Backpacking Point Reyes National Seashore
With winter quickly approaching, I was glad to be able to get in one last backpacking trip before the snow flies in Lake Tahoe. Temperatures are already pretty chilly in the Sierra, so we headed to Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes is a beautiful stretch of protected land approximately 1 hour north of San Francisco. The beaches are pristine, the bluffs impressive, and the views extensive. It is definitely a beautiful place to visit whether you are backpacking or just exploring for a day. We were also blessed to experience beautiful weather for mid-November.
I originally made these reservations six months ago through recreation.gov. I highly suggest that you try and make your reservation six months in advance when the reservation window opens–it opens on a six month rolling basis.
We had a reservation at Coast Camp, which is one of the more desirable locations due to it’s easy access and proximity to the ocean. The other backpacking campgrounds are Wildcat Camp, Sky Camp, and Glen Camp, each with their own unique qualities. However, Coast Camp and Wildcat Camp are the only two campgrounds with a short walk to the ocean. A few things that are in common for these campgrounds and unlike what you usually experience in the backcountry are: 1) There is a picnic table, charcoal grill, and food storage locker for each site, 2) There are vault toilets, water, and trash receptacles at each campground, and 3) You have to stay in your designated site that you have reserved; there is no dispersed camping.
For starters, you’ll need to pick up your backcountry permit at Bear Valley Visitor Center. If you are planning on having a fire on the beach, you will also need to inquire about a beach fire permit here.
There are a few different trailheads you can start your hike from, and we chose the Coast Trail, which is located directly across from the Point Reyes Hostel off of Limantour Road. This trail is fairly flat and a short 2.8 mile hike to camp on well maintained service road. We saw numerous people biking this trail and next time we go, we might even bring a pull cart in with supplies like wood, charcoal, extra water, etc. To be honest, it felt a little like cheating, because it was a pretty basic hike to get to camp.
In just over an hour, we arrived at camp and had a little trouble locating our site, #14, because it was tucked back behind some bushes. It turned out, it was one of the only sites that was private, and we were totally okay with that!
There are two sections of campsites at Coast Camp. Sites #1-7 are located in a little valley and have ocean views. Sites #8-14 are in a meadow and mostly exposed to other campers. Our site, #14, was set back behind some brush and was the most private in the #8-14 loop. We were next to a large group site though, which had a bunch of boy scouts the second night that we could hear first thing in the morning. Those boys were early risers with a lot of energy!
The beach is wide-open, sandy, and surrounded by some beautiful bluffs. It’s a quick stroll from camp down to the beach and easily accessible. Walking south down the beach will eventually bring you to some awesome tide pools that are full of sea anemones, snails, and baby fish. Continuing further south will take you to Sculptured Beach, where the beach gets a little more narrow. Make sure to know when high tide is, so you don’t get stuck in a bad spot when the tide rolls in.
We walked down the beach, crabbing along the way, to Sculptured Beach. From there, we took a set of stairs back up to the Coast Trail and north to camp for a change in scenery.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Water – There are a couple of water faucets at Coast Camp, but be sure to check that they are working and potable before you go. I received an email the day before we left that water was out at our camp and we needed to bring all our water with us. To our surprise, the ranger at Bear Valley Visitor Center told us that water had been restored when we checked in. There are not a lot of options to filter water close by if the water is out at camp. Despite being told the water was potable, we still used chlorine drops to be safe.
- Vault Toilets – The vault toilets are fine for what they are and there was plenty of toilet paper. We also saw maintenance servicing the toilets each morning we were there.
- Trash Receptacles – There are a couple of large dumpsters at camp so you don’t have to pack anything out. Just don’t be surprised if you see a rat or chipmunk in the trash when you open the lid.
- Charcoal Grills – Each campsite has a charcoal grill, but you are only permitted to burn charcoal in these. No wood fires at camp. Period.
- Food Storage Lockers – Each campsite also includes a food storage locker; however, these are not rodent proof and the mice have figured out how to crawl up the handle and into the locker. Ours had a bunch of steel wool stuffed into the handle and other holes in the locker. We didn’t have any issues with rodents in our food.
- Wildlife – There is a lot of evidence of deer and coyotes in the area, but we didn’t see any. However, we had a very bold and brazen raccoon visit us on the second night. First, he tried to drag my brother’s backpack out of his vestibule (and tore it in the process). After my brother yelled at him and scared him off, he ran right over to our tent and tried to do the same thing! We didn’t have any food or scented items in our packs, so we were able to scare him away. Our neighbors weren’t so lucky and I heard them talking the next morning about how he stole their ketchup. Little trash pandas!
- Beach Fires – As long as there are no fire restrictions in the area and you get a permit at the Visitor Center, you can have a fire on the beach. The driftwood in the area has been pretty picked over, so you might want to bring your own wood. It’s also important to note that you’ll need a vessel to drown your fire with ocean water when you are done. Do NOT bury your fire with sand, as it can remain really hot and burn animals or humans if they walk over it.
- Tides – Depending on how far south you walk down the beach, you may eventually reach Sculptured Beach. While beautiful, there are some areas here that can be tricky to pass at high tide. I’d recommend that you check the tide charts before you go to make sure you are not in the wrong place at the wrong time when the tide rolls in.
- Cell Phone Service – There is no cell phone reception in the area, so plan accordingly.
Overall, we had a really amazing experience and enjoyed our adventure on the coast. I’d recommend Coast Camp for novice and experienced backpackers looking for a fun getaway, as well as families that want to introduce backpacking to the younger generation. It is a beautiful area and one of the easiest backcountry camps I’ve accessed. Have you backpacked in Point Reyes before? Leave a comment below!
Video includes footage from one night stay at Lawson’s Landing following our backpacking trip.