Painting Point Reyes National Seashore from Coast to Sky – Trip Report!

At Point Reyes National Seashore we hiked vast open spaces, towering trees, wooded meadows and sundrenched chaparral with an amazing view of the rugged shoreline.

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The ocean in the distance from the Sky Trail.

This trip was a ‘take it easy’ trip for me since it starts and ends with an eight hour drive immediately before and after hitting the trail. I ditched the DSLR, stuck to the phone camera, and vowed to really soak in the views and paint my ass off.

Day 1: Coast Trail from Point Reyes Hostel to Coast Camp

This is a ridiculously easy two mile start after that long drive with cool overcast weather and ocean breezes. We passed through thick wooded areas that gave way to estuaries absolutely bursting with vibrant wildflowers and water plants. The estuaries opened up to the oceanside landscape of wide-open sky and rolling hills.

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We arrived early at campsite #2 in Coast Camp with plenty of time to spare. From site #2 there’s an awesome view of the ocean if you sit on the camp table, including Limantour spit.

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Single campsites at Point Reyes are my idea of completely awesome. Sites are located off a wide singletrack that splits into narrow single track for each site, which is usually hidden in a clearing of thick foliage. It lends a feeling of privacy like no other designated campsite I’ve visited. You’ve gotta go dispersed for this level of the impression of solitude.

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Each site is equipped with a barbeque stand, picnic table, and food locker. There’s one pair of pit toilets and a spigot for potable water located near the group campsites.

The food locker is so important. For example:
The mice and chipmunks get all kinds of happy once the sun starts to set and give no damns that you’re sitting RIGHT THERE.
A skunk stole our neighbor’s jerky the next day.

Use the lockers. Not having to haul around a bear canister or get all finicky with a mesh sack is a nice perk.

For site #2 there was no shade, but that’s okay! Why? Because a short walk from camp is a tree that has taken upon itself the task of providing shade and an amazing view of Limantour beach.

This giant eucalyptus grows right beside the trail leading down to the ocean and is a popular stop-over for hikers and campers. Its impressive foliage provides refreshing shade during peak sun hours and its staggered, wide roots are almost stadium-seating analogous. If I didn’t know better I’d say someone made a fake tree for human comfort. Nature is weird.

Coast Camp isn’t the place to go if you’re expecting complete solitude. While the privacy of the individual sites is nice, the easy walk makes it a popular location for groups, kids, and horseback riders. Our neighbors were really chill and respectful of each other, so it wasn’t that big a deal. We encountered one headlamp fail after dark. ONE. Pretty good record, unlike the time I had to snarl at the camp next to us at Indian Gardens in the Grand Canyon because getting changed was IMPOSSIBLE with our neighbor’s headlamps shining through our tent and giving the whole damn camp a peepshow.

While I will always love quiet solitude on the trail, there is something pretty cool about being amongst other hikers/campers/backpackers and seeing the little ones enjoy nature. While the sounds of children playing aren’t about to make my biological clock start alarming anytime soon, it is pretty heartwarming. No kid was doing the “I’M BEING MURDERED JUST KIDDING” screaming and quiet hours were put into effect before official quiet hours.

We stayed up late to catch the amazing, star-strewn night sky and slept like rocks.

Plein air paintings from Day 1
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“Harmony” Oil on Canvas Panel, 7 x 5″
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“The Way Home” Oil on Canvas Panel, 5 x 7″

Day 2: Coast Camp to Sky Camp

We took our time rolling out of our sleeping bags ‘cause this 4-mile hike is, well, a 4-mile hike.

Coast Trail continues inland to this thick patch of trees, a clear stream, and this cute little bridge. I feel like I need to wrestle a wild boar or something after the cuteness of this.

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Then began the climb, which would last for about four miles with some stretches of level trail. After leaving the patch of trees we hit Woodward Valley Trail, an awesome, rocky, narrow single track switchbacking and straight-up climbing the exposed, chaparral-covered hillsides with hawks freewheeling overhead and a 180 view of the coast. It’s one of those trails that makes you feel like a mountain goat. Tons of fun!

View of the shore and group campsites in the distance. Just on the other side of the hill are the single campsites.
View of the shore and group campsites in the distance. Just on the other side of the hill are the single campsites.

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Once we got to the junction of Woodward Valley and Sky Trails, we took Sky Trail and continued to climb up and inland along mostly overgrown-looking singletrack. WEAR PANTS – red and green poison oak and stinging nettle are all over the place and not necessarily avoidable. The trail goes straight through thick forest growth straight out of a faerie tale. I tend to like wide-open spaces, but there was definitely a novelty to it.

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For the majority of the hike we had the trail entirely to ourselves. We ran into two small groups plus a couple of horseback riders. One was on a skittish Arabian that stopped dead in his tracks and stared at us like we were The Weirdest Thing Ever.

 

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We arrived at Sky Camp with plenty of daylight left. Sky Camp is like the Ritz of camping. It’s set up like Coast camp (your own wee single track trail into your well-hidden campsite), but the majority of the campsites have an amazing view of the ocean, often at a 180 panorama or damn close to it. If you’re ‘unlucky’ enough to only be able to grab a more interior site you’ve still got a decent view in the middle of a grove of green, dense trees. Can’t lose here.

The previous backpackers at our campsite hadn’t left yet. Long story short, one of them was on her first backpacking trip and their plans were a bit up in the air due to reservation difficulties. We offered them a spot to crash at camp. Really cool people and one was an MA going into nursing, so what happens? Of COURSE we have to swap funny/gross medical stories. Naturally.

Gotta love meeting other backpackers/hikers/crazy people who do this shit. I haven’t met a legit outdoors person who was a dick. I’m sure there are some out there, but so far the people I’ve met are awesome. I carry bear spray and pointy trekking poles, so I’m ready if I ever meet a douchebag. Hopefully I won’t.

Plein Air Paintings from Day 2 (Mostly)
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“Sentinels” Oil on Canvas Panel, 10 x 8″
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“Solitude” Oil on Canvas Panel, 7 x 5″

Day 3: An early start via the Fire Lane Trail back to the Trailhead (also eff my boots).

When I say early start, I mean 4:30 AM. We didn’t hit the trail until around 8. I got up to pee and just couldn’t get back to sleep. I think it might have been the nostalgia of missing my solo days on the TCT. While everyone was asleep I just sat there and took in the stars. The 50-some degree temp was cold for me (since my area has been in the high 90’s for a while), so I cuddled my sleeping bag, did some note-taking, and at first light I had to paint with the aid of a headlamp. After breakfast we said our goodbyes, packed up and hit Sky Trail on over to the Fire Lane Trail, deciding to cut our route a little short because the clouds were starting to look a little grumpy.

I love hiking in the rain. Driving in rain-freakout-traffic, not so much.

Fire Lane Trail is another way to get up to Sky Camp from Coast. While the Woodward Valley Trail is awesome and fun and the ‘scenic’ view, Fire Lane Trail is also a lovely way to take. It dips up and down as it climbs over a ridge and then drops you right into the path leading to the Point Reyes hostel. Pretty deserted for the most part until you get close to the trailhead where dayhikers are departing.

Gotta break these badass mofos in posthaste. I’ll be the dork doing grocery shopping and walking the dogs in hiking boots.

An Important Note About My Boots: EFF MY BOOTS MAN. They completely failed on me. I had to duct tape the toe section together for some facsimile of support. No support whatsoever at the ball and toe section of my foot, and it felt like that part of my feet were hitting bare concrete with each step. Heel kept slipping all over the place in the cup. Yes, I got insoles. Yes, I got fitted. Yes, I tried a million different lacing/sock combinations on the trail which sucked. The problem?

I’m tough on my footwear. Always have been. When I got this pair I was skeptical about the majority synthetic upper and the salesperson at REI assured me that it’d be fine. IT WAS NOT FINE. Keens aren’t a brand to be sniffed at either, but after about four months of dayhiking in ‘em, one trip to the TCT, one to the Grand Canyon, and this? They just gave up.

Lesson Learned: Go with your gut. If it looks like it won’t work, then it won’t work. The only shoes that have ever endured on my feet are leather, and that’s what I’m sticking to for hiking and backpacking boots.

Second Lesson Learned: Always have duct tape. Always.

Thank God for REI’s return policy. I got this pair by Mammut, so we’ll see how it goes. Praying I don’t have to invest and break in a pair of heavyweight Asolos. Also got a cute pair of camp shoes for the price of my stupid faily McFailson boots.

Despite my Boots of Evil, this trip was relaxing and awesome. Unfortunately I don’t have many photos of Day 3 because I was too busy changing socks.

A Review of Backpacking Point Reyes:

  • Use the food lockers – the skunks, chipmunks and mice don’t joke around. Last time I was at Point Reyes a mouse managed to get in and ripped apart my first aid kit. So be fastidious about it. Bring steel wool to stuff into the drainage holes and do it RIGHT.
  • Point Reyes is a popular horseback riding destination. Remember, hikers yield to horses, so stand downhill and let ’em pass. Spooked horses tend to run uphill, plus downhill you look like less of a threat. Please keep in mind that not all of these horses are rent-a-horses, some can be a bit skittish, and it ain’t a petting zoo. I know that’s common sense but sometimes sense isn’t so common.
  • Wear pants when hitting the singletrack due to stinging nettle and poison oak.
  • It gets a little damp and sometimes random rainstorms roll in with little warning. Bring your rainshells (even in summer) and keep an eye on those clouds. In exchange for the wet weather you’ve got perfect hiking temps! Definitely a nice change from the SoCal dusty heat.
  • Keep an eye out for rattlers and mountain lions. I haven’t seen any yet, but better safe than sorry. Did see a pretty bold Coyote though. If you venture out to catch a glimpse of the elk, give them their space, especially during mating season.
  • The beach is awesome – bring your camp towel and swimming wear! No lifeguards.
  • Birder’s freaking paradise, no joke. Birds of prey, too many cute flocks of California quail to count, woodpeckers, jays, and a bunch of other feathery things I can’t identify. If you spend some time around the shores and lagoons you can probably see a heron. It’s awesome to see five hawks catching air and dive-bombing open fields as you hike. I’m not really into birdwatching, but it was an enjoyable perk.

Point Reyes can be done as a quick weekend getaway or a chill multiday backpacking trip. There’s a variety of trails that offer access to the beautiful views and awesome campsites for all levels of ability. If you want a little more challenge, there are tons of dayhikes and trails where you can get your mountain goat impression on. It’s the perfect place to relax and escape the summer heat. For more inspiration on hiking and backpacking Point Reyes, check out these other trip reports!

The ‘other side’ of Point Reyes Backpacking at Outdorky via the Palomarin Trail

Alamere Falls over at The NorCal Explorer

NorCal Camping with Kids featuring Wildcat Beach

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