Not all trail outings require specialized gear, long time commitments or strong legs and lungs. Along the Kortum Trail on Sonoma County’s coast, feel free to come as you are, saunter at will and make frequent stops. The only climbing will be an optional side trip down to the beach or up the trailside rock outcroppings. Along the way, you’ll meet people of all ages who have pulled over for a closer look at the coastal bluffs so many of us drive past on our way elsewhere.
We visited on a sunny Saturday afternoon and spent an hour watching the surf at Blind Beach near Jenner before wandering down to the trailhead. During a leisurely stroll to Shell Beach, we passed no more than 20 others, many of whom were likewise in no hurry to reach the end of the trail. Several of us gathered to watch a group of young rock climbers practice their ascents on Sunset Rocks, one of the many trailside attractions.
There’s plenty more to enjoy along the way. From the coastal bluffs, we had panoramic ocean views that stretched from Goat Rock to Point Reyes. Wild iris were in bloom, one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom among the grasses. We found lots more reasons to linger — scouting the horizon for cargo ships, watching the waves wrap around craggy outcroppings, searching for wildlife in the marshland beneath the boardwalk.
The trail is named for Bill Kortum, a Petaluma environmental activist who, among other things, co-founded Coastwalk California. Until his death in 2014, he continued to advocate for the statewide California Coastal Trail, of which the Kortum Trail is a segment. Although the entire trail is visible from Highway 1, we felt miles away, separated by gentle breezes and the ever present roar of the Pacific.
Kortum Trail: Blind Beach to Wright’s Beach
Hiking distance: 4.6 miles round trip
2.3-mile one-way shuttle to Shell Beach
4.0-mile one-way shuttle to Wright’s Beach
Hiking time: 2.5 hours
Configuration: out-and-back (or shuttle)
Elevation gain: 300 feet
Exposure: exposed coastal cliffs and beach
Dogs: not allowed
Sonoma Coast State Park stretches 17 miles, from Bodega Head (Hike 34) to the Vista Trail (Hike 26), located four miles north of Jenner. The state park is actually a series of sandy beaches that are separated by rocky 100-foot bluffs and headlands. The craggy coastline includes secluded coves, reefs, fertile tidepools, rugged headlands, natural rock arches, sand dunes, and wildflower-covered meadows.
The Kortum Trail is a four-mile coastal trail from Goat Rock to Wright’s Beach. The trail closely follows the coastal cliffs, dipping down to gullies and beaches along the rocky shoreline. Many boardwalks, bridges, and stairs have been built along the trail. Hikes 31 and 32 explore the length of the Kortum Trail, dividing it into the north section and the south section.
This hike follows the north section, from Blind Beach to Shell Beach. The trail starts from the cliffs above Blind Beach, overlooking Goat Rock just to the north. The trail heads south along the exposed coastal bluffs to Shell Beach, a sandy pocket beach surrounded by jagged offshore rocks. En route to the beach are southward views that span all the way to Point Reyes.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Cabernet Sauvignon, the venerable statesman
Rodney Strong, 2015 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% alcohol, $20. ★★★★
This is a cab that clearly overdelivers. It has generous fruit — black cherry and black raspberry — with herbs and spicy oak. It has good structure with firm tannins and a nice length.
J. Lohr, 2015 Hilltop, Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9%, $35. ★★★★: This is a pretty cab with black raspberry fruit, herbs and spice, and the flavors meld together seamlessly. The cab has good balance, ripe tannins and a lingering finish. It’s well-crafted.
Duckhorn, 2014 Three Palms Vineyard, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9%, $98. ★★★★: This is a gorgeous cab with notes of black raspberry fruit, and notes of cinnamon and clove in the mix. It has a soft and supple texture, with ripe tannins. Nice length. Striking.
Cliff Lede, 2015 Stag’s Leap District, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 15%, $78. ★★★★: This is a striking cab with complex aromas and flavors. It has notes of jasmine, black currant, blackberry, cinnamon and black pepper. The Cliff Lede has bright acidity and great balance. Top rate.
Justin, 2015 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5%, $25. ★★★1/2: This is a savory cab with dried herbs at the forefront, while cherry and black currant fruit play backup. What melds it together is a hint of caramel. Smart.