Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pt. Reyes – Coast Camp Loop

One of my favorite places to hike in the Bay Area is Point Reyes National Seashore and with Saturday’s forecast called for high temperatures in the East Bay I headed north to cool off some and scout out Coast Camp, one of the backcountry campgrounds in Pt. Reyes. I’m taking my Royal Ranger boys there for a three day backpacking trip next month and needed to check it out first so this was a perfect opportunity.

One of the things that drew me to Coast Camp is the relatively short distance it is from the trailhead. n addition, it is very close to the beach (a big plus with the boys).

There are two routes to Coast Camp: Coast Trail (2.8 miles) & Laguna Trail (1.8 miles). Today’s plan was to check out both routes by creating a loop hike and make sure there were no surprises at the campground (like water supply issues, etc). I also wanted a good look at the beach area since I know that will be a main feature of next month’s trip.

The trailhead for each route is within a quarter mile of each other near the Point Reyes Hostel off of Limantour Beach Rd (see map below). A parking lot is located at the Laguna trailhead past the hostel. This is the preferred parking area; however, if that lot is full, there is some parking along the road at the Coast trailhead just before the hostel.

My hiking buddy Tim joined me on this trip and we started out on the shorter route (Laguna Trail). One of the first things that caught my attention was the abundance of quail at the trailhead. I just love quail (to watch, not eat) and enjoyed seeing them skitter along the trail ahead and hearing their distinctive calls. The topo map (Tom Harrison’s is the best) showed a short climb to a ridge and then gradual decent to Coast Camp. The topo was spot on, but what it didn’t show was how nice of a trail it is. If you’ve read my previous entries, you know I’m a sucker for wildflowers. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of flowers I encountered along the trail. Okay, this wasn’t Merced River Canyon wildflowers, but there were quite a number of different types. Here’s a list of the wildflowers I could name: Lupine and Bush Lupine (lots of em), Morning Glory, Indian Paintbrush, Monkey Flower, California Poppy, Forget-Me-Not, Bowl Tube Iris, Yarrow, Blue Eyed Grass, and more that I could not find names to. The trail was also filled with wildlife. I mostly spotted rabbits and a myriad of birds, however, I did see lots of evidence of coyotes, and by the look of its scat, these critters must be very content and full coyotes. In no time at all, we met up with the Coast Trail and were at Coast Camp.

Coast Camp is behind a bluff separating the campground and the beach. The campground is broken up into two sections. Campsites 1-7 are nestled among the native bushes (including poison oak) and more private and protected from the other area containing campsites 8-14. This area is more in the open and contains two group sites. The open area definitely is more susceptible to the coastal winds and each camper I ran into commented on the high winds of the night before.

Coast Camp has potable water spigots and vault toilets adding some conveniences that most backcountry locations lack (although most of the time I’d rather dig a hole than enter the vault). I’ve termed this type of backpacking: slackpacking. I think slackpacking is a perfect introduction to the wilderness for the young and reserved. I have had very successful trips simple because I was joined by others (wife) who refuse to dig a hole.

Santa Maria Beach is a very short hike from the camp along a narrow trail.
It is an idyllic spot with a seemingly endless sandy coastline. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the brown pelicans skimming over the water and the other, smaller, seabirds looking for lunch. We encountered a number of day hikers coming from Limantour Beach (parking lot is 2 miles away). Campfires in this area are only allowed on the beach and not in the camps. Finding wood may be tricky. I didn’t see a lot of driftwood along the shore and will probably need to pack in some firewood or find a friendly mule (did you say something Tim?). Fortunately, it is a fairly short hike.

We left the beach and headed north on the Coast trail. The trail is a basically a gravel fire road, fairly level and only 2.8 miles back to the trail head. The first part of the trail is exposed and follows along the coastline. The slight morning breeze was welcomed as we started to feel heat of the day. After a mile or so, just past some wetlands, the trail turned inland and we came across a glade of Alder trees along a creek. It was very peaceful. Coming out of the glade we were again “exposed” and the trail had such a gradual rise you barely noticed it. The trail head came up sooner than expected and we were done.

This was a perfect hike and although my main purpose was to check out Coast Camp for an overnight trip, it worked out nicely as an easy day hike. Although I preferred the more scenic and shorter Laguna trail, the Coast trail is good for those that don’t want to deal with any elevation or those who wish to ride their bike to the campground or beach.

I don’t know if there is a bad hike in Pt. Reyes. Every hike I’ve done within this National Park has exceeded my expectations. The variety of wildflowers alone made the trip worthwhile (okay, the flowers will be gone by summer, but you know what I mean) however there was much more to see and experience. If you are looking for a nice day hike or an easy backcountry experience, go to Coast Camp. Permits can be tough to get during the spring and summer, but it’s worth the effort.

For more information on backcountry camping in Pt. Reyes, see the Pt. Reyes website.

I hope to have the GPS route uploaded shortly.

View Coast Camp Trailhead in a larger map

Santa Maria Beach