Guess what you guys? My son came for a visit! He hasn’t been able to come home for a visit in so long (thanks Covid-19…), so of course I had to take him to one of my very favorite hiking trails – Drake’s Estero! This magical spot is full of what makes the Northern California coast so amazing, from wild terrain, to gorgeous views of the Pacific and its wildlife.
This hike started out with some really unusual California weather. The night before, we had some pretty intense thunderstorms, but by early morning, we thought that they had passed. In California, summer thunderstorms are rare, and a bit dangerous as they can start a sudden wildfire. Together with dry brush and lots of surrounding trees, a lightning strike can be a devastating combination..
There was plenty of lightning in these clouds throughout the hike!
We arrived at the trailhead around 8:00 am, and were greeted by an unattended fire truck left in the parking lot in case any nearby fires were to start. We didn’t think much of it until a paramedic truck joined the party shortly thereafter. The paramedics told us that there was a lightning-sparked fire a bit off the trail, but that we would be fine to start the hike – so we did! Sure enough, about a third of a mile into our day, we saw and smelled smoke. Fortunately, another fire truck was already on-site and was putting out the last embers. As we got further down the trail and crossed the Estero via a footbridge, we turned around to see the last wisps of smoke dissipate into the air.
So grateful to Marin County Fire for being so on top of these lightning strikes!
This hike was full of wildlife. I sometimes joke with my husband that a hike doesn’t count as having much wildlife unless we see more than just the occasional bird or common trail lizard. However this trail had wildlife of all sorts! As we walked down the Estero Trail, we saw deer, elk, rabbits, quail, banana slugs and salamanders, who were enjoying the moisture of the occasional sprinkle of rain. If you get out to the trail in the morning you may even hear the sounds of elk calling out from across the bay like we did!
Unfortunately, the deer, elk, rabbits and quail wanted their picture taken far less than the salamanders and slugs.
We first took the turn to the Sunset Beach Trail and headed out to the water. There is so much to see along this path and during low tide you can hop the marsh areas to get down closer to the water, which is just what we chose to do! Once we explored that marshy area, we headed back up the Sunset Beach and Estero Trails and turned right onto the Drake’s Head trail. If you have time for just one of these unique trails, I recommend heading straight for the Drake’s Head Trail. Once you get to the top, you overlook the south end of Limantour Beach (my all-time favorite beach) and the views are breathtaking!
All in all, the hike we did was a bit over 12 miles, but doing just the Drake’s Head trail would get you to spectacular, world-class views in far less miles. This used to be a little-known trail, but many new people have recently developed an interest in hiking and the days of being able to show up at these trails at 10am, hike for a few hours, and see few other hikers are long gone. For that reason, my first bit of advice is to get there early. When we were on our way back, we passed so many people heading out for their day, yet when we first arrived, we walked all the way to the end of the trail without seeing a single other person.
With not too many other people around, this hike gives the impression of walking through a wild, uncharted seashore and can be a magical, special place. This is a great trail, made even more adventurous by the type of day it was – fire, rain, wind, thunder and lightning – we saw it all!
Won’t you join us along the path?