6.3 mile loop through woods on Point Reyes, with heavy horse traffic in
Distance, category, and difficulty:
There are a few steep stretches, but overall this 6.3 mile loop hike
is easy. Trailhead elevation is about 280 feet. The featured hike climbs
to about 1130 feet, then descends back to the trailhead.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Nice year round.
There are two routes to the trailhead, both long.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Mill Valley/Stinson Beach. Drive
on Shoreline Highway to the junction with Almonte, about 1 mile. Turn left
and drive about 2.5 miles to the junction with Panoramic Highway. Turn right
onto Panoramic and drive about 1 mile to the junction with Muir Woods Road.
Continue straight (middle lane) to stay on Panoramic. Drive about 8 miles
on Panoramic, until the road ends at a T junction with CA 1. Turn right
and drive about 10 miles to the signed trailhead entrance, on the left side
of the road.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Anselmo (Sir Francis Drake).
Drive about 20 miles west on Sir Francis Drake. Turn left onto CA 1, and
drive about 3 miles to the signed trailhead entrance on the right side of
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores in Point Reyes Station (I recommend the ham
and cheese croissants at Bovine Bakery), with additional limited services
in Stinson Beach and Olema. There are overnight accomodations available
on the eastern fringes of the park, including a handful of motels in Inverness,
and numerous bed and breakfasts just off Sir Francis Drake. Point Reyes
has several hike-in campgrounds -- enquire at the Point Reyes Ranger Station
in Bear Valley, or read more about the options here.
No car camping in the park. Point Reyes Hostel, down Limantour Road, is
an inexpensive lodging option.
Once you've turned off CA 1, drive about 0.5 mile on a gravel road to the
trailhead at the end of the road. Lots of parking in a circular dirt lot.
No parking or entrance fees. Pit toilets and a drinking fountain at the
trailhead. There is no designated handicapped parking, but visitors in wheelchairs
may be able to travel a short distance on Stewart Trail. Maps and pay phone
at the visitor center: from the Highway 1/Sir Francis Drake junction, head
north on Highway 1, then make the first left onto Bear Valley Road. Drive
on Bear Valley Road and turn left at the red barn and "Seashore Information"
sign. The visitor center is at the end of the road. There is no direct public
transportation to this trailhead.
Some trails are multi-use, and others do not permit bicycles. No dogs.
The Official Story:
Point Reyes website
Bear Valley Visitor Center (Ranger Station) 415-464-5100
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
the park map pdf from NPS
Point Reyes maps from NPS
Point Reyes by Jessica Lage (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of trails
around Five Brooks.
Trail Map of Point Reyes National Seashore, by Tom Harrison
(order from Amazon.com)
is the best all-purpose map to Point Reyes.
Don and Kay Martin's Point Reyes National Seashore has a great
map and trail descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
photos from this hike.
Reyes' Five Brooks Trailhead offers easy access and miles
of trails to visitors, but is primarily used by equestrians. With heavy
horse use, trails can be muddy well into summer, and in hot weather the
smell from the horse poop, and plague of flies, is quite unpleasant. Normally
I recommend visiting horse-friendly destinations in winter, when trail
use is lighter, but since these trails are muddy even in summer, I'm visualizing
quagmire-like conditions in the wet months.
This trailhead suffers from a close proximity
to CA 1. Traffic noise is audible for many miles on trails running parallel
to the road. If you're just starting to explore Point Reyes, you'll find
trails with more peace and quiet deeper in the park. Since Five Brooks
is somewhat under the radar for visiting tourists,
you might escape the crowds in summer, but I will only recommend this
trailhead for horse-tolerant hikers.
Unlike the easy grades of Bear Valley Trail
and Coast Trail, the trails departing Five Brooks offer more challenging
routes to the ocean. Hikers must ascend over 800 feet, cross the ridge,
descend, then face more climbing on the return. Trails vary from broad
fire roads to vegetation-choked footpaths. You can chose a straightforward
(and somewhat dull) moderate climb on Stewart Trail, or the steeper option
of Olema Valley and Bolema Trails. Once at the ridge, drop down toward
the ocean on Greenpicker Trail or Old Out Road, and return via Stewart
or Bolema/Olema Valley Trails. Take care not to overdo it, since these
loops can stretch into treks of more than 12 miles.
For the featured
hike, start at the gated entrance to Stewart Trail (unsigned here).
A few picnic tables sit off to the left in a cleared area. The broad,
multi-use trail sweeps past coyote brush, willow, and alder. Douglas fir
loom slightly back from the perimeter. At 0.14 mile, you'll reach a signed
junction with Rift Zone Trail. Continue to the left on Stewart Trail.
In a few places where vegetation thins on
the left, you might catch a glimpse of a rather large pond, previously
screened by shrubs and trees. At 0.26 mile, you'll reach a signed junction
with Olema Valley Trail. Turn left onto Olema Valley Trail.
The broad trail continues to skirt
the pond. At 0.33 mile, Olema Valley Trail forks at a signed junction
-- the trail to the left returns to the stables. Turn right.
Almost right away, the multi-use trail begins
to narrow. Keeping a level course, you'll pass through a lush display
of hazelnut, bigleaf maple, ferns, Douglas fir, tanoak, California
bay, thimbleberry, poison
oak, and nettles. Olema Valley Trail crosses a bridge and curves left,
beginning a moderate climb. The path is deeply rutted in sections, and
damp in other stretches. Be sure to yield to any equestrians. Starflower
blooms in late spring, beneath some pretty maples and huckleberry. As
the trail levels out some, a well-worn path departs to the right at 1.23
miles. Ignore this shortcut and continue to the signed junction
at 1.30 miles. Turn right onto Bolema Trail.
The nearly fire road width trail, closed
to cyclists, climbs moderately through Douglas fir, madrone, California
bay, and tanoak. Creambush, hazelnut, and honeysuckle mingle with ceanothus
in the understory. Pine and coast live oak are added to the mix as you
ascend. In some spots there are partial views across a canyon to a forested
ridge. Bolema Trail begins to shrink, and at 2.08 miles the trail ends
at a signed junction (most sources report the trail's length as
1.1 miles, but I tracked it as less). Turn right onto Ridge Trail.
You'll begin an easy descent on the broad,
multi-use fire road. Ridge Trail curves right around a hill overgrown
with tanoak, hazelnut, and towering Douglas fir. To the left there's a
small meadow rimmed with more gigantic Douglas fir, blocking any views
toward the ocean. You might notice red elderberry trees along the trail,
conspicuously fruited with poisonous berries in late spring. In some sunny
stretches coyote brush thrive. Ridge Trail steps into a forest, in the
quietest area of the hike. On my trek, although there was plenty of traffic
on the other trails, I met no visitors on this path. In June, look for
bright pink flowers on tall foxglove plants. Some of these stalks top
out at 4 feet in height. At 2.77 miles, Ridge Trail bends left at a signed
junction. Continue straight on a connector to Stewart Trail.
A few steps
later, at 2.80 miles, a shortcut path breaks off to the left. Continue
a little further to the signed junction with Stewart Trail, at 2.90 miles.
Turn right onto Stewart Trail. (Option: you can extend this hike
another 1.6 miles with an out-and-back trip to Firtop, elevation 1324
feet. Turn left and ascend to the top, then return to this junction.)
The wide fire road, open to equestrians,
hikers, and cyclists, starts downhill through familiar vegetation, with
Douglas fir, California bay, hazelnut, and tanoak dominating. The grade
is a steady one, on the easy side of moderate. Where the tree cover thins
on the right, look east for a view to Bolinas Ridge. I must confess I
was nearly bored to tears on this trail; even the cheerful bird song failed
to mitigate a descent I found tedious. Ever increasing traffic
noise filtering into the woods from CA 1 didn't help the mood. After a
long uninterrupted stretch, Stewart Trail reaches a signed junction with
Greenpicker Trail, at 4.98 miles. Stay to right, continuing on Stewart
The trail arches right, still descending.
As Stewart Trail takes a sharp curve left at a creek, look for moisture-loving
plants such as currant, elk clover, bigleaf maple, five-finger fern, and
gooseberry. Trilliums, forget-me-not, and candyflower bloom at various
times in the spring. At 5.87 miles, a gated trail veers left, leading
to Stewart Horse Camp. Continue straight on Stewart Trail.
After a short easy uphill stretch, you'll
arrive at a previously encountered junction with Olema Valley Trail, at
6.10 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total mileage: 6.35 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, June 6, 2002
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