Biking the Estero Trail

Quintessential Point Reyes Full of Challenge and Surprises!
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San Francisco Outdoors
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As bike trails at Point Reyes National Seashore  go, the Estero Trail is a challenging one, with tough hills and rough trail surface. But if you're prepared for it, it's an absolute must-do bike ride. The Estero Trail leads you to trails that connect with either Sunset Beach or Drake's Head, both spectacular and distinct destinations. An out-and-back trip to Sunset Beach is slightly easier and shorter than the out-and-back to Drake's Head, so it's a better choice for novice riders. Riding either trail on an early morning, while the animals are out and the people have not yet arrived, can produce a compelling desire to return, again and again.

Snapshot:
3 miles/2 hours;
Dirt single-track and double-track/MB;
Hilly with some technical sections and obstacles;
First mile good for kids!

The Estero Trail is quintessential Point Reyes, which means that it's full of good surprises, so put your helmet on and get ready. The trail leads from the left side of the parking lot, lateraling a grassy hillside, with little or no indication of what lies ahead. As you coast down the hard-packed trail, take a look over your left shoulder at the burned hillsides of central Point Reyes. In the process of regeneration after the terrible Mount Vision wildfire of October 1995, they are gradually turning from black to green again.

You'll round a corner and drop quickly into a stand of dense Monterey pines, with another one immediately following it. About this time, you may start wondering where the water is, this being the Estero Trail, after all. Another minute of riding and wham—the trail opens out to Home Bay, where you ride across a causeway on the edge of the bay, with water on either side of you. Stop for a moment along the causeway, as this is a great, peaceful, protected spot, and you'll need to gather some energy for your first hill climb. It comes up next as you rise above Home Bay, on your way to where Home Bay opens up to Drake's Estero. The incredible views will comfort you as you work your way up the short but steep hill, then descend rapidly down the other side and cross another levee, in another protected cove.

Keep riding along and above the waters of Drake's Estero, continuing straight until you come to the trail sign for Sunset Beach Trail at 2.4 miles. The route actually becomes easier to ride on Sunset Beach Trail, because it flattens out and is less vulnerable to erosion. (For the easiest riding on the hilly Estero Trail, visit in summer or after a dry spell in winter, when there is no mud on the trail and the dirt is hard-packed.)

Your chance of seeing animals along the route is excellent. In addition to the ever-present waterfowl and shorebirds, many deer herds frequent this section of the park, including a small herd of white axis deer, which were brought here by a rancher a generation ago. My riding partner and I spotted a pure white buck early one morning on the hillside above the Estero Trail. This was before we knew there were any white deer at Point Reyes, and we both thought either the animal was an apparition, or we'd been blessed by a miraculous visitation. Nope, just a non-native white deer. Many more common black-tails are also seen along the trail, with the males bearing impressive racks in the wintertime.

At 1.5 miles from the trail junction, you come within view of Sunset Beach. A large, quiet pond separates it from you. You can hear the ocean waves ahead of you, even though the water directly in front of you is completely calm and still. The trail becomes narrow and sometimes too wet for easy riding here, but you can walk your bike the rest of the way to Sunset Beach, where Drake's Estero empties into the sea.

Make it Easier
Even riders with small children can tackle the first mile of the ride, down through the Monterey pines to the first levee. If you ride this far, ride or walk up the trail above the levee for great views of Home Bay.

Trip Notes
There is no fee. A free map of Point Reyes National Seashore is available at the Bear Valley Visitor Center on Bear Valley Road. For more information, contact Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes, CA 94956; (415) 663-1092.

Directions
From San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge on US 101 and travel north toward San Rafael. Take the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit west toward San Anselmo, and drive 20 miles to the town of Olema. At Olema, turn right (north) on Highway 1 for about 100 yards, then turn left on Bear Valley Road. Travel 2.2 miles on Bear Valley Road until it joins with Sir Francis Drake Highway. Continue northwest on Sir Francis Drake for 7.5 miles to the left turnoff for the Estero Trailhead. Turn left and drive one mile to the trailhead parking area.

© Article copyright Foghorn Press. All rights reserved. Locator Map © GORP.com. All rights reserved.


Adapted from Easy Biking in Northern California by Ann Marie Brown

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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