By Donna Polizzi
You may not know that right here in Santa Barbara County is a beautiful, out-of-the-way park with a breathtaking, seasonal waterfall.
Just a few miles south of Buellton, Nojoqui Falls flows over a steep, sandstone wall, covered in deep green moss and verdant ferns. If you go soon or after a rain, you’ll see this spectacular waterfall cascading more than 100 feet to a bubbling stream.
This is truly a hidden gem that must be explored. I’ve been to Nojoqui Falls County Park several times, and the beauty of this area hasn’t disappointed and it has never been crowded. It is a secluded, rarely visited, dog-friendly park.
From the trailhead to the waterfall is only 0.6 miles round trip and takes a half-hour, if you’re only stopping for a quick look. If you’re a nature lover like me, you may not want to leave for hours.
The falls are right off Highway 101, roughly 1½ miles east of the freeway. If you’re taking Highway 101 north from the South Coast, just past the Gaviota Tunnel you’ll see a sign saying Nojoqui County Park, where you will turn right onto Old Coast Highway at the top of the pass. Turn left on Alisal Road and you’ll run into the park.
This magnificent waterfall is about five miles south of Buellton and seven miles southwest of Solvang. If you’re coming from the Santa Ynez Valley, the easiest route is Alisal Road from Solvang, right to the trailhead at the Nojoqui Falls Park parking lot.
I recommend starting in Solvang, but I have a weakness for butter cookies and like to visit one of the many bakeries. Plan to stop and take photos along the way. It’s also a treat if you plan ahead and book a relaxing post-hike massage at the day spa at Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, which you’ll pass.
There are interesting sights around every curve of the bucolic, winding Alisal Road. The area is so green right now that it almost looks unreal. Majestic oak trees, laden with gigantic clusters of mistletoe and sphagnum moss, dot the scenic landscape around every bend.
I love watching cows grazing on the tall grass and seeing the overhead canopy of leaves that curve over the road with beams of sunlight shining through.
At the end of the road is a convenient parking area at the entrance of the trail. It felt like an enchanted forest.
Nojoqui, named for an ancient Chumash village that was once nearby, has several pronunciations, but most commonly is pronounced “Naw-HO-wee.”
The hike is an easy one that everyone, young and old, can enjoy. The trail is a gentle incline colored by eye-popping shades of green. I loved the sound of the bubbling creek and the rich Hershey’s chocolate-colored dirt with ferns and wildflowers glistening in the sunlight. After walking for a few minutes, you’ll see a quaint little bridge and two sets of interesting stone staircases.
There are also a few benches if you simply want to sit and listen to the peaceful sounds of the water flowing. Or you could enjoy an impromptu, romantic picnic, or read a good book amid the sounds of nature surrounding you.
After you’ve crossed three bridges, you’ll arrive at a sign reading “Falling Rocks. Don’t Go Beyond This Point.” Of course, I didn’t see it until I was leaving.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one because there was a trail, no doubt from people who have walked outside the retaining fence to get a closer look at the falls.
As in life, some seasons are more colorful and in others our riches don’t always flow. So get out there and enjoy it while you can! It will be a delight to your senses.
The hike left me feeling rejuvenated and grateful that we have such variety and so many beautiful places to wine, dine and explore on the Central Coast!