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HIKING: SANTA BARBARA

Gaviota Pass Too Pretty to Pass Up

April 11, 1999|JOHN McKINNEY | John McKinney is the author of "Day Hiker's Guide to California's State Parks" (Olympus Press, $14.95)

It would be unfair to say no one stops in Gaviota Pass. The pass hosts a Caltrans rest area, site of the only public restrooms along U.S. 101 between Los Angeles and the hamlet of Bradley north of San Luis Obispo.

Most motorists who stop, and the multitudes who do not, remain oblivious to the area's natural attractions. Too bad, because Gaviota Pass and its pathways are too good to pass up.

Most of the pass--the green scenery on either side of U.S. 101--is the rolling back country of 2,775-acre Gaviota State Park. Park trails meander across oak-dotted potreros and travel ridge tops that afford hikers grand vistas.

Directions to trail head: From Santa Barbara, drive up-coast (west) about 30 miles on U.S. 101. Just as the highway makes a dramatic bend north, you'll spot a sign for Gaviota State Park. Merge left into the left turn lane and carefully turn left across the highway onto the state park entry road. The park road leads to a kiosk ($3 parking fee required), then down to the beach. You'll veer right before the kiosk and follow the unsigned road leading to the exclusive Hollister Ranch community. At the first bend in the road, you'll find the state park trail head and a pullout for parking on the right.

The hike: Begin on the asphalt road (closed to vehicles), which leads 0.6 mile across thickets of sweet-smelling sage and fennel on a route parallel to U.S. 101. Join the left-forking, signed ("Multi-Use Trail") path as it winds its way to the top of a hillock. Next the path climbs more earnestly along a rocky ridge. Intriguing sandstone outcroppings protrude above ceanothus, manzanita and other members of the chaparral community. Just as your eye is drawn to some (inaccessible) caves across the canyon to your right, the trail deposits you at the mouth of a large cave on your left.

Beyond the cave, Beach-to-Backcountry Trail dips and rises another 0.5 mile or so before making a final dip to an unsigned junction with Overlook Fire Road.

A right on the fire road leads 0.5 mile to a viewpoint occupied only by a radio antenna and a small concrete block building.

A three-minute walk left on the fire road leads among grand old oaks to another unsigned junction. The fire road bends right (north), while Hollister Trail heads west. I prefer joining Hollister Trail, which ascends west, then bends north along the boundary line between the state park and Hollister Ranch.

Hollister Trail travels a ridge top and escapes the highway din that can irritate the hiker on other park trails. The trail offers great views over Hollister Ranch and the westward-extending coastline. After about 0.75 mile, the trail passes a junction (often very difficult to spot) with a right-forking connector trail that drops down to meet Overlook Fire Road.

Nearly two miles from its junction with Overlook Fire Road, Hollister Trail reaches a four-way junction. Hollister Trail ascends another 0.25 mile north to a viewpoint, then bends west.

A right-forking fire road (Las Cruces Trail) descends steeply to a path near, and parallel to, U.S. 101; Yucca Trail, signed on the ground but absent from park maps, also descends to this path.

Hikers can make a loop trip out of this jaunt by descending on either the trail or the fire road to the footpath near U.S. 101. Join an unsigned southbound trail (overgrown in places) for 0.5 mile to a junction with Beach-to-Backcountry Trail.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Beach-to-Backcountry, Overlook, Hollister Trails

WHERE: Gaviota State Park.

DISTANCE: To Gaviota Pass Overlook is 5 miles round trip with 700-foot elevation gain; loop via Overlook and Hollister Trails is 8.5 miles round trip with 800-foot elevation gain.

TERRAIN: Oak-dotted grassland, sandstone formations.

HIGHLIGHTS: Overlooked hiking destination with much natural and historical interest.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate to moderately strenuous.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Gaviota State Park, Channel Coast District, California Department of Parks and Recreation, 1933 Cliff Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93109; tel. (805) 899-1400.

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