IntroductionPoint Reyes is a park 1.5 hours northwest of San Francisco. It is a rewarding place, both in terms of quantity, quality and variety of landscapes, trails and wildlife. I rank it as best Bay Area park. In fact, nowhere else in the Bay Area can you see so much wildlife in the same place.
Unfortunately, it is cursed with the same weather as San Francisco: the fog is ubiquitous, especially in the summer. Best time to see it is in winter, late fall and early spring. Spring also brings a deluge of flowers. Mid january to mid march is whale-migration season.
Directions from San Francisco: take the Sir Francis Drake Blvd/ San Anselmo exit off 101 (exit 450B), drive west on Sir Fracis Blvd through San Anselmo and Fairfax for about 20 minutes. It dead ends in Olema, past the Samuel Taylor Park. Turn right and immediately left. The visitor center will be on the left handside.
Elephant seals can be seen off Chminey Rock, Point Reyes Beach and Drakes Beach from december till april.
Sea Lions can be seen at Sea Lion Cove, near the lighthouse.
Harbor seals can be seen at Double Point and Drakes Estero from april till july.
Point Reyes rangers: 415 464-5100
Warning: racoons in Pt Reyes cause a lot more damage than bears in Yosemite.
Camping in and around Pt Reyes:
Lodging in and around Pt Reyes:
Lodging in Inverness:
Lodging in Olema:
Lodging in Bolinas:
Lodging in Stinson Beach:
Pictures of these hikes (Click on Bay Area and Pt Reyes).
Pacific Coast trailPictures of this hike (Click on Bay Area and Pt Reyes - Coast Trail).
Note: this one-way hike requires shuttling cars so you have one when you reach the end of the trail.
This would not be a strenous hike because of steep grades, but the distance is trying and thus makes it moderately strenuous. It is one of the
greatest hikes in California. Make sure the weather forecast is not "fog"
because that could spoil most of the fun.
(The weather forecast is always "fog" from may till september, but sometimes
frequently burns off after 2pm, so calculate to maximize the time between
2pm and 7pm on the trail).
If you instead followed the Coast Trail, turn left at the junction to reach Arch Rock. This is a 1 km detour but worth it for impressive views both south and north from Arch Rock.
Return to the junction with the Coast Trail and head north. After 1km you reach Kelham Beach. The sign is hardly visible. I recognize the turnout because of the giant eucalyptus tree. It is the only giant tree on your left handside and it comes right after a little canyon that forced the trail to head inland. Right after the tree there is a use trail that descends steeply to the beach. Return to the Coastal Trail and resume the trek north.
The trail moves away from the coast but you will notice a very prominent bluff.
If you are lucky, you can find use trails that take you to that bluff without
too much damage to your body (the vegetation is really thorny here even if you
avoid the poison oak). That bluff has majestic views of the coast and of the
double bridge down below.
During low tide (-1 and lower) it is possible to reach Sculptured Beach in a slightly more adventurous way: when the trail makes a sharp hairpin to cross a creek on a bridge, follow the creek down to the beach. The creek ends in a 3-meter waterfall, but 20 meters to its right (north) there's a way to descend to the beach. It is not visible at all from the edge of the bluff, so you have to descend a bit at the time and keep looking for ways to descend safely. If you are doing something scary, you didn't find the right way. When you are doing (at that point you are maybe 5 meters from the tiny waterfall), turn right on the beach. You will already see the Finger Rock which marks the southern tip of Sculptured Beach. If the tide is low enough, you can walk on rocks without getting wet and then through a keyhole to get to the Finger Rock. Just before the keyhole, you should explore the cave to your right: it opens up into a giant cylindric structure with no roof.
Sculptured Beach is famous for its tunnels and caves that are normally underwater. During low-tide you can see plenty of starfish, sea anemones, etc.
If you explored Sculptured Beach, it means that the tide is low enough to continue north along the beach all the way to the Limantour parking lot. If not, climb the stairs back to the Coastal Trail and resume the trek north. In less than 2 km you will reach Coast Camp. Another recommended detour is to the top of the hill overlooking the Coast Camp, the hill marked by a strange fortress-like boulder. To climb this hill, start at the bridge 300m after the junction with the Woodward trail. Walk upstream 200-300m. When the vegetation allows it, start climbing straight up. You should soon be out of the vegetation and climbing along the ridge. At the top you get a view of Drake's Estero, besides the obvious view of the entire gulf from Limantour Beach to Chimney Rock. You can descend on the other side, heading more or less straight for Coast Camp.
From Coast Camp one can either reach the Youth Hostel or (more conveniently) Limantour Beach. The Coast Trail is parallel to the beach but eventually bends right (inland). At that point you have to head for the beach. The trail also makes a couple of wild curves to go around little canyons. An alternative to following the Coast Trail is to simply go down to the beach (possible from here even with high tide) and walk on sand the rest of the route: from the group campsite 8AB of the Coast Camp leave the Coast Trail and walk left to the beach. Then turn right (north) and just walk along the beach (tip: the sand is harder near the water).
Whichever way you went, the last km is going to be on the beach.
Look for footprints and it should be obvious where the parking lot is, but
sometimes it is not, especially if you get here after sunset.
You can climb the sand dunes to spot the parking lot beyond a little lagoon.
As a general rule, it takes about 30 minutes to reach the Limantour parking
lot from the Coast Camp along the beach.
There is non-potable water at Wildcat Camp and potable water at Coast Camp, but nowhere else along this trail. If you do this in the winter, it will be cold because it's winter. If you do this in the summer, it can be very cold because of fog/wind (in fact, it is either cold because of the wind or cold because of the fog).
Thus this is a very intense hike. Summarizing, the main attractions/detours are:
Pictures of this hike (Click on Bay Area and Pt Reyes - Coast Trail)
Timetable (October 2001):
Timetable (May 2006):
Driving directions to Palomarin from San Francisco:
Driving directions to the Coast Camp:
Sky trail from Bear Valley visitor center to Arch Rock
From the visitor center take the Bear Valley trail till the first junction (200m).
The Wittenberg Trail leads to the top of Mt Wittenberg (3km).
Calculate about one hour from the trailhead to the first major junction after the top.
The Sky trail leads from Mt Wittenberg down to the Coastal trail (7km).
Calculate about two hours from the trailhead to the junction with Baldy trail.
Turn left and reach the junction with Arch Rock (500m).
Turn right to Arch Rock (400m).
Calculate about three hours from the trailhead to Arch Rock.
Back to the junction (400m).
Continue straight on the Bear Valley fire road to the visitor center (6.5km).
Calculate about 1.5 hours from Arch Rock back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 18km (about 4.5 hours)
Northern beaches to Abbotts LagoonAbbotts Lagoon is one of the most impressive sights in Pt Reyes. It is a lagoon near the ocean surrounded by Sahara-style sand dunes. There is a short trail from the road to Abbotts Lagoon.
The "northern beaches" are McClures Beach and Kehoe Beach, both north of Abbotts Lagoon and both relatively close to the road. As wild hikers know, there is no trail between the two beaches but it is possible to hike from one to the other... during low tide. The trail, in other words, enters the ocean. Even with low tide, expect to get wet up to your waist.
We left one car at Abbotts Lagoon parking lot then we shuttled everybody to the McClures Beach parking lot. We hiked from McClures Beach to Kehoe Beach. The first pass at the beginning is well marked. You get to a little beach, the first of a long series. Immediately after this beach you have to wade through rocks for about 20 meters. The water is not too deep here. The next passage is easier, as there is a tunnel that takes you to the next beach. You will see a waterfall on your left and you enter an area where it is relatively easy to explore the tidepools, even 50 meters into the ocean. To get to the next beach, walk under the arch and then wade your way through for about 10 meters. Now you are on a long beach dotted with rocks. When you get to the end of it, you are in real trouble because the water is very deep. Your best best is to climb the cliff until you see the keyhole. It requires a little bit of climbing skills. If you are overweight, this won't work, because the keyhole is barely 30 cms wide. It takes you straight to the other side, which is Kehoe beach.
From Kehoe beach to Abbotts Lagoon is simply a long walk on the beach. You could continue all the way to the lighthouse, except it's about 15 kms of sandy beach.
Needless to say, it is important to find out at what time the tide is low. Go to Point Reyes net and click on "Tide". The lower the tide, the less wet you get. We started hiking at 9am and that day the low tide was -1.6 at 10:37.
Dress as badly as you can and use your worst shoes. When you hike in the ocean, you want to keep your shoes on.
On this trip (May 18, 2002) we saw quite a bit of wildlife and flowers, including elks, whales, snakes, blackbirds, crabs, starfish, anemones (and lots of cows staring at us in disbelief from the promontories). The tidepools are a show in itself.
Visitor Center to Sculptured Beach to Arch RockThis hike makes sense only on a day of low tide and possibly in winter when chances of fog are minimal. Any other season you are likely to see nothing because of the fog. If the tide is not low you will wonder what is special about this beach and never go back again. So i strongly recommend you pick a day of low tide (below zero) in winter.
From the Bear Valley visitor center take the Wittenberg Trail to Mt Wittenberg (3km), then down the Woodward Valley trail the Coastal trail (7 kms).
Turn right and pay attention to the
tiny sign for Sculptured Beach (8 km). You can frolic around the beach and return
from the same stairs or find a way to rejoin the trail further up where
two tiny waterfalls drop onto the beach. Continue on the Coastal trail
until Arch Rock (12 km). You can return to the visitor center on the fire road, Bear Valley trail (19 km) or
take an extra detour to Wildcat Camp (24 km) and then return to the visitor
center from there (5 km on the Glen trail plus 5 km on the Bear Valley trail
for a total of 34 km).
Five Brooks to Sculptured Beach to Sky CampThis hike makes sense only on a day of low tide and possibly in winter when chances of fog are minimal. Any other season you are likely to see nothing because of the fog. If the tide is not low you will wonder what is special about this beach and never go back again. So i strongly recommend you pick a day of low tide (below zero) in winter.
This is a one way hike that requires a car parked at the Sky trailhead n Limantour Rd. Start from Five Brooks trailhead that is on highWAY 1 between Bolinas and Olema. Both trailheads are well-marked if you pay attention. Below is suggest an itinerary that skips Arch Rock, assuming that you've seen Arch Rock some other way. If not, modify the route so that you go through Arch Rock.
Take the Greenpicker trail (many forks but just stay on it), which eventually summits at Fir Top, then the Glen Camp Loop, then cross the Bear Valley trail to continue on the very steep Baldy trail. Just after the summit take a left turn on Sky trail down to the Coast trail. Turn right. When you have a clear view down below of a finger-like rock formation, pay attention to your left. The turnout to Sculptured Beach is not well marked but it is the first trail on your left. If you get to the fork for Woodward Valley, just retraced your steps 30 minutes. Go down to Sculptured Beach, turn left and hop up and down the various rock formations. It's an amusement park. At the end of the beach, just past the finger, go through the keyhole. Make sure you have enough time to walk back before the tide rises. On the other side of the keyhole there is an open cave that i call the "Pantheon". Continue up the beach to two tiny waterfalls. You can keep walking to Kehoe Beach and explore more caves.
On a day of low tide, lazy hikers can also reach Sculptured Beach by simply walking from the Limantour parking lot south along the beach.
When you're done with Sculptured Beach, retrace your steps back to the Coast Trail and turn left (north). Turn right into the Woodward Valley trail. On a sunny day you have the best views of the area. Then turn left on the Sky trail to the end at Limantour Rd via Sky Camp.
Palomarin to Crystal Lake via Alamere FallsSee the directions to get to Palomarin and follow the instructions to Alamere Falls. Once you're done with the falls, retrace your steps to the junction with the the Crystal Lake trail (closed in 2010). Past Crystal Lake, the trail joins the Lake Ranch trail (about 1h30' from the Coast trail to the Lake Ranch trail), which climbs towards the Ridge Trail (15 minutes). From here (for those who are tired or who want to shuttle cars) you have an escape route to the Five Brooks trailhead on Highway 1 (about 1.5 hours). Otherwise turn right into the Ridge Trail and follow it to its dead end on the unpaved road. Make sure you turn right at the junction with the Teixeira Trail (don't go to Teixera). It's about one hour from the Lake Ranch trail to the Teixeira junction. It's about 40 minutes from there to the last junction. This is an unnamed fork. Take the right branch that leads to the trailhead for the Ridge Trail on the unpaved road near the bird observatory. Turn right and walk 1 km to the Palomarin parking lot.
Take the Limantour Rd and park at the second major trailhead, named Bayview. Take the fire road (not the small trail on the left). After a few minutes it will intersect a paved road (private property) but then you will find it again on the left about 100 meters up. The trail is wide and easy to follow. After the first major junction, you will start seeing views of the fjord on your right. Reyes Hill is the mountain in front of you (Mt Vision is behind). Eventually the trail narrows and gets steeper. At the top there is a fenced government structure. Now you have views also of the southern (left) part: the Estero, the beach, etc. Continue on the paved road that descends to a gate. To the right of the gate you can find a use trail that is usually in very good conditions. It leads tunnel-like through a dead forest. You are now on top of Mt Vision, although you can't see anywhere because you are in the middle of the forest. The best views are in fact from the other side of the paved road.
Estero LoopStart from Limantour Beach. Follow the Estero trail all the way to Sunset Beach (12kms). Retrace your steps from Sunset Beach to Estero trail until the junction with White Gate (4 kms). Turn left on White Gate to Hollow Rd to the parking lot (5 kms). Walk down the paved road to the Limantour parking lot (2 kms). Total: 23 kms.
The best way to experience the Estero is probably to hike one-way from the Estero trailhead to Limantour Beach or to Muddy Hollow Rd, but this requires leaving a car at the Muddy Hollow trailhead and starting the hike from the Estero trailhead. To get to the Estero trailhead drive through Inverness and follow the signs for the lighthouse. The trailhead is on the left handside past the junction with Pierce Rd. Park there an follow the trail for 4kms (about one hour). There are many picture spots along this stretch. At the first junction, turn left. Here you are likely to lose the trail. There is a road between two lines of barbed wire. You should stay on the road. After a concrete water tank (that will be on the right handside) the trail start descending. It then proceeds north and east. At this point it is relatively well marked. If you did not miss it, you will reach the junction with the Glenbrook trail (about two hours from the beginning). Here you can go right (and do the longer route) or left (White Gate, the shorter route). If you turn left you are hiking on the White Gate trail that takes you to Muddy Hollow Rd (not muddy at all) which takes you to the Muddy Hollow trailhead (plenty of parking). The whole trail is 11km according to the official map, but probably 12/13 km. It took me 3.5 hours at a brisk pace. If you turn right, you make it 3km longer and it will take you at least two hours to get to Limantour Beach.
One can then continue to Sculptured Beach and get the best of both worlds.
Tomales Point and Abbotts Lagoon
They are both easy round-trip hikes.
For Tomales Point: elk can be seen from the trail but, needless to say, there are many elk that do not stand next to the trail to be photographed by tourists, so it is a good idea to leave the trail every now and then and check what's to the right and to the left. Just after Bird Island and before Tomales Point proper there is a use trail on the left that affords spectacular views on the beaches below.
For Abbotts Lagoon: the lagoon is divided in two sections. The first water
that you see from the parking lot is freshwater. This is not connected to
the lagoon proper (that you see only when you get close enough). The trail ends
at the narrow strip of land that separates the two sections. The second
section, the lagoon proper
(saltwater), is usually completely surrounded by sand dunes. Beyond the western
and the northern sand dunes are the beaches and the ocean.