Visiting the San Andreas Fault: Is It Possible? How to take a tour?

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Martí Micolau

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Visit the San Andreas fault is an activity that is not usually found in the most classic tours in California indeed, if we have to say it all, it is very rare that the notebooks and travel diaries of tourists in America appear a visit to this disturbing but amazing natural landscape that , like a terrible earth wound, runs through much of California.

1300 kilometers: so long is the San Andreas fault, a gash in the ground that splits the Golden State in two, from Salton Sea to Cape Mendocino (not to be confused with Jessica Fletcher's Mendocino). But what is this fault?

Discovered in the late nineteenth century by Andrew Lawson, professor of geology at the University of Berkley, this fracture of the rock occurred when the ground reached the breaking point due to an unusual tectonic activity, which gave rise, in fact , to a so-called fault "passing“, Later called“ of San Andreas ”. Perhaps many of you (if you don't remember it from school geology lessons), will have been interested in this "natural event" after watching the movie San Andreas, recently in theaters.


  • A two-sided natural attraction: seismic activity
  • Visit the San Andreas fault: a 1300 km long spectacle!
    • All along the fault line, what are the points where I can see the San Andreas fault at its best?
    • Is it safe to reach and visit the San Andreas fault at these points? And what can I see?
  • How to visit the San Andreas fault on an organized tour
    • Visit of the San Andreas fault in hummer
    • Visit of the San Andreas fault under the stars

A two-sided natural attraction: seismic activity

Unfortunately, the fault does not just offer an unusual and raw geology lesson in the open, fascinating and interesting to visit: due to the great concentration of energy that accumulates between the plates, an intense and dangerous seismic activity, as evidenced by the very serious earthquake that devastated San Francisco and part of California in 1906, and for which the fault is sadly famous. America is looking forward to the Big One, the alleged earthquake that would definitively split the San Andreas fault in two, separating California from the continent.

For these reasons, especially for those who are passionate about the most fascinating and disastrous natural phenomena, visit the San Andreas fault it could turn out to be an unmissable experience. We must immediately say, however, that the visit to the fault could be more difficult than expected, for various reasons that we are going to explain.

You will have 2 possibilities: visit the Fault independently or choose an organized tour.

Visit the San Andreas fault: a 1300 km long spectacle!

The first difficulty in organizing a visit to the San Andreas fault is undoubtedly related to its extent. The most relevant questions are two:

All along the fault line, what are the points where I can see the San Andreas fault at its best?

Let's try to answer these questions by making a short list of most famous viewpoints, it being understood that - with your car and a lot of patience - you could follow it all, as far as possible, independently finding the points where the fault is most visible, perhaps with the help of this interactive map that shows the entire fault line.

Here are four privileged places where the fault is visible, moving from south to north.

Cajon Pass

Passing on Interstate I-15 between San Bernardino and Victorville, at a bridge, you will be able to see from above Cajon Pass: here the fault separated the two mountain ranges of San Gabriel and San Bernardino, forming a gully. In this area you will also find some strange rocks with a very similar conformation to that of Vasquez Rocks.

Reed Plain

There is a controversy among geology enthusiasts, regarding Reed Plain: on the one hand it is believed to be the best place to visit the San Andreas fault, on the other it is said that this possibility is real and satisfactory only by air, and that, otherwise, it is not worth it. However, within the vast wilderness of Carrizo Plain there are famous places such as Wallace Creek  Elkhorn Scarp (significantly called "Dragon's Back", see photo). 

It is not easy to find information on how to reach these two points, which is why we invite you to think about it before going in search. Carrizo Plain, also known for its flower meadows in the troughs caused by the fault, however, can be reached by exiting Interstate I-5 at CA Hwy 58 west, near Buttonwillow, continuing west (passing through McKittrick) and turning left on Soda Lake Road, or exiting US Hwy 101 at the same CA Hwy 58 east, near Santa Margarita, traveling east and turning right on Soda Lake Road.

Parkfield Bridge

You could visit the town of Parkfield, north of San Louis Obispo, which is known to be right on the fault, but subjected itself to the risk of earthquakes. You will find the famous Parkfield Bridge, which shows the slight displacement of the pillars from each other, due to landslides over the decades.

Los Trancos Open Space Reserve

Finally, approaching San Francisco, not far from Palo Alto, here Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, natural area where the San Andreas fault passes for a few miles. This privileged position allows those who wish to take a stroll along some paths where the action of the fault is evident. Here is a guide in English, in case you are interested.

Is it safe to reach and visit the San Andreas fault at these points? And what can I see?

The answer is yes (earthquakes permitting, but let's just say it for clarity: you all know how unpredictable seismic events are) but it is not as easy as it seems: all the points we have reported require a lot of application in the search for geological clues: you will not find, two or two hundred meters from your feet, a very visible glimpse of the ground, or at least not so easily.

Furthermore, you might be disappointed: most of the traces of this rift are mostly hidden, and often the phenomena you witness are less striking than you might have expected: splits in the road, creation of small gorges, strange rock formations. In short, you risk investing a lot of time to see shows that do not live up to expectations. For this reason, we believe that perhaps the best way to visit the San Andreas Fault is to use a organized tour.

How to visit the San Andreas fault on an organized tour

The tours organized for the San Andreas fault are concentrated all in the south, in the area of Palm Springs, which appears to be the most suitable for activities of this type. So, if you are in that area, this is definitely one of the best ways to visit the San Andreas Fault properly.

Visit of the San Andreas fault in hummer

This approximately 4-hour tour will take you to the San Andreas Fault on the back of a hummer, the only means that can deal with the scars of the rock caused by seismic movements. You will have the opportunity to be guided on a tour in the desert, during which the geological peculiarities of these areas will be illustrated, especially in the narrow natural corridor of the Berdoo Canyon. Snacks and entrance fees are included.

Price: About 135 euros

Buy the tour

Visit of the San Andreas fault under the stars

Here is another interesting tour, which will allow you to see the spectacle of the San Andreas fault illuminated by the light of the stars, for an experience that promises to be of great spiritual significance, as well as of naturalistic interest: the guide will give you all the information about the geology of the places, telling the story of the Cahuilla Indians, who populated these areas. Also, aboard your uncovered jeep, you will be agile to see the stars that will show you the guide. The tour lasts 3 hours and includes pick-up service from select Palm Desert hotels.

Price: About 122 euros

Buy the tour



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