Gualala Point has been a frequent walking place for us. This 195-acre Regional Park provides some of the best and longest flat walks in Sonoma County.
Monday, June 14, was cooler than the previous two days. Early in the morning it was relatively calm for this often windy spot along the coast. After following the paved path past the Visitor Center, we took a grass path goes off to the right. We choose it, mistakenly. Isn’t that when the best stuff happens? Well it can be okay in a public park if your knees can take it.
(This detour comes with a warning: Don’t go this way. Stay on the pavement.)The path went through grasses with scattered white yarrow, Coffeeberry and Coyote Bushes. This part was flat and then it started going down and the vegetation changed. Bigger bushes and trees (mostly alders) and a gorgeous multi-flowered white bush that I haven’t identified yet — nor seen before. With 12 stair steps down and a short mudslide, I arrived gracefully at the beach.
I kept on my feet. Mike was perhaps hoping for something like my 15-foot butt slide on a muddy hill many years ago at Mt. Diablo. This was only two feet so it shouldn’t have been able to compete in the family legends.
We walked north along the Gualala River on the rocky and gravelly beach. Signs of higher water were clear in the gravel bed forms. One surprise was this field of dandelions on the backside of a dune.
On the beach we headed south, watching the rhythmic waves and a large horse-sized dog loping along. Crossing over the dune again we noticed the many Yellow Sand Verbena plants and another dusty leafed purple beach plant.
Passing the sign warning us of rip currents and sneaker tides we reached the paved path, we usually follow. The paved path in loops provides a 2 mile walk.
After going by a bathroom and picnic table we took the grass path to the right through poppies, Goldfields and dandelions. A White-crowned Sparrow posed for a long time. Long enough for me to consult my new bird identifier book organized by color and size. How clever! Probably, the singing we heard was a Song Sparrow. (My song lessons are slacking.) A flashy male American Goldfinch stole the show again before we passed through the cypress-covered path.
We turned to the ocean and ducked under the cypress. The path goes along the bluff edge before it reaches the line between Sea Ranch and the park. The Sea Ranch trail is open to the public if you behave yourself, it adds more glorious ocean side walk.
This time we turned left and walked along the fence with a slight detour due to a fallen pine. We went back to the car, raced to town to buy lunch (at Trinks where we had breakfast), then back to the park to have our picnic.
We attempted to relax for a while, with SUVs and trucks circling and hailing each other about where to go next. “Away! Away!” we mentally shouted.
We struck off for a real detour from our normal and headed upriver. At the end of the parking lot nearest Hwy 1, we took a woodsy trail with roses, native raspberry, Thimbleberry and healthy and unhealthy Tan Oak. We caught a view of the river between Douglas Fir and cypress cover.
The path was mostly narrow dirt. A couple of benches were perched in an open meadow area with a view down to the river and Gualala.
Then the path started a gradual descent amongst many salal bushes. Alas, there were then 38 uneven steps, many far too steep. (Why did I leave my sticks in the car?) Between steps the trail is flat or steep enough to need a step. Finally at the bottom is a flat meadow with grass path.
Across the meadow is a riparian area lush with foxgloves, horsetail, alder, willow, and hemlock. In less than ½ mile from the start, is a bridge. I clearly identified a Stinging Nettle and kept a couple of nettles in my hand for several days. Over the bridge is an area of Bay trees all about the same size, their leaves only at the top.
Around a bend the vegetation is lush with house plants including various hostas, ferns and Solomon Seal. Soon we were in the walk-in campground. Each site has two spacious ‘rooms’ with table in one and tent room in the other. I recommend site F. Great except for occasional people like myself walking through. But all walk-in sites were empty. Probably, they’d been occupied by the kinds of people who move out early to hike up a mountain.
Then under the redwoods there’s a road to the drive-in spaces. Here, I recommend #10 by the river with less of the noise of Hwy 1. This campground is so lovely (and it has showers), it almost made me want to camp again. You can, of course, drive to the campground, walk to the meadow and skip the hillside climb.
We returned on a loop through the campsites, across the meadow and back up the 38 uneven steps. At the cliff side benches, I could see how the wind was creating whitecaps on both ocean and river. Things had really cooled off. Time to head home.
See you on the Trail!
Photos by Mike Millar
Other walks: From Gualala Pt you can access a coastal walk along Sea Ranch. This is the flattest access but there are several other Regional Park access point. Look for the greenish Sonoma County Regional Parks signs. Fees ($6) or pass regulations apply.
Bathroom: The one by the Visitor Center is the best public bathroom in the whole county. It’s so clean!
Visitor Center: Open 10:30-3 Fri-Mon when volunteer is available. History and nature exhibits.
Coffee and Food: Trinks is in a little strip mall near the north end of town on the ocean side. We had breakfast there and went back to get lunch to go. Lovely spot. Great food.
Other shopping: Four-eyed Frog Bookstore in Cypress Village, where we had a grand time and I bought the aforementioned bird book. Birds of California by Stan Tekiela. I won’t link the book because you can find it – but go to a real bookstore.