Gateways to one of Bodega Bay’s Least Known Beaches

Gateways to one of Bodega Bay’s  Least Known Beaches

Nov. 27, 2013


By Nathan Wright | Photos by Sarah Bradbury

Pinnacle Gulch and Shorttail Gulch are not intended to be secret.

    Even so, the two Bodega Bay hiking trails are widely known by Sonoma County Regional Parks staff for being unknown – short treks to a beautiful stretch of beach that goes unnoticed by most, even on days when the better-known beaches are packed.

    “In the past few years, I’ve never once seen dozens of people out there on any one instance,” Sonoma County Regional Parks Ranger Jeff Taylor said. “There are very few people out there, even on a sunny Saturday or Sunday.”

    The trails  – and the beach-line they provide access to – are relatively unknown because they are tucked inside the residential Bodega Harbor Development. Without knowledge of the trailheads, visitors pass right by them on their way north to neighboring Doran Beach.

    “It’s an unintentional secret, and that’s part of its charm,” Regional Parks spokesperson Meda Freeman said. “You can go there and know it’s going to be fairly secluded. You’re not going to have a big crowd out there. You’ll have a more solitary experience on the beach.”

    The Regional Parks team is hardly trying to keep it a secret. It’s an easy recommendation by Freeman and Taylor, and they’ll even provide directions – and they’re quite simple. Take Highway 1 north, but before reaching the Doran Beach entrance, take a left on Harbor Way, and follow the signs.
    After navigating a few blocks of homes, the Pinnacle Gulch trailhead appears. Likely the parking lot will be empty, but a Regional Parks display board and a bathroom provide the hiker with the sense of familiarity that comes from a county-maintained park and trail system.

    One can’t see the ocean, but the sounds of wildlife and the smell of saltwater waft over the hills, enticing the hiker onward. And so the hike begins.
    The trail winds down a gulch: gentle, downward switchbacks lined by a moss-covered wooden railing. The descent isn’t steep or long, and soon the hiker is following a flat trail with hills rising on either side, the sky looming large overhead.

    And then comes the final ridge, followed by sandy beach and, ultimately, water as far as the eye can see.

    There the hiker is presented with a choice: Enjoy the ocean and head back the same way; or turn up the beach, hike a short distance, and return via the Shorttail Gulch trail. The five-minute beach walk isn’t recommended at high tides.

    Shorttail, unlike Pinnacle, has no parking lot or bathrooms at the trailhead. To fetch one’s car, the hiker must navigate a short walk along paved streets through the Bodega Harbor Development. In all, the loop totals a bit more than 2 miles.

    “It’s a nice little loop,” Freeman said. “It’s a little more rugged than Doran Beach, and not as crowded.
It’s a great Bodega Bay experience.”

    Caryl Hart, the Director of Sonoma County Regional Parks, said the trails – and the region – help define Sonoma County as a whole. “I think that’s really what makes Sonoma County special is to have that awe-inspiring, beautiful coastline,” she said. “Bodega Bay is such a beautiful, rich natural resource.”  

10  More Hikes

Looking for more places to explore? The Sonoma County coastal zone has plenty.  Here’s a look at 10 more hikes along the coast and short distances inland.

Austin Creek Trail/Gilliam Creek Trail

Description: Tucked behind Armstrong Woods, the Austin Creek State Recreation Area offers 4-mile and 8-mile loops of rugged, remote trails.
Type of Park: State Park
Difficulty: Strenuous. The shorter loop has an 800-foot elevation gain; the longer has 1,000. Be prepared to climb hills.
Dogs: No
Find out more: http://www.parks.ca.gov
(search for Austin Creek Trail, Gilliam Creek Trail)

Bodega Head Trail

Description: The trail meanders along the bluffs above the rocky shores and the crashing waves–a popular whale-watching route in the spring. The length is about two miles, but it’s really up to hikers or walkers to decide how far they’d like to explore before returning to the parking lot.

Type of Park: State Park

Difficulty: Leisurely. The trail is fairly flat despite the hills.
Dogs: No
Find out more: http://www.parks.ca.gov
(search for Bodega Head)

Kortum Trail

Description: The trail begins at Wright’s Beach and continues all the way to the hills above Goat Rock. It’s about eight miles from start to finish in this there-and-back trail, so hikers can choose how far they’d like to go before heading back to the car. Find the trailhead off the dirt parking lot above the campground.

Type of Park: State Park
Difficulty: Leisurely to Moderate, depending on the distance you decide to go.
Dogs: No
Find out more: You’ll find reference to the trail on
http://www.parks.ca.gov, but you’re likely better off using a search
engine (i.e, Google) for hike details than from independent sites
like bahiker.com.


Red Hill Trail

Description: You may hear this referenced as the Pomo Canyon Trail, but many simply refer to it as the Red Hill Trail. Whatever the official name may be, it’s the favorite of many area hikers. Find the trailhead across the highway from the Shell Beach parking lot. Expect to climb hills – and to be treated to views of the coastline and Russian River Valley.
Type of Park: State Park
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous. This is definitely a hike, not a walk. Most regular hikers will say the hike isn’t difficult; those who hike rarely may find the hills a challenge.
Dogs: No
Find out more: Search for it on Everytrail.com or search for it on your favorite search engine; it’s featured on many hiking websites.

Sea Ranch Access Trail

Description: More walks than hikes, the Regional Park system offers six short trails to the beaches along Sea Ranch. Shell Beach is the furthest from the parking lot at .65 miles, while Stengel Beach is only a .12-mile trek.
Type of Park: Regional Park
Difficulty: Leisurely/Moderate. Short distances, but there are stairs down to the coast.
Dogs: Yes, if on a 6-foot (or shorter) leash.
Find out more: http://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov (search for Black Point Sea Ranch Access Trail)

Kruse Rhododendron Loop Trail

Description: Don’t expect the Rhododendrons to be in bloom – that starts in mid-April – but you’ll enjoy a look at the winter months in the coastal forest. The loop is 2.25 miles with a 200-foot elevation gain and crosses the Chinese and Phillips gulches.
The State Park system closes bathrooms and parking lots for the winter, but hikers may still access and enjoy the trails.
Type of Park: State Park
Difficulty: Moderate—not long, but you will climb hills.
Dogs: No
Find out more: http://www.parks.ca.gov (search for Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve)

Salt Point Trail

Description: Explore the bluffs and coastline of Salt Point State Park, one of the Sonoma Coast’s most accessible coastal areas. The hike to Stump Beach Cove is 2.5 miles, but hikers looking for more can make a 6-mile trek to Fish Mill Cove or a 10-mile trek to Horseshoe Cove. Bathrooms and beach parking lots are closed for the winter, but hikers may still hike out and enjoy the beach.
Type of Park: State Park
Difficulty: Leisurely to Moderate. The trails are flat, so any difficulty comes from how much distance you plan for the trip.
Dogs: No
Find out more: http://www.parks.ca.gov (search for Salt Point Trail)

Bird Walk Coastal Trail

Description: Adjacent to Doran Beach, the Bird Walk Coastal Trail provides some of the region’s best bird-watching opportunities in a short 1.2-mile stretch through the salt water marsh.
Type of Park: Regional Park
Difficulty: Leisurely. After a short rise from the parking lot to the trail, it’s all flat.
Dogs: Yes, if on a 6-foot (or shorter) leash.
Find out more: http://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov (search Bird Walk Coastal Trail)

Fort Ross Trail

Description: A quick, half-mile round trip to the Fort Ross Cove. Hikers looking to stretch their legs can extend the walk north along park bluffs and south along the coast. There’s also a 4-mile loop to the Reef Point Campground. The Fort Ross parking lot and facilities are closed on weekdays during the winter, but hikers can still park outside the gates and hike the trails.
Type of Park: State Park
Difficulty: Leisurely. Enjoy a quick walk along the historic area and explore, if you get the itch.
Dogs: No
Find out more: http://www.parks.ca.gov (search Fort Ross Trail)

Stillwater Cove Regional Park Trails

­­Description: 3.19 miles of trails winding along creeks and through canyons. Along the way the explorer can follow a side trail to the old Fort Ross
Schoolhouse.
Type of Park: Regional Park
Difficulty: Moderate. Hills and distance make for an enjoyable workout.
Dogs: Yes, if on a 6-foot (or shorter) leash.
Find out more: http://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov (Search for Stillwater Cove Regional Park)

­­­Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Hiking trails throughout the Sonoma Coastal zone are open year-around, but caution and preparedness are always recommended. Sonoma County
Regional Park Ranger Jeff Taylor offers a list of recommendations for any hiker planning on bundling up and heading to the coast for a winter hike.

    • Know the route ahead of time. Check the website for trail details, or make a call to the Regional or State park offices to understand if any trail conditions may throw a wrench in your plans.
    • Tell someone where you’re going– even if there’s a group of you going. “Tell a friend or family member when you’re leaving, and when you’re due back,” said Taylor. “Don’t rely solely  on your cell phone.”
    • Check the weather and tides. “If the tide is rising, be very careful,”  said Taylor.
    • Dress in layers to maintain your body temperature.
    • Keep your dog on a leash at all times – especially when near the surf.
    • Keep an eye on small children, and never take your eyes off the ocean.
    • Bring sunscreen and food. If you become stranded and you need to wait for help,you may need extra food.
 

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