous for its red abalone. This slow-growing aquatic snail is an important part of the intertidal community. It takes an abalone an average of 10 years to reach a diameter of 7 inches.

Gray whales can be seen between December and April as they migrate southward to their breeding and calving areas along the coast of Baja California and then return to their summer feeding areas in the Bering Sea.

Gerstle Cove is an Underwater Reserve where no form of marine life may be taken or disturbed. The boundaries are marked with a yellow pole on the north end and yellow paint on the south.
All campsites, with the exception of our overflow camping, are equipped with a fire-ring, picnic table, and food locker. The campgrounds have drinking water and restrooms but no showers. A dump station is not available.


Two main campgrounds are available at Salt Point State Park. Gerstle Cove campground is situated atop the coastal bluffs on the ocean side of Highway One and offers 30 family campsites. Woodside Campground, with 79 sites, is located on the east side of Highway One.


The walk-in campground is located in the Woodside Campground and offers 20 sites which are located 1/3 to 1/2 mile from the parking area. Dogs are prohibited in these sites.


Ten sites are available for campers on foot or bicycles. These sites are located behind the ranger office near Woodside Campground.


This camp is located on the ocean side of Highway One and accommodates a maximum of 40 people and ten cars. Dogs are prohibited.


A day use parking lot located below Gerstle Campground is available for self-contained vehicles only. No tent camping or open fires are allowed. No restroom facilities or drinking water are available.

Fishing is permitted throughout the area with a valid fishing license, with the exception of Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve. The rocky coastline at Salt Point provides many excellent ocean fishing opportunities. Using bait of squid, shrimp, mussels, or smelt you can catch lingcod, cabezon, rockfish, and greenlings while fishing from the rocks. Be careful to stay back from the waves reach, since the rocks can be slippery and the ocean is rough.

Fisk Mill Cove is a day use area that provides picnickers with paved parking, picnic tables, small upright barbeques, restrooms, and drinking water. Additionally, the bishop pines in this area provide protection from the spring and summer winds. You can take a short walk from the north lot for a dramatic view of the Pacific Ocean from Sentinel Rock's wooden deck.

Stump Beach is another picnic area that offers one of the few sandy beaches north of Jenner. There are a few picnic tables near the parking lot and a primitive toilet with no running water. A 1/4 mile trail leads down to the beach.

South Gerstle Cove also has picnic tables, a primitive toilet, and a beautiful, exposed view of the ocean.
Horse Area
There are over 20 miles of hiking and equestrian trails to explore in Salt Point State Park. Trail maps are available at the entrance station.
There are over 20 miles of hiking and equestrian trails to explore in Salt Point State Park. Trail maps are available at the entrance station.
Area Attractions
Underwater Park

The park includes one of the first underwater parks in California, Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve, where marine life is completely protected. The cove affords shelter for the hand launching of small boats and divers come to the cove to explore the wonders of the undersea world.

Marine life can be experienced on land during low tide in the rocky intertidal zone through tide pool exploration. When exploring these areas remember that many of these organisms can be damaged or destroyed by even the simple act of turning over a rock and exposing the animals to the sun.


Along the North Coast many divers become entangled in kelp. Those that can calmly free themselves survive but tragically, several divers drown every year in this same situation. The truth is, most entanglements can be easily avoided.

The vast majority of kelp along the North Coast is Bull Kelp (Macrocystis sp.), which is quite slippery and does not tighten up on wetsuits. In watching seals and otters swim through the kelp effortlessly and without incident, we can learn a valuable lesson about being as streamlined as possible while diving. The problem for divers usually comes when they snag items that are not streamlined with the rest of their bodies. The most notorious culprits are dive knives, fin buckles, and snorkels.EquipmentDive KnivesIronically, strapping a dive knife to your calf while free diving is more likely to get you INTO trouble than out of trouble. They are notorious for catching hold of the kelp on ascent and, if strapped on the calf, can be difficult to reach. If you feel more comfortable free diving with a knife, consider strapping it to your arm or thigh where it is less likely to catch and much easier to reach if needed.

Fin Buckles There are several reputable fin companies which offer dive fins without buckles. If you prefer fins with buckles, consider taping over the buckles once you have them sized to your foot. While diving near kelp make a visual check of your fins and feet before every ascent to be sure that they are clear.

SnorkelsSnorkels getting caught in kelp can compound the diver's problem. The snag often pulls the diver's mask from the diver's face. This floods the mask, obscures the diver's vision, and induces panic. Snorkel entanglement is usually caused by not being aware of your surroundings. One of the key rules of diving is to be aware of what is around you at all times. On ascent, always look up, watch where you are going and be aware of what is around you from every direction. Avoid the thick kelp canopy near the surface, but if you must break through it, lead with your hands.Safety Rules

The easiest way to avoid kelp entanglement is not to dive in it. If you are not an advanced diver, stay in clear areas or on the fringes of the kelp forests. Do not dive in kelp if visibility is poor. If you become entangled, DO NOT STRUGGLE and resist panic. Find where the kelp is caught and calmly untangle it.Training DrillsConsider practicing a kelp removal drill while you are diving. At depth, when your lungs are telling you it is time to surface, imagine that your fin becomes entangled in kelp. Can you reach down and free it, or remove your fin if you had to? Would you remember to put your hand on your weight belt buckle and be ready to drop it if needed?

The vast majority of drowned divers are recovered with their weight belts on. Doing drills like this will teach your mind not to panic in a real emergency. Practice it- it could save your life.

Visitor Comments, Memories and Reviews
January 18 Mountain Lion Sighting by Gary
park review stars; one to five Driving northbound on Hwy 1, January 14, 2016 at 9:15 PM sighted an adult cougar climbing up the embankment & heading into the woods. Light tawny colored fur. Awesome sight.
May 29 Gerstle Cove
park review stars; one to five GC is just amazing -- the rock formations will cause you to wander there for many hours. They are unbelievable. Layers and layers and V-shaped teeth. Then, you go farther and rocks get more weird. Try it.
April 12 Excellent park by Jeannine
park review stars; one to five We have a great time at Salt Point -- love the coastline, the sea life, and try to make this a family trip every year, in spite of no showers :-)
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Area Accommodations (over 20 miles away)
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Backyard Garden Oasis BB - Middletown, CA
BBs / Inns
Close to Calistoga, Napa Valley and Lake County Vineyards, and Harbin Hot Springs in the Mayacama Mountains, and 2 hrs away from San Francisco or Sacramento. Backyard Garden Oasis is an exquisite respite for those wanting a nature-filled retreat surrounded by some of Californias most beautiful country.
38.3 miles from park*
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California State Parks