I’m not a well traveled person, but of all the places I’ve been the locations that continually call me back are the shorelines of Devon, Cornwall and Northern California. There is something inspiring about the sweeping cliffs and vast ocean views. This hike brought all that back. The sky was blue, the temperature moderate, and for long periods you could find isolation from other hikers.
But, I get ahead of myself. This hike is in the southern reaches of Point Reyes National Seashore. I set out around 9 am when there was still space in the car park but nevertheless it was busy. My first encounter on the trail was a fox. Slinking across the trail it paused to inspect me over 100 yds away, probably decided I wasn’t a viable breakfast, and moved on into the undergrowth. The first section of the trail passes through a growth of eucalyptus trees. A little way beyond the wood the trail emerges onto the cliff top and you get the first view of the ocean. The coastline is still foggy back towards the Golden Gate but nevertheless the beach stretches out below as the never ending waves smooth the sand.
This is a popular family hike. I pass a number of parents coaxing their toddlers along the trail as it gradually ascends along the cliff top. Flowers still decorate the trail giving a splash of color here and there.
Eventually the path turns inland and the trail takes you on a gradual ascent on the side of a valley. To ascend out of the valley the path narrows down from a fire road to a single track as it passes through a ravine. At this time of the morning the sunlight is still soft and as I exited the ravine I found myself in a wood with the soft sunlight giving that delightful dappled effect on the ground.
Next comes the first decision on the trail, head inland or stay near the coast. I opt for the coast and head on to the Wildcat Campground. As I follow the path through the trees and the meadows I’m reminded how rejuvenating it is to hike in the country!
The path leaves the woods and follows a narrow route through high shrubs. I was surprised to find a lake appearing on my left. Clearly it’s a place where the local youth go to swim based on the evidence I saw when I returned later in the day.
I’m surprised by the number of people on the trail. Either I’m passing them or they are coming in the opposite direction. So solitude is found in the spaces between encounters on the path.
Another junction presents itself. I opt for the Ocean Lake Loop Trail to keep the ocean in sight. This path ends with a steep ascent to the cliff top where you will find a bench to sit, enjoy the view and, perhaps like me, take a lunch break. You can sit here and enjoy the ocean view and if you crane your neck you see the waterfall cascading down onto the beach.
After a delightful period of solitude I’m joined by a group of youths who are chatting away with youthful exuberance. The peace and quiet is gone and so I’m off on the return journey.
Along the way I meet many people on the outbound leg of their hike. I find myself giving directions and suggestions on the best path. I overtake other hikers returning to the car park, I suppose they didn’t do the full loop or perhaps took the inland path.
Back at the car park it’s bedlam! Cars are sitting with engines idling waiting for someone to leave. People are donning their hiking gear and setting off up the trail in quick succession. There are no parking spots anywhere and as you leave the car park and head up the gravel road the line of parked cars extends for at least a quarter of a mile. In spite of its out of the way location, this is one of the most popular trailheads I’ve encountered.
From Route 1 take Horseshoe Hill Road west. Turn right on to Mesa Road and keep going until you arrive in the car park.
View Larger Map
- Poison Oak and stinging nettles
- Car Park fills up late in the day in the summer
I love this place! The walk is gentle enough most of the time with a few little hills and plenty of scenic variety.