Five Brooks Trailhead,
Point Reyes National Seashore,
National Park Service,
Marin County
In brief:
6.3 mile loop through woods on Point Reyes, with heavy horse traffic in summer.

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.

Exposure:
Mostly shaded.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time
:
3 hours.

Season
:
Nice year round.

Getting there:
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 the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/304

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3759'50.49"N
Longitude
12245'28.58"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores in Point Reyes Station, with additional limited services in Stinson Beach and Olema. There are overnight accommodations 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. Read my page describing Point Reyes hikes, accommodations, food, and more.

Trailhead details:
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 CA 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.

Rules:
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

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Download the park map pdf from NPS
Other 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).

View photos from this hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


Point Reyes' Five Brooks Trailhead offers easy access and miles of trails to visitors, but is primarily used by equestrians. TrailheadWith 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.Starting out on Stewart Trail
     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. Climbing on Olema Valley TrailDouglas 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. Bolema Trail 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.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. View east from Stewart TrailTurn 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 Trail.
     The trail arches right, still descending. Stewart TrailAs 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