One of the best places to hike in Northern California is Pt. Reyes National Seashore, about 50 miles north of San Francisco. It offers a unique combination of ocean views, wooded trails (Mt. Wittenberg), beaches, and marine wildlife, not to mention more than 150 miles of great backpacking trails. And it is one of the best places in Northern California for an overnight Scouting adventure.
We collect our permits at the Bear Valley Visitor’s Center and drive south on Hwy 1 to Mesa Road (through Bolinas) and then park at the Palomarin Trailhead. Scouts grab their share of the food, argue over who has to carry the tents, and then its “Packs On” and off we go. Our destination is Wildcat Camp, about five miles away.
The trail winds through a series of scenic lakes and provides an occasional view of the ocean as we hike on shaded trails in warm weather. After a few hours of walking, we arrive at our destination — and everyone is slightly disappointed. Wildcat is not the nicest camp in Pt. Reyes, and it’s already crowded with families, young couples, horses, and a large school group. All we can see is tall brush everywhere, with an occasional head sticking up where a campsite area has been cleared in the weeds.
After pitching the tents there is nothing to do, so we walk down to the beach and hang out. A few feeble attempts at sand castles. Wading into the surf. Checking the piles of stinking seaweed for crabs and sand dollars. Eventually we go back to camp, make dinner, tell a few stories and jokes, then crawl into our tents where we soon hear raccoons trying to break into our food boxes for a midnight snack.
Morning comes and all the cheerful Scouts get up without prompting and move quickly to prepare breakfast and clean the campsite. (Actually that’s just my fantasy. It takes coaxing, cajoling, and eventually threats to get everyone moving.) Breakfast of bagels and fruit. Scout’s Own. Then off on a hike down the beach. We have heard about a trail by a waterfall and are determined to find it. Instead we come across a dead seal in the sand, which causes us to walk past the trail junction as we debate how the seal died and what could have devoured most of the carcass.
Turning around, we finally find the waterfall and see a small trail next to it. The group stands and debates. It looks scary. What if we get wet? How far up do we have to go before hitting a trail? What if we can’t get back down? Enough talking. Follow me boys! And up we go — until the Scoutmaster quickly reaches the first barrier: a wet and slimy boulder where the path temporarily ends. The boys below are looking up and praying that the Scoutmaster doesn’t make over the rock so they can all turn back and play on the beach. No way. In seconds, the Scoutmaster is hanging onto a sturdy plant (which turns out to be poison oak), balancing on one foot in the mud, and trying to swing his other leg over the slippery rock. “One, Two, Three” and he is finally up and over. No problem.
With the help of a rope (which thankfully the Ranger suggested we bring), our entire group eventually gets up the “trail” and into in a small clearing. The Patrol Leader can see our destination (Coast Trail) a few hundred yards away, through the underbrush. Let’s go. Wait! There is poison oak everywhere. The Scouts panic. Don’t touch it. Leaders try to regain control, but one Tenderfoot is so horrified that he runs to the top of the waterfall with a vague plan to hurl his body over the edge in order to avoid the poison oak. We catch him before jumps.
Using sticks, we ease our way through the underbrush until we get onto the trail, then it’s an easy 15 minutes back to the Wildcat Camp. Tecnu is immediately pulled from backpacks and we take turns washing our arms and legs – repeatedly – to remove any and all traces of our poison oak encounter. Lunch of Ramen and peanut butter. Break down the tents. Camp sweep. Then five miles back to the cars. Another memorable backpacking trip.
It’s difficult get a camping reservation at Pt. Reyes because of the demand for campsites. There is no car camping. Scouts must hike in with their gear and food. The closest camp to a trailhead is Coast Camp, an easy 2 miles of backpacking. There are water faucets, KYBOS, BBQs, and raccoons at all of the campsites, but water is scarce at trailheads and in other areas. Fires are usually not allowed.
Campsites may be reserved up to three months (to the day) in advance. To obtain a reservation, call (415) 663-8054 between the hours of 9:00 am and 2:00 pm, Monday through Friday.
Official website – http://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/index.htm