Sky Trail and Woodward Valley Loop
Total Distance: 13.6 miles round-trip
Hiking Time: 7 hours
Elevation Change: 1,600 feet
There are so many trailheads in Point Reyes National Seashore, and so many trails to choose from, it can be hard to decide how to spend your time in the park. Here's a long day-hike that offers a sampler of the best of Point Reyes, including access to two of the park's most exquisite beaches and some of its loveliest forests and meadows. Start your trip early in the day so you'll have plenty of time to kick back at this trip's main destinations, Kelham and Sculptured Beaches, both superlative stretches of sand and rock.
From the trailhead, follow Sky Trail, a wide dirt road with an initially steep grade, through a forest of Douglas firs. In early spring, the road is lined with dense clusters of light blue forget-me-nots (look for their yellow centers), which thrive in the shade and rich soil here. At a tight curve in the road, where a wooden railing lines the right side, the trees open up sufficiently to allow a clear view to the west of Limantour Beach and Drakes Bay. In less than a half-hour from your car you arrive at Sky Camp, where water and restrooms are available. Overnighters should drop their packs at their chosen site, while day hikers simply continue along Sky Trail for another 4.6 miles all the way to the coast. Much of the route is pleasantly forested, and it's not uncommon to run into a deer or two along this leg. Also look for four-foot-tall blooming foxgloves in the early spring months. Their showy blossoms are usually white, purple, or pink.
The final stretch of Sky Trail opens out to wide, inspiring views of the coast—you can see all the way to the Farallon Islands on clear days—and after zigzagging downhill for 1.5 miles, you'll find yourself at a junction with Coast Trail. Turn right and walk 0.5 mile to the Kelham Beach turnoff (marked by a giant eucalyptus tree and a horse hitching post, but no trail sign). Follow a narrow, unmaintained spur trail to the beach and enjoy lunch and some playtime on this gorgeous stretch of sand backed by colorful cliffs. Then backtrack to Coast Trail and continue north for 2.5 miles to the Sculptured Beach turnoff. Follow the spur trail down to the water's edge and check out this aptly named beach, which is graced by a series of sandstone boulders, cliffs, arches, and tunnels that have been eroded by the forces of wind and ocean. If you arrive at Sculptured Beach during a very low or minus tide, you can explore the beach to the south, which has some fascinating carved sandstone formations. However, if you arrive during high tide you may wonder what all the fuss is about.
It's usually difficult to say good-bye to Sculptured Beach, but if the afternoon sun is waning, retrace your steps back to Coast Trail and continue north 0.5 mile to the right turnoff for Woodward Valley Trail. A two-mile climb up the coastal bluffs (the ascent is not nearly as difficult as it appears from the bottom) followed by a woodsy walk through beautiful Woodward Valley will bring you back to Sky Trail, where you simply turn left to head back to your car. And so, with a long, deep sigh, here ends another fine day in Point Reyes.
It's possible to convert this day-hike into a backpacking trip with an overnight stay at Sky Camp, one of the four hike-in camps in the park. Because the camp is so close to Sky Trailhead (only 1.3 miles), you can dump off your heavy pack early in the hike and then spend the rest of the day traveling light. Those who want to stay at Sky Camp must obtain a permit from the Bear Valley Visitor Center (phone 415/464-5100 for information).
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 3.4 miles on Limantour Road to the Sky Trailhead on the left. Turn left and park in the lot. Begin hiking on the gated dirt road.
Information and Contact
There is no fee. Dogs and bikes are not allowed. 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