Two lovely trails, named for a professor and a planner, explore Tomales Bay State Park. Botanist Willis Jepson, founder of the School of Forestry at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the authoritative “Manual of the Flowering Plants of California,” is honored by the Jepson Trail.
Conservationist Bruce Johnstone, Marin County planner, and his wife Elsie, worked long and hard to preserve Tomales Bay and place part of it in a state park. Johnstone Trail leads bayside from Heart’s Desire Beach to Shell Beach.
Bay Area walkers have a little secret: When fog smothers Point Reyes and San Francisco Bay, try heading for Tomales Bay State Park. The park has a microclimate, and often has sunny days and pleasant temperatures when other neighboring coastal locales are damp and cold.
From the town of Inverness, follow Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to Pierce Point Road. Turn right and drive a half-mile to the entrance to Tomales Bay State Park. Follow signs to the large parking lot at Heart’s Desire Beach.
Signed Johnstone Trail departs from the south end of Heart’s Desire Beach and immediately climbs into a moss-draped forest of oak, bay, madrone, and wax myrtle.
A half-mile of travel leads to Pebble Beach. At a trail junction, a short side trail goes straight down to Pebble Beach, but Johnstone Trail swings southwest and switchbacks up forested slopes. Ferns dot wetter areas of the coastal slope. The trail crosses a paved road and soon junctions.
To continue to Shell Beach, bear left with the Johnstone Trail. The trail detours around private property, and contours over the coastal slope at an elevation of about 500 feet. The path leads through Bishop pine and a lush understory of salal and huckleberry bushes. After a few miles, the trail descends through madrone and oak for¬est to Shell Beach.
Hikers content with looping back to Heart’s Desire Beach via Jepson Trail will continue straight at the above-mentioned junction. Bishop pine, along with its similar-looking piney cousins, the Monterey and knobcone, are known as fire pines, because they require the heat of fire to crack open their cones and release their seeds. Bishop pines are slow to propagate and are relatively rare in coastal California. (Another nice stand of Bishop pine is located in Montana de Oro State Park in San Luis Obispo County.)
Surest way to distinguish a Bishop pine from its look-alike, the Monterey pine, is by counting the needles: Monterey pines have three needles to a bunch, Bishop pines have two needles to a cluster.
From strategically placed benches, savor the fine bay views afforded by the Jepson Trail, which descends gently to Heart’s Desire Beach.
Interested in more hikes in Point Reyes National Seashore? Check out my guide: HIKE Point Reyes.