Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Point Reyes National Seashore, Palomarin Backpack Loop

point reyes ocean lakes

Point Reyes has many faces; the wind swept Tomales Point, the foggy forests of Mt. Wittenburg, and the steep rock and strata around Arch Rock, even the rolling hills of the Olema Valley. It’s hard to say which is best, but in the discussion will always be the rugged south mountains and lakes between Wildcat Camp and Palomarin. The low, dry brush (even in the winter) in this Mediterranean landscape exposes awesome views of the coastline.


Difficulty - Moderate
Length - 17.5mi
Crowds - Busy
Fees - Free
Best Season(s) - Summer, Spring, Winter, Fall
Get Directions

Day 1:

Bolinas Ridge to Glen Camp

Jump to Day 2: Alamere Falls & The Ocean Lakes

We got a late start to the day after a breakfast of eggs and toast we loaded up the car and headed out to the Bear Valley Visitors Center to collect our permits. We encountered the usual SF traffic on 19th Ave and had to detour for gas in Point Reyes Station delaying us further. By the time we picked up our permit at Bear Valley and drove down the dirt road to the Palomarin trail head it was nearly 1pm.

After unloading the car we quickly shouldered our packs and we were off up the trail through some impressive eucalyptus groves. The trail weaved in and out of some drainage gullys before arriving at Abalone Point about a mile down the trail where we first made adjustments to our packs and surveyed the landscape while reviewing the map and deciding our course for the day.

douglas iris
A Douglas Iris blooming in February on the Coast Trail.

After slowly making our way up small rocky rise in the trail the we made a right on the Lake Ranch Trail and began rapidly climbing Bolinas Ridge. The first half mile was open and exposed and on a remarkably warm winter afternoon we worked up a little sweat until the trail ducked under the trees and we had a chance to cool off. I watched the altimeter on my watch go up and up until it had indicated we had climbed almost 1000ft at which point we finally felt the trail kick back at the top of the ridge and start to swing left.

Small Pond off the Lake Ranch Trail.

Once the majority of the climbing was out of the way we picked up our pace and powered our way along the ridge stopping periodically for water breaks and photos at small ponds and marshes and to capture the beautiful light pouring in through the trees. Just past the half-way point we switched trails and picked up the Ridge Trail.

Forest Canopy
Looking up at the forest canopy from the Ridge Trail.

A nice breeze ran consistently off the coast and through the forest keeping us cool but not cold. As the day wore on, and our legs started to get tired. As we approached Firtop, the high point of the ridge, the trail ducked down and veered away. The sun became obscured as we followed the trail into a small gully filled with the sound of an unseen babbling brook.

Old Mans Beard hanging off a pine tree on the Ridge Trail.

Navigating the maze of trails around Glen Camp can sometimes be frustrating we first hooked up with the Greenpicker trail keeping to the left. After which we hung a right on the Glen Loop (not to be confused with the Glen Trail) and descended the last few hundred feet into camp on our tired legs, seriously out of practice after a long winter away from much hiking.

We found 2-3 groups already with their sites established around us and we waved to them as we hunted up the hill for our site. At the top of the campground sat our site, number 5. We were surprised at how much energy we had after lugging heavy packs over almost 9 miles and at least 1,000ft.

Beylah unlacing her boots at the tent after a long day on the trail.

With the tent set up we wolfed down our dinner and found ourselves tucked into our sleeping bags as the sun set. We played games for a couple hours in the tent then read for awhile before falling asleep.

Our next day had most of the features of the hike that I was excited about, Alamere falls, the ocean lakes, the open coastal views.

Jump to Day 2: Alamere Falls & The Ocean Lakes


  1. I love a great backpacking trip. Sometimes I laugh at all the "hard work" backpacking is and this is my idea of "fun!" most my friends don't understand! But there is no other feeling like it!

  2. Nice post and beautiful pictures. Nothing like a backpack along or near an ocean wilderness where omnipresent humans are at last a less common occurrence.