El Capitan State Beach
It is still too hot to leave the ocean, at least not for something short of 10,000 feet, so may be a good time to go exploring El Capitan State Beach. It is so close, but I have only zoomed past noticing how busy the campgrounds always seem to be. Download the park brochure and you will see that there is a small trail system on the bluffs above the ocean and a much larger system around the canyon north of the freeway. James Wapotich wrote about this trail a few years ago. Parking is located at the entrance to Oceanmesa Campground. Half of it seems to be taken up by some construction currently, but there is plenty left for a lone hiker.
|Choose your poison.|
I head out along the edge of the campground straight out to the hills that rise behind it. Here, there is a junction marked simply "easy" and "hard". The left is the trail marked on State Park Service map that climbs and wiggles to a view point. The right is actually marked as a road on the map and just makes a big loop around the side of the view point. I figure I am on a loop so will just be up one and down the other and turn for the "easy" route. The slow climb provides increasingly expansive views of the coast, still in fog, and glimpses of the canyon, almost entirely obscured by clouds.
|Some fog obscures the coastline, but trail on the other side of the canyon is clear enough from here.|
It is quickly clearing off and more and more canyon is visible as I come around the bend to where there is another sign for the "easy" and "hard" way. Guess I will not be going on the other trail on the way down after all. It is a short and very steep scramble along the trail up to the nearby view point and does not gain much view of the still clearing coast. I pick my way down again carefully and head north along the gentle roll of hill.
|The hard way comes steeply down off one last hill to join the easy way.|
|The road the trail follows undulates easily along the hills.|
The oil and gas processing plant is visible to the west for a stretch, then there is another junction. The road continues straight, but the signs indicate I should drop down into the canyon. This drops past another junction with road all the way into the private rental cabins below. On the way down, there is a large wood sign marking three miles although I have only been 2.5 miles.
|Marking off the miles in style.|
|Quail on a fence post by the cabins.|
Hitting the pavement among the cabins, there is a sign that indicates the trail goes either way. I try to figure this out in the context of where I have just come from and maybe the arrow to the left is supposed to represent that so it means the trail as I am following it goes down to the right? Going that way finds more signs for the trail, although one refers to a shortcut and then they stop. At this point, I decide to go with instinct and head back up the road. Just short of a parking lot above where I came in, there is more trail off to the left and undated warnings that a young mountain lion has been seen recently. Now I am really climbing up along El Capitan Canyon.
|Still on an old road, but at least it is not paved.|
The climb up is very easy. The road twists quite a lot, dipping into tributaries that look like they might have water in them, but never do. With all the twists, it takes quite a while to get anywhere. The large wooden signs continue to mark off the miles, although with the extra wandering between the canyons, I now have a little more miles rather than a little less.
|Broadcast Peak rises up behind El Capitan Canyon.|
|Looking down El Capitan Canyon to the rental cabins and misty ocean.|
|A mess of green at one tributary that shows no water.|
|A fallen bird nest at the side of the road.|
There seems to be a soft layer where strike canyons might form, but for now it is only a spot where the canyon walls are shorter. Here, the road turns back to the main canyon. On one side is the second picnic table that has been along the road, this time with a serving table, and on the other is an area that looks like it has been flattened for a heliport. From here, the trail plunges down into the canyon, past plenty of poison oak, and back up the other side. This part can be quite steep. There are numerous offshoot trails with often destroyed signs pointing the other way next to them.
|An area of softer rock leaves the canyon walls shorter and an easy view to the west.|
|Picnic tables for the hardy.|
|Someone has ruined quite a number of the signs, including the mile markers.|
|Looking back along the trail as it crosses the canyon.|
The far side also has a few offshoot trails. There are rumors that a trail can be followed from this one, with some difficult route finding spots, all the way up top. That would be an exploration for a cooler day. I turn and follow the main trail back down. It now follows very closely along the top of the ridge between canyons. The other side may be quite high up in the canyon, but this is definitely the high route.
|Forward over the tops.|
|The mountains rising up behind.|
|El Capitan Canyon. The road up the other side is clear to see.|
|Coming up on 8 miles and there are orchards to the left.|
Eventually, the route takes on a little more character of a road and a little less that of a fuel break. It winds around a few hills and then drops into some oaks a little way down the canyon. More roads come to join it, but signs still point the way.
|A little surprise along the way, a bit of a cave where a cliff is undercut.|
|Under the oaks for a short way.|
The drop is short lived, and I am quickly pointed at a short climb to get back up onto the ridge line. Then there is a choice. One sign points down for "canyon" and the other points south for "overlook" with no indication as to which is the trail I am trying to follow. Well, not that it matters, because I am going to go for the overlook.
|Getting back to those hills just above the ocean and freeway.|
|Unfortunately, the view is still misty.|
|One more picnic area where the waves and freeway may be heard.|
The road ends at picnic tables, but trail continues down the hill on the other side. It drops steeply in tight switchbacks over the crumbling shale. There are a couple signs pointing out trails to various areas of the rental cabin area, but I continue toward the ocean. At the bottom, there is a well trod road out to the llamas and I go ahead and follow it myself before heading back to my parking.
|Look out, there are llamas! Or maybe they are alpaca. Apparently there is a good tax advantage to owning alpaca.|
Heading back down through the cabin area again is without any direction, so I just turn toward the ocean. There is a small trail beside a cafe, and this seems like a sensible way to go. There is also a cat which simply must have her ears scratched. I cross a bridge and find my way into a new trail with paved paths and a sign more completely explaining the trail I have just been on. It looks like the loop is meant to follow the "canyon" sign down and then reconnect with the route I used to get to the cabins. The sign does not explain why it is placed here where it is not on the trail at all.
|A little bit of information on the Bill Wallace Trail.|
At the top, there is more campground. I just move along the edge of it again to get to the entry and parking.
©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 13 Sep 2015