After Tracey, of San Anselmo, hiked to what she called "beautiful, clean, sunny" Bass Lake, she went onto a message board in June to urge those who are considering trying the Bolinas attraction to "Go. Go. Go now." "The trail was a little overgrown. But I had fun swimming nude in the lake," says regular user Dave Smith, of San Leandro, about his adventure last year. "If you want to visit an enchanted lake, Bass is it," agrees Ryan, also of the East Bay. "Tree branches reach over the water, forming a magical canopy, and huge bunches of calla lilies bloom on the shore."
Ryan isn't kidding: even walking (45-60 minutes from the parking area over 2.8 relatively easy miles) to Bass Lake can be an adventure unlike any other. One time, rangers stopped and cited a clad man who had an unleashed dog, but let the nudists continue. And Smith, who unusually walks naked, has come across bobcats and mountain lions early in the morning. "I came around a corner and there was a mountain lion sitting like Egypt's Great Sphinx of Giza 50 yards down the path," he says. Another time, he passed a bend and saw a puma running up the path away from him.
But Bass doesn't attract as many nudists as it did 10 years ago. "When I first went, everybody was nude," says Smith, who usually leads a group of Bay Area Naturists once a year for picnicking and swimming outings at Bass, which, by the way, doesn't have any bass fish.
"It's a victim of its own success," says Pat. "It's not as nude as before. Sometimes, nudists there are even ostracized. The vibe has changed. Today, most people are cool if you take off your clothes, but some are kind of freaked out.
Although better shoes are advised, you'll probably see locals wearing flip flops on the trail with either swimsuits under t-shirts or no suits at all, with towels in packs or around their necks.
Occasional visitor Reese Smith, who led a naturist hike there in September 2010, calls it "gorgeous. It was definitely a good day." Another fan, who's a Bay Area judge, rates the water as "exquisite." Michael Velkoff, who sometimes shows up, says "it's good place to bring an air mattress" and water shoes, although he prefers sandals.
For the thick and grassy, but sometimes prickly, meadow that visitors use like a lawn in late summer or fall, include a thick towel or sheet in your backpack. Visitor Mark of San Francisco suggests using care if you decide to try the lake's rope swing to jump up to 20 feet into the water. Inexperienced rope swingers have injured themselves. To prevent mishaps, use both hands on the rope, start with small swings, avoid getting tangled or hitting a tree, and land in the water, away from shore, not the ground, he urges.
Part of Point Reyes National Seashore.
How to find it:
From Stinson Beach, go north on Highway 1. Just north of Bolinas Lagoon, turn left on the often-unmarked exit to Bolinas. Follow the road as it curves along the lagoon and eventually ends at Olema-Bolinas Road, and continue along Olema-Bolinas Road to the stop sign at Mesa Road. Turn right on Mesa and drive four miles, until it becomes a dirt road and ends at a parking lot. On hot days the lot fills quickly, so come early; says Smith, "We once saw hundreds of cars." A sign at the trailhead next to the lot will guide you down scenic Palomarin Trail, which begins as an old fire road and then narrows. From the grassy meadow mentioned above, it's just a few easy yards to the water's edge via any of three paths. One veers to the right; another, more eroded and plant clogged, starts to the left of the meadow; and another, newer trail is between the others. Users usually find an opening in the foliage and several rocks to jump from. Crews usually clip back poison oak and other foliage next to the trails each spring.
The amazing thing is that even when it's foggy at the trailhead, it's often clear at the oblong-shaped, 100-yard-long, spring-fed lake, whose temperature remains constant throughout the year. "It's very clean," says Dave Smith. "And it's so deep that when I swim there with goggles, it turns dark even though I'm not near the bottom." The area is surrounded by beautiful hills.
The percentage of nudity really varies at Bass, depending on the day and the weather. There could be hardly any skinny-dippers present (Smith was the only person to swim nude during his May visit; Robert Carlsen, of Sacramento, counted five of 75-to-100 visitors on a spring day) to half the crowd (10 of 20 seen by the Bay Area judge on a June outing). "Nonnudists have streamed into the area," says Pat. "More people are leaving their suits on and are bringing their dogs, radios, and beer." But once someone starts swimming naked, others sometimes follow. For even more fun and adventure, try the lake's rope swing (please see tips above).
Trail sometimes overgrown; instead of a "beach," Bass Lake is rimmed by a meadow that's often muddy or, depending on the season, prickly; long trek; poison oak on rope swing path.