Years ago, someone told me that one of the best short hikes in Sonoma County was the trek to Pomo Canyon. I had forgotten about that insight until this past weekend when I ventured there for the first time. That person, and I can’t remember the source (sorry!), wasn’t kidding.
The trip to and from the Jenner campground is truly a terrific multi-faceted experience crammed into a very manageable hike. Pomo Canyon, which may not have been a Pomo Indian residential hotbed, was probably a good source for hunting and fishing given the streams, dense tree cover and proximity to the larger waterways. Today, it is a campground that is technically part of Sonoma Coast State Beach, a state park that runs along a narrow 17-mile strip of Sonoma County’s coastline. To get there, you can drive up on a road to the campground site, which is now closed to campers like nearly all of the beach’s campgrounds, but here’s a better way.
Start at Shell Beach, right on the ocean, and well equipped with a spacious parking lot, restrooms, trail information and a view that can’t be beat. From the windy cliff, you can see the effect of the Russian River pouring into the Pacific Ocean in dramatic, colorful fashion. Then, head back across Highway 1 and climb up and travel inland.
This time of year, irises and lilies are already starting to bloom and the color is starting to sprinkle the green hillsides. It’s a short, but strenuous, climb and then a couple of miles of trail through some redwood groves, grassy hillsides and oak stands and then a moderately steep descent into the canyon. There are a few streams to cross, but small bridges are in place to keep this from being a wet-footed hiking experience. Once in the canyon, it’s worth the extra hundred yards to the waterfall at the heart of the camping area. It’s a well-traveled trail and area, and there are plenty of wooden bridges, benches and even picnic tables, so it’s a good spot for lunch, photos, or just hanging out.
Heading back on this six-mile hike toward the coast means going back uphill, but in a meandering way and then at the top emerges the oceanview. There are many nice views in Sonoma County, but overlooking Shell Beach is one of the better ones. To the east, spot Mount St. Helena in the distance, and to the south, the Tomales Point tip of Point Reyes is visible. And that’s just what’s way off. Nearer still is the rest of the Russian River Valley and the other state beaches that make up this state park and especially Goat Rock, in all its wind-buffeted stature.
Before or after checking out Pomo Canyon, the Shell Beach parking lot, like the other beaches in the park, connect to the various coastal trails. They are flat but winding, and head north and south and give you a chance to get close to the craggy cliffs and hidden coves that make up the coastline here. I wandered a couple of extra miles on the Kortum Trail to really soak in the expansive views and get even more wind-blown.
And yes, this all can be a gusty outing, but this past weekend, it was mostly blue sky and close to 60 degrees. From sea to shining sea.