The Sonoma Coast State Beaches north of Bodega Bay are fine places to camp, stroll, investigate tidepools, even surf, though given the treacherous currents, you'd better know what you're doing. Stay clear of the rip-tides by taking a walk on Kortum Trail along the bluff-tops 30 or 40 feet above the water. On this trail, named after a local preservationist, the most serious worry is the possible collapse of the cliff while a visitor peers over the edge. Near the Shell Beach trailhead is just such an overlook, with views of crumbling cliffs draped in bush lupine and ocean swells exploding on craggy rocks.
A trailhead display shows raptors often seen here; we saw an osprey fly inland with a fish gleaming in its talons, and a northern harrier on the hunt. The main trail meanders north over coastal prairie, perennial bunch grasses, and other low-growing plants, wandering back from the cliff's edge and proceeding along narrow boardwalks where springs or spreading streams create marshy conditions. These wet areas, along with the coastal fog, allow abundant wildflowers to last longer here than on nearby higher hills. After about a mile, the trail turns back toward the sea to another nice overlook, before continuing over rougher terrain to Goat Rock Road, which leads down to Blind Beach. More details are at http://donh.best.vwh.net/Outdoors/hike.961215.html
Details: the Shell Beach turnout is clearly marked, about 7 miles north of Bodega Bay. Vault toilets, hikers only, leashed dogs, no fee, no water. The trail is very well graded compacted fine gravel or dirt, nearly level for the first 0.8 mile. There’s a long narrow boardwalk that has no wide places, so two wheelchairs could not pass anywhere on it, and if your chair is large, you wouldn’t be able to turn around either. The trail becomes wheelchair-impassible after about a mile.
This hike originally published in the July 2008 issue of Bay Nature magazine