Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge: Santa Maria Rivermouth to Mussel Rock

This 5.6-mile out-and-back in Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge runs across pristine sand dunes that overlook the Pacific Ocean.

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-Mapped by Chuck Graham, Chuck Graham Photography


Chuck Graham Photography


Chuck Graham Photography


Chuck Graham Photography

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 9.0



Location: 34.964968, -120.650375

From the parking area, hike south along the beach toward the massive dunes that rise in the distance. Stay on the hard pack sand and maneuver around the flotsam of kelp and driftwood that speckle the beach until you reach the foredunes.


Location: 34.962603, -120.651598

Look for Western Gulls, California Brown Pelicans and Western Snowy Plovers (the dunes are one of the best and last refuges of this threatened shorebird).


Location: 34.95388, -120.653358

Bear left toward the huge waves of sand. These foredunes are the smallest dunes in this coastal ecosystem and the most unstable. (Short but steep mounds of sand have little vegetation stabilizing them.)


Location: 34.938383, -120.652575

Prepare for a steep climb. It’s three steps forward and two steps back while ascending the dunes and their troughs filled with native vegetation like silver lupine and saltbush.


Location: 34.936432, -120.654817

Look for the well-defined animal tracks of mountain lions, black bears, mule dear, coyotes, foxes, skunks and even dune beetles.


Location: 34.930543, -120.661989

Turn around for sweeping views of the deep-blue Pacific and golden sand dunes.


Location: 34.930539, -120.663378

Descend onto this craggy, wave-battered headland with a noteworthy rock arch. Listen and look for California sea lions hauled out on Mussel Rock and black oyster-catchers foraging for crustaceans. Retrace your steps.

Guadalupe-Nipomo Sand Dunes

Location: 34.930548, -120.66179

Snowy Plover

Location: 34.962603, -120.650997


Location: 34.95388, -120.652413

Some of the nicest dune lines are located in the foredunes with waves crashing on the beach due west.

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