Tuesday, April 20, 2021

horse camping: Point Reyes

Oh boy, oh boy, I finally got to go horse camp at Point Reyes National Seashore! I've been wanting to for years, but it just never worked out. When my friend S invited me for an early season camping trip, I jumped at the chance!

love the ease of high-tie and grassy parking spot!
We decided to take my trailer (two high-ties makes it easy) and headed out Friday morning for an uneventful three-hour trip. The camp, Five Brooks Horse Camp, had just opened the week before and most sites had not been used. We found a nice grassy place and settled quickly in, let the boys rest their legs…so we could get a good ride in the first day.

We had reviewed the map, as some trails were closed from a fire in fall of 2020, but there are still so many options! The loop we wanted looked to be about 11 miles. There are very few pictures of this ride, due to maintaining control of my hot horse and navigating technical, steep trails while detouring around and over fallen trees. Also, it was so gorgeous I just wanted to look and enjoy and forget about my camera for a bit. There was mossy lichen hanging from green branches, while below ferns and little flowers carpeted the ground. It was like Narnia or another enchanted land. (links go to Point Reyes Nature's website of great trail photography, though no horse ears!)

enchanted trails

And we started out on some very hot horses, Major was raring to go, and Beau not much better. I would have thought the Olema Valley trail was a mostly level trail along a valley floor. I was wrong! It went up and down and up and down, until we came to Teixeiria trail. Then Olema Valley looked like a cake walk, Teixeiria was very steep! We crested on the Ridge trail and maintained a fast trot through that smooth part of the forest (bushwhacking a detour around a big fallen tree), till we slowed and headed back down the ridge on Bolema trail.

a horse could get used to this!

That enchanted trail was a bit father than I thought, and we ended up with 14.5 miles and more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The horses were super happy to be back at camp in a hot-wire paddock on tasty green grass, what a luxury! We ate the best spaghetti (because camp food is always more delicious) and had a small fire while darkness fell. Perfect. The horses went on the high-ties, S was cozy in her tent, and I tucked into my sleeping back in my truck for a cold night.

cozy camp set-up

The morning could have dawned windy or foggy or cold (it is spring on the coast and you never know), but blue skies greeted me as I crawled out of the truck and got Major ready for the day. Neither horse had drank or eaten as much as we liked (though they are experienced endurance horses, sigh), but they seemed bright and chipper.

old forests

newer forest, all trees the same size

And boy were they! Beau led the way on Greenpicker trail at the start (he can be silly behind) and then the trail miles just flew by. Around every corner was something gorgeous: a huge stand of trees, fields of flowers, huge lupine bushes, ferns and shady groves, then we got to the ocean view Coast Trail.

lupine bush as tall as Major

you just wonder what is next

first glimpse of the ocean

I think seeing it from horseback (as I have hiked this region many times) was just spectacular. My vocabulary seemed a bit limited and consisted of Wow. Wow. Wow. at each new view. I tried to remember to take photos, but they just don't capture the depth and awesomeness.

just wow.

Wildcat camp, elk are tiny dots to the right of Major's ear
Riding down Coast trail you drop down into Wildcat camp (primitive, hike-in camping). There were elk on the hillside, wildflowers carpeted the valley, and quite a few hikers. Major would not drink from my new, lovely large scoop, but Beau did, yeah! 

not posing, i'm going to look crabby and eat the flowers

And that was before we got to the beach! I was being pretty cautious, as Major had never been to the beach, and I wanted a low-key introduction. He was a bit skeptical of the waves, and mainly all that noise of the crashing surf. We kept it minimal, I stayed between Major and the waves, and it was a good, positive experience. I did have to keep him from rolling, that sand looked mighty inviting!

WTF is that?

this sand seems pretty nice

Major says "I'll stand back here and be a little nervous"
There is a waterfall onto the beach area you can ride to, but we didn't want to push it (that will be next time!). We headed back after some more miles on the Coast trail, knowing the trails lead back up to the ridge. We did stop at a trail junction so the humans could eat a quick lunch and the horses ate some green grass along the trail. Then we took one of my new favorite trails, Alamea trail. Ferns, lichen, aromatic bay trees and a huge canyon on our right, just breathtaking. 

looking down Coast trail

signage was pretty good, though there are lots of options!

Alamea trail
At this point the horses had worked pretty hard. So we took the Stewart trail (an access road) back to camp, still steep with elevation and gorgeous but much less technical footing. Almost back to camp we crossed a small stream where Major finally drank! It only took 22 miles and 3,300 feet of elevation…sigh…

a few weeks and all those iris will be blooming
After cleaning up the horses we put them back in the grassy pen, where they spent half the time gazing down the hill at who-knows-what. By this point Major was also pretty annoyed at Beau, but that consisted of making ugly faces when Beau felt like had to stand right next to his new best friend. But I got to take a hot shower, what luxury! Another campfire, watching the horses graze, stargazing and yummy tortilla soup, a most perfect day. 

That evening we did hear a loud crunching noise coming from the trailer…it was raccoons! They are notorious at the camp for getting into everything, and we'd been super careful to keep our food locked up, but the horse carrot bag was too tasty. We ran them off and settled in for another night, carrots safely locked away!

what's over there?
hot showers!

quail family visited every evening
The next morning was sadly the day we were leaving, just as we were all settling in! But checkout was late so we packed up most everything and headed out for a short leg-stretcher ride on an easier trail. The Rift Zone trail follows a (what else) earthquake rift zone, through easy meandering meadows and tree stands, with views of the smooth coast hills, so different than what we had been riding all weekend. 

chilly morning soon warms up

deer friends
The horses were very well behaved, I guess 35+ miles will do that, and we took it easy, enjoying the views and walking the horses. I didn't want it to end, and neither did Major, when we turned around after 2.5 miles to go back to camp.

looking out to smooth coast hills

between forest and meadow

walking home, loose rein
We packed the rest up and headed home, talking the whole time about what we loved about different trails. I already think I am pretty lucky with the trails I have access to in my own backyard, but these in Point Reyes are amazing. How lucky that I got to ride them, and now I can't wait to go back!

one last roll!


  1. Completely and utterly gorgeous! I'm so happy for you that you got to enjoy this trip. Just wow.

  2. What amazing views and trails- glad everyone really enjoyed the trip and OMG so jealous!!