This memorable hike over old ranch roads on the western slope of Inverness Ridge visits Drakes Estero (Spanish for estuary), where wildlife is abundant. Great blue herons, willets, godwits, sanderlings, sandpipers and many more shorebirds feed along the mudflats. Harbor seals and sea lions often swim into the estero and bask on its beaches.
The Trailmaster has had the pleasure of guiding visitors from across the U.S. and around Europe on this trail, and it’s one long remembered by all who hike it. If time-short, take the 1.2-mile walk as far as the bridge across Home Bay.
From Highway 1 in Olema (where there’s a well-marked turnoff for the Point Reyes National Seashore Bear Valley Visitor Center), drive two miles north and veer left onto Sir Francis Drake Highway. Follow the highway 7.5 miles to Estero Road. Turn left and drive a mile to the Estero parking area and signed trailhead.
Estero Trail, an old ranch road, climbs gently across pastoral grasslands. As you climb look over your left shoulder and admire Inverness Ridge, highlighted by, from west to east, Mt. Vision, Point Reyes Hill, and Mt. Wittenberg. The trail turns left and, at about a half mile from the trailhead, passes a stand of Monterey pine, once the nucleus of a Christmas tree farm.
At 1.2 miles, the path crosses a causeway, which divides Home Bay from a pond. Large numbers of shorebirds frequent the mudflats of Home Bay. The many fingers of Drake’s Estero are patrolled by canvasbacks, ruddy ducks and American wigeons. For wildlife-watching con¬venience, benches are built into the bridge.
The trail (a rutted track indeed) ascends lupine-dotted slopes and offers good views of Home Bay shores and its many habitués. Look for deer, both native black-tailed, or the “im¬ported” white fallow, browsing the grassy ridges.
After a 0.25-mile climb, pass through a gate and continue a moderately aggressive ascent above Drakes Estero. The ascent brings vistas of the es¬tero, as well as Creamery Bay and Schooner Bays.
About 2.5 miles from the trailhead, reach a signed junction. (Sunset Beach Trail heads straight (southwest) well above the estero for more than a mile before dropping to a rocky beach with substantial tide pools, 1.4 miles from its junction with Estero Trail.)
Estero Trail climbs steeply for 0.25 mile to a cattle tank and signed junction that guides you hard right through a turnstile. Small arrow signs keep you on the trail, which parallels a fence along an often-grazed pasture. At the 3.1-mile mark, junction Drakes Head Trail.
Head right (south) over fields. Estero de Li¬mantour comes into view. A mile down the trail, look for a wooden post and prepare for a sudden right turn.
The trail continues to Drakes Head, about 150-feet above the water. Experienced hikers can pick their way down the extremely steep Head east to Estero de Limantour.