Jepson-Johnstone Beaches Loop
ElevationAscent: 636' 194 m
Descent: -679' -207 m
High: 439' 134 m
Low: 8' 3 m
GradeAvg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 16% (9°)
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“A definite "best of" Tomales Bay State Park loop.”— Megan W
The trail opens slightly after it passes the Jepson Spur and crosses a paved private access road. After this highest point on the trail, a short descent through overgrown scrub deposits you at the junction with the Johnstone Trail. (Optional: follow Johnstone Trail south as an out-and-back to Shell Beach to add a bonus 4th beach and 5.4 miles to your loop). For the shorter, traditional Jepson-Johnstone Beaches Loop, head straight east at the Jepson Johnstone junction.
Cross a paved private access road amongst Bishop pine, live oak and coffeeberry. The forest becomes less dense on the descent to a marshy creek area crossed by wooden bridges. Switchback more steeply down to the aptly-named Pebble Beach. Narrow and more secluded than Heart's Desire Beach, Pebble Beach backs onto a marsh.
Back on the Johnstone Trailhead across level ground to the parking lots or to the overlook/picnic area above busy Heart's Desire Beach. A series of steps lead down to the beach itself. If you're tired, end your loop here (but it would be a shame to miss the informative Indian Beach Nature Trail to the the 3rd and last beach).
From the north side of the hectic Heart's Desire parking area, find the marked trail for Indian Beach alongside the bathrooms. Follow the path gently uphill and read the informational signs about the coastal Miwok Indian tribes people who lived here for 3500 years. They lived on clams, oysters, fish and their creative use of the native plants included using poison oak to tattoo their skin!
This family-friendly trail descends down the bluff to Indian Beach where replicas of the Miwok dwellings (kotchas) are erected on the sand. The marsh behind the beach is a good place for birdwatching and spotting wildlife. Most folks prefer to make the Indian Beach Nature Trail portion an out-and-back, but if you absolutely hate backtracking (and don't mind some more climbing) continue to the north end of the beach. Then cross a footbridge and turn west on the Indian Beach Service Road following it and the Heart's Desire roads back to the Heart's Desire parking area.
The Jepson Trail was named for the botanist Willis Jepson (1867-1946) who was ahead of his time by presciently sounding the alarm about damaging invasive species in California. The Johnstone Trail honors the conservationists Bruce and Elsie Johnstone who worked to protect this area by including it in the Tomales Bay State Park. A plaque dedicated to them has been erected next to the trail.
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Need to Know, Runner Notes, History & Background
Land Manager: California State Parks - Tomales Bay State Park