My feet are sore, my thighs are stiff, so I must’ve done something right yesterday. I drove 90 miles to the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore to hike 5.5 miles up the Coast Trail to a place called Wildcat Camp. Didn’t see any wildcats, though I did scare off some buzzards picking at a raccoon carcass.

I came expecting sand, but the trail only grazes the coast — about half the time you can’t even see the ocean though you can hear it, and feel the cool Pacific breezes. There are no ridiculous hills to climb, which is good; less good is that the trail is flat for about 13 yards, so there’s lots of up and down. For comparison: two weeks ago I hiked 12 miles with 2000 feet of climb wearing heavy mud boots and felt far less sore/stiff on that Monday compared to this one. That one was climb one big mean bastard of a hill and you’re done with it (with the second half all downhill). This one was one pretty hill after another all the way out and all the way back. Even among the amazing splendor of the northern California coastline, I was ready for this hike to be over about three miles earlier. Got home last night too tired to type, which is why I’m posting this morning.

Occurs to me now that adding five hours of driving to the mix might’ve had something to do with the fatigue factor.

I chose this hike to check out Alamere Falls, which is where a creek flows over the the cliffs next to the coastline. It’s rained almost every day this month, which means lots of mud on the downside but excellent waterfalls on the upside. I drove out to Stinson Beach headed out from the Palo Marin Trailhead. The trail starts out with a swampy wooded stretch but opens up pretty quickly. Before long I started seeing some of the first wildflowers of the season and once I got out in the sun for awhile I noticed something I hadn’t experienced since, oh, November: Warmth, you know, that whole sunshine-on-my-shoulders thing. When you come to the coast you pray for clear skies and mild breezes; half the time your prayers are answered with gusty winds and clammy fog.

Perfect weather means lots o’ pretty pictures. Let’s a take a look at ‘em.

There’s a lot happening on this trail. Here’ s a rocky part about a mile from the trailhead.

Lots of ponds along the way.

One of the bigger ponds. (Yes, these bodies of water have names, I’m just to lazy to look ‘em up.)

About four miles from the trailhead is a sign pointing to Alamere Falls. My guidebook didn’t say anything about an "Alamere Falls Trail" and this should’ve been a clue that this was not the best way to see the falls. I took off down the skinny little trail anyway, figuring the "dangerous conditions" was the usual overprotectiveness of parks people at work.

Here’s as close to the falls as I got. The creek tumbles over the cliffs just above the left-middle edge of this pic. I suppose it’s possible to pick your way through the boulders down to the beach from here, but I wasn’t interested in testing the theory. I asked another hiker lunching nearby if he’d been down to the beach and he assured me there’s no easy way down there.

So I headed back out to the main trail and turned toward Wildcat Camp. The trail splits a little over a mile from the camp to create a loop; I turned left because it was a tenth of a mile closer to the camp, according to the sign. At the turnoff a guy on horseback told me to keep an eye out for a bobcat in the neighborhood. The cat must’ve been napping (well, our cat always naps after breakfast). If so he missed some gorgeous views of the coast. The western half of the loop has one pretty nasty hill in it, but otherwise it’s one of the most amazing parts of the trail.

When you get to Wildcat Camp, you follow a ravine down to the ocean. I stopped for lunch and soaked up the scenery. Lots to be soaking in these parts.

Alamere Falls is about a mile back down the beach from here. It’s the tiny white vertical spit in the right center of this picture. I could’ve hiked down there from here, but I didn’t know when the tide would come back in. At high tide the ocean comes right up to the cliffs, so you can get stranded by high water if you haven’t consulted your tidal tables.

Back at the camp I practiced pitching my new tarp.

Snapped some wildflower shots along the way. Here’s a blooming thimbleberry.

The lupine’s starting to pop up all over.

The poppies are still pretty small but they’ll be bigger as the rainy season wanes. (I’m ready for this to happen yesterday.)

Saw a bunch of these lilies along the way.

Cirrus clouds flow over the range.

I can see why people like to do this hike as an overnighter: you really some time to rest up and appreciate the surroundings, especially after a long drive to get there. If you’re a fool for photography, figure on a couple extra hours on the trail. Take a lunch, picnic on the beach. Take a day off work and go on a Tuesday and you’ll probably have the whole coast to yourself. Nice thing to have, if only for a couple hours.