Alamere Falls via the Coastal Trail

On Saturday we unknowingly ventured along a northern portion of the same Coastal Trail that you can follow along Muir Beach to Rodeo Beach, this time starting 10 miles north of Stinson Beach. Alamere Falls has made a name for itself as a beautiful and popular Bay Area getaway spot. From San Francisco, it takes about 1.5 hours, mostly due to the scenic winding of Highway 1.

This hike was similar to other seaside trails around The Bay; soft ground, exposed with little shade, and extremely populated by the early afternoon. As we’d been warned, we had to park out car about a quarter mile down the road from the trailhead since the parking lot was full by noon. I didn’t include a time estimation below, because we were with a group of 7 and took our time making our way through the trail, stopping to picnic at Bass Lake and spending a while at the turnaround spot: Alamere Falls.

Bass Lake

Bass Lake

The last few miles to the falls open up on another ocean view, and that’s when you’ll want to look out for an old trail sign on your left covered in graffiti that serves as the cutoff to Alamere Falls. At this point, you will have gone about 3.75 miles and only have .4 left on a narrow trail that takes you straight to the oceanside.

The falls drops a couple hundred feet down to the beach, which will be even more crowded than the upper areas of the trail. And even though California is full-force in its drought, the falls were still running with plenty of water. Speaking of water, our group grossly misestimated the heat of the day and we were without water the last couple miles of our trek – which should serve as an easy reminder for next time. I noticed that most hikers brought swimsuits and towels to take full advantage of their beach destination.

The long, dusty walk back to the car was eased with more views of the ocean. I’ll be returning here soon to try a trail run, a little earlier in the day, and with more water.

QUICK STATS

  • Length: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: < 1000k ft.

Montara Mountain from Graywhale Cove State Beach

This weekend I ventured to a popular seaside trail that’s just 20 minutes south of San Francisco. Leaving the city using I-280, I took the Highway 1 exit for just about 10 miles to one of the northern-most trail entrances. There are actually four different routes you can take up to the peak of Montara Mountain, depending on which trailhead you choose to park at:

  • 3.5 miles from San Pedro Valley County Park trailhead.
  • 3.9 miles from Mc Nee Ranch trailhead.
  • 4.1 miles from Farralone Cutoff, Montara.
  • 4.8 miles from Graywhale Cove SB.

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This parking lot will get full as the day goes on – this is what it looked like at 10:30 am. The first quarter-mile of the hike climbs upwards and then slopes out into a flat trail that continues around the hills. This trail makes for a very popular and crowded place for day hikers, trail runners, and cyclists.

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Follow the path south, until it turns inward. Within a half mile the trail will fork into two directions: A steep upward slope to your left (an unofficial “shortcut” that will take 1.5 miles off), or continuing to the right, where the trail makes a slow, windy ascent through some shade on a fire road.

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On the fire road, looking up a few miles and about 2,000 vertical feet to the top of Montara Mountain.

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At the top of this forested section, the fire road runs into the end of the shortcut before continuing up incredibly steep, exposed, dusty slopes. There’s no shade for the last few miles here, so you’ll want to bring some kind of sun protection.

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This dusty, rocky trail continues up a few more miles to the summit. Along the way are cutoffs to other trails, and I ran into a lot of other hikers and runners who had joined up near the top from different directions around the mountain.

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At the top, you’ll enjoy valley views as well as a stretched-out look at Pacifica and its popular beaches. Since this was a pretty grueling incline without any place to hide from the sun, I promise you’ll enjoy the way down much more than the ascent!

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QUICK STATS

  • Length: 9.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: ~2,000 ft.
  • Time: 2 hours

Muir Beach to Rodeo Beach via the Coastal Trail

With six weeks left until my upcoming North Cascades climbs, I need to intensify my endurance training. I’ll be doing two back-to-back climbs on mountains averaging around 10k ft. in altitude, and as I’ve learned from past experiences, the only way to prepare for that is to run, hike, and climb with as much elevation gain as possible on my weekend training days.

Muir Beach is one of the first trails I discovered when I moved to SF, and has stuck to be one of my favorites. I’ve brought my parents, out-of-town friends, and regular hiking buddies here. Its out-and-back style makes it an easy route to shorten or lengthen based on your mood. Here’s a distance breakdown of popular turn-around points:

  • Muir Beach to Coastal Fire Road intersection: 2.2 miles
  • Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley: 3.1 miles
  • Muir Beach to Hill 88: 4.5 miles
  • Total one-way from Muir Beach to Rodeo Beach: 5.9 miles
Quarter-mile into the hike, looking down at Muir Beach.

Quarter-mile into the hike, looking down at Muir Beach.

I chose the perfect day, with San Francisco’s famous fog hanging overhead for most of the morning. It was chilly, but easy to warm up with the waterfront hills.

The first half mile is steep. The entire trail follows the coastline and winds up and down its peaks, and in and out of its valleys. You’re essentially walking (or running) from a lower elevation to a higher elevation and back the entire time, which some may find completely exasperating, or to others, as a challenge.

Shoreline views from the Coastal Trail.

Shoreline views from the Coastal Trail.

About halfway between Muir Beach and Tennessee Valley is a turnoff for Pirate’s Cove, a hidden little beach surrounded by tall, wind-swept and sea-swept rocks. At this intersection you’ll find one of two sets of rugged, wooden stairs on the trail that will slow down traffic a little. When trail running, this is one of the only spots that I’ll need to halt my speed to trudge up each step.

Just one more up-and-over and the trail widens as it merges with a fire road for the final stretch into Tennessee Valley.

Top of the fire road, looking down at Tennessee Valley - shoreline hidden by the hills.

Top of the fire road, looking down at Tennessee Valley – shoreline hidden by the hills.

When the fire road intersects with another wide trail, turn left for just 100 yards and you’ll see the continuation of the Coastal Trail on your right, with a mileage sign to Rodeo Beach. The walk from this intersection to the Tennessee Valley shoreline is 0.7 miles, which would’ve added 1.4 miles to my trip. I’ve done this option before and turned around at the beach, making the total hike around 7 miles.

Being in the valley means you’ve lost all of that legwork you did to get yourself up those hills, which also means you get to repeat that effort to get over to Rodeo Beach. To emphasize; it’s a lot of steep, steep hill climbing, and there’s not much benefit to the up-and-down nature of the path other than sheer enjoyment.

Leaving Tennessee Valley to go up, up, up and over to Rodeo Beach.

Leaving Tennessee Valley to go up, up, up and over to Rodeo Beach.

Here’s the most fun part of the trail. In the course of 1.15 miles, the Coastal Trail gains 800′ in elevation and peaks out at an exposed, windy plateau overlooking Tennessee Valley and even farther on. Continue up this hill to the tallest point of the day, and you’ll intersect a paved cycling road. Turning left here takes you a quarter mile to Hill 88. I’ve used this as a landmark too, returning to Muir Beach from Hill 88 makes a little more than a 9 mile track.

Turning right instead, the trail winds another mile and a half or so down to Rodeo Beach, which will probably be more crowded than Muir Beach. Make your way all the way down to the sand, and you get to look back and see all of the miles and elevation you get to do all over again on your return!

Overlooking Rodeo Beach, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge barely visible in the background.

Overlooking Rodeo Beach, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge barely visible in the background.

QUICK STATS

  • Length: 11.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3.5k ft.
  • Time: 3.25 hours