Friday, April 9, 2010

Backpacking Point Reyes National Seashore, Limantour Beach to Glen Camp


Difficulty - Moderate
Length - 18.5mi
Crowds - Busy
Fees - Free
Best Season(s) - Any

There is so much to see and experience at Point Reyes often it is daunting determining exactly can be realistically squeezed in in a single trip. Fortunately the coast trail is a good place to start and hits a considerable number of highlights. It stretches out across the park from the Point Reyes Hostel to the Palomarin Trailhead at the south end of the park. It passes landmarks like Sculptured Beach, Arch Rock, Double Point, and Alamere Falls and is in close proximity to 3 of the 4 backpacking camps and remains generally pretty flat and easy to hike.

Day 1 : Limantour Beach to Glen Camp

Departing from the Limantour beach parking lot provides a very unique way to begin a backpacking trip, though the sand, along the beach. From Limantour to Coast Camp we plodded along through the compacted sand of the beach passing old couples holding hands and children flying kites. We might have looked crazy lumbering down the coast as waves gently lapped at the ground near our feet. Of course Beylah and I could not have been having more fun. By keeping close to the water we stayed on relatively firm sand and didn't find the hiking much more difficult than a regular dirt trail.

Walking up Limantour Beach

Near coast camp a trail turns inland away from the beaches and meets up quickly with the coast trail. At this point the route finally starts to feel like a backpacking trip and less of a sunday stroll. Coast camp itself looks like a very nice spot to camp, mostly sheltered from the wind by a small bluff but within a few hundred feet of the beach.

Coast Camp.

Past coast camp the coast trail intersects the Fire Lane trail. Beyond this intersection the trail turns up to the top of a gorgeous bluff. Multi-colored flowering coastal scrub brush covers the bluffs above the beach and from the trail there are commanding views of the entire Point Reyes Seashore from Chimney Rock on the tip of Point Reyes to Double Point far to the south of the park.

Hills behind the coast trail.

The trail switches back towards the forest a few times as it crosses a few creeks and then back out along the exposed coastal bluffs. From the main coast trail there are several trails that lead back towards the beaches. To conserve time we skipped Sculptured beach but did climb down to Kelham Beach which is simply not to be missed.

Coastal Bluffs along the coast trail.

One of the rare waterfalls that spills on to the beach roars off the cliffs above as waves crash against the multi-colored rocks on the other side of the beach. Views of the cliffs and natural arches stretch out in all directions. Kelham Beach is perhaps the best kept secret of Point Reyes maybe the entire Bay Area. What began as a simple detour turned into a small discovery of my new favorite beach. Kelham beach is not to be confused with Wildcat beach and Alamere falls (another waterfall on the beach further south in the park).

Kelham Beach Cliffs.

Kelham Beach Waterfall.

Cove just north of Kelham Beach.

After returning up the path and arriving back at the coast trail the hike continues on to Arch Rock. Arch Rock is a nice little rocky spot, great for lunches and a convenient and beautiful rest stop. It is easily accessible from the Bear Valley visitors center to day hikers and adjacent to lots of other highlights in the park making it a very popular destination. From the top hikers are treated to some of the best views in Point Reyes (not that there is a shortage anywhere in the park). It's a fine spot to gobble down a little lunch in preparation for some big climbing ahead.

Looking back on Arch Rock from the coast trail.

Just past Arch Rock, back on the coast trail one final bridge crosses Coast Creek, a great spot to pump water and replenish for the remainder of the trek. After the creek the trail cruises briefly along the bluffs again and then makes a hard turn to the left up the hills that have loomed in the background. Roughly a mile and a half of exposed and steep climbing is the crux of this hike. The tall dry grasses edging the trail are also host to plenty of ticks (I brushed one off my hand just as he was digging in) so caution should be used moving up the hill. At the top however awaits another world. The evergreen canopy closes and the trail becomes lined with ferns and forget-me-not's the trail kicks back and the temperature drops.

Evergeens along Glen Loop trail.

Turning away from the coast trail the Glen trail climbs up a bit further and deeper into the damp forest. After a couple of strange intersections the sounds of campers chatting and pots clanking replaces the dead quiet of the forest, tents come in to view, and after 10 miles of hiking rest is in sight. We made a quick dinner and basically went right to bed. Though we were not sore the day took a lot out of both of us. We gave high marks to "Backpackers Pantry Pasta Vegetable Parmesan" and very low marks to the "Backpackers Pantry Organic Tofu Pesto" which I found borderline uneatable even with my ravenous appetite. 

Glen Camp.

Day 2: Glen Camp back to Limantour Beach

The one unfortunate part of the Coast Trail is that it does not offer many options for loops without doing some serious climbing up to the top of Mt. Wittenburg (steep even without heavy backpacks). So we decided to return basically the way we came. Instead of going directly to the coast trail we followed the other leg of the Glen trail down to the Bear Valley trail and once on it turned away from the Park HQ (which would have been a short walk) and back towards Arch Rock.

Glen Loop trail back towards Arch Rock
Rain closed in quickly on us and we could feel drops trickle down through the tree canopy periodically. The trees provided very good cover early on from the wind and the rain. Near Arch Rock we resumed hiking on the exposed coast trail, now battered by wind and rain. Point Reyes is an unforgiving place in a storm. More then a few times we found ourselves behind pushed by high gusts back and forth across the trail. Even wearing waterproof shells we found moisture creeping its way in. 

Forget-me-not's are very common along the Bear Valley and Glen Loop trails.

We powered our way unrelentingly back over our tracks from the day before, hardly pausing even to talk to eachother except when the rain would let up. We encountered the only other hiker we would see all day near Kelham Beach then had the park to ourselves for the rest of the day. My camera was bagged up and tucked away safely inside my bag for the afternoon preventing photo opportunities for the most part. 

We eventually relented to our growling stomachs for 5 minutes to scarf down some trail mix and begin again slogging our away through stormy conditions back to the car, and warmth. Back on the beach we found stormwater running off the bluffs creating small waterfalls. Watching it creep down the relativley dry beach on towards the ocean would have been endlessly entertaining if it was possible to linger in one place for more than a few moments.

Runoff from the cliffs climbing its way down the beach towards the ocean.

The howling winds blew sand along the beach giving the ground a hazy appearance, at times you could see it blowing straight up the cliffs along the beach and backspin at the top. After struggling up the final stretch the cars finally came in to view and a few moments later we were cozied up, beanies soaked, clothes damp, scarfing down tuna and ramen before eventually driving back over the Golden Gate and on home.

Swollen sea's, high wind, driving rain. Point Reyes is a miserable place in a storm.


  1. What an awesome adventure! Very entertaining to read and breathtaking photography as usual. Can't wait to see more!

  2. I don't why but it took every ounce of energy I had and the entire week to complete writing this blog. I just had the hardest time focusing.