Sand Dunes at Abbotts Lagoon

A recent Valentine’s Day visit to Abbotts Lagoon took us past the lagoon, adventuring along the sand dunes.

Abbotts Lagoon is an area within Point Reyes National Seashore, Northern California.

More info: Abbotts Lagoon Wikipedia.

Point Reyes is a unique place on earth because it is at the junction of two major tectonic plates: Pacific and North American. Located in the San Andreas Fault Zone, the Point Reyes peninsula has, as you can see from the map at the end, been slowly separating from the U.S. mainland over eons of tectonic movement. Wikipedia says “In the 1906 earthquake, Point Reyes moved north 21 ft (6.4 m).”

This ongoing plate movement has yielded many different land formations in Point Reyes.

Abbotts Lagoon, located on the northwest tip of the peninsula, has a two-stage lagoon, sandstone cliffs, and ocean beaches.

Link: U.S. Geological Survey on Point Reyes

The trail starts at the parking lot on Pierce Point Road and is 3.6 miles long–to the ocean and back. For the first mile-and-a-half, the trail is gravel and relatively flat and lies in a protected valley. The surrounding terrain is coastal chaparral.

There are always California quail, white-crowned sparrows, and black-tailed deer in this section.

But the closer we get to the sea, the more things change. The gravel under your feet turns to sand.

Then slight hills begin to lift the hiker out of the valley, the dunes come into view, and we are greeted by brisk ocean winds. This photo (below) shows the lagoon in the lower half of the photo, the dunes in the middle, and the Pacific Ocean just above the dunes revealing whitecaps on our February day.

Although the sand is loose, vegetation takes hold in some places.

The trail ends at the upper lagoon and ocean; there’s a short bridge to cross. At different times of the year we see otters frolicking beneath the bridge. There were no otters that day, but we did find recent otter prints in the sand. In a couple more months, swallows will start nesting on the bridge’s underside.

Foraging around the lagoon are a variety of waders and ducks. That day we saw common mergansers; some days we have seen large flocks of white pelicans here, also cormorants, gulls, herons and many species of shore birds.

This great egret was enjoying a fishy snack.

We also came across three piles of feathers and bones, presumably from a prowling coyote’s success the night before.

Turkey vultures partake in these events too.

Beach strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis), vines and flowers, were taking hold in the loose sand. Chilly February temperatures will eventually give way to warmer days when the strawberries will leaf out more.

This giant tree has been occupying the beach through all the decades I have hiked here. It is a popular place for hikers to stop and take a rest from the laboring loose-sand walk, and little kids climb all over it. We perched here and turned our backs to the wind, enjoying the fresh air and moody sky.

At this point, the beach starts to open up, leading to the ocean’s shoreline. Climbing the dunes yields ocean views.

This area of open sand is meticulously marked and roped off from Memorial Day to Labor Day to give the snowy plovers a safe, protective place to lay their eggs in the sand.

But on a gusty Valentine’s Day, there were no snowy plovers and few humans…and my heart was filled with the beauty and wildness that is Abbotts Lagoon.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Point Reyes map. Courtesy Wikipedia.

104 thoughts on “Sand Dunes at Abbotts Lagoon

    • Thanks for your kind words, Hien. I realized when I was writing this post that I have never actually seen a strawberry on the beach plant. It might be that critters eat them pretty quickly, as there isn’t much tasty fruit around the sand and chaparral. Thanks very much, Hien.

  1. Jet I felt as if I was walking right beside you. So peaceful, well save for the incredible wildlife. I smiled at the determination of the beach strawberry plants. Amazing how plants can adapt to their environment. It took me some time to see the third brush rabbit tucked in the grass. The other two look unfazed by your presence.
    Hope all is well and very best wishes to you and Athena.

    • Oh so wonderful to hear from you, Sue. And how nice that we could take a vicarious hike together this morning to the dunes at Abbotts Lagoon. I love that you looked for the third brush rabbit. I only just saw that third one minutes before I published this. And I agree with you, it is amazing how plants, like the beach strawberry, adapt to their environment. I find them inspiring. My warmest thanks to you, Sue, and Dave too. Sending lots of smiles and warm wishes your way.

  2. This looks like a lovely place to spend the day exploring. I could feel the warmth in spite of the brisk sea air. So much nicer than our near freezing temperatures just now. And always something interesting to see.

    • Yes, it’s chilly on the coast but nothing like the freezing temperatures you have up in BC right now, Anneli. So I’m glad I could vicariously share some mild weather and adventure here with you today. Thanks for stopping by.

      • I’ve been on that California coast about 25 years ago and your photos always bring me back to the sounds and smells and the warm temperatures, sometimes with a cool refreshing breeze.

    • It was wonderful to share the Abbotts Lagoon walk with you, Andrea, in the present season as well as the past. I like that strawberry flower in the sand photo too. It’s a curious thing to see strawberries in the sand. My warmest thanks for your visit and words, Andrea.

    • Oh yes, Mike, I do love how noble those quail look. I see Calif. quail just about every day and I never ever tire of them. In addition to their elegant markings, there is a comical side to the way they move, and a distinctive flutter to their wingbeats, in addition to their many calls. Thanks for your comment, Mike, it was great to have you stop by.

  3. Beautiful overview of this serene and surprising place. The gentle hike leading to the dunes and ocean is such a satisfying nature experience. Love Athena’s images and your description, Jet. Thanks for bringing back some great memories. 😍

    • How lovely to have you stop by, Jane, and I am so glad this post brought back sweet memories of your visits to Abbotts Lagoon. Your new gravatar is great, it’s nice to know what you look like. Thanks for your warm words and visit, much appreciated and enjoyed.

    • Right-o, Jan, we could not think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day either. I’m glad you enjoyed the quail shot. You and I both see a fair share of Calif. quail, fortunately, and it never gets old, does it. Cheers and thanks to you, Jan.

  4. What a great way to spend a day! Loved the photographs and your narrative – it’s always a delight when you share these special places, and a brisk ocean walk in February offers as much and more than those taken in summer. Quieter, at any rate…
    Thanks, Jet!

    • Yes, we were especially thrilled on that brisk day at Abbotts Lagoon, because there were few people out. Much like you, pc, my favorite nature events are the ones with less people. I’m glad I could bring you on the walk vicariously, my friend, it is such a lovely place to be. Thanks so very much.

  5. What a delightful walk, Jet! Quail amuse me because they look like plump, buxom women but run like the world’s fastest sprinters!! 🙂 I can see why you enjoy this area. Too bad it’s so far away from SoCal…in all sorts of ways.

    • California quail are amusing, Janet, I totally agree. They run as if their legs are little wheels. And thanks for joining me on the Abbotts Lagoon walk, it was great having you along.

    • How wonderful to “see” you, Val, and thanks for joining me on the Abbotts Lagoon walk. I know you have found great joy here in Point Reyes–you and I have this in common, which is great. Thank you.

    • I’m smiling, Eilene, happy that you went back and found the third rabbit. As for the kink in an egret’s neck, it is a curious thing. Many times I have seen an egret/heron swallow a large fish whole, and you can actually see it stuck in that kink! Many thanks, Eilene.

  6. Great photo of the White Crown sparrow. I had never heard of beach strawberries but understand they’re related to our strawberries. The world is a cleaner place thanks to the vulture’s.

    • Yes, the world is indeed a cleaner place thanks to the vultures, Bill. I like that photo of the white-crowned sparrow, too–his beautiful enthusiasm in singing that song. Much love and thanks for your visit today.

    • We Californians love our California quail, don’t we, Cindy. How lovely that is. Thanks so much for your delightful visit and comment today. Sending smiles your way, my friend.

  7. What a perfectly lovely hike for Valentine’s Day… that sparrow looked to be belting out quite a greeting! Or serenading the two of you! Personally, I think the vultures get a bad rap. They are the much needed cleanup crew. I’ve never actually seen a strawberry on the beach. Seems they disappear when they get close to ripe… 😉
    Another lovely stroll and visit! Thank you.

    • Always a joy to have you stop by, Gunta. Usually you are taking me to the beach in your posts, so I’m glad I could share some of the beach with you this time. And I agree with you, I have never actually seen an actual strawberry on those plants either. My thanks for your visit and fun comment about the sparrow and vultures and strawberries.

      • You brought back a memory of seeing a strawberry once… it was still solid white. Not even tempting, but the next time I went by the spot it seemed to have disappeared… Hmmmm? Here we are so close to the ocean, but it’s a bit unsettling being out amongst the vagabonds, the ones who are averse to protecting themselves as well as others. 😒 At least we’ve had some rain with more promised. January was far, far too dry.

    • I like your words here, Craig, about the mystery and beauty that is Abbotts Lagoon. I’m enjoying your words from Murder They Wrote, too. I found myself looking at a wisp of fog yesterday wondering if it was Jason Fogg. Isn’t that funny?

  8. Such an interesting place. Enjoyed the geological info, too; thanks for including it. I loved the happy little sparrow at the end who looked as if he was also singing with joy at the beauty of Pt Reyes!

    • Thanks very much, Nan. The next time you come to Calif. to visit us, I really want to take you and Bill to Abbotts Lagoon. We’ve become so familiar with it during the pandemic, it’ll be a great pleasure to share it with you. Thanks so much for your visit today.

  9. Had to laugh at myself, I read the location to fast and thought it was at first in North Carolina and then I saw the California Quail and went “huh?”. Went back and read more carefully and saw that it was Northern California – sometimes my speed reading leads me astray ha! Not familiar with this place, but will add it to my to-do list when I make it back west.

    • Surprisingly, I have seen Calif. Quail in Nevada and Washington State, but you’re right, Brian, they’re not a denizen of NC. I’m glad you re-read and enjoyed the Abbotts Lagoon post. Cheers to you on this Sunday morning.

  10. What a wonderful hike you took me along on! Just what I needed after yesterday’s foot of snow here in Central Massachusetts. A much needed calm time after the anxiety of world events as well. Thanks, Jet!

  11. I wish I’d been more interested in nature when I lived in California, and I wish I’d had you as a guide then. You post about so many places, like this one, that I could have explored but didn’t, because I didn’t know they existed! What a wonderful spot this is. The biggest surprise was the beach strawberries. Our ‘Indian strawberries’ are edible but not tasty, and they have a yellow flower. I know there are wild strawberries, but had no idea any of them lived on a beach. Have you tasted them?

    • I, too, had another life, Linda, when I didn’t know about nature. Thank goodness you and I did come to find it, because we both know what a blissful layer it adds to our existence. I’m glad I could share Abbotts Lagoon with you here, and yes, you would like it here. I have never tasted a beach strawberry and I have never actually seen one. I thought about this as I was composing this post. I think they don’t stay on the vine long, get eaten quickly. I have read they’re not very “palatable.” Wonderful to “see” you, Linda, as always.

  12. Oh, how cool that deer still had velvet on its antlers! It’s a beautiful reserve and you’re right walking/hiking in that sand is a workout! It looks like it was beautiful day and a lovely way to spend some of your Valentine’s Day.

  13. Pingback: Sand Dunes at Abbotts Lagoon — Jet Eliot |

  14. Does the 3.6-mile round-trip trek to the ocean keep this lagoon relatively unvisited? If so, that would contrast with a place like Muir Woods, which was mobbed on the Saturday when we visited it in 2016.

    • A true honor to share the bliss of Abbotts Lagoon with you, Carol. Dogs are not allowed year-round in this area which helps protect all the ground wildlife (like quail); and then during plover nesting season it’s especially great. There are signs posted and lots of roped off area for the plovers, and visitors comply. We have never seen the snowy plover there, or anywhere, even though we have looked, but I’m still hoping we will. My warmest thanks for your visits, Carol, it’s been delightful.

      • Thanks Jet. Much as I like dogs, they do not mix well with wildlife and especially with ground-nesting birds, so it is nice to hear that the Lagoon area is protected, and also that visitors comply with staying away from the plovers’s nesting areas. I hope you get to see a snowy plover before too long.

  15. Wow…beach strawberries! Who’d a thunk it? 🙂 Plants have a way of adapting and populating such diverse habitats. On top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia one can find lowbush blueberry shrubs which are featured in many autumn photographs from up there. They grow in cracks in the rocks and in sand that has collected between the rocks. Hardy.
    I love that quail! What a handsome bird and a great shot by Athena. At a quick glance thos rabbits look huge and more doglike. They were a surprise on the dunes too. Another great natural history post, Jet.

    • Wonderful to receive your kind words, Steve. I’m glad you enjoyed the sand dunes and the quail, strawberries, and jackrabbits too. The jackrabbits are indeed huge, about the size of a small dog. I enjoyed hearing about the wild blueberries in Maine, too. We have so many incredible living beings on this plant, yes? Many thanks and big smiles to you, Steve.

  16. That is a wonderful tour of this special place, Jet. Beautiful birds there. I love the California quail especially, I have not seen them in Texas.

    • Thank you, Amy. I just looked at the range map for the Calif. quail, to find that this bird species does not live in TX. They reside in the western coastal states and in spots in NV and UT. So I am glad I could bring this handsome bird to you in my post. Warm thanks for your visit.

    • Thanks for your visit, ACI, and I’m glad you enjoyed the day at Point Reyes. I, too, love that shot of the white-crowned sparrow singing his little heart out. That species is abundant at Abbotts Lagoon, and I never ever tire of seeing and hearing them. Delightful to “see” you.

  17. Happy Saturday, Jet!!! Thank You and Athena for this!!! You have gifted such a huge smile on my face and in my heart. My God….California is sooooo beautiful!!! I have to get back and visit someday!!! Cheers, huge hugs and Rock On!!! 🤗💕😊

    • I am so glad I could enlighten you with the joys of Abbotts Lagoon, Kirt. Point Reyes is a very special place, if you ever return to the Bay Area. My warmest wishes to you as you settle into your new home.

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