Coast Trail Lakes, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - Bay Area -

Also known as:  Bass Lake, Pelican Lake, Crystal Lake, Ocean Lake, Wildcat Lake

One of the most popular day hikes in the California Bay Area is a trek beside the Coast Trail Lakes of Point Reyes National Seashore. Only 45 minutes outside of San Francisco, the Palomarin section of the trail is only about 5.5 miles long and has an easy elevation change of about 600 feet. Several parts of the trail are along an old fire road, making this a relaxing stroll for a sunny afternoon. Fantastic views of the ocean from atop the bluffs command the eye where the trail emerges from the wooded surroundings. Both birds and wildflowers are abundant, with spring blooms providing splotches of brilliant color in the clearings. And, when the trail turns inland, small freshwater lakes invite hikers to enjoy a cool refreshing dip in the water. So popular is this activity that Bass Lake actually has a couple of rope swings hung over the water for the daring to make a big splash. At about 2.5 miles along the trail, many visitors arrive in summer, towels in hand, to take advantage of this rustic swimming hole.

Five named lakes make up the list of Coast Trail Lakes: Bass Lake, Pelican Lake, Crystal Lake, Ocean Lake and Wildcat Lake. Located almost directly above the San Andreas Fault, all of the lakes were caused by a massive landslide sometime in the past, cutting them off from their once-larger watersheds. Most have small out-flowing streams draining into the Pacific. All are less than 20 acres and are unspoiled, undeveloped and scenic. Horses are permitted on the Coast Trail in this area; bicycles and dogs are not. When hikers leave their vehicles at the Palomarin Trailhead and the trail turns inland, they will pass a number of tiny wetland ponds covered in pond lilies and sheltering ducks and waterfowl. Side trails lead down to many of these ponds, but the trails are unmaintained.

Bass Lake is the first sizable lake to appear. A side trail leads half a mile to the shoreline and the popular rope swings. Beyond Bass Lake, an unmaintained trail leads to Crystal Lake down a narrow path surrounded by poison oak. For this reason, those intending to make the effort are advised to wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants for protection. A signboard on the right marks the trail. The main trail then begins to descend, and Pelican Lake appears on the left. Beyond Pelican Lake, the old National Park Service metal sign marks the trail to Double Point, a spectacular rock promontory jutting into the Pacific. The beach below is perfect habitat for harbor seals, sea otters and murre. The trail to Double Point is not maintained, and the park service discourages its use but it is commonly listed in guide books. This point is a common turn-around point for short-distance hikers.

A short distance beyond the Double Point cut-off is another short, unmaintained trail that leads to Alamere Falls. The Alamere Falls Trail is narrow and in some areas somewhat dangerous, particularly where it contains loose rock. The falls themselves consist of several short drops with a final fall to the sea. Determined hikers will need to cross over the stream between the first and second drop of the falls before they reach a place to view the sight of Alamere Falls dropping about 60 feet to the beach. Alamere Falls is a rare ‘tidefall’-a waterfall emptying directly into the ocean. Those who make it to this point may continue down to the beach if desired, although the path is steep and has some treacherous loose rock long the way. The flow of the falls varies by the season. Binoculars are a must from any vantage point along the Alamere Falls Trail, as one often sees harbor seals frolicking in the surf below. More purposeful hikers may forego these added side trails and proceed up the Coast Trail to the other two lakes.

Ocean Lake and Wildcat Lake can be reached from either the Coast Trail or the Wildcat Beach Trail. A cut-off from the Coast Trail leads the the trail along the beach. Both trails pass the two lakes and meet at a point just beyond Wildcat Lake. The Coast Trail continues on to meet other trails in the area. A small rustic campground available only to walk-in camping is located near the point where the two trails meet and offers toilet facilities and drinking water. The camping area is a favorite among horseback campers and has hitching posts set up to secure horses at the campground. Campers can access the beach from here. Although access to the entire Point Reyes National Seashore and the trails is free, permits and reservations are required for the campground. The Coast Trail Lakes can also be accessed from the Five Brooks Trailhead to the north, utilizing Ridge Trail and Lake Ranch Trail to the Coast Trail.

Although Point Reyes National Seashore is visited by 2.5 million people every year, the Coast Trail Lakes are seldom crowded as the entire 71,000-acre park preserve is crisscrossed with multiple trails. The lakes are not productive for fishing. Fishing is not allowed in any freshwater stream in the preserve, and saltwater fishing is tightly controlled. Anglers should check with the National Park Service to clarify fishing regulations. Most visitors to the trails are nature lovers who enjoy the wealth of natural plants and trees in the area, including eucalyptus, Bishops pine, Coyote brush, California coffeeberry, bush lupines, California sagebrush, Douglas fir and the multiple varieties of wildflowers. Nearly 490 species of birds have been sighted at Point Reyes National Seashore, including nearly 50% of all North American bird species. Few places can beat the Coast Trail for varied scenic views.

Bird lovers have a special treat awaiting them as they near the Palomarin Trailhead parking lot. Nearby on Mesa Road the Point Reyes Bird Observatory Visitor’s Center provides education on birds in the area. The Observatory is one of America’s few full-time ornithological research facilities and allows visitors to view bird banding and netting. The beach areas in Point Reyes are often off-limits during periods of the year to protect endangered marine animals and birds during breeding season and the rearing of young. However, several public swimming beaches are nearby along the coast, with county and state parks offering access, additional camping, boating and recreation opportunities.

All types of lodgings are available outside of the preserve, with guest cottages, resort hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and small inns occupying many of the private inholdings within the perimeter. The towns of Olema, Point Reyes Station and Bolinas act as tourist centers in the area, with Bolinas in particular well supplied with art galleries, unique shopping and recreation. Real estate here is sometimes available and has kept its value well. With San Francisco just across the Golden Gate Bridge, big-city nightlife and culture are never far away. So, the next time you’re in the Bay area, bring the hiking shoes and enjoy the beautiful Coast Trail Lakes and their spectacular surroundings.

*Few statistics exist for the Coast Trail Lakes. Acreage is therefore an estimate. Elevation is for Bass Lake only.

Things to do at Coast Trail Lakes, Point Reyes National Seashore

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Park
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Coast Trail Lakes, Point Reyes National Seashore

  • Bass

Coast Trail Lakes, Point Reyes National Seashore Photo Gallery

  • Alamere Falls can be seen as a thin white line falling down a cliff in the distance.

Coast Trail Lakes, Point Reyes National Seashore Statistics & Helpful Links

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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