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Point Reyes Coast Trail

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore Links:

April 11-12th, 1998

6.2 miles
100 vertical feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Angie, Jason, Joe, Weihaw, and I went to Point Reyes National Seashore to hike part of the Coast Trail and camp out at Coast Camp.

The weather leading up to our camping trip included showers off and on, and the forecast for the weekend wasn't much different. We woke up in the South Bay to a constant drizzle, but went ahead undeterred. As we drove north the rain stopped, and wouldn't return until after our trip had ended.

We started our trip at the Bear Valley visitor center, where we picked up our camping permit. Reservations our required -- I made the reservation a month in advance, and most spots were filled by that time. The permit is $10, for a site which fits up to 8 people.

After parking at the American Youth Hostel near Limantour Road, we started our trek just before noon.

This was the first or second camping trip for most of us; I hadn't camped at all since junior high. So I'd been spending a lot of time at REI in the past few weeks gathering equipment and information. I was excited about finally heading out into the unknown. =)

The Coast Trail is relatively flat, with a slight downhill the first mile or so toward the ocean. It starts in a slightly wooded area before reaching the ocean and following the coast the rest of the way, where there are sweeping views of the hills to the left and the beaches and ocean to the right. Off in the distance to the north is the Point Reyes Lighthouse. A few miles straight out to sea, clearly visible, are the Farallon Islands.

The trail is actually a fire road which is open to hikers and cyclists. We didn't see any cyclists coming or going, however -- we did pass one truck going in the opposite direction on the way back, and that was it. Other than that, it was scattered hikers -- mostly campers on Saturday, and day hikers on Easter Sunday.

The hike into camp is about 3.1 miles, and we arrived in less than 1 1/2 hours. Coast Camp 3 is located in a somewhat sheltered area with hills directly on south, hills a few hundred yards to the north, and a clear view straight to the ocean and the lighthouse. The camp itself has a flat area big enough for 3 tents (4 if squeezed tightly together). There's a picnic table and food storage locker. There are 7 such sites, and then 2 or 3 larger group sites a few hundred feet away, where there are pit toilets, faucets, and garbage lockers.

Our campsite

Looking south along the coast

The view from our campsite. That's the ocean at top left. We got a better view from our tents, which are a few feet higher.

Two quails, among the many birds in the area, watched us as we set up camp. After setting up our tents and having lunch, we headed off down to the beach, just a few hundred feet away. While enjoying the beach, wind started throwing sand at us. An eventually fierce north to south wind created amazing rivers of sand flowing by us. Joe, who had shorts on, tried to find cover by walking in front of us as we headed south along this Sculptured Beach. I could hold my hands out and feel the grains slamming into my palms. Kind of cool -- though I tried not to look north if I could avoid it. Sunglasses required.

Jason looks as Angie turns her head to avoid the wind. Yes, those are streams of sand flowing toward them.

The beach is next to a cliff wall which runs seemingly all the way down to the Marin headlands. We kept going looking for an opening back to the main trail. We finally found it steps going up, but the trail would be painful. It was a path of thorns -- otherwise innocent-looking plants with stiff leaves lined either side of the trail. At the tips of the leaves were thorns which pierced jeans, sweat pants, and no pants at all (Joe again). Ow ow ow!

We eventually made it back to the Coast Trail and started heading north back to camp. Along the way we were met with signs of El Nino. A 10--foot section of the trail -- and everything west of it -- had slid off toward the ocean. It was barricaded, so we cautiously walked around the washed-out section of trail.

We hiked up to the top of some rock formations close to camp, near the trail. The views were great, but at the top we were totally unsheltered from the wind, which was really gusting now. I had visions of my tent flying through the air, Wizard-of-Oz-like.

Jason and Weihaw trying to make like hawks (taken from near the rock formation)

After a short rest we started working on dinner. Joe's storm-proof matches came in handy, as the wind threatened to keep us from lighting our stoves. Hawks hovered in the stiff wind above us, and anything that wasn't anchored quickly flew into the bushes.

Nothing beats a good hot meal after walking around in the cold, and I have to admit that the freeze-dried stuff I bought from REI was pretty good. For desert, a chocolate Power Bar Harvest. Yum. (I'm serious)

It was still light, so we rested a while before heading back to the beach to watch the sun set. The sand rivers were still streaming down the beach, so we didn't walk too close to the water. As I waited a bit further north than everyone else, I spotted a half dozen dogs coming my way. At first I didn't know what to do -- they weren't wearing leashes and I wasn't sure if they were wild dogs or they belonged to someone. I cautiously started inching my way back toward everyone else, but the dogs were faster than I was -- and I didn't think running was a good idea. But I noticed a collar on one of them and relaxed. Their owner soon appeared over the horizon, trying to stop them, and Angie grabbed one by the collar so the owner wouldn't have to go chasing after them down the beach.

After Angie read to us the history of Point Reyes, and Weihaw and I played the longest game of crazy-8's I've ever played (he won), we settled in for the night early -- around 9pm. The wind was howling, rattling our tents every few minutes. In the distance we could hear the waves pounding the rocks and the beach. Once in a while I could hear our camping neighbors talking. I was afraid I wouldn't get to sleep at all, and I did drift in and out until well past midnight. At one point I looked outside and saw a full moon bright enough to see my cards with -- I even started jotting down notes in the moonlight. I couldn't actually see what I was writing, but I could see where I had written -- and I'm looking at the notes now and they're quite legible! Joe later said he thought someone had turned the lights on.

Next thing I knew, it was past 5am, the wind had gone away, and the moon shone beautifully, reflecting into the ocean. The birds were chirping as sunrise approached. And my altimeter watch read a chilly 49 degrees. Brrr.

After having breakfast and then breaking camp, we headed back to our cars via the Coast Trail. Along the way we were greeted with a special treat -- whales clearly visible just off the coast. They spouted through their blowholes several times, and came partially out of the water on occasion. They seemed to be heading north, tracing the outline of the coast.

Starting the hike back

We got back around noon, just as it started to sprinkle. It was a good "first" experience camping. No rain. We could have done without the chilling wind, but that's about the only negative I have to say about the trip. Hard to beat the beachfront location of the camp, and the scenery is great.

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