Tomales Bay State Park,
California State Parks,
Marin County
In brief:
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.

Exposure:
Mostly shaded.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt trails

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime, but very muddy in winter.

Getting there:
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 1.2 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, 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:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/367

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 7'53.18"N
Longitude
12253'27.08"W
(* 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 accommodations 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 options here. Read my page describing Point Reyes hikes, accommodations, food, and more.

Trailhead details:
$8 entrance fee (self register if ranger station is unstaffed) -- no cash accepted. 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.

Rules:
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:
CSP's Tomales Bay page
Park office 415-669-1140

Map/book choices:
 This hike 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.
• Download the park map pdf from CSP's website.
• Download Point Reyes pdf map from NPS.
• 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 (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Tomales Bay hike.
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.


Tomales Bay State Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.



Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


Little Tomales Bay State Park, with only 2,000 acres, is dwarfed by the surrounding parklands of Point Reyes National Seashore. TrailheadA 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.Jepson Trail
     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). Jepson TrailThe 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 arrangements. After 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.Elevated sections on Johnstone 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 one 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. The picnic area near Hearts Desire Beach 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 more than 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 (and some carefully placed planks) 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. Steps down to Hearts Desire BeachJohnstone 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 creambush. The 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.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: July 25, 2013
Previous visits: March 9, 2004, June 20, 2002