“A definite "best of" Tomales Bay State Park loop.”
— Megan W
Birding · Swimming · Views · Wildlife
History, beaches and a relatively easy way to burn off some energy... what more could you look for in a family hike??
This loop has it all: 3 beaches, a Miwok Indian historical site and a virgin grove of Bishop pines.
From the Heart's Desire parking area, follow the signed Jepson
Trail up through an impressive forest of live oak. The trail climbs gently uphill through the thick stand of Bishop pine comprising the Jepson
Memorial Grove. Bishop pine are rare on the California coast but grow plentifully in Tomales Bay and Point Reyes. This variety of pine requires the high temperatures of fire to burst open their pinecones (to distribute their seeds), making these trees infrequent reproducers.
The trail opens slightly after it passes the Jepson Spur
and crosses a paved private access road. After this highest point on the trail, a short descent through overgrown scrub deposits you at the junction with the Johnstone
Trail. (Optional: follow Johnstone
Trail south as an out-and-back to Shell Beach to add a bonus 4th beach and 5.4 miles to your loop). For the shorter, traditional Jepson
Beaches Loop, head straight east at the Jepson Johnstone
Cross a paved private access road amongst Bishop pine, live oak and coffeeberry. The forest becomes less dense on the descent to a marshy creek area crossed by wooden bridges. Switchback more steeply down to the aptly-named Pebble Beach. Narrow and more secluded than Heart's Desire Beach, Pebble Beach backs onto a marsh.
Back on the Johnstone
Trailhead across level ground to the parking lots or to the overlook/picnic area above busy Heart's Desire Beach. A series of steps lead down to the beach itself. If you're tired, end your loop here (but it would be a shame to miss the informative Indian Beach Nature Trail
to the the 3rd and last beach).
From the north side of the hectic Heart's Desire parking area, find the marked trail for Indian Beach alongside the bathrooms. Follow the path gently uphill and read the informational signs about the coastal Miwok Indian tribes people who lived here for 3500 years. They lived on clams, oysters, fish and their creative use of the native plants included using poison oak to tattoo their skin!
This family-friendly trail descends down the bluff to Indian Beach where replicas of the Miwok dwellings (kotchas) are erected on the sand. The marsh behind the beach is a good place for birdwatching and spotting wildlife. Most folks prefer to make the Indian Beach Nature Trail
portion an out-and-back, but if you absolutely hate backtracking (and don't mind some more climbing) continue to the north end of the beach. Then cross a footbridge and turn west on the Indian Beach Service Road
following it and the Heart's Desire roads back to the Heart's Desire parking area.
Trail was named for the botanist Willis Jepson
(1867-1946) who was ahead of his time by presciently sounding the alarm about damaging invasive species in California. The Johnstone
Trail honors the conservationists Bruce and Elsie Johnstone
who worked to protect this area by including it in the Tomales Bay State Park. A plaque dedicated to them has been erected next to the trail.
Flora & Fauna
Oak, madrone, Bishop pine, alder, toyon, huckleberry, willow, ferns. Foxes, raccoons, badgers, weasels, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, deer, bobcats, skunks, wood rats, field mice, moles. There are also land and sea birds, including the spotted owl, quail, goldfinches, puffins, great blue heron, pelicans, ruddy ducks, woodpeckers, meadowlarks - and more. Gopher snakes, garter snakes, lizards, and monarch butterflies make the park their home. In the beach areas, several varieties of clams live and sea lions make appearances.