San Francisco Bay Area Day Hike: Pomo Canyon Trail

Sunlight filters through the trunks of thin tall redwoods along the wooded portion of the trail.

Sunlight glows through the redwoods along the Pomo Canyon Trail. Photo © Brian M., licensed Creative Commons Attribution.


Pomo Canyon Trail

Sonoma Coast State Park, between Bodega Bay and Jenner

A relatively easy climb over wildflower-laden hills leads to sweeping views of the Russian River and Sonoma Coast.
  • Level: Moderate
  • Total Distance: 7 miles round-trip
  • Hiking Time: 3.5 hours
  • Elevation Change: 1,000 feet
  • GPS Coordinates: N 38°41762’ W 123°10461’
Moderate hikes are 2–8 miles long and with an elevation gain or loss of 1,000–1,500 feet.×

If the wind is howling on the Sonoma Coast or the fog has smothered the beaches in a cool, white-gray blanket, you don’t have to pack up your car and head inland. A first-rate hike can be had on the Pomo Canyon Trail from Shell Beach, where wind and fog can’t ruin the trip.

Pomo Canyon Trail heads northeast from the coast, meanders over coastal grasslands covered with spring wildflowers, and then visits a secluded grove of second-growth redwoods in a wind-protected canyon. Although the trail presents great views of the ocean and the Russian River when the weather is clear, it also leads to a destination that doesn’t need sunshine to be enjoyable. In fact, a hike to Pomo Canyon’s redwood grove in dense fog or light rain may be one of the most romantic walks you’ve ever taken.

Wildflower lovers take note: The coastal hills and grasslands along Pomo Canyon Trail are well known for erupting in blooms during late April, May, and early June.Wildflower lovers take note: The coastal hills and grasslands along Pomo Canyon Trail are well known for erupting in blooms during late April, May, and early June. During the peak of the bloom, more than 100 different species may flower at one time. Although the grasslands don’t exhibit vast, showy carpets of individual species, the great diversity of blossoms draws flower worshippers every year.

Start your trip at the Shell Beach parking lot north of Bodega Bay. You have to walk across Highway 1 to access the Pomo Canyon trailhead; do so with care. The trail begins on an old paved road that has eroded into part gravel, part pavement, and part grasses. It makes easy walking as you head uphill away from the coast. Although the noise of the highway stays with you for the first 0.5 mile, it soon disappears. Sadly, along with it go the expansive ocean views. While you still can, turn around occasionally to gaze at the wide blue Pacific.

At a junction at 0.7 mile, where the path reaches a grassy plateau punctuated by a few large rock formations, bear right, and then bear left shortly afterward. Leave the worn pavement behind and follow grassy double-track, which soon narrows to single-track. Bright blue and pale white Douglas iris dot the grasslands in early spring; blue gentian and tarweed follow later in summer.

The path rolls along the ridge top, traveling generally downhill toward Willow Creek’s canyon. Heading north, you gain fine views of the Russian River’s graceful curves and Goat Rock Beach beyond. Watch for a short spur trail on the left, about 1 mile from the start, which leads to a grassy knoll topped with a picnic table. There you gain a wider view of the 110-mile-long river at its junction with the sea.

The trail continues past dense blackberry vines and coastal chaparral that is sometimes taller than you are. It crosses several seeps and springs that provide year-round water for the lichen-covered Douglas firs and Monterey pines, passes a signed turnoff for the Red Hill Trail (see Options, in this listing), and then enters the first grouping of redwoods at about 2 miles. These trees may surprise you: Their bark is not the usual reddish-brown color typical of redwoods. Instead, their trunks are completely covered with a gray-green lichen, making the trees appear almost ghostlike. You might expect a leprechaun to pop out of this mysterious forest at any moment.

Pomo Canyon Trail wanders along the edge of the grove and then opens out to more grasslands, with wide views of the deep green Willow Creek drainage and Russian River canyon. In another 0.5 mile, the trail enters a second stand of redwoods and begins a steep descent to the end. The narrow second- and third-growth trees have laid a soft carpet of needles under your feet. Ferns of many varieties line the woodland floor.

The path ends anticlimactically at Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp (a walk-in/environmental camp, closed due to service reductions), where you might choose a picnic table for a rest stop. Otherwise, just turn around and head back over the ridge. The beauty of this trail is worth seeing all over again.


Options

It is possible to make a semi-loop out of this trail by connecting to the Red Hill Trail at Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp and then following it for 1.25 miles until it reconnects with Pomo Canyon Trail. Finish out the trip by heading back to the Shell Beach parking lot on Pomo Canyon Trail. Red Hill Trail is more open and exposed than much of the Pomo Canyon Trail; it offers views up the Russian River Valley as far east as Geyser Peak. The summit of Red Hill can be climbed via a short spur trail; the top is marked by a circle of rocks on the ground. Alternatively, hiking Pomo Canyon Trail also works well in reverse, starting from the Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp and hiking to Shell Beach and back. However, in the winter months, the road into the campground is gated. If you park at the gate and walk in to the campground and trailhead, it will add 0.5 mile each way to your hike.


Directions

From Highway 1 in Bodega Bay, drive north for 7 miles to the Shell Beach parking lot on the west side of the road. Park in the lot and then walk across Highway 1 to access the trail on its east side, signed as Dr. David Joseph Memorial Pomo Canyon Trail.


Information and Contact

There is no fee. Dogs and bikes are not allowed. A trail map is available for $1 at park headquarters at Salmon Creek, the Sonoma Coast Visitors Center in Jenner (707/865-9757), or at the kiosk at Wright’s Beach. It is also available as a free download at www.parks.ca.gov. For more information, contact Sonoma Coast State Park, 3095 Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, 707/875-3483 or 707/865-2391, www.parks.sonoma.net or www.parks.ca.gov.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Take a Hike Phoenix.

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