Basics: The trail up to the Gaviota Wind Caves is short – only about 1.5 miles – but steep and narrow in a few places. You never really get away from the sound of the freeway, but the views are great and climbing around the caves is a lot of fun.
Directions to Trailhead: From US 101 N, make a left turn on to Gaviota Beach Dr. This is around the area where 101 turns inland – if you pass the rest area and go through the tunnel, you’ve gone too far. Where the road splits, make a right on Hollister Ranch Road. A short distance up the road there is a wide turnout and a gate on the right. Park here. The trail begins on the paved path just beyond the gate.
Trail Description: We were the first car at the trailhead! Our group of five began hiking (walking) along the paved road heading towards the nearby hills. This hike isn’t exactly deep in the wilderness, but we did see a few snakes, lizards and a bunch of turkey vultures. Either something died or the vultures just like hanging out near the wind caves.
From the paved road, we could see rocky formations and several of the caves. Eventually, a narrow path split off to the left and ascended the grassy hill. The trail got a little steep, but not for very long. There are several side trails in this area. In fact, I’m not sure the trail we went up was even the main one. The best way to get there is just to follow whichever trail looks the most used, and is headed towards the direction of the caves.
After a climb of about 400 ft, we made it to the first rocky outcropping. We climbed around in the first big cave for a bit. By now, there were several larger groups of people on the trail behind us. Many of them did not end up exploring for as long as we did.
Slightly further up the hill from the first cave, are several larger caverns. Half of our group stopped and sat in the shade, enjoying the view. The rest of us had some fun climbing/scrambling up and around to the top of the larger caves.
On the way down, I stopped to check out a recently deceased lizard in the middle of the trail. By stopped, I mean I mostly just exclaimed “ew – dead lizard!” and kept walking. As soon as Rob got closer he saw what had killed it: a baby rattlesnake that was slowly retreating into the nearby grass. Good thing I made it past that one safely.
A little while later, we were rattled at by a much larger rattlesnake on the side of the trail. Noisy critters. Luckily, we all made it back to the now very full parking area without any venomous snake bites.