Monday, June 30, 2008

Pt Reyes - Bear Valley to Arch Rock

"To cross this valley to the peninsula (Point Reyes) is to leave modern California and enter an island of wilderness, forgotten by progress, a quiet land misplaced in a noisy world."

-Stephen Trimble

Locale: Point Reyes National Seashore, Olema, Marin County, CA
Date: Saturday, June 27, 2008
Duration: 8.8 miles (4.5 hours)
Price: Free
Activity Level: Easy
All in All: A great way to spend a morning or afternoon stroll to the ocean.
Rating: ****
Maps and More Info:

I love Point Reyes. I don't think I can emphasize this notion any other way then to simply express it. It's not very far away from the Bay Area and offers people such an array of things to do. Whether it's hiking, camping, kayaking or just eating oysters. In fact I get so upset when I find Bay Area natives who have never been here. I have only lived here for 2 years and could not imagine living here my whole life without escaping to this national seashore. This particular hike is easy to get to, far easier than the Palomarin hike. Simply from 101N or S from either San Fran or the north, take the Sir Francis Drake exit near San Quentin. Follow this through the cities of Fairfax and San Anselmo through Samuel P Taylor Park into the small town of Olema. Once at the stop sign in front of numerous Olema lodges, turn right, followed by a quick left on Bear Valley rd. Take this left past the red barn to the end of the lot by the visitor's center. Though we didn't spend much time perusing the center, it offers books, maps, a donation box and a few exhibits.

There are many trailheads here but take the Bear Valley trailhead at the end of the horse trailer parking lot to begin. You'll stay on Bear Valley Trail all the way except for a small bit approaching Arch Rock - just follow the signs. This trail is so simple that you do not need a map or compass, all you need to do is stay on the trail and take in the fresh air. In our case, it was a bit of smoky air coming from the numerous wildfires. But this and the cool weather didn't stop us or dozens of other hikers we saw on the trail. As I hear, the Bear Valley hike is one of the most popular Point Reyes hikes. I could tell just by parking in the lot. There were scores of cars and we passed many families and campers on the trail as well.

The beginning of the hike leads you into woodsy area with Bear Valley Creek to the left side. At around 1.6 miles in, you will see a bathroom and carved out trees made into benches. This is a good spot to have a quick break if you need, though you have about 7 more miles to travel.

About a mile before Arch Rock, there's a bike rack. Weird, huh? Not really. Bicyclists are allowed on the trails to this point and are expected to park here for the remainder of their hike or stay. If you do not sharing trails with equestrians then I suggest taking the hike on the weekends even if it's a bit more crowded. Equestrians aren't allowed here on the weekends but you will definitely be stepping in and around horse droppings.

The hike to Arch Rock is around 4.4 miles after which, you turn back and go the way you came. Approaching Arch Rock is exciting because if you've been driving on Sir Francis Drake, you have yet to see the beautiful Pacific. When the trail splits into two, take the left descending trail. At this point you will not be able to see the ocean quite yet but you can hear it. Soon enough though you see Arch Rock with people around sitting enjoying a brief lunch. This is what I like about Pt Reyes, it's ability to completely astound you. Atop Arch Rock you will see the beach below and many cliffs to either side of you and below. The trail continues down to the beach as well if you like to get closer to the water. We chose to simply sit and have a snack and watch seagulls.

Before we headed back, we saw a group of kayakers go by and waved at them. It was still a bit smoky and cloudy but it was still a wonderful view to take in. I can never deny a day at Point Reyes. When ready, turn back and follow Bear Valley Trail the way you came in. Hopefully you'll enjoy this featured hike as much as I did. Though I did enjoy the Palomarin hike to Alamere Falls a bit better, Bear Valley still has me wanting to come back for more.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Land's End - Coastal Trail

“The writer loves the fog as it pours in; he loves the sun when the fog pours out. The rest of California is Beach Boys country, but San Francisco has that moody thing going on, those blues notes wrapped in moisture, an atmosphere that tempers California dreaming and makes life more real. But he loves the sun, too, that Frisbee-tossing, forehead-baking golden sun that prevents the loss of eight months of the year to winter. The fog brings reality, but it is still a California reality, one spent outdoors the whole year round.”

-Eric Maisel

Locale: Land's End-Coastal Trail, San Francisco, CA

Date: Sunday, June 8, 2008

Duration: 3.5 miles (2.5 hours)

Price: Free

Activity: Easy

All in All: A great walk through Sutro ruins, beaches, and Sea Cliff

Rating: ****

If you have a few hours to kill and are in the city, you might want to trek down to this easy brief hike in between China and Ocean Beaches. Follow Geary straight towards the water and park along the street down by the Cliff House. Currently the big parking lot at Merrie Way is under construction and you can't park here but there's plenty of parking across the street. Start by walking along the Sutro Bath ruins. As many locals know, this once housed a large pool house surrounded by the Pacific, theaters and artifacts. It was built by millionaire mayor Adolph Sutro in the late 1800's. It was later destroyed by the big earthquake and fires. Now all that's left is the foundation of some of it and muddy water but look at the picture of what it once was (found at Louis' Restaurant) and you can imagine why thousands flocked to it everyday. After exploring the ruins climb back up to the sidewalk and up to the intersection at the top of the hill and you'll find coastal trail on the left. It starts on a paved double path. Up ahead you'll see the Golden Gate and you'll hear the sounds of an old lighthouse.

Most likely you'll be accompanied by runners, bicyclists, tourists and dog walkers. The trail eventually becomes dirt and you will climb stairs. At the end of Coastal Trail, continue along the sidewalk on El Camino Del Mar. You are now in wealthy country and you won't be mistaken by this once you see the mansions and beautiful multimillion dollar houses that make up the Sea Cliff neighborhood home to many of the rich and/or famous such as Robin Williams. Continue straight until you see a road going down on your left to China Beach. Enjoy a nice picnic or wade through the cold waters of the ocean while taking in some rays and enjoying the great views of the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands beyond it.

Walking back to your car - just follow the same way that you arrived along Coastal Trail. If you long down at the cliffs below you may see some remnants from shipwrecks. These spots are pointed out on a large map post at the end of the trail.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Wildcat Canyon Regional Park

"Wilderness is the raw material out of which
man has hammered the artifact called civilization."
-Aldo Leopold

Locale: Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, San Pablo, Contra Costa County, CA
Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008
Duration: 7 miles (3.5 hours)
Price: Free
Activity: Moderate with a strenuous uphill section
All in All: A great hike with wonderful views of the best of the bay area.
Rating: ***1/2
Maps and More Info:

The hike is fairly easy to get to and also fairly easy to follow as well. If you are coming from San Francisco on I-80, turn on the Amador/Solano exit at San Pablo and drive a few blocks east on Amador and then right on McBryde. If coming from the north on I-80 go on the McBryde exit and turn left onto it. After about .5 mile you'll see Wildcat Canyon park. Parking is a bit sparse but maybe you'll get lucky as we did. Admire the goats before starting. Start the hike at the entrance cattle gate on paved road. For those of you who do not like hiking on paved or blacktopped roads, I'd suggest not going here but it's maybe for about 2 or 2.5 miles of the hike.

The trailhead is on wildcat creek trail, follow this for about half mile and turn left onto Belgum Trail, that's Belgum, not BELGIUM. Belgum is named after a nurse named Belgum who used to work at the sanitarium which was along this trail. Stop and read the signs to find out more. In the early 1900's a sanitarium for those with "nervous disorders" as they were called before the DSM came out, was located near a few palm trees (which are still there now). Long after it was abandoned, vandals just had to burn it to the ground. You will continue on Belgum for a few miles and climbing up to the summit. Behind you, you will start to see expansive views of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, Golden Gate, Mt. Tam and even northwards.
Once you think you're at the top you are not. Past the bench on the left, you will see two hills. One fairly close and one in the distance. You will be climbing both of these hills. The first hill has the steepest stretch. Turn right on San Pablo Ridge Trail right before the first hill. Climb upwards, rest a bit, and climb a bit more and then take in the view.

Follow San Pablo Ridge for awhile as it flattens before you reach the second hill in the distance. You'll pass by cattle which are grazing the land. But don't try to frighten them as they may grunt at you or even charge.

Continue up the second hill and shortly after you'll reach a cattle gate. You will then be on Nimitz Way Trail. After about a mile, turn right on Havey Canyon Trail. This will take you into the woods for some comfort shade. One thing to note on this hike is that it can get very still and warm in certain areas, cold and windy at the top of the hills and then cool in the shaded woods. On Havey Canyon, you'll also cross a small creek and follow this trail for around 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Wildcat Creek Canyon for the last 2 miles. The last bit is paved and familiar but is mainly flat the whole time. This hike is pretty convenient for East-Bayers and offer some great views at the top of the hills. Recently, a mountain lion and her cub were located so if you are looking for wildlife, this may be the right place. We saw some wild turkeys. The hike may not be the most traveled nor the most beautiful but it is unique.