You could call a hike easy if it was less a mile long and almost completely level. You could call a hike easy to reach if the trailhead was right at the end of a freeway offramp. You could call a hike easy to enjoy if it offered lovely coastal views and almost guaranteed wildlife viewing. Introducing the easy-to-reach, easy-to-enjoy, and all around easy hike from Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve to Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary Overlook!
Straight to the Seal Sanctuary Overlook and back is one mile round trip with 25 feet of elevation change. Venture down to a beach next to the Seal Sanctuary Overlook and add a loop to another overlook in and adjacent park to easily expanded the hike to 2 miles round trip with 100 feet of elevation change. At any length, the hike presents a quick quality excursion on the beautiful coast west of Santa Barbara.
Get underway from a large dirt parking area in Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve located at the south end of Bailard Avenue in Carpinteria (right next to Highway 101). The small preserve has several side trails, but the shortest route to the Seal Sanctuary Overlook starts from the center of the parking area and heads south toward the ocean. Look for a sign at the trailhead describing the preserve. The trail angles southwest crossing a meadow of sage and brush.
After 0.15 miles, you will come to a T-junction with Carpinteria Bluffs Trail. Turn right on this wide pebble path, which runs parallel to railroad tracks on the ocean bluff. Enjoy views up and down the coast as you follow Carpinteria Bluffs Trail along a line of large eucalyptus trees. After 0.2 miles, the trail bends left and crosses the railroad tracks. On the ocean side of the tracks, you will quickly reach a beach access trail breaking off to the left down to a sandy beach.
To lengthen your hike with a stroll on the sand, take this trail down to the ocean. The access trail ends at the beach in less than a tenth of a mile. The waterfront to the right of the access trail (west) is closed for much of the year to ensure that the harbor seals have an undisturbed birthing area. The beach is closed to the public in the winter and spring when harbor seals have their pups, but that is a great time of year to visit to the overlook.
Looking east down the beach, fine sand stretches toward a rocky point where you can discover tide pools, a tenth of a mile from the beach access trail. Extended exploration along the beach is also possible.
Returning to Carpinteria Bluffs Trail, the wide dirt trail continues along the coast for just over a tenth of a mile to the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary Overlook. Turn left toward a wooden bench where you can look down from the bluff onto the beach, 75 feet below, where harbor seals can usually be seen lying in the sand. The rookery is home to about 100 harbor seals, and pups may appear between December and May. Just west of the overlook is a Chevron Pier. The jutting pier and the surrounding rocky bluffs create a beautiful ocean vista (with or without the seals).
See what there is to see from Seal Sanctuary Overlook (binoculars recommended) and return the way you came to Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve. Cross the railroad tracks and pass the eucalyptus grove to reach the junction where you first joined Carpinteria Bluffs Trail (on the initial trail crossing the meadow from the parking area). You could turn left for a simple out and back hike (1.2 miles or more with the beach, one mile without), or continue straight along Carpinteria Bluffs Trail to add a loop to the end of the hike that takes in one more ocean overlook.
For this loop extension, continue east for 0.3 miles to the end of Carpinteria Bluffs Trail at Viola Fields. This is an alternate trailhead for the hike with bathrooms here for those who need them. To the right, find a short path out to Lois Sidenberg Coastal Overlook, which looks out over the railroad tracks and across the blue water of the Pacific Ocean toward the Channel Islands.
Leave the overlook and walk along a parking lot to the north side of a pair of baseball fields. Turn left, following a dirt trail along the fields back to the parking area for Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, reaching it in 0.2 miles. This extra loop is 2/3 of a mile long, flat, and not as scenic as the main trail, but it makes an easy addition for those looking for a little extra exercise.
Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, Viola Fields, and the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary (also called the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve and Rookery) combine to protect 53 acres of oceanfront green space on the coast east of Santa Barbara. Dogs are allowed on the Bluff Trail in Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Viola Park, but are not allowed at the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary Overlook because dogs can disturb the harbor seals. Bikes are also allowed on the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail, but are discouraged at the overlook itself. No fee or permit is required to hike from Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve to Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary Overlook, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: Take Highway 101 to exit 85 for Bailard Avenue (12 miles east of Santa Barbara). At the end of the offramp turn south toward the coast on Bailard Avenue. Drive straight across an intersection with Carpinteria Avenue into a dirt parking area in Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve.
Trailhead address: Bailard Avenue & Carpinteria Avenue, Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, Carpinteria, CA 93013
Trailhead coordinates: 34.386929, -119.498625 (34° 23′ 12.94″N 119° 29′ 55.05″W)
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