Hiking Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument

One of the little streams that flow to the ocean through Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

One of the little streams that flow to the ocean through Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument

If there is a more beautiful place on the California coast than Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, I can’t imagine what it would look like.  The trail through Point Arena-Stornetta takes day hikers through clifftop meadows of waving grasses and wildflowers to views of numerous sea stacks, cliffs, streams, bays, sea arches, and more, not to mention near-constant views of the Point Arena Lighthouse.  And I even got to see my very first harbor seals.  In the winter, it’s apparently also a great place to whale watch.  It’s pretty lonely, which is all the better to me.  The day I visited was even sunny.  What more could I ask for?

 


 

Wildflowers along the clifftop of Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Wildflowers along the clifftop

Point Arena-Stornetta is part of the larger California Coastal National Monument, added in 2014 by President Obama.  So I hear from another hiker who attended the ceremony, as the (then) Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, was speaking at the official dedication of the monument, a whale breached right behind her.  Quite the way to have a ceremony, especially considering that this section is the only land-based part of California Coastal National Monument!

Pelicans brave the waves at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Pelicans brave the waves

There are three (or four) parking areas for accessing the trail along the cliffs.  Since we wanted the most beauty for our hiking we could get, we started from a small lot along the Point Arena Lighthouse Road (some signs call this “Bend in the Road Footpath Access”).  There’s not a lot there besides a hefty drop off the pavement to the dirt lot, a port-a-potti, and a turnstile in the fence.

The early part of the trail through Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

The early part of the trail

The area is still used for cows, and though I didn’t see any cows or evidence of them, you still might want to keep an eye on your feet.

Cliffs and Sea Stacks at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Cliffs and Sea Stacks

The trail descends slightly through the meadows of the headlands toward outstanding views of the Sea Lion Rocks (which mostly looks like a huge sea stack – and I mean huge – that is separated from the land by the sea).

The north end of the Sea Lion Rocks in Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

The north end of the Sea Lion Rocks

It then wanders along the coast, always on the cliff top, nearly always with views out to sea and back toward the Point Arena Lighthouse, though a few stands of trees occasionally block the view.

Point Arena Lighthouse from Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Point Arena Lighthouse

The first thing of real interest we found along the trail was a sink hole, 0.6 miles from the trailhead.  It looks like it goes down into a cave that goes out to the ocean.  However, there wasn’t any water visible, even at high tide.  You can hear the sea gurgling, though.

The cave at the bottom of the sinkhole in Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

The cave at the bottom of the sinkhole

Wandering on, the trail descends to cross a little stream, then rises again to the top of the headland.  On the right is an old Coast Guard station – it’s for sale, but is currently in the hands of Mendocino College as a Coastal Field Station.  The trail veers inland to go around this, hitting the road to the station at about mile 1.1.

More coastal views along Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

More coastal views

You could also park at the beginning of this road (right near where Lighthouse Road intersects with CA-1) and walk down the road to this place, but that’s about 0.9 miles, so you’ve only saved yourself 0.2 miles and you’ve missed a lot of good views.

Walking the headlands in Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Walking the headlands

Turn right toward the station; a short distance later, the trail goes left back out onto the headlands.  It fairly quickly gets back to the edge of the cliffs, and here the real views begin, because you’re now walking along the edge of the cliffs.  (As if the views you’ve had so far haven’t already been enough!)

Sea arches in Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Sea arches!

The headland views continue with waving grasses and occasional wildflowers; the views out to sea and back toward the lighthouse are great.  But now also are a collection of sea stacks, many with sea arches.

A sea arch and the Point Arena Lighthouse from Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

A sea arch and the Point Arena Lighthouse

I counted at least seven sea arches; there are probably more.  The sight of these at high tide, with the waves crashing around the arches, is quite something!

Waves crash around the sea lion rocks while the sea birds look on calmly

Waves crash around the sea lion rocks while the sea birds look on calmly

About 0.6 miles beyond the road is a kind of viewpoint of the arches from an outcropping on the headland.  This is the end of the arches, but they are still incredible!

Waving grasses atop the headlands at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Waving grasses atop the headlands

We kept walking another quarter mile, then settled down on the grassy clifftop, right near the edge.  Down below was a rocky expanse cut off from the cliffs by the ocean.  About 15 harbor seals were sunning themselves or playing in the water.  How cool is that?  I’ve never seen a harbor seal outside of a zoo!

Seals sunning themselves on a rocky bar at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Seals sunning themselves on a rocky bar

Just after this, the trail (and headland) takes a sharp turn to the left, inland.  You’ve seen the best of the views, but keep going for another 0.4 miles for more views of bays below sheer cliffs and more rocky “bars” in the ocean.

Cliffs, beaches, and rocky bars at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Cliffs, beaches, and rocky bars

At mile 2.4, you’ll pass a parking area with a port-a-potti.  It’s anyone’s guess whether the gate at the head of this road will be open so you could park there, but the road is located just north of the sign for the Point Arena city limits, with the Lion’s Club and Rotary Club signs.

Trees and grassy headlands in Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Trees and grassy headlands

At this point you really have seen the best views.  However, if you want to finish out the trail and see a few more views down into the bay / pier (Point Arena Warf) / lookout tower and across the meadows, continue along the trail another mile to the final parking area, located next to the Point Arena City Hall and Justice Court.  There wasn’t much going on when we were there, but there was a port-a-potti and a fairly large parking lot.

The Point Arena Wharf from the trail in Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

The Point Arena Wharf

Go back the way you came for a total of 6.8 miles RT, or you can do this as a shuttle hike.  Take your pick – the views are terrific any way you decide to do it!

The trail along the headland at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

The trail along the headland

Round Trip Length: 6.8 miles

Net Elevation Change: About 189ft., most of which is gained at the southern end of the trail, which ends at 209ft.

Total Elevation Change: About 425ft.

Facilities: Port-a-potties at the trailheads

Fees: None, though if you go up to the lighthouse, there is a fee to enter the lighthouse grounds.

Trail Notes: There aren’t any guardrails, so use caution.  You’ll have to cross a few streams; these should be easy rock-hops unless they’re really raging.  Also look out for the evidence of cows.  There are other paths intersecting this one and going further from the cliffs.  This is probably good for those with vertigo…

The baby seal at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

The baby seal

Trail ★★★☆☆

Road ★★★★☆

Signs ★★★☆☆

Scenery ★★★★★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

I wonder what that clifftop watchtower is for? Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

I wonder what that clifftop watchtower is for?

Key GPS Coordinates for Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument

Trailhead: 38.9402722°N, -123.7298639°W (38°56’24.98″N, -123°43’47.51″W / 38°56.41633’N, -123°43.79183’W) (43ft.) (0.0; ended 6.88)

Sink Hole: 38.9333000°N, -123.7257083°W (38°55’59.88″N, -123°43’32.55″W / 38°55.99800’N, -123°43.54250’W) (53ft.) (0.66)

Trail Hits Road: 38.9276361°N, -123.7245472°W (38°55’39.49″N, -123°43’28.37″W / 38°55.65817’N, -123°43.47283’W) (54ft.) (1.16)

Sea arches at high tide at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Sea arches at high tide

Sea Arches Viewpoint: 38.9218750°N, -123.7277028°W (38°55’18.75″N, -123°43’39.73″W / 38°55.31250’N, -123°43.66217’W) (37ft.) (1.7)

Seals Overlook: 38.9190333°N, -123.7266639°W (38°55’8.52″N, -123°43’35.99″W / 38°55.14200’N, -123°43.59983’W) (45ft.) (1.99)

Trailhead 2: 38.9190861°N, -123.7211667°W (38°55’8.71″N, -123°43’16.20″W / 38°55.14517’N, -123°43.27000’W) (79ft.) (2.42)

Pelicans take flight at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Pelicans take flight

Coordinates of road to get to Trailhead 2: 38.9185944°N, -123.7060111°W (38°55’6.94″N, -123°42’21.64″W / 38°55.11567’N, -123°42.36067’W)

Trailhead 3: 38.9163472°N, -123.7041667°W (38°54’58.85″N, -123°42’15.00″W / 38°54.98083’N, -123°42.25000’W) (209ft.) (3.46)

A sea arch that goes all the way through the largest of the Sea Lion Rocks at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

A sea arch that goes all the way through the largest of the Sea Lion Rocks!

The gpx file for Point Arena-Stornetta can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

Download GPX File size: 98.6 KB Downloaded 2 times

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

A seal in the water at Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

A seal in the water

Getting to the Point Arena-Stornetta Parking Area

You’ll want to follow CA-1 north or south to get to Lighthouse Road, which is about 1.7 miles north of Point Arena, and about 22 miles south of where CA-128 connects to CA-1.  Turn onto Lighthouse Road, following signs for the Point Arena Lighthouse.  After 1.4 miles, just before the road turns sharply north toward the lighthouse, park in the small parking area along the fence.

 

If you’re going to the southernmost parking area, drive north through Point Arena; just before the city limits, park next to the City Hall and Justice Court.  Or drive south to the Point Arena City Limits; shortly afterward, park next to the City Hall and Justice Court.  The trail begins behind the building.

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the trail through Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, California

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the trail through Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument

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