Hiking the tide pools of Gerstle CoveSalt Point State Park

The northern coast of California is littered with a variety of camping spots. But the north coast is not like the Southern California coast with its miles of sandy beaches, warm weather and scantily clad beach goers. No, the Northern Coast is rugged and rocky with turbulent waves crashing against cliffs. It is beautiful and awe inspiring, and camping near the pounding surf is an experience everyone can enjoy. One great camping spot is Salt Point State Park. It’s located 90 miles north of San Francisco, CA on the beautiful coastal Highway 1. What makes this area great for vacationing is the variety of things you can do while camping here.


The park contains two campsites, Gerstle Cove Campground and Woodside Campground, that gives the visitor two different experiences. Gerstle Cove Campground is small, consisting of 30 camping spots, and is located only 0.2 miles from the shore. It’s a short 15 minute hike to the visitor center where you can learn about the wildlife and history of Gerstle Cove. The campground has several restrooms, but no showers. Each campsite is equipped with a fire pit, picnic table and a food storage cabinet. Because the campground is close to the coast and roughly half of the campsites are in open space with only some trees around, it can be windy during the day and early evening as the breeze blows in from the ocean. It can also be a little chilly. Morning fog is common even in the summer and temperatures rarely get above 80 degrees during the day and can dip into the low 50’s at night so be prepared to bundle up. The campground is clean but some spots are small and overgrown with grass. Reservations are recommended as it seems to be a popular place and can fill up on weekends. Individual sites are not reserved, but you can drive around and pick your spot once you arrive.

Woodside Campground is larger, with 110 spots, and is located farther inland. Although you could still hike from here to the coast, it’s not a bad idea to take a car down to the parking area by the visitor center and save your energy for a hike around the tide pools. This campground is nestled in the woods and sheltered from the ocean breeze making it a bit more comfortable. There is plenty of space between camp sites and trees separate you from your neighbors giving this campground a much more private, cozy feel.  Both campgrounds offer firewood for sale from the camp host, but if you need groceries or other necessities, you will have to drive into the nearest town of Jenner, about 30 minutes away, so plan ahead.

Fishing & Diving

Gerstle Cove is a popular scuba diving and abalone diving location. The cove is a marine reserve and no wildlife can be taken from within the reserve boundaries, which are clearly marked with yellow posts. Large red abalone are in abundance as well as a variety of fish. This is a great location for the underwater photographer. Abalone fishing is permitted outside the marine sanctuary, but be sure to check local regulations as to size and catch limits. The shore in this area is very rocky and scuba diving can be dangerous at times. Before you dive, check with the ranger for water conditions and make sure you have the proper gear for a dive in this particular area.

Tide Pools

Gerstle Cove is a great place to check out the tide pools. The ranger station at the campgrounds or the visitor center will have low tide times posted so be sure to take advantage of the low tide. From the visitor center you can easily follow the trail down to the rocky shore and jump around from rock to rock searching for sea creatures. You could see crab, starfish, sea urchins and some huge, beautiful jelly fish. In fact, there are so many jelly fish you have to be careful while hiking around the rocks. They wash up on shore during high tide and their clear jelly colors make them difficult to see. Watch your step. The rocks can also be quite rough. The sandstone mixed with other types of rock makes for a rough surface so be careful and wear proper footwear, such as water shoes or hiking shoes.


There are over 20 miles of hiking trails that take you from the rocky coast up to the forested hills to a pygmy forest. Hiking loops range from 2.5 miles all the way to 10 mile loops with enough variable terrain to satisfy the casual hiker, to the hard core, uphill climber. Stump Beach Cove is a 2.5 mile round trip hike from Salt Point and Fish Mill Cove is 6 miles round trip. If you’re looking for an all day hike along the coastal grasslands, you can pack a lunch or snack and enjoy a 10 mile loop to Horseshoe Cove. Some of the trails in the grasslands are not clearly marked and you may have to find a new path along the way. But not to worry, it’s ally grassland with high visibility and your chances of getting lost are next to none. Along the hike you can stop anywhere amongst the rocks and sandstone cliffs or climb down to a sandy cove to take a break and just enjoy the incredible view of the tide pools, sea caves and pounding surf.

During the months of November through March you will often see Gray Whales migrating south and in spring you will see plenty of seals and sea lions. All year round you will enjoy the wildlife that is found in Salt Point State Park. Camping fees for the park are a little pricey at $35 a night with $8 a night charge for additional vehicles, but it is well worth it for the beautiful scenery alone. Camping here for a weekend or for a week makes a great vacation for the entire family. You won’t be disappointed.