About Phillips Gulch Waterfall
Phillips Gulch Falls (or Phillips Gulch Waterfall) was a dramatically-situated 15ft waterfall right along the battered coastline of the Sonoma Coast in Salt Point State Park.
Even though it resided within the boundaries of a reserve, it turned out to be a rather obscure waterfall since it didn’t appear to have any signage nor infrastructure alerting the public about its presence.
Nevertheless, as you can see in the photo above, the scenery around this modestly-sized waterfall would have surely made people stop and check it out instead of driving right by.
Finding The Phillips Gulch Waterfall
I’d imagine that people who have managed to find this waterfall perhaps only did so after stumbling upon it while hiking the Bluff Trail from the nearby Stump Beach.
The Bluff Trail was a dramatic coastline trail that hugged the dropoffs of the sea cliffs above the Sonoma Coast between Stump Beach and Fisk Mill Cove.
From what we saw along this trail, we witnessed the turbulent waves crashing against rock stacks in the distance sending spray high in the air.
We also witnessed looked towards the aforementioned Stump Beach from a high point of the Bluff Trail, which didn’t appear to have many people (if any) on the morning of our visit.
In any case, once we became aware of the Phillips Gulch Falls, we studied the topographic maps and then looked for it when we finally got to the field.
By the time we finally reached the suspected location (see directions below), we then had to look for suitable pullouts to start the hike from knowing that the worst case fallback was to hike the Bluff Trail from Stump Beach.
It turned out that there happened to be a use-trail that left from one of these pullouts and went right into some tall windswept grass ultimately connecting with the Bluff Trail.
Along the way, I noticed a narrower and more direct use-trail that went directly among the tall grass down to the Phillips Gulch Waterfall.
That said, I’d recommend taking the wider “trail” to the Bluff Trail even though it was slightly longer.
Once on the Bluff Trail, we then went to our right and followed the atmospheric cliffside trail as it descended right to the secluded cove containing the Phillips Gulch Falls.
According to my GPS logs, we hiked for roughly 0.3- to 0.4-mile in each direction (or roughly 3/4-mile round-trip).
That said, if we started from the smaller pullout and hiked the direct trail instead of the slightly longer path to the Bluff Trail, then this hike could be as little as a quarter-mile in each direction (or a half-mile round-trip).
Experiencing The Phillips Gulch Waterfall
Once the Bluff Trail descended towards the brink of the Phillips Gulch Waterfall, we took advantage of a ledge that allowed us to somewhat safely witness the falls dropping into a seemingly protected cove.
I only say that it was “protected” because there was a small sea stack that was being battered the turbulent swells of the Pacific.
Only a small opening allowed the incoming waves to channel through to the secluded cove that Phillips Gulch Falls dropped into so the seawater was less turbulent by the time it made it up to the base of the waterfall.
Nevertheless, I can easily imagine during high tide that even this “protected” cove area could be under water with a greater chance of a rogue wave even getting up to the ledge that we stood on.
Therefore, we definitely had to keep a watchful eye on our daughter, who already seemed to know not to get too close to the edge of the ledge.
I didn’t see an obvious way to scramble down to the bottom of the Phillips Gulch Falls, but I’m aware that some people have done it in the literature, and I’d imagine it should only be attempted during low tide.
Anyways, as we stared towards the Phillips Gulch Waterfall and the waves pounding the coastline, I couldn’t help but notice that there were temporary tidal waterfalls dropping from rocks in the distance.
Basically, if the waves were high enough, they’d deposit water onto those rocks, and then when the waves subsided, waterfalls fell from those rocks.
We also noticed there were some unusual plants sticking up from rocks right in the path of turbulent swells and waves of the Pacific.
Such hardy plants appeared to be to be able to grow and stand up against such forces of Mother Nature, and I wondered what kinds of plants they were as well as whether they were a rare (or common) form of life since I had never seen them before.
Finally, we noticed that the Bluff Trail did continue beyond the Phillips Gulch Creek, and I’d imagine we could have continued hiking it towards the Chinese Gulch, which might have another drop-into-the-ocean waterfall.
That’s something I’m keen to try out the next time we’re fortunate to come here again.
Overall, we spent about an hour away from the car, but most of that time was spent staring at the mesmerizing scenery before us.
Timing The Phillips Gulch Waterfall
Our visit to the Phillips Gulch Falls took place in late November, which was pretty late in the season as far as most California waterfalls would be concerned.
That said, we still managed to see it flow (albeit very lightly).
This suggested to me that either this falls had good longevity and was barely hanging on for the year until the Winter rains would come, or a recent rain storm during the prior week might have restored some of the moisture in the gulch.
I can’t say for sure, but I have seen pictures in the literature where this waterfall had much higher flow, and I’d imagine we’d have to time our visit for Winter or Spring to witness such higher flows.
However, one thing that we can say for sure was that morning wasn’t the greatest time to witness the Phillips Gulch Waterfall.
As you can see from the photos on this page, we had to contend with shadows that created a high contrast situation where either the dramatic coastline around the falls would get washed our, or the waterfall would be way too dark in our photos.
In hindsight, had we been fortunate to time our visit for the afternoon on a sunny day, then the whole scenery would receive the warm glow of the sinking sun.
In fact, we’d even be able to better see Stump Beach from the Bluff Trail, and I’d even argue that this would be a magical spot to witness the sunset.
Phillips Gulch Falls (or Phillips Gulch Waterfall) resides in Salt Point State Park near Jenner in Sonoma County, California. It is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
From Sea Ranch, we drove nearly 9 miles south on the Hwy 1 as it rounded a bend while crossing a short bridge over Phillips Gulch.
Just on the other side of this bridge to the right side of the road was a somewhat large unpaved and unmarked pullout, and this was where we preferred to park the car.
That said, another 0.2-mile further on Hwy 1 was a smaller pullout at the next bend in the road with room for barely one or two cars.
Given how much traffic is on the Hwy 1, I personally wouldn’t try to force it on that pullout unless you already know in advance that you’re going to stop here without becoming a traffic hazard.
Instead, we just walked that 0.2-mile stretch along the overgrown shoulder of Hwy 1 in the interest of safety.
Overall, this stretch of the drive took us a little over 10 minutes though our longer drive from Little River took about 2.5 hours.
Alternatively, the Phillips Gulch pullout was roughly 21 miles north of the Hwy 116 and Hwy 1 junction in Jenner.
The first pullout was roughly 0.6-mile north of the Stump Beach turnoff and the larger pullout was at the bend about 0.2-mile further (or 0.8-mile from the Stump Beach turnoff).
For geographical context, Fort Bragg was 10 miles (15 minutes drive) north of Mendocino, 35 miles (an hour drive) north of Willits, 43 miles (under 90 minutes drive) south of Leggett, 141 miles (3 hours drive) south of Arcata, 110 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) northwest of Santa Rosa, and 164 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) north of San Francisco.
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