There is not enough time at low tide to return the way you came. There are 3 choices: 1) Park a car at both the Kehoe and McClures Beach
trailheads. Parking is free. 2) Hike back via Pierce Point Road. 3) My favorite: strenuous off-trail hike back over the hills. It's is beautiful flower-covered grasslands, with great views, but it's very steep when you cross the canyon about a mile before Pierce Point Ranch.
Note: From the beach between the Elephant Cave and the central keyhole, it appears that you could climb steep cliffs, but this is dangerous because the dirt is soft and crumbly and may collapse under your feet.
This gets my vote for the most spectacular hike in the Bay Area. It starts at McClures Beach
and passes through 4 promontories. Each seems impassable until you get close. To pass each, you go through a notch, then the Elephant Cave, then the short tunnel of the central keyhole, and finally squeeze through the final keyhole to reach to the rocks at the north end of Kehoe Beach
. The tide pools between the two keyholes are the richest I've seen. There is a good seasonal waterfall.
The hike is not technically difficult. I've taken adults who rarely hike, but it is would be dangerous without an experienced leader who understands tides and the timing required to get everyone through before the tide returns. You must reach Kehoe Beach
before the tide comes back in. If you are running behind schedule, turn around before the central keyhole.
Sand shifts from year to year. I've gone through the central keyhole when it was dry, and when it required ankle-deep or thigh-deep wading. However, on my last trip I had to wade about 15 yards through chest deep water. Be prepared for deep wading. Start at McClures because on rare occasions, the exit hole from the Elephant Cave is plugged with sand. If you discovered this while coming from Kehoe Beach
, there would not be enough time to return
Heading south from McClure's, cross the first promontory by heading through a V-shaped notch between the main cliffs on the left and the rocky promontory on the right. Work your way across the rocky beach and ledges. The entrance to Elephant Cave appears as you approach the next promontory. This is the largest cave in the area, with two large ocean side exits providing views of Elephant Rock, and a small exit at the back, which leads to the next beach. This long beach consists of sand and boulder fields. The best view of Elephant Rock is from about where you reach the sand. A little farther is a 50-foot waterfall.
Again, just before you reach the next promontory, you'll spot the central keyhole. At low tide, the surf doesn't reach here, but it may require a deep wade.
On the far side of the next beach, you must wade around a rock before you see the final keyhole. You must pass this point before the tide gets very far back in, especially if there is surf that could drag you off the rocks. Once you climb over a large rock partially blocking the keyhole, you can wade across the tidepools and enjoy the sands of Kehoe Beach
The tide pools between the central and western keyholes are the richest I've seen, with every square inch covered with bay clams, barnacle, starfish, anemones, and sea weed. You have to climb across clam-encrusted ledges to reach the final keyhole. There is not enough time to fully enjoy this, so you may want to come back during another very low tide and hike here form Kehoe Beach
and then return. Surprisingly, on my last visit, I saw two giant geese on the beach between Elephant Cave and the central keyhole.