Type of hike: Out and back
Trail grade: 9
Trail use: Extremely crowded!
Highest elevation: ~570′
Total climbing: 2000′
Round trip distance: 11.5 miles but this includes side trips
How long: About 8 hours but that also included side trips, and lunch
Quality of views: 8+
Weather conditions when we did it: Clear and warmish
Red tape: None
Maps we used: Mostly Tom Harrison and the Hiking Marin book
Water: None – bring all that you need
Restrooms: Outhouses in parking lot but no water
Parking: Yes – however VERY crowded – go early to get parking in the lot otherwise parking is alongside road with the additional hiking required to get to and from your car.
How to get there:
From Santa Cruz, take 17 to 85 then 85 to 280… and finally 280 to San Francisco. Proceed through the city however you like to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. Cross the bridge and a mile or so after the Rainbow Tunnel, exit 101 onto Highway 1 where it exits at the bottom of the hill. Take Highway 1 for what seems like forever on a hyper curvy road to Stinson Beach. And then go another 4.5 miles beyond Stinson and take a left onto the possibly unmarked turnoff into Bolinas. Continue 1.7 miles and then turn right onto Mesa Road. Follow Mesa Road all the way to where it ends at the Palomarin Trailhead. The road turns to gravel at some point. Beware of super huge potholes. Oh and special note… when we were leaving for the day, we saw that cars were parked all the way out from the parking lot, along the road to just about where the road turned to gravel! Maybe a mile… If you ended up parking there, this would add significantly to your hike… so GO EARLY. We arrived at the parking lot at 9:30 AM and the main lot near the bathrooms was already full. I guess from there, cars just kept parking along the road as they arrived.
Hike description: Additional pictures
It’s almost exactly 4 miles from the Palomarin parking lot to the trail branching off that goes to Alamere Falls… Then this trail goes toward the beach for about a half mile or so before you arrive at the falls… that means that if you’re just going to the falls then this is about a nine mile day round trip… plus whatever you end up hiking to get to and from your car.
However… the mileage on our junket was longer… first we kinda overshot our exit off the main trail (“Coast Trail”) to the beach and the falls and didn’t figure it out until we had gone an additional half mile or so extra. And then besides going to the falls, we also included an excursion up to Double Point. This turned out to be my favorite part of the trip but it did add to our total mileage. So by our GPSs, our final mileage was about 11.5 miles round trip. A good 2.5 miles further than you would go if you did everything right.
Now then… I just can’t go any further without carrying on a bit about how crowded it was. When Donna and I hike, we mostly go to places where there aren’t many people. Not by design necessarily, it just kinda happens that way. And, not gonna lie, I guess I kinda prefer it that way too. But it’s never been much of an issue. But from that you can imagine my shock when upon arriving at the parking lot, at what I thought was pretty damn early (we left our house in Scotts Valley around seven and arrived at the Palomarin trailhead parking lot at 9:30 or so), the lot was already completely full?! We ended up among the last people to get to park in the lot. After that folks were being directed to park along the road. An already harried National Park Service employee indicated a spot for us to leave the mini-van. She was very friendly but didn’t have a lot of time to chit chat. Turns out that we were among the lucky ones. When we drove out that night, cars were parked on the side of the road all the way to where the gravel road ended… that must have been at least a mile. That’s adding another two miles (round trip) to the hike for the folks who had to park out there. Anyway… I’m getting carried away about the parking… So to cut to the chase… GO EARLY!
All day we were buffeted by this mass of humanity. It was UNBELIEVABLE! I was stricken. I guess it kinda makes sense though… I mean we’re less than an hour of drive time from San Francisco, on a lovely day… and the falls are kind of a phenomenal natural feature. But the teeming hordes was a bit of a shock to my fragile little system… took me awhile to adjust, get my legs under me and figure out how to enjoy the day. So the moral of the story is… like I said… GO EARLY!
Okay… I’ll quit carrying on about the crowds… on to the reason all those people were there…
It’s just an absolutely AWESOME place to be… simple as that. From the parking lot, after passing through a grove of some seriously fragrant eucalyptus trees, the trail starts off roughly paralleling the ocean. So fairly quickly you get views of The Farallons off on the horizon. I’m always pleased when I get to see these islands, because conditions don’t often permit it. But there they were…
After say a mile or so, the trail turns abruptly inland and begins to gain some elevation reaching around 570 feet. This is the highest we got including our climb up to Double Point.
The trail is mostly under tree cover. Which was welcome because you’re climbing. It’s so lush in places… the greens almost hurt to look at.
After awhile we started passing some small coastal lakes, followed by the larger Bass Lake…
And then Pelican Lake…
This is where the wheels started wobbling… Somewhere amongst the mass of people was this seriously graffitied sign that identified the trail to Alamere Falls…
So we missed it… and instead of stopping and turning down this trail to Alamere Falls, we kept rolling down the Coast Trail until we came to a fork in the trail… Ocean Lake Loop goes left and the trail to Wildcat right… Hmmmm… we didn’t expect this fork. It was then that we remembered a clump of people about a half mile back that was probably the Alamere Falls exit that we were looking for… We (well actually ‘I’) thought, what the Hell, we’ll just go down this Ocean Lake Loop trail, maybe find a way to the beach and walk back along the beach to the falls. Well, I guess that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. Our access to the beach was blocked by this cliff down to the beach that just seemed to sketchy to negotiate… Eventually we turned around and made our way back to the actual trail. Sigh… I don’t think I was doing very well in the popularity polls at that point.
Finally we arrived back at the trail down to Alamere Falls. Of course the trail was crowded and weaved it’s way down to the beach through masses of bushes, vines and way too much poison oak. We’re so screwed… I hate getting poison oak and now we’ve all got it for sure. Eventually we came out to the overlook above the falls… we made it!… we were here! Hmmm… we still had to get down to the falls though. Seems like that part would be trivial… but here was the same kind of cliff we had already encountered further down the trail. There WAS a trail though. But it was still gonna be an ordeal to get down there.
Just to orient you… There are three levels: the level that we had just come out onto, then there’s the next level down to where the pools were, and then down to the beach level where the big falls came down. These levels were connected by steep gullies that the mass of hikers would descend through. Each one was narrow, allowing only one hiker through at a time. So sometimes a bit of negotiation was required.
However, once you’re down on the beach, it’s pretty cool. And here we were at the famous falls…
We hung out on the beach for a while… it was a gorgeous day, there was lots to look at, but it was a complete circus… there were folks rappelling and then rock climbing back up the falls, there were women doing their mysterious duck faces (does anyone know what that’s all about?) while standing under the falls with their over indulgent boyfriends taking pictures of them, there was a drone flying around, kids playing in the creek, guys doing yoga on the beach (really?!)… but mostly there were folks … lots and lotsa folks just standing around doing what we were doing, i.e. taking photos and looking at the falls… it was difficult to tear ourselves away from all this.
However, we still had a lot of hiking to do before headin’ home so better not dilly dally too long… time to get a move on….
However, when we turned to move toward the crevice in the cliff, that’s when we saw what we had to do to get back up off the beach… besides climbing back up the cliff, there was actually a line… a long line… to climb up to the next level. Seriously!? This was getting to be a bit like Disneyland. I wondered where the ‘2 hours to go’ sign was.
As we moved forward in the line, we had a lot of time to watch the process. It was pretty cool how it was working out. Imagine a one lane road. Only cars going one direction can proceed at a given time. Then the flow mysteriously reverses and cars start going the other way. But in this case there was no sign guy. There was only our senses of fair play that governed. So here folks would make their way down, then some negotiation would take place and the flow would switch to allow people going up. This would go on for a while then more negotiations… the flow would then switch to go the opposite way. It was amazing to see this ad hoc ‘system’ actually work. Donald Trump notwithstanding, who says that we in the United States are a bunch of selfish, boneheads? My faith in humanity got a big shot in the arm as I watched this. Finally, I had to break away from being fascinated though… It was our turn. Must focus or risk embarrassing myself…
Turns out that I’m pretty reasonable I guess… When Jack and I got to the point where the line turned right in the picture above, we stopped and left a gap so the folks going down could get down… they had been waiting pretty long… and the flow reversed. Aren’t we just the nicest guys?
Eventually we made it through the labyrinth to the overlook above the falls (top level), and back through the tunnel of poison oak to the main trail. Next stop… Double Point.
Double Point is an overlook about 500 feet above the ocean. We never did decide what the name ‘Double Point’ referred to. Was it the point we were climbing? Or was it the one further south?Was it both? Or was it the cove in between? No idea… But getting up there was a bit of an adventure… The start of the trail was about 100 (or maybe 150) feet back (south… toward the parking lot) along the Coast Trail. The opening to the trail is pretty easy to find… but the trail itself is something else. Right away we (‘I’) lost sight of it (such as it was). The trail was there. It just wasn’t easy to distinguish from the other animal trails and channels through the bushes. So we just made our way as best we could. We found the trail again later but only after some serious scrambling through the bushes and poison oak. Somehow everyone in our little group was able to remain polite to me even though I’m sure they weren’t too happy about the bush whacking. I was expecting a mutiny at every step. But everyone seemed as stoked as I was so I kept on. The scramble up to the top of Double Point was wonderful in one aspect though because we were finally away from mass of humanity that had surrounded us all day. A welcome respite… And because of that (and the views) it really was my favorite part of this whole junket.
After some determined scrambling…
…we ended up at the top. And the views were astounding… Better than I imagined them to be. The Farallon Islands, the end of Point Reyes, the beach below, the cove below us next to Double Point… Photos are better than words… so I included a few of them here. I have lots more.
None of us wanted to leave… but after a while, it was time… we still had a long way to go to get home… four miles of hiking then at least three hours of driving through Sunday night traffic… oy! Better get a move on.
An hour and half of pretty fast hiking brought us back to the parking lot… which now was relatively empty.
I had been kicking myself all day for not taking a photo of the parking lot when we first got there in the morning…. I thought the full parking lot early in the day was crazy for this outing… but that was before I saw that there were cars parked along the side of the road for something like a mile from the trailhead. Absolutely nuts… but I guess, considering how near this wonder was to the San Francisco metropolitan area, to be expected. Clearly, this destination is not for those who are troubled with crowds.
Another thing that I found to be pretty amazing was that here I am, a Bay Area dweller of more than 30 years (hmmmm…. make that 34 years), and I had never heard of Alamere Falls?! Meanwhile it’s this huge attraction with easily more than a thousand people visiting it on some random Saturday in February?! It’s been here all along and I just never knew it. And I call myself a local?! All I can say is WOW! What else am I overlooking?