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Pt. Reyes Backpacking - California, United States

by navratil  
with a Garmin Legend H
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Story:
With my wife's and 1st-grader daughter's "ski week" both coinciding with Presidents Day, Debbie decided to take the kids to Cleveland for the week so they could hang out with their grandparents and cousins.  I couldn't afford the entire week off work, but I could take one day off -- and so plans were born for a three-day (Sunday to Tuesday) backpacking trip somewhere.  My first thought was the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail, but logistics -- as well as a less-than-inspiring first day's route -- led me to look for an alternative.  EveryTrail to the rescue!  Chris posted a trip here that seemed like a good start -- fourteen-ish miles the first day, nice views, and a park I've always been meaning to get to.  Check, check, and check.

Day 1: Palomarin Trailhead -> Coast Trail -> (Alamere Falls side-trip) -> Ocean Lake Loop -> Stewart Trail -> Coast Trail -> Coast Camp (15.9 miles)

After dropping the wife and kids at the airport at 8pm the previous night, I set a 5:30am alarm and got to the trailhead a bit after 9am, thanks to the backcountry desk and visitors center at Bear Valley being open at 8am on "weekends and holidays".  Sunny and cool, it was perfect hiking weather -- and it stayed that way pretty much the entire weekend (Point Reyes weather is notoriously fickle, and often quite foggy at the coast).  The trail was covered in wildflowers (in mid-February!) including tons of beautiful wild Douglas Iris.  I made a side-trip to Alamere Falls after noticing an "Earth cache" (a virtual geocache) there, and was glad I did -- the waterfall went through a series of cascades and finished by dropping thirty feet straight onto the beach.  After grabbing a snack, I headed back up to the Coast Trail and continued (via the Ocean Lake loop) over to Wildcat Camp for lunch.  The trail then joined the Stewart Trail, a fire road, to head up a moderately steep hill.  (Somewhere up here, I missed the Coast Trail cutoff, and ended up taking the Glen Trail over to a spur trail to get back down to Coast -- if you're trying to follow my GPS track, don't duplicate my mistake.) 

As I approached Arch Rock, I noticed that there were probably at least 80-100 people hanging out on and around the cliffside -- turns out Arch Rock is an extremely popular five-ish mile flat-ish dayhike from Bear Valley, even moreso on a day with beautiful weather.  And probably even moreso thanks to Valentine's Day.  It was actually crowded enough that it was tough to find a place to take off my pack to rest, so I only stuck around for a few minutes and snapped a couple pictures before heading on down the Coast Trail (the crowds disappeared as soon as I turned off the main thoroughfare) for the remainder of the hike to Coast Camp.

The Coast Campground sites -- especially the small sites -- are great.  They're located amongst 6'-high scrub, so privacy isn't a concern, and they have separate areas for cooking and sleeping.  It's easy to see why it's one of the more popular campgrounds at Point Reyes (doesn't hurt that it's bike-accessible down a two-mile fire road, either); that popularity means it's also a great spot for raccoons.  Make sure your scented stuff is in the lockers.  I didn't even have anything scented in my backpack, and they still decided to (noisily) investigate about twenty minutes after I turned in for the night.

(Oh, and the mileage?  Doesn't quite add up because I also tracked a 0.8-mile beach walk to look for interesting sunset pictures.  Note to self: Don't bother trying for sunset pictures with a p&s again)

Day 2: Fire Lane Trail -> Sky Trail -> Horse Trail -> Z Ranch Trail -> (Mt. Wittenberg) -> Mt. Wittenberg Trail -> (Bear Valley Visitors Center) -> Bear Valley Trail -> Glen Trail -> Glen Camp Loop (12.1 miles)

Monday (Presidents Day) morning, I was up as it started to get light, dealing with condensation issues in my new tent (a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1).  I was glad to see the sun come out over the ridgeline -- for about fifteen minutes, before a high fog belt moved in.  Fearing rain, I scarfed down breakfast, packed up, and hit the trail.  Turns out my hardest climb on the entire trip was next, up Fire Lane Trail; within an hour I was above the fog line, never having encountered rain, and it was nice and sunny again.  I should note that most of Point Reyes is fairly level -- I never got above 1400 feet, and the trail rarely went below ~200ft.  The mileage was a bit long, but it wasn't hard hiking by any means.

Finding myself alone at the top of Mt. Wittenberg, I pulled out my iPhone and became That Guy -- since I hadn't heard from my wife about the red-eye flight(s) with two young children, I gave her a call and caught up with my kids' adventures in the snow in Cleveland.  Satisfied that nobody had killed anyone on the flights, I headed down to Bear Valley (climbing over several downed trees along the Mt. Wittenberg Trail) to lunch at their picnic tables next to the Earthquake Trail trailhead, amongst throngs of families celebrating the sunny day off.

After lunch, I took the Bear Valley Highway (er, Trail) and had two people within fifteen minutes of each other ask me why I was using trekking poles.  It was a fair question; that trail is nearly pancake-flat.  At the junction with the Glen and Baldy trails, there's a bike rack; this is where I took a left and said goodbye to the crowds for good.  I only saw one other person the entire rest of my weekend; she was a ranger who showed up at the Glen Campground to check on the water filtration system shortly after I arrived at the camp, and we didn't have any contact while she worked and I set up my site.

Glen Campground isn't, in my opinion, nearly as nice as Coast.  I had the entire campground to myself, but (likely because I mentioned I'd be hiking solo) I was assigned the smallest spot -- Glen 8.  My (small!) tent fit, but barely, and it was pretty much right up against the picnic table.  I should've moved, but it didn't occur to me until I'd already unloaded and put stakes in the ground.  Whoops.  The main area/group campsites were pretty much a swamp, and the mosquitoes were out in force.  It also appears to be right on the approach for one of the main airports (SFO?), as I counted at least a dozen flights over the course of the afternoon, evening, and next morning.  I'd imagine that Glen 5-6-7 would've been much better sites, as they were a little further away from the main swamp and had a bit of cover.

Day 3: Glen Camp Loop -> Greenpicker Trail -> Stewart Trail -> (Firtop) -> Ridge Trail -> Mesa Road (9.7 miles)

There's a straight shot from Glen Camp down to Palomarin, by taking the Glen Trail back to the Coast Trail and out (about eight miles); I decided instead to head up to the Ridge Trail (with a side trip to Firtop) to add a few miles -- and I have a weakness for anything labelled "Ridge".  Let me spare you the suspense: Firtop isn't much of a peak, it is indeed covered with Douglas firs (and therefore no views), but it's a rest stop for visitors to the Stewart Horse Camp, and evidence of horses is everywhere.  Additionally, the Ridge Trail spends most of its time inside a doug-fir forest, and the trail was alternately swampy or covered with recently-downed branches and trees.  Further, the Ridge trailhead is about a mile down a packed-earth dirt (car) road to get back to Palomarin.  It's still a pretty trail; but if I were to go again, I would definitely head back to the Coast Trail, where the views were magnificent.
Tips:
  • There's no water available at the Palomarin Trailhead, so if you need to fill up do it at the Bear Valley Visitors Center when you get your permit.
  • The trails were quite soft and even downright muddy.  Many also had issues with downed trees.  Be prepared to scramble and wallow.
  • As you approach Wildcat Camp from the south, there's a sign claiming that there's a water source in the middle of the camp.  Not true -- water at all the campgrounds is actually near the vault toilets, and can be found by looking for a 2'x3' mostly-blank brown sign.
  • Water provided in the camps is typically potable, so a full filtration system isn't really necessary (bring iodine just in case).  Unfortunately, the treatment they use seems to add something of a sickly sweetness to the water.
  • If you're in a small group and plan on staying at Glen, request campsites 5, 6, or 7.  Definitely stay away from 8, and watch out for the group sites.

Photos: See all pictures and videos from Pt. Reyes Backpacking
Comments (8)
garyy626
hey I'm interested in this backpacking trail. Does it require a permit for backpacking? Could I get your email for more information? My email is garynojunk[at]gmail.com if you could email me that would be great. Really interested in backpacking in point reyes and would like some more detail
by garyy626 on May 21, 2010
HikeNBike
Did you just do this trip in February? I guess some wildflowers are already out. Great narative.
by HikeNBike on Feb 19, 2010
Brighto
Great trip, great pics, excellent writeup. Damn I wish I could do 16 miles in a day with or without a backpack!
by Brighto on Feb 17, 2010
navratil
Thanks for posting your trip a month or two back, Chris! Speaking of flowers: I'd love any help anyone can offer with IDing the "unknown flowers". I know some (all?) of them are pretty common, but I'm terrible at ID.
by navratil on Feb 17, 2010
chris
I'm glad to see that my trip was useful for someone else. I wish I had waited a month to do this hike, the flowers look beautiful now!
by chris on Feb 17, 2010
navratil
Yeah, I didn't just win the lottery, I hit the jackpot :-) Didn't get a drop from the sky; had to deal with all sorts of condensation in my tent, but I think that might just be a "feature" of the tent itself or my misuse.



I felt a bit guilty when I checked next weekend's weather last night and saw it was going to rain on Saturday, the day I can hike. My first reaction was "darn!" My second reaction was, "Actually, I'll trade a few weekends of wet weather for perfectly clear Pt. Reyes..." ;-) I still think I'm going to do the Big Basin waterfall loop (again) next -- I want to see that Mt. McAbee killer trail ;-)
by navratil on Feb 17, 2010
sammydee
Ooh.
by sammydee on Feb 17, 2010
croyle
Man, you won the Weather Lottery for that weekend! Great trip report - love all the helpful tips and info - and fun pics too. Thanks for sharing, and for taking the time to include all of those details.
by croyle on Feb 17, 2010
Trip Info
February 14, 2010
Trip Location: Woodville, California, United States
Length: 38 miles
Duration: 18 hours
Activity: Backpacking
Trip viewed 7,746 times
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