Alamere Falls is one of those waterfalls that will probably stay in our memories for a very long time.
When we close ours eyes to envision a waterfall spilling onto a beach, we can reminisce about our feet standing on coarse sand in front of this waterfall while waves crash against the beach behind us all under a warm afternoon glow. And all that we hear are the crashing waves, the constant hiss from the tumble of the waterfall, ocean breezes, a few sliding pebbles and shale from the fragile cliffs nearby, and the occasional birdsong from gulls or other birds checking out the scene.
Sound like a fantasy?
Well, as you can see from the photos and videos on this page, it’s a reality! In fact, it’s within the Point Reyes National Seashore and it’s yet another scenically located waterfall tumbling onto a beach before rejoining the Pacific Ocean (the other notable one is McWay Falls). And like McWay Falls, people have referred to these ocean-neighboring waterfalls as tidefalls.There are actually several tiers of Alamere Falls. It’s usually the bottommost tier (probably 40 or 50ft) that spills right onto the beach that people associate with this falls. However, there are also several upstream cascades further upstream culminating in an attractive 15-20ft tier nestled up against more shale cliffs and usually fronted by wildflowers as well as poison oak and other shrubbery.
The catch is that you’ll have to earn this gem of a waterfall with a roughly 8.5-mile hike round trip, including the last half-mile consisting of a combination of brushing up against poison oak overgrowth, scary cliff scrambles, and a stream crossing. But before you lament the trail itself, realize that it also offers gorgeous coastal scenery, wildflowers (in the Spring), gum trees, and even lakes!
All the times we’ve hiked this trail, it began at the Palomarin Trailhead on the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore near the coastal town of Bolinas. And on each of our visits, the trailhead had been full of cars. However, not everyone parked here were just visiting the falls as there were other beaches and backpacking campsites nearby amongst the network of trails on offer here.Most of the trail was wide and seemed friendly to mountain bikers. In fact, we noticed a pair of mountain bikers on this trail on our second visit here. It appeared that some sections of the trail had remnants of concrete so I suspected that this used to be a road.
After briefly going through a small grove of gum trees, the trail then opened up and provided gorgeous coastal scenery (that is, if it’s not foggy as it was the first time we did this back in 2004). In some sections, the trail hugged the cliff that dropped directly below to the waves and beaches. Since our visits came during Spring, we saw wildflowers coloring the landscape along the trail. This open stretch of coastal bluffs and wildflowers persisted for about the first mile.
Then, the trail veered inland away from the coast as it climbed before descending past a trail junction and towards the Pelican Lakes. The first few lakes seemed more like serene ponds (some with lilypads on them), but as we went further on the trail, we saw the pretty big Pelican Lake itself. The first time Julie and I visited this falls back in 2004, we encountered nude hikers on the trail around this area. However, the last time we were here, there weren’t any nude hikers, and we wondered if it had to do with the increasing popularity of this trail.After getting past the lakes, the trail descended gently with distant views of the ocean once again. Eventually at over 3.75 miles or so from the trailhead, we noticed a signposted junction for the Alamere Falls trail. And it was here that we felt more comfortable putting on long sleeve jackets as the unmaintained spur trail (0.5 miles to the falls) required us to brush up against lots of overgrowth (including some poison oak).
Once we got past the overgrown part of the narrow trail, we then came to the top of a steep, crumbling gully that led to the upper tiers of Alamere Falls. Depending on the flow of the creek, the stream crossing to get to the other side of it maybe easy or tricky. Fortunately for us, both times we were here, it just required a short hop to get over the fast-moving part of the stream.
Once on the other side, we were able to see the main falls from its top as well its stream snaking through the beach towards the ocean below. That view motivated us to continue further and find a way down to that beach.
That descent involved another steep cliffside scramble several paces north of the falls. That was where a dry gully narrowed into a steep, shale-covered descent onto the beach. This scramble was steep enough to force both Julie and I to do the sit-and-scoot maneuver (not wanting to lose balance and take a nasty spill).
Both this scramble as well as the one just to get down to the plateau above the main falls were definitely not for everyone, but we thought they looked worse than they really were. Still, we figured that if you’re reasonably fit (you must be if you made it this far already) and cautiously proceed on the scrambles, it should be doable. However, I do wonder over time how natural erosion (especially given how fragile the shale cliffs are here) might affect future access with all the weathering and wear, but in the six years apart that we’ve visited the falls, we were able to do them ok.
Overall, we probably spent on average about 5 hours to do the hiking, the photographing, and just basking in the rugged beauty that epitomizes what’s best about the scenery of the California Coast.
To get to the Palomarin Trailhead you need to reach the unsigned Olema-Bolinas Road, which crosses Highway 1 (the Shoreline Hwy) at the end of the Bolinas Lagoon (about 9 miles south of Olema [where we based ourselves on our first visit] or a little over 4 miles north of Stinson Beach [where we based ourselves the second time]).
Then, head west (towards the ocean) on Bolinas Road for a couple of miles to the stop-signed junction with Mesa Drive. Turn right on Mesa Drive and follow it to the end (past the car park for the Alamere Bird Observatory). Note that the last mile is on a gravel road with some pretty fair-sized potholes.
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