Coastal Hike to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes

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Two weeks ago, I went on an impromptu hike to Alamere Falls, one of the Bay Area's most revered hikes. I had a couple friends going, and I have to thank them for getting me out of my apartment when I would have had a very lazy weekend otherwise! Of course, I hadn't been to Alamere Falls before (I'm an awful California native!), but better late than never, right?

Located about an hour (and some) north of San Francisco, the Palomarin trailhead to Alamere Falls offers a really reasonable day hike - about 8 miles round trip (4 miles each way). It's the quintessential Bay Area hike - a coastal trail with sweeping views of the Pacific, passes through rocky and yellowed grassy hills, and beach access! :)

Getting there

If coming from San Francisco, you're definitely going to need to drive. There's not really any public transportation. Just enter "Palomarin Trailhead" into Google Maps, and you should have your route figured out. However, I do recommend a few tips:

  • Drive slowly after exiting Hwy 101 and getting to Hwy 1. It's a pretty windy road, and the lanes aren't HUGE. Drivers often veer into the other lane when going around turns!
  • Beware of bicyclists! This is a super-frequented area for road cyclists (I would know) - and you can expect to see quite a few brave souls climbing those serpentine roads on any day. Be extra careful until you're past Stinson Beach.
  • The last part of the road to the trail is a dirt road with quite a few big dips. Go slowly!

What to bring

  • The hike is a mix so bring a hat and lots of sunscreen!
  • Wear proper footwear - ones with good traction if you can, for the last bit down to the beach.
  • Point Reyes and the whole area has notoriously fickle weather, so bring layers just in case it gets chilly!
  • Water and snacks, obviously! There aren't water fountains on the trail.
  • Toilet paper, if you need to nature pee along the way
  • A bathing suit, if you feel so inclined (and daring) to brave the Pacific Ocean water.

One warning: there is poison ivy on the last part of the hike - long pants are probably a good idea and just be careful when you're walking down to falls!

The trail

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The trail we took was from the Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls, via the Coast Trail.  

It was 8.5 miles round trip and took about 4 hours (at a very leisurely pace). It was relatively easy, until the last 0.5 miles down to the waterfalls themselves, where we had to scramble down some steep rocks.

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The trail was very clear - as a big, very frequented hike, we never once thought we were going the wrong way.. Like I said, it was beautiful - you're along the coast for a lot of the path, and it's relatively flat. There is definitely a slight incline and decline in both directions, but nothing crazy!

Once you reach the turn off to Alamere Falls (about 4 miles into the Coast Trail), you'll want to be careful. First, the trail is lined with poison oak, so just make sure you're avoiding the leaves as best you can.

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Second, you're gonna need to scramble. This is where shoes with good traction will help. Once you get to the end of the bluff, you'll see a very steep path down to a lower plateau, where there are a few small waterfalls. The easiest way down this is to almost go down on your butt - sitting at your feet and extending your legs down to the next level down so that you're not jumping or taking large steps.

When going down the second steep scramble (down to the beach), utilize the same strategies above. Be careful, because this rock crumbles and breaks easily, making a precarious situation in which you can slip. Once you're 75% down, I found it actually easier (and probably safer) to just run the rest of the way down to the beach. Then you made it to the wonderful beach and Alamere Falls!

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Humans weren't the only sunbathing creatures on the beach. There were a couple seals (even a baby!) near the mouth of the waterfall, but lots of people were disturbing them. Don't touch or bother seals - you don't want them to be frightened and never come back!

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Some people think the water from the fall is potable, but I'm not sure....Nidhi, one of the girls in our group, drank a whole bottle full without any immediate effects!

The way back up to the trail is much easier and less scary. Just be extra careful if you're behind someone on the way up, because if any rocks crumble and fall down, you'll be right in their paths. Someone got hit by a rock when we were going up, and while she was okay,  it was still very startling!

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I'm so glad I got a chance to leave the city and do something outdoors with a group of friends, which I hadn't done in a really long time. Sometimes, after a long hard week at work, all I want to do on the weekends is run errands, relax, and veg out at home. I forget how amazing it feels to actually do something on the weekend and have such a positive memory to take me through the week. After an incredible weekend, I definitely have less dread for the week on Sunday evening, and feel way more refreshed and happy on Monday morning.

Reminder to self: be active and do stuff!