The Comeback Pine

Hiking on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park to Torrey Pines Grove

The Torrey pine is now the rarest pine in the United States. On Santa Rosa Island, you can visit one of its last seaside groves—with some trees dating back 250 years—on a 4.5-mile trek. From the campground, head east down Coastal Road for 1.5 miles over tan grasslands interrupted by several deep water-cut crevices and flecked with a smattering of short, broad Torrey pines, the colonizing vanguard of the main grove perched on sandstone bluffs up ahead. On a windy day (and most days are windy on Santa Rosa), the rush of surf seems echoed in their thick, rustling pine needles—a sound most soothing and mysterious.

Shortly after a sign points the way to Black Rock (a scenic promontory), the looping Torrey Pines Trail diverges from the road, snaking up a spur along the woodland’s fringe. A bench invites you to rest and bask in the panorama of crescent-shaped Bechers Bay and Santa Cruz Island beyond. At ridgeline, you’ll also glimpse the island’s vast interior of rolling grasslands, deep canyons, and a central mountain range. From here, the trail dips back to Coastal Road, switchbacking beneath old Torrey pines at the heart of the grove, their limbs fantastically contorted by relentless coastal winds. You’ll encounter stands of younger pines too (so straight and symmetrical in comparison as to be mistaken for a different pine altogether), a healthy sign for the once threatened grove. In the 1880s, intense sheep grazing had whittled numbers to roughly a hundred. Now over 4,000 trees grace Santa Rosa.

BONUS: On the way back, hike down to Black Rock for clifftop coastal views, and luxuriate on the white sands of Water Canyon Beach (winds permitting).

TIP: This is a great hike to squeeze in on your departure day before afternoon ferries leave for the mainland.

CAMP: The island has only one established campground, located 1.5 miles south of the pier, and situated in Water Canyon, just a few hundred yards inland from the beaches of Bechers Bay. The camp has 15 sites—each with a wooden wind shelter, picnic table, and food storage locker (owing to the thievish island fox)—plus an impressive solar-powered outhouse with warm water and an outdoor sink basin. $15 per night. Reserve a site.

Book boat passage to Santa Rosa through Island Packers, the park's only concessionaire, which will ferry passengers to the island two or three days a week until November 20. Schedule and fares on their site. No dogs.

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Up Umunhum

    Rising from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Umunhum is one of the Bay Area’s highest points, reaching an impressive 3,486 feet. With the new 7.4-mile (round-trip) addition to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, locals can finally step up to its peak.

  2. Cross It Off Your Bucket List

    Crosstown Trail San Francisco may be one of the most beautiful city walks in America, passing through less-visited nooks and crannies while also taking in greatest hits, including mosaic stairways.

  3. Kirby Your Enthusiasm

    Just west of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin is one of the Bay's most-accessible secluded beaches. Kirby Cove is accessed by hiking or biking a 1-mile fire road down to the beach, where the reward is an all-time classic Golden Gate view.

  4. Napa's Wild Side

    It’s wine country’s Amazon. Cutting 50 miles through the famous Napa Valley and emptying into San Pablo Bay, the gentle Napa River is an ecological—and recreational—delight. And Napa Valley Paddle helps you enjoy it.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Sponsored

    Weekend Sherpa Podcast: Take it Outside

    Adventure for your earbuds. What's new in the world of the outdoors? Listen to Weekend Sherpa co-founders discuss local hikes, beaches, bike rides, camping spots and all kinds of travel and adventure in California and beyond!

  2. Secret Trail at Torrey Pines

    Find cliff climbs, sandy strolls, and secret hikes throughout “America’s finest sandy stretch" at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego County.

  3. Secluded Royale

    Panoramic coastal views and a killer leg workout combine on this 2.7-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike to secluded Coast Royale Beach in Orange County

  4. Border Field State Park

    Border Field State Park is the southernmost point in California as well as one of the last beautiful undeveloped coastlines in the state. Visit this natural refuge for a 4.5-mile hike featuring important history and wildlife habitats, plus stunning SoCal beach scenery.