Easy 2.8 mile loop through woods along Tomales Bay, on the Point Reyes peninsula.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.8 mile loop hike is easy, with a total elevation change
of about 500 feet. Park elevation ranges from sea level to around 500 feet.
Good anytime, but very muddy in winter.
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 Highway 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 1.2 miles to the park entrance on the right side of the road.
Drive down the park road about 0.7 mile, to the ranger station, stop and
pay the fee (if staffed), then continue about 0.9 mile to the parking lot
at the end of the road (not the Heart's Desire lot).
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:
Stores and restaurants on Sir Francis Drake in Inverness, and in Point Reyes
Station. Gas in Point Reyes Station. For picnic fixings, I recommend the
baked goods at Bovine Bakery and the cheese at Cowgirl Creamery, both in
Point Reyes Station. There are overnight accomodations available on the
eastern fringes of Point Reyes, including a handful of motels in Inverness,
and numerous bed and breakfasts just off Sir Francis Drake. Point Reyes
Hostel is an inexpensive lodging option. There is no car camping on the
Point Reyes peninsula. Point Reyes has several hike-in campgrounds -- enquire
at the Point Reyes Ranger Station in Bear Valley, or read more about the
$8 entrance fee (self register if ranger station is unstaffed). You can
avoid fees altogether by parking in a small lot on Pierce Point Road outside
of the park 0.2 mile before the park entrance, on the right. A short path
departs from the lot, connecting to Jepson Trail. Inside the park, lots
of parking in two paved lots. Restrooms and drinking water at edge of parking
lot. Maps and pay phone are available at the ranger station. There are handicapped
parking spots, but trails are not suitable to wheelchairs.
Park is open for day use from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dogs are not permitted on
beaches or trails. No bikes on trails. Trails are open to hikers and equestrians
(though this isn't a popular equestrian destination).
The Official Story:
Park office 415-669-1140
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Download the park
map pdf from CSP's website.
Reyes pdf map from NPS.
is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Point Reyes by Jessica Lage (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of this hike.
Trail Map of Point Reyes National Seashore, by Tom Harrison
(order from Amazon.com)
is the best all-purpose map to Point Reyes.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Tomales
Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a useful map and two suggested hikes.
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and two suggested hikes.
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
Tomales Bay State Park in a
nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
photos from this hike.
Tomales Bay State Park, with only 2,000 acres,
is dwarfed by the surrounding parklands of Point Reyes National Seashore.
A handful of trails traverse gently sloping wooded hillsides and access
four beaches on Tomales Bay. Shell, Pebble, Heart's Desire, and Indian
Beach, all downslope from and sheltered by Inverness Ridge, are calm and
scenic, perfect for family seashore excursions. Departing from a trailhead
a stone's throw from the shoreline, Jepson and Johnstone Trails create
a loop through a gorgeous and dense forest, lush with huckleberry, ferns,
coast live oak, tanoak, Bishop pine, and hazelnut. The loop is short,
but truly awesome; one of the most beautiful woodland hikes in the bay
area. You can extend the circuit with a 5.2 mile out-and-back excursion
on Johnstone Trail, to Shell Beach, or
stretch the hike another mile with an out-and-back visit to Indian Beach.
On the first day of summer I hiked through
Tomales Bay State Park wearing a fleece jacket. Point Reyes, one of my
favorite destinations during bay area hot spells, is a great place to
hike on summer mornings. When fog lingers near the ocean, the wind blows,
trees moan and whisper with the breeze, outside noise is drowned away,
and gusts of cool air keep the temperature pleasant on the trails. In
this thick forest winter storms toss quite a few trees onto the trails,
and sections that are damp even in summer get seriously muddy. Spring
and autumn are pleasant, and less crowded than summer.
Begin at the parking lot at the end
of the park road. You might have noticed the start of Jepson Trail,
on the right, as you drove through the horseshoe-shaped parking lot. Either
walk back along
the road, or if you're parked in the lower section, look for a shortcut
trail about mid-lot, leading to the upper lot (away from the beach paths).
The signed trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, steps into a stunning
forest of huge gnarled coast live oaks, California coffeeberry, hazelnut,
ferns, and huckleberry. As the path winds easily uphill, the lush vegetation
creates a nearly impenetrable thicket. You may hear deer crashing through
the woods, but unless they are on the trail, you probably won't see them.
Bishop pine overtakes coast live oak as the dominant tree, but you might
also see a few madrone. In the understory, the nearly omnipresent huckleberry
and coffeeberry are accompanied by occasional clusters of poison oak,
ceanothus, toyon, thimbleberry, currant, gooseberry, and sticky monkeyflower.
There are masses of salal, a low glossy-leaved shrub often used in flower
ascending easily for 0.94 mile, you'll reach a signed junction with a
connector path heading right to Pierce Point Road. Continue straight
on Jepson Trail.
Here, the forest thins a bit, and the trail
is lined with tall, hedge-like shrubs of coffeeberry, toyon, and coyote
brush. At 1.00 mile, the trail crosses a paved road which accesses private
Shallow Beach. Continue straight.
This segment was a bit overgrown on my visit,
and I dodged a few overzealous branches of poison oak, along with runaway
dangling honeysuckle vines, fragrant with pink blossoms in early summer.
At 1.10 miles, you'll reach a signed junction, and the end of Jepson Trail.
(You can extend this hike on the out-and-back part of Johnstone, to the
right -- it's 5.2 miles round trip to Shell Beach and back to this junction.)
Turn left onto Johnstone Trail.
The trail, closed to cyclists, enters a
familiar combination of Bishop pine, coffeeberry, huckleberry, coast
live oak, and hazelnut, but tanoak is also common. Look for blossoms on
manzanita shrubs mid-winter, followed, in March, by displays of hound's
tongue and milkmaids, as well as sweet-smelling flowers on huckleberry
and madrone. At 1.29 miles, you'll cross the paved road again, then begin
an easy descent through a woodland slightly more open than the thickets
of Jepson Trail. There's a bench on the left, with views to Tomales Bay
somewhat screened by tree cover. Johnstone Trail reaches a damp area not
far from a creek, and the grade sharpens a bit as the trail switchbacks
downhill. You might notice some huckleberry shrubs nearly 5 feet tall,
along with chinquapin, gooseberry, currant, and salal. Alders, which thrive
near waterways, mix through the other plants. Some sections of the trail
are muddy, although a few short elevated walkways keep visitors out of
the wettest areas. In spring look for a few salmonberry
shrubs along the trail -- their pink blossoms are conspicuous. Labrador
tea shrubs put forth white azalea-like flowers in late spring and early
summer. Johnstone Trail levels out, travels through a damp, shaded, and
grassy stretch, then returns to a more firm footing, where madrone, coast
live oak, and hazelnut line the path. At 2.17 miles you'll reach a signed
junction with a path to Pebble Beach. Turn right.
The narrow path descends under tree cover,
then steps out onto the beach, at 2.20 miles. If you're visiting on a
summer day and seek some peace and quiet, this beach is generally less
crowded than Heart's Desire, and the rocky shoreline makes a good no-frills
lunch stop. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the previous
junction, then bear right, back onto Johnstone Trail again.
The trail passes through more beautiful coast
live oak, as well as California bay, madrone, huckleberry, hazelnut, and
grade remains nearly level. At 2.51 miles, Johnstone Trail emerges in
a clearing near the restrooms, back at the trailhead. (If you want to
cut short your hike here, simply turn left and walk back to the parking
lot.) Continue straight, following the sign for Heart's Desire Beach.
After a short foray under tree cover,
Johnstone Trail bisects a grassy group picnic area. When it's empty, this
is another good place for a lunch break. I especially like the bench on
the right, at the edge of the picnic area, overlooking Heart's Desire
Beach, Indian Beach, and the bay. Johnstone Trail continues, weaving through
some coast live oaks, then descending on a short segment of long steps.
At 2.68 miles, the trail reaches Heart's Desire Beach. (From here, you
can continue across the beach, then pick up Indian Nature Trail to Indian
Beach.) When ready, retrace your steps back to the clearing near the
restrooms, then turn right and return to the trailhead.
Total distance: 2.85 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, March 9,
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