Backpack to Coast Camp in Point Reyes via Palomarin Trailhead

Rate this Adventure San Francisco Palomarin Trailhead

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:

    Point-to-Point

  • RT Distance:

    20.5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    2705 Feet

Bathrooms
Beach
Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Forest
Groups
Picnic Area
Scenic
Wildlife

Long weekend adventure for anyone looking to escape into the solitude of Point Reyes National Seashore. Features many stunning views and trail variations.

Spanning from just north of the small town of Bolinas (about an hour north of San Francisco) across Inverness ridge and to the top of Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore is as stunning park featuring breathtaking ocean views and solitude among the grassy hillsides and forested ridges. This is a two day, 21 mile backpacking trip with one night at the Coast Camp, but can be broken up by staying the first night at Wildcat Camp and then the second at Coast Camp. If staying at Coast Camp the first day will be a little over 14 miles and the second will be around 6 including the short summit of Mount Wittenberg on your way back.

This adventure begins in the South end of the park at the Palomarin Trailhead. To make this a true through hike takes two cars and a bit of forethought. Before beginning your hike you must stop at the Bear Valley Visitor's Center on the day you wish to leave to pick up your backpacking permit. After you pick up what you need  you can leave a car overnight in their parking lot and drive your other car to the Palomarin Trailhead (about a 1/2 hour drive). Jump out of the car and begin your hiking!

Start by hiking north on the Coast Trail towards Bass Lake. You will pass a turnoff to the right for Lake Ranch Trail before you reach Bass Lake, but don't take it; continue hiking on the Coast Trail and you will soon pass Bass Lake. This is a great stop for a dip on a hot summer day and has a few picnic tables. However, it's a little early for a lunch break and there are better views in store.

Keep hiking north on Coast Trail and you will reach a turn-off to the left for Alamere Falls. This trail is seasonally closed depending on conditions and weather. If you aim to make it to Coast Camp, skip the detour and continue on the Coast Trail. If you want to break this trip up and make it two nights instead of one, keep hiking to Wildcat Camp to set up your tent and drop your gear and then double back on the beach to see the beautiful Alamere Falls. 

After the turn off for Alamere Falls, you will come to another turn off for the Ocean Lake Loop Trail. Take this trail for more beautiful ocean views or continue on Coast Trail which veers to the right. The two trails meet back up with each other becoming Coast Trail again after passing Wildcat Lake and then the trail descends to Wildcat Campground. If this is your stop, set up your tent at one of the campsites, but if your destination is Coast Camp then continue hiking to the right up the fire lane trail road until you see a turn off to the left for Coast Trail. Once you're back on the Coast Trail, look for a nice spot to stop for lunch and enjoy the view after all that climbing.

Continue hiking on the Coast Trail towards Arch Rock. When you get to the first junction, take a left to stay on the Coast Trail. When you get to the second junction take a right onto Glen Trail and continue until you reach the junction for the Bear Valley Trail. Take the Bear Valley Trail to the left as it follows Coast Creek. When the trial forks, go to the right and continue until you reach a junction for Sky Trail that goes to the left. Don't take Sky Trail but continue going straight until you reach another junction for the Woodward Valley Trail to the left. Don't take Woodward Valley Trail either, but continue on the Coast Trail until you descend to the Coast Camp! 

There are pit toilets, garbage boxes, and potable water here as well as wildlife boxes to lock your food in and picnic tables. If you can, take the short walk to the beach and watch the sunset or put your feet in the ocean. Don't leave food or backpacks unattended on the picnic tables because the birds here are very smart. During our trip, I returned to camp and saw a wild coyote casually walking by before returning into the trees past the camp. My family did it in the winter just before New Years and we found the daytime weather to be very pleasant while the night grew much chillier. If you do plan to camp in the winter, bring warm socks, a beanie, and clothes to sleep in and maybe a few hand warmers.

As you leave your campsite, make sure you clean up all garbage and take all of your belongings with you. There are many variations to the hike back to the Bear Valley Visitor's Center and you can choose your favorite based on length or views by looking at a map beforehand. The one my family did requires you to retrace your steps for a short time back up the hill on the Coast Trail until you reach the Woodward Valley Trail. Take this trail as it ascends away from the ocean until you reach a junction with the Sky Trail. Go to the left until you reach a four way junction. Take the trail going straight, not the one to Sky Camp, or the one way Meadow Trail. You will soon reach another four way junction including the Z Ranch Trail, Mount Wittenberg Summit Trail, and the Mount Wittenberg Trail. If you don't mind the extra climbing, take the Mount Wittenberg Summit Trail and each lunch at the top in a grove of trees (sadly we couldn't find any stunning viewpoints up there). After your lunch break, hike back down the Mount Wittenberg Summit Trail to the same junction you were just at, but this time take the Mount Wittenberg Trail. This will drop you down and back onto the paved Bear Valley Trail. Turn left and hike the short distance towards the parking lot saying hi to all the day hikers and horses. Don't forget to pick up your other car at the Palomarin Trail head if needed! If you can, check out the town of Point Reyes and maybe grab a bite to eat at Point Reyes Station or the Bovine Bakery.

If you plan to make this an out-and-back trip, you can also backpack to Coast Camp from the Laguna Trail

Pack List

  • backpacking backpack
  • tent
  • sleeping bag
  • sunscreen
  • at least two 2L water bottles
  • warm base layers
  • hiking boots
  • hat
  • extra warm layers and rain gear if traveling in winter
  • your favorite backpacking meal
  • camera
  • snacks!
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