Coast, Fire Lane, and Laguna Loop
Total Distance: 5.0 miles round-trip
Hiking Time: 2.5 hours
Elevation Change: 450 feet
Short of driving your car to Limantour Beach, one of the easiest ways to access a prime stretch of Point Reyes National Seashore beachfront property is to take a walk on the Coast Trail.
It's also one of the prettiest ways to get there. The Coast Trail departs across the road from the Point Reyes Hostel, skirts the edge of a marshy alder forest, passes a duck-covered pond, then turns south and parallels the ocean for another mile to Coast Camp, a popular backpacking camp. A superlative loop can be made by connecting Coast Trail (2.8 miles to Coast Camp) with Fire Lane and Laguna Trails (1.8 miles back to the trailhead), allowing plenty of time to explore the inviting stretch of sand near Coast Camp known as Santa Maria Beach. Or, if you prefer, do the loop in reverse, saving the easier but longer Coast Trail for last. Both ways are equally pleasant.
The region surrounding Coast Trail was badly burned in the Point Reyes fire of 1995, but it recovered quickly. Six months after the fire, the trail's surrounding grasslands and hillsides were green with new life as a multitude of ferns, berry bushes, and vines poked up from the ground and grasses blanketed the blackened earth. In only a few years, the coastal scrub regained its rightful place. Today, it's difficult to find any evidence of fire along the trail.
The National Park Service reintroduced tule elk to this region of the park in 1999, and a small herd wanders the hillsides near Limantour Road. You may possibly see elk here, although you have a much greater chance at Pierce Point Ranch and along the Tomales Point Trail in the northern region of the park, where the elk population is much larger (see Tomales Point Trail listing in this chapter).
Starting from the Point Reyes Hostel, the walking is easy on Coast Trail's wide, dirt road, following a slight downhill grade to the coast. When you reach the shoreline, you can head straight for the sand and continue walking southeast, but first-timers beware: It is difficult to spot the trail to Coast Camp from the beach from this direction. The no-fail route is to stay on Coast Trail for another 1.1 miles to Coast Camp. (Backpackers who wish to reserve a spot at the 14-site campground must obtain a permit from Point Reyes headquarters. Advance reservations are necessary, especially in summer.)
At Coast Camp, a narrow foot trail leads from near the restrooms to Santa Maria Beach. Once on the sand, your options are open in either direction—north toward Limantour Beach or south toward Sculptured Beach—with miles of uninterrupted shoreline between. Or, if you're tired of walking, just flop down in the sand.
For your return trip, take Fire Lane Trail north from Coast Camp for one mile to a junction with Laguna Trail. You'll face a substantial climb; keep turning around to check out the ocean views as you gain elevation. At the junction, bear left on Laguna Trail and hike 0.8 mile back to the Laguna Trailhead adjacent to a park ranger's residence, where your car is waiting.
For a completely different hike in the same neighborhood, follow Muddy Hollow Trail to Limantour Beach, then walk along the windswept dunes of Limantour Spit. At the turnoff for the Point Reyes Hostel on Limantour Road, turn right (west) instead of left (east) and drive 0.5 mile to the Muddy Hollow Trailhead. Muddy Hollow Trail leads 1.7 miles to Limantour Beach, passing two bird-filled ponds along the way. At the entrance to the beach, head down to the sand and turn right to hike along Limantour Spit. An out-and-back along this route will make a six- to eight-mile round-trip, depending on how far you follow the narrow spit. Note that this hike is best done in summer or fall; in the rainy months, Muddy Hollow Trail is sometimes closed and often impassable because of wet conditions.
From San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and drive north on U.S. 101 for 7.5 miles. Take the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit west toward San Anselmo, and drive 20 miles to the town of Olema. At Olema, turn right (north) on Highway 1 for about 150 yards, then turn left on Bear Valley Road. Drive 1.7 miles on Bear Valley Road, then turn left on Limantour Road. Drive 5.9 miles on Limantour Road to the left turnoff for the Point Reyes Hostel. Turn left, drive 0.5 mile (past the hostel) and park in the lot on the right (Laguna Trailhead). Then walk back up the road 0.3 mile, passing the hostel again. Begin hiking on the dirt road just west of (and across the road from) the hostel. The road is signed as Coast Trail to Coast Camp.
Information and Contact
There is no fee. Dogs are not allowed. Bikes are allowed only on Coast Trail. A free park map is available at the Bear Valley Visitor Center on Bear Valley Road. A more detailed Point Reyes map is available from Tom Harrison Maps, 415/456-7940, www.tomharrisonmaps.com. For more information, contact Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes, CA 94956, 415/464-5100, www.nps.gov/pore.
From the book Moon 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area by Ann Marie Brown. Excerpted by arrangement with Avalon Travel, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011. For more information, visit http://www.moon.com.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication