Trying to beat the heat is always one of my first priorities when choosing a trail. This week I traveled up the coast a bit to the coolest spot I could find, about 20 miles or so past Santa Barbara. Aniso Trail runs between El Capitan and Refugio State Beaches. The trail is paved but one can hike in the dirt right next to it for much of the way. There is a section of trail, officially closed due to erosion, but the barriers are unmaintained and easy to get around and the closure does not seem to be enforced. I crossed paths with many people hiking this stretch. The blufftop views of the coastline are outstanding, and the beach below has several interesting features.
Directions: Going north on the 101 Freeway, pass Santa Barbara and continue on for another 20 to 30 minutes. Pass the exit for El Capitan State Beach. In a couple of miles take the exit for Refugio State Beach. The exits are well marked. If you choose to park at the beach, turn left toward the ocean and follow the road to the turn-off on the right where a guardhouse stands. The gates for the day use lots don’t open until 8 a.m. and, as of this writing, you will pay ten dollars to park. Because I arrived at 6 a.m. I parked outside the gates. At the bottom of the off-ramp, instead of heading toward the beach I went inland, just a few yards, to the dirt lot on the right. Parking is free here and it’s a short walk to the park.
To start, I hiked down the road, under the freeway overpasses and under a train overpass as well. Keep to the right at the overpasses instead of following the road. This is a shortcut that leads directly into the park. Just past the train overpass I walked into the center of the large campground area. I had planned to go up the coast just a short way along Refugio Beach, but noticed the paved trail to my immediate left. I quickly decided to take the trail first and then check out Refugio Beach at the end of my hike. Several times over the last few years I have had the idea to soak my tired feet in the cold ocean water after one of my hikes but never followed through. Would today be the day?
It was overcast for the first leg of my journey. This is a typical bluffside trail, pushed away from the edge by several yards. There is also vegetation blocking the view to the ocean. However, there are countless little trails that lead to the edge of the bluff and awesome views.
Refugio State Beach
The trail dipped down to sea level and I headed out onto the sand to check out some of the weird rock formations. Photo 3 – A marker, a piece of art or a pagan idol. I’m not quite sure how that wooden head is balancing on top of it’s rock body.
Look how the waves have cut away these rocks and then ground them to a smooth finish.
Pretty yellow rocks
Looking one cove up the beach I spotted what appears to be a large cave, most likely full of pirate’s treasure.
Wall of rock with a big hole worn in the middle.
The trail, shown in a close-up in photo 2, did look pretty messed up from below.
The area is marked as closed, but see how easy it is to get around the fence? I often look at trail closures as more of a “proceed at your own risk” kind of deal. Those who oversee the property, in this case the State of California, are afraid they’ll be held liable should someone fall through or off the damaged areas. So they put up a sign stating the area is closed and can then say “we told you not to go in there”, should an accident happen. But on both ends of the closure are well worn paths which circumvent the fences and have obviously been in use for a long time.
The path narrows considerably and hikers are fenced in. There are two sections where the bluff has eroded to a point where the pavement and fence have given way. You have a decent chance of falling through if you’re drunk or blind, but other than that it didn’t seem anymore dangerous than the average trail. There’s plenty of room to pass. Of course I’m not a geologist and the cliff could be dangerously unstable, who knows. It seems perfectly safe to me but proceed at your own risk.
Dolphins swimming just offshore.
I arrived at the spot where the trail was closed from the other side, near El Capitan State Beach. I had to chuckle when I saw the big hole someone had torn in the fence. All that effort when all they had to do was go around the side. The campgrounds at El Capitan were deserted, I assume as a result of the recent Sherpa Fire which swept through the hills right across the freeway. It was so much more peaceful here than Refugio.
Here was a bizarre sight, like something out of a Salvador Dali painting – a pair of wooden “legs”, just the legs, stroll down the rocky beach.
I reached the end of El Capitan Beach, where there are picnic tables set up on a grassy area. Points down in Santa Barbara could now be seen. I sat at the furthest table, right off the water, and ate lunch.
The marine layer burned away and I was gifted with blue skies and even better views.
A train, the Amtrak Surfliner, passed by. It was the only one I saw today.
I finally did it, a good post-hike foot soak in the Pacific. I had a fun day in a beautiful area.
Some Bonus pictures from my trip to Shambala Preserve, actress Tippi Hedren’s rescue for exotic cats. One weekend a month they open their doors to the public and give tours in small groups. There is a trading post, a mock train station and this crow covered jungle gym (photo 2), an homage to Ms. Hedren’s most well known movie, “The Birds”.
Seeing these big cats up close is a real treat. Mostly there are lions and tigers, but also other cats – a serval, a leopard, a mountain lion, etc.
Photo 1 – I love this guy (or girl?) hiding in the low grass and checking out all the humans.
Photo 1 – The cats play with these balls. Obviously they have extremely powerful jaws and claws. At the end of the tour the groups ate lunch by the little lake and were addressed by Ms. Hedren. This is a very worthy foundation. If you are interested in touring Shambala, or participating in one of their programs, please check out their website: Shambala Preserve