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Alamere Falls is a rare and wonderful example of a “tidefall,” a coastal waterfall that plunges directly from a cliff down onto the beach to join up with the sea. Viewed from the top or the bottom, it’s spectacular.
The drop down onto Alamare Creek Beach is about 40 feet, and there are more smaller falls upstream from the cliff. The unusual sight of the water as it falls over the shale cliffs and into the Pacific Ocean is worth making the trek out to this wilderness cascade.
Getting to Alamere Falls is straightforward, but not effortless. To reach the most popular trailhead, you’ll drive through Bolinas, which can be a challenge—at least without a GPS—since the town tends to resist any attempts to betray its location to “outsiders.” (Every time CalTrans puts up signs on Highway 1, locals remove them.) From there, it’s a long but not too difficult hike into the Phillip Burton Wilderness, part of the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County.
Despite the effort required to reach it, the unique site is a popular spot with visitors. It’s one of just two tidefalls on the California coast; the other is McWay Falls in Big Sur.
Know Before You Go
As Fairfax-Bolinas Rd. intersects Hwy. 1, it connects on the other side with Olema-Bolinas Road. Follow that a bit over a mile and jog left when it hits an apparent dead-end (at Horseshoe Hill Rd.) Continue south to Mesa Rd. (If you reach the town of Bolinas, you've gone too far.) Turn right and follow Mesa for a couple of miles until it dead-ends into a parking lot and the Palomarin Trail head. The lot does fill up, and there's no alternative parking in the area, so you may have to be creative.
From the Palomarin Trailhead parking lot, the trail to Alamere Falls largely follows the coastline north and west. It's a little under four miles of moderately strenuous hiking to reach Alamere Creek and the falls. The most difficult section is getting from the cliffs down to the beach, and vice-versa. If you have any kind of mobility issues, the hike is not recommended.
Wear hiking boots (or some form of trail-worthy shoes), bring water, food, layers of clothing, and expect poison oak. Bringing a flashlight and some light survival gear isn't a bad idea, in case of unexpected complications. Also, if the fog comes in late in the day, following the trail can get very difficult and surfaces can get slippery, so leave early enough so that you don't run out of daylight, and give yourself plenty of time for the return hike to the parking lot.
On a good day, the hike can be done (one-way) in 90 minutes, but on foggy afternoons, in fading light and over wet trail sections, it can take closer to 2 1/2 hours to get back. In general, start from the parking lot late in the morning, and heading back while you still have at least 2 hours of daylight. And then drive into Bolinas for dinner at one of the local spots.
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