San Francisco to Point Reyes Sky Camp
Last March I was the event host for a trip from San Francisco to Point Reyes with the NorCal Bicycle Touring and Camping Meetup. We ended up getting six people together for the trip, all from San Francisco and Berkeley, except for one coming in from Sacramento. I had picked up a camping permit for Sky Camp at Recreation.gov about two months earlier. March is still the rainy season in San Francisco, so we felt lucky to have a weekend of sunny weather predicted.
I planned the route, which was to go out on Highway 1 and back via Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (see Google Maps or Map My Ride; during the trip, we used the Marin County Bike Coalition’s map, which was up to date and accurate, $12 including shipping). The wind is usually from the north along the coast, so ideally we would have gone out Sir Francis Drake and back on Highway 1, but the ferry schedule didn’t really have a good Saturday morning option, so I had to go with the reverse route.
We had a bit of a dodgy start. One person, after packing and preparing to go, couldn’t make it to our meeting point because the retaining pin on his bike trailer failed on the way out the door. Within the first five minutes of pedaling west on the Embarcadero, another person was pooped on by a seagull. Fifteen minutes after that, another person’s crank fell off of his bike.
On Highway 1, about ten miles south of Stinston Beach.
But it got better after that, mostly. We'd left Stuart, whose crank fell off, behind. But he was next to Chrissy Field, the Presidio's "front door," where there was a bicycle shop that was able to help him get the crank back on. Not only did Stuart then catch up with us, he somehow managed to pass the rest of the group, meeting us again in Stinson Beach.
The second-biggest hill on the route is around Mt. Tamalpais; it's long and has a moderate grade. Several carbon-fiber speed demons cheered us as they passed. In my experience, they don’t normally do that, so I’m guessing it was the camping gear that inspired them.
Past that hill was a section of Highway 1 between San Francisco and Point Reyes that I often drive on, but I was never able to appreciate its majestic beauty until biking on it. That’s partly because the view is mostly out the passenger’s window going north, and you can’t really see it as much going south. But mostly it is because the road is so windy that, while driving, I can only look for a half a second at a time or risk driving off the road. On a bicycle, it was like being in a slow-moving convertible: all blue skies, cliffs, and ocean.
Stinson Beach has a nice park where we had lunch at around 1:30, before proceeding along the final stretch north into Point Reyes. It was nice, but less remarkable than the section south of Stinson. After picking up our campsite permit at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, Limontour Road dished up another slow, steady uphill before we turned up onto the fire road that leads to Sky Camp. Sky Camp is named appropriately, and a couple of us chose to walk rather than ride. But it is fairly well graded, and with fat-ish tires — say, 30mm or greater — and a bit of mountain biking skill, it is possible to ride up it. (Make sure your tires are fully inflated to avoid a pinch flat!)
We had group site #2, which offered expansive views over Drake’s Bay and, after dusk, a flashing light that didn’t move which we took to be the Point Reyes Lighthouse. There was only one other occupied group campsite, and they had just one tent and were very quiet. So it was a good camping experience — lots of space, and no other people to hear.
Cooking up a storm at Sky Camp.
Most people had a dinner of Tasty Bite, and afterward we did some constellation spotting with benefit of a star chart: Orion, Cassiopeia, the Pleiades, Leo, Gemini, and a few others.
On the way back, we all — well almost all — really enjoyed the bit of mountain biking on the way back down the fire road. Sir Francis Drake was busy, but in many places featured a wide shoulder on which it was possible to ride two abreast and have a conversation (shouting above traffic noise, anyway) without feeling too exposed to traffic.
We regrouped and ate a delicious lunch at Punjabi Burrito, across from Sunshine Cyclery. From there, we split up: The rest of the group decided to bike back across the Golden Gate Bridge, but I felt lazy and one of my knees was hurting. Having another hill and 15 miles to ride didn’t sound so great, so I stuck with the original plan and took the Larkspur Ferry back to the city.
Bike windmill sculpture in front of an apartment building in Fairfax.
Tip for this adventure: Reserve campsites well in advance, since they often are booked out, especially for weekends, a couple of months ahead.