SS Dominator Shipwreck, Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA

Shipwreck Trail (Palos Verdes Peninsula)

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Shipwreck Trail (Palos Verdes Peninsula)

    • Location: There are several possible access points. This route starts at the intersection of Paseo del Mar and Oakley Rd. in Palos Verdes Estates. From Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach, take Palos Verdes Blvd. south for 1.4 miles to Palos Verdes Drive West. Go 1.8 miles and turn right onto Paseo del Mar. Go 1.5 miles and park where available on Paseo del Mar across from Oakley Road. Alternately, from San Pedro, take Palos Verdes Drive South for 7 miles (from Western Avenue) to Paseo Lunado (the second of two Paseo Lunados you will reach). Turn left and follow Paseo Lunado for 0.6 mile (it becomes Paseo del Mar en route). Park where available near the intersection of Paseo del Mar and Oakley Rd.
    • Agency: Palos Verdes Estates Shoreline Preserve (trails are unofficial; use at your own risk)
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: 150 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Best season: Year round (best during low tide; avoid after recent rains)
    • Dogs: Not allowed
    • Cell phone reception: Good
    • Water: None
    • Restrooms: None
    • Camping: None
    • More information: Trip descriptions (slightly different starting point) here and here; Map My Hike report here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 5

In 1961 the Panamanian freighter S.S. Dominator ran aground on the west side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. After unsuccessful efforts to return the ship to the water, it was left there. It has since become a popular, if unofficial, hiking destination. There are several possible routes to reach the ship, depending on one’s threshold for risk and adventure. The route described here is the shortest – but it requires a challenging descent and some rock scrambling. Though it can be done by anyone who is in decent physical shape, hikers should be prepared for uneven, potentially hazardous terrain. Those with a fear of heights need not apply.

From the corner of Paseo del Mar and Oakley, follow a vague path to the edge of the bluffs. From here, a questionable-looking use trail drops off the edge of the cliff. The terrain is loose, washed out in spots and may test the survival instinct of even veteran hikers. Plan on using your hands and your “fifth limb” as well as the guard rail. (Just kidding, there’s no guard rail.)

After negotiating the descent, you arrive on the rocky shore. Head north (right) along Lunada Bay, toward the promontory that sticks out into the ocean and grounded the ship more than half a century ago. A semblance of a trail runs below the bluffs in some spots; in others you will have to rock scramble, although if tides are low, this shouldn’t be too difficult.

Half a mile from the beginning (0.4 mile along the shore) you reach the rusted remains of the Dominator. These include several parts of the hull, a large crane and several port holes. Needless to say, exercise caution while exploring the ruins with their sharp metal edges. (Even the rocks here are rougher than typical for this area). When ready, retrace your steps back to the starting point. For variety, you can ascend via another use trail 0.3 mile farther down the coast, of comparable difficulty, bringing you back to the top where you can complete your hike by walking north along the bluffs.

Shipwreck Trail, Palos Verdes Peninsula
Making the steep descent to the shore
Lunada Bay, Palos Verdes Shipwreck Trail
Rocky shoreline south of the wreck site, Lunada Bay
SS Dominator wreckage, Palos Verdes Peninsula, ca
Dominator wreckage
Shipwreck Trail, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Making the climb back to the bluffs

Text and photography copyright 2017 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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