Palomarin Trailhead – How You Can Find It and Dangers of Alamere Falls

Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Northern California for good reason.  The hike is gorgeous, passing two lakes with tons of opportunity to see wildlife. And it all ends at a spectacular waterfall on a secluded beach!  What’s not to love?

Here, you will find everything you need to know to find Palomarin Trailhead and hike to Alamere Falls. Find out how to get there, alternative routes, and dangers to look out for.

Many search-and-rescue missions are conducted in this area every year…don’t let this happen to you! Pay special attention to the warnings and advisories mentioned here.

Palomarin Trailhead - How You Can Find It and Dangers of Alamere Falls

Palomarin Trailhead At a Glance:

  • Hiking distance: 8.8 miles there and back (4.4 each way)
  • Hiking difficulty: Moderate
  • There are two scrambles down cliff-sides that some find difficult, so use caution!
  • Parking is sometimes closed: Click here to check the NPS website for alerts before you go!
  • The most common complaint is that there are too many people
  • No dogs allowed or bikes allowed (but see alternative route below for bike route)
  • Watch out for poison oak, poison ivy, and stinging nettles (see pictures below if you don’t know what they look like)
  • Despite all of the above, the hike is AMAZING and totally worth it

Getting To Palomarin Trailhead

Palomarin Trailhead is about an hour and a half drive from San Francisco.  

Here is a link to its location on Google Maps for your convenience.

Driving Directions from San Francisco:

Head north on 101 and exit CA 1/Mill Valley/Stinson Beach, about 5 miles past the Golden Gate Bridge. Make sure to stay on the windy Highway 1 until you get to Olema-Bolinas Road which is an unsigned junction. This is the turn many people miss so here is a screenshot of what it looks like:

Turn left here on Olema-Bolinas Road to get to Palomarin Trailhead

In about 0.1 miles, you’ll have to turn left to stay on Olema-Bolinas Road. Continue for a mile then take another left onto Horseshoe Hill Road. Finally, take a right onto Mesa Road at the next stop sign.

Palomarin Trailhead is about 5 miles down the road, the last mile of which is a bumpy, dirt road.

Depending on when you go, you might have to (or be told to) park along the road, far from the actual trailhead parking lot.  The parking lot fills up quickly as this is a very popular hike.

The park service has even closed the trailhead before due to Elephant Seal activity.

Be sure to check for alerts on closures at the National Park Service Point Reyes website (the alerts should show up at the top).

There are restrooms at the trailhead but they are just vault toilets (a step up from a porta john but with no running water).  There is no drinking water at the trailhead so make sure you bring your own.

The Hike

It’s about 4.4 miles each way to Alamere falls (8.8 miles total to get there and back) and there are a few tough scrambles down the side of a cliff to get to the actual falls.

So this hike is only recommended for able-bodied people in decent physical shape.

The trail quickly meets up with the Coast Trail which you will follow almost all the way to Alamere Falls.  On a clear day, you can see San Francisco and Montara Mountain to the south as well as the Farallon Islands to the west. If you keep your eyes peeled along the trail, you might be able to see deer, fox, quail, rabbits, waterfowl, and maybe even a bobcat.

At about 2.5 miles, you will pass Bass Lake that is a popular swimming spot in the summer.  Continue following the Coast Trail. Around 2.75 miles in, there is a sign for the Crystal Lake trail but don’t take it, just continue on the Coast Trail.  You should be able to see Pelican Lake on your left around 3.25 miles and then around 3.7 miles, there is a path that splits off to the left. This path is the shortcut to get to Alamere Falls.

The Shortcut

The shortcut is an unmaintained trail to Alamere Falls.  It is NOT an official Park Service trail so they don’t recommend taking it (although they are aware most people do).  This is what it looks like:

This is the overgrown shortcut trail to Alamere Falls off of the Coast Trail coming from Palomarin Trailhead
This is the overgrown shortcut trail to Alamere Falls off of the Coast Trail coming from Palomarin Trailhead

In this area, you really have to be careful of poison oak.  Because the trail is unmaintained, it will be overgrown so be conscious of the plants you brush up against.  Here are the three plants to watch out for:

Here is what Poison Oak, Poison Ivy, and Stinging Nettle look like.  Avoid these plants when hiking in Northern California.
Here are three plant to avoid when hiking the Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Fall (or anywhere Northern California!)

After a little while on this trail, you will come to a short, but very steep, scramble.  This is the first of two and the first waterfall is at the bottom when you look back.

The first of two steep cliff scrambles coming from Palomarin Trailhead and leading down to the first waterfall.
The first of two steep cliff scrambles leading down to the first waterfall.

The stream leads into a series of smaller waterfalls and you will have to cross the stream just above the second waterfall.

Shortly after crossing the stream, you will be at the top of the main waterfall.

Be careful! This area can be unstable so stay away from the cliff edge. Remember that this trail is not sanctioned by the Park Service so they don’t have railings, warning signs, or check the cliff for stability!

Looking down from the top of Alamere Falls coming from Palomarin Trailhead
Looking down from the top of Alamere Falls. The cliff is unstable and there are no warning signs. It is not recommended to get this close.

To get to the beach:

Head up the coast (north) from the main waterfall and slightly away from the cliff and you’ll find a steep but well worn path leading down.  This is the main cliff scramble that many people complain about. Also, people have trouble coming back up and there are many search-and-rescue operations in this area every year.

The main point is to use your judgement here.  If this kind of descent doesn’t scare you, then by all means go for it. If you’re unsure if you can do it or get back up, consider taking the alternative way to the beach (see below).

Before you head down to the beach, be aware of the tide.  At high tide, the water makes the shale rock slippery and rogue waves have been known to come in out of nowhere.  It’s safest to go down at low tide.

This is the main cliff-scramble you must go down to reach the beach at Alamere Falls coming from Palomarin Trailhead. If you don't feel safe doing this, or think you won't be able to go back up, don't do it.
This is the main cliff-scramble you must go down to reach the beach at Alamere Falls. If you don’t feel safe doing this, or think you won’t be able to go back up, don’t do it.

Alternative Way to the Beach (longer):

As the “Alamere Trail” that leads to the falls from the Coast Trail is not a real trail sanctioned by the Park Service, they recommend accessing Alamere Falls by continuing up the Coast Trail to Wildcat Campground.  To take this safer route, just stay on the Coast Trail (don’t take the unmarked, overgrown trail around 3.7 miles) until you get to Wildcat Campground. Then head south along the beach for about a mile.

It is 5.5 miles from Palomarin Trailhead to Wildcat Campground and then another mile along the beach to get to Alamere Falls.  That is a total of 13 miles if you choose to take this route both ways so be prepared for a long hike.

Alamere Falls

The main waterfall at Alamere Falls is over 30 feet high.  It is a “tidefall” which means it falls directly into the sea at high tide (see warning above about going down to the bottom during high tide).

It is on the south end of Wildcat Beach on Point Reyes National Seashore which is within the  Phillip Burton Wilderness Area.

If you go to the bottom, you will feel like this:

And for some fun drone footage:

Alternate Route to Alamere Falls for Bikes

Bikes are not allowed on the hike from Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls. But you can reach Alamere Falls with a bike using the the Stewart Trail. The trail starts at Five Brooks Trailhead and is 15.8 miles round trip.

Conclusion

Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls is an incredible hike! It features amazing views of the coast, plenty of wildlife, and a few lakes.  However, it is not without its dangers. Besides being a rather long hike, the trail is overgrown at parts with poison oak, ivy, and stinging nettles. The hike finishes with a steep and rocky descent to the beach and the bottom of the falls.  

If you are comfortable with these steep descents and pesky plants, this is a must-do hike. But don’t push yourself as there are many search-and-rescue missions at this location every year. There is a safer, alternate route through Wildcat Campground that is a little longer.

I wish I could go to Alamere Falls every day but, because I live in the real world, I have to find ways to get out more during my busy work week. Click here to learn how I do it.

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