Backpacking and Beach Bonfires
Point Reyes National Seashore is one of California’s hidden gems. Outshone by more famous national parks in the state, it’s a bit of a local secret. That’s not to say it isn’t as equally busy, or as hard to score a campsite, as the state’s other national parks. The backcountry campsites at Point Reyes are always booked months in advance. I’ve day hiked there numerous times, but sleeping out there under the fog is something that I’ve never done until this past spring. After months of torrential downpour earlier this year, a site opened up at Coast Camp in for a Saturday in March. With no plans on the horizon, I grabbed it immediately.
Point Reyes isn’t exactly known for strenuous hikes or things with lots of elevation gain. In fact, most of it is rolling hills. There are, however, many trails along the seashore, some of which connect and crisscross, making planning a backpacking or hiking trip a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing. The shortest route to our campsite was about 3 miles and completely flat. I tried to make the route more difficult and strenuous, I really did. But in the end, I was actually really excited to have a lazy weekend.
After picking up our camping and beach bonfire permits from Bear Valley, we parked outside the Point Reyes Hostel and followed the fire road straight to the campsite. Three whole miles. There’s an alternate route from Bear Valley Visitor Center that is about 6ish miles, if you’re looking for more mileage. Because it was a short trip, most of us packed luxuriously. I brought a bottle of wine and a cot tent. Olga filled a 70L bag and brought, I kid you not, three different pairs of shoes.
We reached camp around 1pm, and when you’re camping, it’s never too early to start drinking. After setting up tents, we started on hot toddies–whiskey, lemon and honey, courtesy of Tara–and all the cameras came out to snap away. With the rest of the day to kill, we started to wander down to the beach, a mere couple hundred feet away from our site. We found a giant eucalyptus tree, complete with a rope swing. It entertained for a bit, and then we continued to the beach in search of driftwood. It seemed barren at first, but as we walked the length of the beach, more and more debris showed itself.
We stuffed our backpacks with sticks, strapped larger logs to our packs—ice axe loops and compression straps came in handy, and loaded our arms to our chins with more. We dragged larger branches down the beach, closer to our camp. It was a little windy out so we had to dig out a small pit for the fire. The sun set. The booze came out. Country music played and we danced around the fire. I woke up in my cot tent with two lemon wedges underneath my sleeping bag.
Know Before You Go
- If you’re picking up campsite permits after-hours, they’ll leave it outside the Bear Valley Visitor Center automatically. You don’t even have to call to request.
- When you pick up your campsite permit, pick up a beach bonfire permit too! This is a spot where you can collect driftwood—no bigger than your leg—and build a fire. Just make sure that it’s below high tide the next day, so all traces are washed away.
- Marine mammals like harbor seals and elephant seals occasionally haul out on this beach. Harassing marine mammals is illegal. Keep your distance, no matter how cute the animal. If you’re worried that the animal might not be okay, give the Marine Mammal Center a call at (415) 289-7325. Take photos for them if you’re unable to accurately identify the mammal.
- If the handicap accessible campsites are available, they can be booked, even if you’re not handicapped.