2.9 mile out and back hike to Point Reyes's Marshall Beach.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.9 mile out and back hike is easy. Trailhead elevation
is about 350 feet. The hike drops down to sea level, then climbs back
to the trailhead; total elevation change is about 360 feet.
Almost completely exposed.
Dirt fire road.
Just over an hour.
Nice year round.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Sir Francis Drake/San Anselmo. Drive
west on Sir Francis Drake about 20 miles, to the junction with CA 1, turn
right, drive 0.1 mile, and then turn left onto Bear Valley Road. After
about 2 miles, Bear Valley Road ends at Sir Francis Drake; turn left.
Continue on Sir Francis Drake about 5.5 miles, and turn right onto Pierce
Point Road. Drive about 1.3 miles (just past the Tomales State Park entrance)
and turn right onto Duck Cove/Marshall Beach Road. The road starts out
narrow and paved, but soon becomes a wide dirt/gravel road, with open
range cattle roaming about and sometimes sitting on or along the road.
Drive about 2.5 miles, following the brown "parks" signs to
the trailhead: go straight at the first junction with a dirt farm road,
then left at the Y. The trailhead is at the end of the road.
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:
Pay phone, stores, and restaurants back in Inverness. Gas in Point Reyes
Station. 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, on Limantour Road, is
an inexpensive lodging option.
No entrance or parking fees. No amenities whatsoever: no water, toilets,
maps, pay phone, or designated handicapped parking (and trail access is
obstructed). Just a rough dirt parking area (although there are pit toilets
at the beach). The road should present no problems for low clearance vehicles
during dry months of the year, but you might want to inquire at the ranger
station about conditions after a storm or during winter. The Bear Valley
Visitor Center (look for the sign on Bear Valley Road) has maps and drinking
water. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead.
Trails are multi-use. No dogs.
The Official Story:
Point Reyes National
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 this
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
good map and trail descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Martin, has a good map and
trail description (order
this book from Amazon.com).
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
Beach in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
View photos from
and primitive, Marshall Beach Trailhead offers hikers
a choice of two short out-and-back hikes, to Lairds Landing or Marshall
Beach. Just 0.1 mile of steep rocky cliffs looms between the beaches accessed
by either trail, making a loop impossible. I suppose you could hike both
trails in one visit, but there's no real reason to, as the trails, terrain,
and destinations are so similar. Trails are wide fire roads, and you are
more likely to encounter cows than any real wildlife, although you might
see deer and small mammal footprints on the sandy shoreline. Marshall
Beach is not far from Tomales Bay State Park, and offers less crowded
bay beach access in warm summer months.
Start at the trailhead and squeeze through
the very narrow stile at the northern gate marked
by a small sign that reads "Marshall Beach Trail." The wide
multi-use trail starts
out nearly level, and takes a straight course through cattle range (watch
your step). Trailside vegetation is primarily cow-disturbed grassland,
with some coyote brush shrubs. After a second gate (and stile), the trail
begins a slight descent, and views across Tomales Bay to the east open
up. Once past/through a third cattle gate, Marshall Beach Trail heads
downhill toward the bay. On a clear day, you'll have great views south
to Mount Wittenberg and north to Hog Island, but on my visit the sky was
hazy and landmarks were barely discernible. The grade is moderate but
still easy (at least until the return leg uphill). A few toyon shrubs
are conspicuous mixed through the coyote brush, and as you descend you
might notice a small forest of pines and cypress nestled into a moist
crease in the hillside. The trail turns right and then left, and then
straightens out. Look for silktassel shrubs on the left side. At 1.30
miles, the trail ends at Marshall Beach. Stands of cypress and eucalyptus
have crept all the way to the bay on the left, while a
sandy crescent-shaped beach stretches south to the right. Turn right and
walk on the sand, keeping an eye out for rogue jellyfish. At 1.47 miles
a rocky outcrop blocks further progress south (to Lairds Landing), and
huckleberry, lizardtail, salal, ferns, creambush, and wax myrtle cling
to the slopes. I saw raccoon, deer, and some other small mammal prints
on the damp sand. If the tide is accommodatingly low, you may walk back
along the shore past the trail to the north, to a small secluded beach
that makes a nice lunch stop. Noise from across the bay filters west,
reminding you of the narrow margins of "wilderness." When
you're ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 2.94 miles (or more if you poke around the shoreline to
Last hiked: Friday, November 9, 2001
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page