Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls,
Point Reyes National Seashore,

National Park Service,
Marin County
In brief:
This 7.5 mile out and back along the coast of Point Reyes to Alamere Falls includes two tricky scrambles.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 7.5 mile out and back hike is moderate, with about 600 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 250 feet, and the hike's highest point is only near 600 feet. Trails are for the most part, very gently graded. If you only go as far as Pelican Lake, I consider the hike easy, but if you continue to Alamere Falls, it's a bit tricky, with two scrambles, one easy and one rough.

Exposure
:
Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trail.

Hiking time
:
4 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime, best in late winter.

Getting there
:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit CA 1/Mill Valley/Stinson Beach. Drive on Shoreline Highway to the junction with Almonte, about 1 mile. Turn left on CA 1 and drive about 2.5 miles to the junction with Panoramic. Continue straight on CA 1 about 13 miles to an unsigned junction with Olema-Bolinas Road (just past Bolinas Marsh). Turn left. Drive 0.1 mile to a T intersection with Olema-Bolinas Road, turn left, drive about 1 mile to the junction with Horseshoe Hill Road, and again, turn left. Drive to the next stop sign, then turn right onto Mesa Road. Drive about 4 miles, then continue the last 1 mile on the dirt road to the trailhead at the end of the road. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, take it. The road isn't terrible, but can be washed out and bumpy.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/303

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3756'3.27"N
Longitude
12244'50.79"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, restaurants, and stores available (in limited quantities) in Bolinas, about 5 miles to the south, or (with more choices) in Stinson Beach, about 10 miles to the south. Gas north in Point Reyes Station. 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 -- inquire 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 options. Read my page describing Point Reyes hikes, accommodations, food, and more.

Trailhead details:
There is plenty of parking and 2 wheelchair accessible pit toilets. No entrance or parking fees. No maps are available at the trailhead, but about 0.1 mile north on the trail there is a signboard with a map. No drinking water at the trailhead or on the trail. The trail is not technically an all-access path, but is wheelchair-accessible; instead of heading up the steps, go south past the pit toilets and turn left on the gated vehicle entrance to the trail. You should be able to squeeze through the gap between the gate and vegetation, then navigate a short distance (depending on trail conditions) on Coast Trail. Beware of steep, unfenced dangerous cliffs. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead.

Rules:
Trails in this part of the park are open to hikers and equestrians only. No dogs.

The Official Story:
NPS's Point Reyes page.
Park headquarters 415-663-1092

Map choices and more information:
Download the park map pdf from NPS
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). The same information can be found in their Hiking Marin book (order this book from Amazon.com).
• Point Reyes by Jessica Lage (order this book from Amazon.com) has descriptions of hikes along Coast Trail departing from Palomarin, but doesn't detail the hike to Alamere Falls.
Point Reyes: Secret Places and Magic Moments, by Phil Arnot (order this book from Amazon.com) has descriptions of the falls area, but is a bit vague about trail access to it.


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

View 44 photos from this hike (to Pelican Lake; for photos of the stretch to Alamere Falls, refer to links in the text)




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


The Palomarin Trailhead is the southern-most staging area on the Point Reyes peninsula. TrailheadFrom here you head north along the coast, on dayhikes to Bass Lake or Alamere Falls, or backpack trips to Wildcat Camp, about 5.5 miles from the trailhead. Most hikers take an out-and-back hike on Coast Trail, turning around at whatever point seems appropriate. Loop hikes are possible, but require substantial enthusiasm. Coast Trail, Lake Ranch Trail, Ridge Trail, and the dirt section of Mesa Road adds up to over 11 miles. Crystal Lake Trail combined with Lake Ranch and Coast Trails is a moderate 10 mile semi-loop hike, but Crystal Lake Trail is overgrown and no longer maintained.
      Palomarin is a quiet trailhead, as bikes and dogs are not allowed on trails in this section of Point Reyes. Poison oak thrives along the trails, so beware of paths crowded with vegetation; if you're headed to Alamere Falls (the hike featured below), I strongly recommend long sleeves and pants. Trail conditions on the coast change rapidly, especially in wet years, so before you leave the house, check for trail closures at the Point Reyes Ranger Station. Speaking of rangers, Point Reyes park staff do not "support" reaching the beach below Alamere Falls from Alamere Falls Trail; you are advised to the view the falls from the beach via a walk on the beach, starting from Wildcat Beach. Starting out on Coast TrailHowever, the path (if you can call it that) from the top of the falls to the beach is a well-known route described in many guidebooks, and can be safely navigated. Use your best judgment here, though; it is a tricky bit of scrambling.
     From the Palomarin parking lot, head up the stairs and then turn left. Coast Trail is heavily lined with broom, but almost immediately this trail, which is open to hikers and horses only, enters a grove of very large eucalyptus trees. A trail to Palomarin Beach departs to the left at a signed junction. Continue straight.
     More nonnative vegetation including cape ivy and hypericum calycinum, a ground cover with yellow flowers, thrives beneath eucalyptus. After skirting a small damp canyon, Coast Trail steps out of the woods, and edges toward the ocean and some dramatic cliffs. On a clear day, you should have a great view west to the Farallones, and south to San Francisco and Montara Mountain. Coyote brush, California coffeeberry, bush lupines, and California sagebrush line the trail, which is nearly level.Coast Trail Expect good bird watching along the entire length of this hike, from white crowned sparrows and redtail hawks overhead here in the coast scrub, to quail near the ponds, and tiny, fuchsia-capped Anna's hummingbirds feeding from aromatic shrubs such as currant near creeks and seeps. At a dramatic corner the trail makes a sharp turn downhill to the right. Douglas firs are common, along with blackberry, ferns, and in early spring, vetch, strawberry, and manroot. The trail crosses a stream at a small bridge, then turns uphill and climbs back toward the coast. A short distance later, it's deja vu all over again as the trail turns and heads downhill, but this time after it crosses over a damp spot (on winter mornings, you may see frost and frozen water puddles), it climbs away from the coast. And keeps climbing. Coast TrailCoyote brush, bush lupines, coffeeberry, Douglas fir, and poison oak frame the trail, which is rocky and rutted in places. Even in winter, you may catch a glimpse of some early wildflowers, including iris, California buttercup, Indian paintbrush, and silver lupine. If you stop to catch your breath during the ascent, look back over your shoulder and enjoy views of the ocean. Watch for a rocky serpentine outcrop on the east side of the trail. Geologically speaking, you are on the west side of the San Andreas Fault, which runs roughly north to south through Tomales Bay. Coast Trail narrows as it squeezes through a gap between the hills, a section which always reminds me of a Sierra pass. In winter, you may see milkmaids, baby blue eyes, and Oregon grape blooming along the trail. A few oaks and California bays, trees common on bay area hikes, make a rare appearance on this trail, where Douglas firs are dominant. Coast Trail continues uphill to a signed trail junction at 2.0 miles. In late January and early February, look for a cheerful pink-flowering currant shrub to the right of the junction sign. Near Bass LakeHere Lake Ranch Trail begins its climb to the east (right); it's just over 2 miles on that trail to Mud Lake. Continue to the left on Coastal Trail.
     Small paths leave Coast Trail to explore the handful of tiny ponds to the west. Descending, Coast Trail passes through a grove of alder trees as it continues toward Bass Lake. Small streams cross the trail and can be heard emptying into the Bass Lake watershed in winter and early spring. Willows thrive along the path, along with coyote brush, California coffeeberry, and ceanothus. On a sunny day in early February, dozens of California tortoiseshell butterflies floated through the sunshine; you may get a good look at them soaking up moisture from any muddy patches on the trail. As the trail drops to greet the lake at 2.57 miles, look for a small, unsigned trail to the left, just past the lake. This trail is wide enough so that you can avoid poison oak exposure, and heads to a large flat open area, perfect for a lunch break on a hot day. Narrow trails head to the lake itself, but unless you're wearing long pants I wouldn't recommend risking the poison oak. Trail to Alamere FallsAnd if you care to swim here, I was told by a ranger on patrol that it swimming is allowed, but (gasp) the water is usually around 58 degrees. Perhaps it's warmer in summer, because I hear it's a popular swimming spot. Walk back to Coast Trail and turn left.
     Once past Bass Lake, Coast Trail ascends through a forest of Douglas fir, where birdsong drifts through the woods, and colorful mushrooms push up through the leaf litter in winter. At 2.76 miles, Crystal Lake Trail (signed as unmaintained) departs to the right at a signed junction. Continue straight on Coast Trail.
      Trees thin as the trail gently descends through coastal scrub. Pelican Lake appears on the left side of the trail, and then, at 3.24 miles, a path breaks off from Coastal Trail, on the way to Double Point. There are no trail signs, but the junction is marked by an old NPS metal sign. This is the turn around point for this hike if you don't want to go to Alamere Falls. Alamere Falls from the topOtherwise, continue downhill another 0.3 mile, to a signed junction with Alamere Falls Trail. Turn left.
     The trail is signed as unmaintained, and it is not so much overgrown as it is simply narrow, although there are some wider spots (be sure to check for ticks, which can jump on you as you push through the shrubs on the sides of the trail). The vegetation alternates between tangles of young Douglas fir, coyote brush, poison oak, coffeeberry, and bush lupine, and open grassy areas where views are awesome, reaching north to Chimney Rock. One section of trail is a cut only about 2 feet wide, but this is short, and overall the grade is an easy downhill. After passing through a thicket of salmonberry, the trail emerges at a grassy knoll above the waterfall area. Here is the first obstacle to waterfall nirvana: a short, steep, downhill cut through bare rock (Here's a photo looking back up this section). It is easy enough if you're careful, and brief. At the base of this descent you'll be in a small open valley, with the first waterfall drop back in a grotto to the right, and the flow continuing to a series of smaller drops to the left. looking back up the"path" from the top of the falls to the beachCarefully cross over the water at the top of the second drop, and you'll reach a flat, where you can follow the water to the main drop at the coast's edge. Use caution here; the edge can be unstable. Standing at the cliff top, you can see the water rushing off the main fall onto the beach, and look back to the other minor, although still very charming cascades. Timing a trip here to observe the falls at full gush can be tricky, but even when the falls are far from full they are incredibly pretty, and the setting, with rushing waterfalls and the tranquil expanse of the ocean, can't be beat. Be sure to bring binoculars -- you'll need them to settle any debates that may arise from the inability to distinguish between floating bull kelp and bobbing harbor seals playing peek-a-boo out in the ocean waves. Reaching this middle area of the falls may well be enough of an adventure for you, but if you want to continue to the beach, walk from the top of the main waterfall where it spills onto the beach, north and slightly away from the cliff edge, to an obvious but unsigned, well-worn descending path. The first drop is an easy, stairstep-like descent down bare rock. After a little notch, you'll reach the last scramble. This 20 feet or so are really pretty tough, because the rock here is crumbly and loose, like a talus slope, and it's almost impossible to get a handhold on anything. Alamere Falls from the beachAlso, the mythical rope that previously assisted in navigating the scramble is nowhere to be seen. Since I was alone, I used extra caution, and crouched low while descending, so if I fell I would drop back on my butt. Luckily I didn't fall, and was able to reach the beach. Here, on a gorgeous February day, it was just me and a solitary seagull admiring the ocean while strolling on the beach's dark and course sand. Walk south for a direct view of the water spilling off the cliff onto the beach, but remember it's never a great idea to completely turn your back on the ocean, especially when the tide is coming in. When you've had your fill of this incredible destination, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 7.54 miles to Alamere Falls, or 6.48 miles to the end of Pelican Lake
Last hiked:  Wednesday, February 2, 2005