Bodega Head, Sonoma Coast State Beach,
California State Parks,
Sonoma County
In brief:
3 mile partial loop on Sonoma Coast coastal bluffs near Bodega Bay.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.0 mile partial loop hike is easy, with about 300 feet in elevation change. There is one short easy uphill stretch, and the rest of the hike is nearly flat. Elevation ranges from 90 to 275 feet. You can split this hike into two, shorter ones -- a 1.1 mile out and back to the overlook, or a 1.8 mile loop through the headlands.

Exposure:
Completely exposed.

Trail traffic:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails.

Hiking time:
1 1/2 hours.

Season:
Nice year round.

Getting there:
From Bodega Bay (Sonoma County), turn west onto Eastshore Road. Drive about 0.3 mile on Eastshore to a stop sign, then turn right onto Bay Flat Road. Drive about 3.4 miles, initially along the harbor (where the road seamlessly turns into Westshore Road), then after a sharp hairpin turn, uphill to an unsigned fork. Bear right and continue 0.2 mile to the parking lot.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/26

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3818'13.96"N
Longitude
123 3'51.48"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
:
Stores, gas, and restaurants in Bodega Bay. No camping at Bodega Head, but there are several campgrounds close by, including Doran Park, the Sonoma State Beach campgrounds, near Bodega Bay and Salmon Creek.

Trailhead details:
No entrance or parking fees. Large gravel parking lot. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are poorly suited to wheelchairs and strollers. Vault toilets at edge of parking lot. No drinking water or maps at trailhead -- maps are available for $1 from the Salmon Creek Ranger Station, about 1.5 miles north of the Eastshore Road turnoff, on the west side of CA 1. Nearest phone at Bodega Harbor. There is no public transportation available to this trailhead.

Rules:
Park hours are 8 a.m. to sunset. No dogs, horses, or bikes permitted on the trail.

The Official Story:
CSP's Sonoma Coast State Beach page
Park office 707-875-3483

Map choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Sonoma Coast State Beach map (pdf)
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Bodega Head hike.
• 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Ann Marie Brown (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of a featured hike.
The Hiker's hip Pocket Guide to Sonoma County, by Bob Lorentzen (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.

Bodega Head in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike





Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page



CA 1 runs directly along the coastline for about 16 miles from Bodega Bay to Jenner, permitting easy admiration and exploration of the ocean and beaches from many pullouts and parking lots along the road. TrailheadMost of this shoreline is protected land, managed by the California State Park system, and the series of beaches and bluffs is collectively known as the Sonoma Coast State Beaches. The "beach" has campgrounds, and plenty of shoreline access, but there are only three park units with substantial hiking options. Kortum Trail runs along the bluff from Wright's Beach to Goat Rock Beach; a network of trails wander sand dunes between Bodega Harbor and South Salmon Creek Beach; and at Bodega Head, a trail loops around high headlands and climbs to an overlook (the dunes trails and Bodega Head Trail do connect, but most people hike them separately). Bodega Head is by far the most popular trail, even though it is a bit hard to find -- once you turn off CA 1, there are no signs directing visitors to the trailhead, which is nearly 4 miles from the highway. This trailhead is likely so popular because it offers dazzling ocean views from a trail extending north and south along the bluff, as well as access to a small sandy beach. Bodega Head TrailIn spring, the wildflower display is wonderful, and sea breezes usually keep this part of Sonoma County considerably cool even when the rest of the Bay Area is baking under summer heat. Bring binoculars in winter, and scan the waters for migrating whales.
     Begin on signed Bodega Head Trail, which sets off from the north side of the parking lot. After passing a picnic table, the slight path forks, with the trail to the left descending to the small beach. Continue straight, and begin to climb easily, through typical coastal vegetation, including sea fig, lizardtail, and purple and yellow bush lupine. You'll likely see California poppy, paintbrush, and yarrow blooming along the trail in spring, with a few flowers lingering into summer, when buckwheat and seaside daisy are common.Some paths depart to the left, for a closer look at the coastline from a patch of bare sandstone, but the official trail is marked occasionally with wooden posts. View north from overlookAs Bodega Head ascends, there are sweeping views west to the ocean, where you might see fishing boats bobbing on the water, and brown pelicans dashing into the sea for a snack. There were several egrets hunting on the bluffs on my visit, and many small birds picking seeds off mustard and wild radish plants. Some of the rocks jutting out from and around the trail resembling granite are classified as Bodega Head Quartz diorite. At 0.36 mile, you'll reach a junction -- the trail to the right descends, crossing U.C. property on the way to the dunes trails. Continue straight, toward the Horseshoe Cove Overlook.
      The path heads north across the bluff's highest reaches, at a nearly level grade. Here, the terrain is mostly wind-swept rocky grassland, where lots of poppies huddle close to the ground in spring. At 0.56 mile, you'll reach the end of the trail and the overlook, a rock-studded promontory with excellent views, particularly to the north and west. Most conspicuous to the immediate north is Horseshoe Cove and the U.C. Marine Lab's complex, but on a clear day you can see to the coastal bluffs north of Jenner. Ocean viewBe careful near the clusters of rocks, since poison oak nestles in the spaces between boulders, mixed through Oregon grape. I saw a herd of 12 deer browsing off in the distance on my hike. When ready, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
      Now, walk across the parking lot and pick up the southern leg of Bodega Head Trail, an unsigned path beginning to the left of the vault toilets. The path heads toward a lonely cluster of cypress, then forks -- stay to the right and continue toward the ocean, where you'll reach the fishermen's memorial, a low cluster of cement blocks and a helm, arranged to resemble the bow of a ship. Veer left and begin to follow the path directly at the edge of the bluff. In spring, big colonies of iris, paintbrush, seaside daisy, and buckwheat brighten this coastal prairie. You might see northern harriers scanning the grassland, which offers good hunting since sheltering shrubs to hide small mammals are scarce. Heading south along the headlandsThe views are breathtaking -- these steep sided bluffs drop directly to the ocean, where birds perch on rock formations even as the outcrops are pounded by waves. Stay well back from the bluff edge, particularly during winter, when terrain, weakened by storms, can be unstable. Bodega Head Trail keeps to a nearly level grade until the southern edge of the headlands, where as the trail turns to the east, it gently wobbles up and down a bit. A viewpoint here on the right offers a perfect vantage point south, across the ocean to Tomales Point, with Mount Wittenberg in the distance. Trailside vegetation shifts to a somewhat overgrown mix of mustard, wild radish, and bush lupine, and in summer the annual plants (mustard and radish) crowd the trail. You might hear sea lions and/or barking close by -- a little island to the south was teeming with them when I hiked here in September. Past a white and red nautical beacon, views shift east across Bodega Harbor, and include the campgrounds at Doran Park. In summer look for anise swallowtails fluttering above clusters of Queen Anne's lace, one of the swallowtails' favorite plants. Bodega Head TrailAt 2.50 miles the trail reaches Bodega Head's second parking lot, which gets considerably less use than the lot at the main trailhead. The park map shows a trail skirting the lot to the right, but this junction wasn't signed on my visit, and there were a few worn paths to choose from. Poke around for that trail if you like, but it's just as easy to walk down the park road. Descending easily, the gravel road travels north to a gated junction at 2.8 miles. Turn left.
     Almost immediately the trail forks -- bear right. The path descends slightly through a drainage basin. In winter and spring this path may be muddy or downright impassable; if so the other trail leg is an option. When you arrive at the cluster of cypress, stay to the right and take one of several paths that lead back toward the main trail to the parking lot.

Total distance: 3.0 miles
Last hiked: Friday, September 5, 2003