With roughly 3,000 trees remaining, the Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana) is North America’s rarest pine. Just two groves of Torrey pines exist, one in a State Natural Reserve in San Diego and the other on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park. The hike to Santa Rosa’s Torrey pines is a unique opportunity to see these rare pines up close.
The trail begins from the pier at Bechers Bay and winds past the historic ranch and the active airstrip. At the junction with the trail to Water Canyon Campground, take a left down into Water Canyon. Cross the creek and climb up to resume walking along the coastal road. At 2.5 miles in, swing a right on the singletrack dirt trail to begin the loop in the Torrey pines grove. The trail switchbacks up the coastal hillside to the top of the grove with excellent views of the area. At the top, the trail briefly parallels the road – be sure to remain on the dirt trail in order to walk down into the grove’s eastern side.
The grove itself feels massive, and it will completely surround you for most of the loop trail. Numerous huge pine cones from the trees cover the ground in the hillside’s gulleys. As you walk through the grove, spectacular coastal views are framed by the pines.
The Torrey pines only occur on coastal cliff sites that receive cooler air and moisture. Due to the rarity of the Torrey pine, trees within groves are genetically similar. The introduction of a new disease or insect infestation raises the possibility of this pine’s extinction.
Wildlife can also be seen from the trail. Four of the Channel Islands, including Santa Rosa, are home to the island fox. Hikers in the spring time have the bonus of seeing island fox pups! A variety of seabirds, shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds can also be seen.