Hiking Inn to Inn
There are few better ways to nourish the spirit than to stroll a hidden beach while the powerful Pacific pounds offshore outcroppings, sending cascades high into the air. And there are few better places to savor this experience than California’s spectacular Sonoma County Coast. Take the Kortum Trail as it snakes for five miles along coastal bluffs.
We set out on a sunny February afternoon at the southern end of the Kortum, seven miles north of Bodega Bay, at the Wright’s Beach turnoff. The trail heads north from the bluff-top parking lot and meanders along the coastal terrace. Willow and blackberries crowd watercourses that drain the hills. Spring will bring natural gardens of California poppies, irises, seaside daisies, yarrow, buckwheat, and lupine.
After a mile we reached the Carlevaro Way access road where the trail turns to the coastal cliffs. We stopped at the first promontory to take in one of the most stunning coastlines in California. Steep cliffs plunge to pocket beaches. Coastal shallows are crowded with rock outcroppings and sea stacks relentlessly battered by crashing waves.
The trail reaches the Shell Beach access road at 2.5 miles. Take a side trip to the beach or continue north through tall grasses and marshland. A boardwalk traverses the wettest sections.
The Kortum turns inland and starts a gradual ascent around the 3.5 mile mark. We reached a pass and stopped to take in breathtaking views of the coastline and the surrounding lush and verdant hills. This section of the coast is protected as part of Sonoma Coast State Beach, stretching 17 miles from Bodega Head to four miles north of Jenner.
Descending to the Blind Beach parking lot, we saw that the tide was low. That allowed us to hike down to the beach and along the shore to Goat Rock at 5.0 miles. The official Kortum Trail continues along the bluffs from the Blind Beach parking lot, paralleling Highway 1 and Goat Rock Rd.
Harbor seals played in the surf where the river meets the sea. Dozen lounged on the beach, joined by brown pelicans. This narrow beach becomes a nursery from March to July where hundreds of harbor seals come to give birth and nurse their young. Signs and volunteers warn visitors to stay back at least 50 yards in order to not disturb the mothers and babies.
Hiking back to our car, the cliffs glowed in the setting sun. Our pace slowed. It had taken us five leisurely hours to traipse the 11 mile journey, but we were in no hurry to leave this beautiful coast.
Best Times to Visit
Any time of year is good. Choose a sunny day. Check the weather report for winter rains or summer fog and wind.
Kortum Trail starts at the bluff parking lot above Wright’s Beach and travels north. Take California Highway 1 north from Bodega Bay for seven miles or five miles south from Jenner. The trail can also be accessed north of Wright’s Beach at Carlevaro Way or the Shell Beach parking lot.