Kortum Trail,
Sonoma Coast State Beach,
California State Parks, Sonoma County
In brief:
3.3 mile out and back hike on a Sonoma County bluff above the ocean is a perfect summer destination to escape from city heat.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.3 mile out-and-back hike is easy, with about 280 feet in elevation change. There is one short uphill stretch, and the rest of the hike is flat.

Full sun.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt trail.

Hiking time
1 1/2 hours.

Really pleasant in summer.

Getting there
From the junction of CA 1 and Bodega Highway (Sonoma County) drive north on CA 1 about 12.5 miles (about 7 miles north of Bodega Bay), then turn left into the Shell Beach parking lot.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3825'5.16"N
123 6'15.70"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Stores, gas, and restaurants south in Bodega Bay, or north in Jenner. There are several very good campgrounds in the area, including Bodega Dunes and Wrights Beach.

Trailhead details:
Paved parking lot with two designated handicapped spots. No parking or entrance fees. Vault toilets at edge of parking lot. No drinking water or maps. Nearest phone at Wright's Beach. Trails are poorly suited to wheelchairs. There is no public transportation available to this trailhead.

Park hours are 8 a.m. to sunset. No dogs, horses, or bikes on Kortum Trail.

The Official Story:
CSP's Sonoma Coast State Beach page
Park office 707-875-3483

Map choices:
Sonoma Coast State Beach map (pdf)
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a hike on Kortum Trail.
The Hiker's hip Pocket Guide to Sonoma County, by Bob Lorentzen (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.

View photos from this hike

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

The Sonoma County coastline from Bodega Bay to the mouth of Russian River, some of the most spectacular shoreline in the state, is protected as Sonoma Coast State Beach. Trailhead Sandy beaches and stark bluffs are easily accessible from a series of trailheads and parking lots strung along CA 1, where you can enjoy views of the ocean without even leaving your car. But Kortum Trail offers a special coastal perspective, on an easy bluff-top trail that winds through coastal prairie from Wright's Beach to Blind Beach. The trailhead at Shell Beach (in between Wright's and Blind beaches) permits hikers to trek north or south on Kortum Trail, or even out and back both directions. Spring wildflowers are gorgeous, but the trail is a fine summer destination too, for cool temperatures and butterflies. The Trail is named for Bill Kortum, a coastal Sonoma preservationist.
     Start from the parking lot near the path leading to the beach and head north on signed Kortum Trail. The first steps of this wide hiking only trail bisect a group of common coastal shrubs, including coyote brush, currant, and twinberry.Kortum Trail  Willows huddle in a little slump on the left. In spring bush lupine blooms along the trail, preceding summer blossoms on paintbrush and varieties of buckwheat. Kortum Trail reaches a junction at 0.13 mile, with a path continuing straight to an ocean overlook, and a second path running parallel to the main route, slightly to the west. Either the middle or right trail are options, as they reconnect shortly, but the trail on the right is the maintained one, and offers the best footing, particularly in winter. Great patches of pennyroyal blooming along the trail in summer draw hoards of bees and some butterflies, including buckeyes and mylitta crescents. Kortum Trail keeps a level grade as it proceeds north along the bluff, and even when the ocean is out of sight, you will likely hear the surf pounding against the rocks from time to time. The two paths rejoin at 0.28 mile, then cross a double plank bridge in the midst of blackberry brambles. After a few minutes of easy strolling, you'll reach a long stretch of elevated boardwalk, welcome in the muddy aftermath of winter. BoardwalkAs the boardwalk ends, Kortum Trail resumes on dirt, heading toward a big rock outcrop. On the way, the trail dips to cross a year-round running creek on a bridge. In summer grasshoppers and garter snakes skitter through the grass, while colorful dragonflies buzz overhead. The rock looms off the trail to the right, surrounded by blooming iris, seaside daisy, yarrow, California poppy, and buckwheat in spring. This massive outcrop is believed to be a Pleistocene sea stack that's been uplifted from the ocean floor to this marine terrace. Kortum Trail now veers right, away from the coast, and makes its way to a second rock formation, this one with twin spires. Paths lead to the formation, apparently climbable, but beware of poison oak. Wild rose, ferns, and lichen sprawl over the rocks in places. Now Kortum Trail, marked occasionally by wooden posts, begins a moderate climb through rocky grassland. Passing through a break in the fenceline you may see cars zipping by on the park road, to the right. Continue uphill to a saddle and junction at 1.6 miles -- Kortum Trail descends from here to the parking lot at Blind Beach, an optional add on. Turn left onto an unsigned but obvious path.Rock outcrop
     The slight trail winds through grassland to a flat spot at the top of Peaked Hill. In clear weather, there are sweeping views downhill to the ocean, east to rolling hills, and of the coastline north and south. On my visit fog obscured the long vistas, but failed to hide a harrier soaring overhead, searching for a meal. Tiny blue butterflies flitted to and fro, often landing on buckwheat flowers. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 3.3 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, August 26, 2003