Point Reyes National Seashore: Wikis


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Point Reyes National Seashore
IUCN Category V (Protected Landscape/Seascape)
Location Marin County, California, USA
Nearest city San Francisco, California
Coordinates 38°03′36″N 122°53′07″W / 38.06°N 122.88528°W / 38.06; -122.88528Coordinates: 38°03′36″N 122°53′07″W / 38.06°N 122.88528°W / 38.06; -122.88528
Area 71,068 acres (287.60 km2)
Established September 13, 1962
Visitors 2,232,082 (in 2007)
Governing body National Park Service
Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a 70,000-acre (280 km2) park preserve located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, California, USA. As a national seashore, it is maintained by the US National Park Service as a nationally important nature preserve within which existing agricultural uses are allowed to continue. Clem Miller, a US Congressman from Marin County wrote and introduced the bill for the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 to protect the peninsula from residential development which was proposed at the time for the slopes above Drake's Bay. Miller's vision included the continuation of the historic ranching and oyster farming along with the preservation of the grasslands and open scenic vistas. The mix of commercial and recreational uses was the reason the area was designated a National Seashore rather than a National Park.

Point Reyes was one of the locations where the 1980 horror film The Fog was filmed.[1]



The Point Reyes peninsula is a well defined area, geologically separated from the rest of Marin County and almost all of the continental United States by a rift zone of the San Andreas Fault,[2] about half of which is sunk below sea level and forms Tomales Bay. The fact that the peninsula is on a different tectonic plate than the east shore of Tomales Bay produces a difference in soils and therefore to some extent a noticeable difference in vegetation.

The small town of Point Reyes Station, although not actually located on the peninsula, nevertheless provides most services to it, though some services are also available at Inverness on the west shore of Tomales Bay. The even smaller town of Olema, about three miles south of Point Reyes Station, serves as the gateway to the Seashore and its visitor center, located on Bear Valley Road.

The peninsula includes wild coastal beaches and headlands, estuaries, and uplands, with a coastline that bears a striking resemblance to Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Although parts of the Seashore are commercially farmed, and parts are under the jurisdiction of other conservation authorities, the National Park Service provides signage and seeks to manage visitor impact on the entire peninsula and virtually all of Tomales Bay. The Seashore also administers the parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation area, such as the Olema Valley, that are adjacent to the Seashore.

The northernmost part of the peninsula is maintained as a reserve for tule elk, which are readily seen there. The preserve is also very rich in raptors and shorebirds.[2]

The Point Reyes Lighthouse attracts whale-watchers looking for the Gray Whale migrating south in mid-January and north in mid-March.

The Point Reyes Lifeboat Station is a National Historic Landmark. It is the last remaining example of a rail launched lifeboat station that was common on the Pacific coast.

Kule Loklo, a recreated Coast Miwok Native American village, is a short walk from the visitor center.

More than 30,000 acres of the Point Reyes National Seashore are designated as the Phillip Burton Wilderness, named in honor of California Congressman Phillip Burton, who wrote the legislation creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and was instrumental in helping to pass the California Wilderness Act of 1984.

The Point Reyes National Seashore attracts 2.5 million visitors annually.


Bear Valley Trail is the most popular hike in the park. Taking off from the visitor's center, it travels mostly streamside through a shaded, fern-laden canyon, breaking out at Divide Meadow before heading gently downward to the coast, where it emerges at the spectacular ocean view at Arch Rock. Three trails connecting from the west with the Bear Valley trail head upward toward Mt. Wittenberg, at 1,407 feet (429 m), the highest point in the park.[2]

Across the parking lot at the Visitor's Center is the Earthquake Trail which is a 0.6 mile loop that runs directly over the San Andreas Fault, deep underground. so that it is possible to stand straddling the fault line. The trail provides descriptions of the fault and the surrounding geology, and there is a fence that was pulled 18 feet apart during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.[3]

At the western end of the Point Reyes Peninsula is the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, reached by descending 308 steps. Unlike many lighthouses, that were built high so the light could be seen by ships far out to sea, the Point Reyes lighthouse was built low to get the light below the fog that is so prevalent in the area. Nearby is the short Chimney Rock hike, which is noted for its spring wildflower displays.[2]

As befitting a national seashore, Point Reyes offers several beach walks. Limantour Spit winds up on a narrow sandy beach, from which Drakes Beach can be glimpsed across Drakes Bay. North Beach and South Beach are often windswept and wave-pounded. Ocean vistas from higher ground can be seen from the Tomales Point Trail and, to the south, from the Palomarin trailhead at the park's southern entrance outside the town of Bolinas.

For backpackers, Point Reyes has four hike-in campgrounds available by reservation.

Headlands of the Point Reyes Peninsula from Chimney Rock. Elephant seals lie in the sand at the bottom right.


Fog rolling in from the Pacific at Point Reyes National Seashore.

In his book The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula, Jules Evens identifies several plant communities. One of the most prominent is the Coastal Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forest, which includes Coast live oak, Tanoak, and California bay and reaches across the southern half of Inverness Ridge toward Bolinas Lagoon. Unlogged parts of this Douglas-fir forest contain trees over 300 years old and up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter. But despite these large, old trees, the forest may nevertheless be a result of European settlement. The Coast Miwok people who once lived in the area set frequent fires to clear brush and increase game animal populations, and early explorers' accounts describe the hills as bare and grassy. But as the Native American settlements were replaced by European ones from the seventeenth century onward, the forests expanded as fire frequency decreased, resulting in the forests we see today.[4]

The Bishop pine (Pinus muricata) forest is found on slopes in the northern half of the park. Many of these trees growing in thick swaths came from seeds released after the 1995 Mt. Vision fire.

Salt, brackish, and freshwater marshlands are found adjacent to Drakes Estero and Abbotts Lagoon. The other communities identified by Evens are the coastal strand, dominated by European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria), ice plant (Carprobrotus edulis, also called sea fig or Hottentot fig), sea rocket (Cakile maritima) and other species that thrive on the immediate coast; northern coastal prairie, found on a narrow strip just inland from the coastal strand that includes some native grasses; coastal rangeland, the area still grazed by the cattle from the peninsula's remaining working ranches; northern coastal scrub, dominated by coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis); and the intertidal and subtidal plant communities.

Point Reyes is home to the only known population of the endangered Sonoma spineflower, Chorizanthe valida.[5]

Electric vehicles

The park rangers at Point Reyes National Seashore uses Toyota RAV4 electric vehicles. Because these RAVs are powered by the electric solar arrays on park buildings, they provide true zero-emission, zero-carbon, zero-petroleum transportation, helping meet the Park's environmental goals.[6]



External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Point Reyes, looking inland from the lighthouse
Point Reyes, looking inland from the lighthouse

Point Reyes National Seashore [1] is a United States National Seashore that is one of the Bay Area's overlooked treasures. Located at the westernmost tip of Marin County, it is a reasonable day trip from San Francisco, but also worth visiting as a destination on its own.



Aside from its natural beauty, Point Reyes is of some historical significance, as it is believed to be here that England's Sir Francis Drake came ashore during the summer of 1579, in order to careen his ship and repair its hull, during his circumnavigation of the globe. The ship's chaplain complained in his log of "the stinking fogges", so nothing much has changed.

The Point Reyes National Seashore was established by President John F. Kennedy on September 13, 1962.


Point Reyes lies at the tip of a narrow peninsular which sticks out some 15 miles into the Pacific Ocean. The point itself is significantly higher than the peninsular connecting it to the the mainland and gives spectacular views, especially from the lighthouse at its highest point. But be prepared for it to be either very windy or foggy.

Flora and fauna

Native land mammals number about 37 species and marine mammals augment this total by another dozen species. The biological diversity stems from a favorable location in the middle of California and the natural occurrence of many distinct habitats. Nearly 20% of the State's flowering plant species are represented on the peninsula and over 45% of the bird species in North America have been sighted.


Point Reyes Peninsula's climate is characterized by warm, dry summers and cool, rainy winters, similar to the type of climate that prevails on the Mediterranean. Usually, there are constant winds of moderate to strong velocity on the exposed headlands and outer beaches. Headlands and beaches on the Pacific Coast are subjected to frequent heavy fogs, most commonly during July, August and September. Sunshine and higher temperatures occur inland. The east side of Inverness Ridge and the beaches of Tomales Bay are sheltered from the summit of the ridge westward to the ocean, leaving sunny areas for picnicking and swimming. Inland temperatures in the summer are often 20 degrees warmer than temperatures on the Headlands and outer coast. The rainy season is December through March. Dressing in layered clothing is recommended.

Point Reyes area map
Point Reyes area map

By car

From Highway 101, take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard west through Fairfax and western Marin county to Highway 1. Turn right, and take the first left (almost immediately). The next left is the entrance to the seashore.

It's also possible to get to the park from Highway 1, north from Stinson Beach or south from Sonoma County.

  • West Marin Stagecoach, +1 (415) 526-3239, [2]. Provides limited public transportation on weekdays to and from their San Anselmo hub and a few other locations along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.


There are no entrance fees charged to visit Point Reyes. Permits are required for backcountry camping and for all fires. Overnight parking without a backcountry permit is not allowed.

Get around

The park is open daily (with overnight camping available by permit only) from sunrise to sunset throughout the year. Although some of the park's best attractions are accessible by car, the best way to get around in Point Reyes is by hiking. The park is crisscrossed with excellent and well-maintained hiking paths.

There are limited bike paths from the Bear Valley entrance, and of course bikes can be used on the park's roads, but single-track mountain biking isn't allowed on most trails.

  • Point Reyes Lighthouse. The historic lighthouse is located on the rocky promontory of the Point Reyes Headlands. The 300 steps that lead down to the Lighthouse are a short 0.4 miles from the parking area. After descending the stairs, the lighthouse is an excellent place to observe marine life. The Lighthouse Visitor Center is open 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Thursday through Monday. The stairs and exhibits are open from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM, weather permitting, with the lens room open as staffing and weather conditions permit. All facilities are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
  • Pierce Ranch. This renovated ranch dates back to 1858 and is representative of the agricultural heritage of this area. A short, self-guided trail guides visitors through the historic complex. The ranch, located at the end of Pierce Point Road on Tomales Bay, is open every day from sunrise to sunset.
  • The Great Beach. South Beach and North Beach make up an incredible expanse of over 10 miles of undeveloped ocean beach to roam - also known as "Point Reyes Beach." If you are looking for the drama of heavy surf this is the place to be. Drive-up access from North Beach or South Beach turnoffs. Dogs are allowed on a 6' leash on this beach. Dogs are not permitted north of the North Beach entrance as this area is protected habitat for the endangered snowy plover. Please be very cautious near the water as "sneaker waves" have been known to drag unwitting victims out to sea.



There are over 147 miles of hiking trails located within the park.

  • Earthquake Trail (0.6 mile round-trip). A short paved loop explores the San Andreas Fault Zone. Interpretive signs describe the geology of the area. The trail begins in the Bear Valley Picnic Area.
  • Kule Loklo Trail (1.0 mile round-trip). A short path leads up to a replica of a Coast Miwok Indian village. Interpretive signs briefly describe Coast Miwok culture and history and the structures in the village. The trail begins just outside of the front doors of the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
  • Woodpecker Trail (0.7 mile round-trip). A beautiful loop explores local forest and meadows, with interpretive signs describing some plants and animals you may see. The trail starts at the Bear Valley Trailhead.
  • Chimney Rock Trail (1.2 mile round-trip). A spectacular hike with views of Drakes Bay and the Pacific Ocean, great for spring wildflowers! From January through May, look for migrating whales from the point. The trail begins at the Chimney Rock Trailhead, near the Lighthouse.
  • Kehoe Beach Trail (1.2 mile round-trip). A flat trail through Kehoe Marsh and out to Kehoe Beach. Dogs are permitted on leash, but are not allowed in the beach area south of the trail in order to protect the snowy plover. Look for elusive brush rabbits, bobcats and mountain lions which are occasionally sighted in this area. The trail begins on Pierce Point Road.
  • McClures Beach Trail (1.2 mile round-trip). A rugged trail descends 300 feet down a ravine to the ocean and through a beautiful cove backed by rocky cliffs. The trails starts at the end of Pierce Point Road.
  • Divide Meadow via Bear Valley Trail (3.2 mile round-trip). A casual stroll through mixed Douglas fir forest and along Bear Valley Creek to an open grassy meadow. Several benches along the way offer great resting spots in the shade, and Divide Meadow is a nice picnic area in the sun. The trail begins at the Bear Valley Trailhead.
  • Mt. Wittenberg Loop (5 mile round-trip). A steep 1300' climb to the highest point in the park (1407'), with panoramic views of the Seashore and Olema Valley. The trailhead is located O.2 miles up the Bear Valley Trail.
  • Coast - Laguna Loop (5 mile round-trip). An easy walk through coastal scrub and grassland with breath-taking ocean-views. Keep your eyes open for hawks and shorebirds. The trail begins 15 minute driving time from the Bear Valley Visitor Center, off Limantour Road at Laguna Parking Lot.
  • Abbots Lagoon (3 mile round-trip). An easy stroll through open and coastal scrub, with good spring wildflowers and excellent birdwatching, especially in fall and winter. The trailhead is located 25 minutes from the Bear Valley Visitor Center on Pierce Point Road; the trailhead is clearly marked.
  • Bolinas Ridge Trail (2 - 22 mile round-trip). The best trail in the area for walking a dog, with views of Olema Valley. If you choose to continue beyond the first few miles, you will enter the redwood forest and eventually the chaparral. Turn around and retrace your steps whenever you are ready. The trail begins 5 minutes driving time from Bear Valley Visitor Center, on Sir Francis Drake Highway.
  • Arch Rock via Bear Valley (8.2 mile round-trip). Probably the single most popular trail in the park, the Bear Valley Trail is the most direct walk to the ocean from Bear Valley Visitor Center. Arch Rock is an overlook point. The trailhead is at the end of the Bear Valley Parking Lot. Note: there is no beach access at the end of the trail.
  • Bass Lake and Wildcat Beach (6 mile and 11 mile round-trips). The south end of Coast Trail begins with spectacular ocean views from far above the surf. Bass Lake is unofficially the best swimming at Point Reyes, but access can be challenging and there are no lifeguards-swim at your own risk! If you choose to continue to Wildcat you'll be rewarded with ocean and lake views and a beautiful beach! The trail starts at Palomarin Trailhead, located at the end of Mesa Road.
  • Tomales Point Trail (10 mile round-trip). This open trail through the Tule Elk Range offers spectacular views of Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. It is also a prime wildlife viewing trail, as it is remote and the tule elk are enclosed in this reserve. The first 3 miles to Lower Pierce Point Ranch are well marked and maintained, but the last stretch can be overgrown with bush lupine and other shrubs, so long pants and long sleeves are a good idea. The journey all the way to the Point is worth it, for the view is unparalleled. The trail starts at the end of Pierce Point Road.


The most popular area for kayaking at Point Reyes National Seashore is on Tomales Bay. Tomales Bay is a 15-mile long, 6780-acre tidal water body located in rural west Marin County, California. It is the largest unspoiled coastal embayment on the coast of California. The bay is bounded largely on the west by the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Kayaking is also permitted on Drakes Estero and Limantour Estero from July 1 through February 28. To protect harbor seals from disturbance during the most crucial part of the pupping season, from March 1 through June 30 the National Park Service closes Drakes Estero and Limantour Estero to boating.

Guided kayak trips and rentals are available from local outfitters:

  • Blue Water Kayaks (Marshall), 19225 Shoreline Highway, Ph: 663-1743, [3]. Rentals (single & double kayaks) available for 2 hours ($30 / $50), 4 hours ($45 / $65), full day ($60 / $85), 24 hours ($90 / $120), 36 hours ($125, $160). Guided trips are also available.
  • Blue Water Kayaks (Inverness), 12944 Sir Francis Drake Blvd (at the Golden Hinde Inn), Ph: 669-2600, [4]. Rentals (single & double kayaks) available for 2 hours ($30 / $50), 4 hours ($45 / $65), full day ($60 / $85), 24 hours ($90 / $120), 36 hours ($125, $160). Guided trips are also available.
  • Point Reyes Outdoors (Point Reyes), 11401 State Route 1, Ph: 415 663-8192, [5]. Naturalist led kayaking tours on Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero. Kayak camping, classes, private individual and group tours. Open year round.

Wildlife Viewing

Gray whales can be seen during their migrations between Mexico and Alaska. The whales often swim close to shore, and can frequently be viewed from the Lighthouse. The best time of year to see the whales is from January through May, with whales being most frequently seen from the Lighthouse area in mid-January and mid-March. Gray whales swim about 5 mph, 24 hours a day with a 4 to 7 week layover (late January through early March) in Baja California. The last to leave Baja are the cows and calves. Therefore, they are the last northbound whales to be seen, April through early May.

Extinct in the park for 150 years, northern elephant seals began re-colonizing Point Reyes in the 1970's, and the population has been growing at the astounding rate of 16% annually. From December through March a breeding colony of elephant seals can be observed from Elephant Seal Overlook near Chimney Rock. The males arrive in December, and pregnant females arrive soon after to give birth to a single pup. Subadult and juvenile animals arrive later, and the colony can number close to one hundred animals. Be aware that elephant seals can weigh up to 5,000 pounds and can be very dangerous; they should not be approached closer than 100 yards.

Tule elk are most often seen at the Tule Elk Preserve at Tomales Point. A large harbor seal rookery can be found at Drakes Estero as well as near the Lighthouse. Sea Lions are most commonly seen at Sea Lion Overlook or near the lighthouse.


The visitor centers offer books of local interest, postcards, and other souvenir items for sale.


At Drakes Beach (approximately 45 minutes drive from the Bear Valley Visitor Center) there is a wonderful albeit rustic cafe that focuses on local food. The restaurant changed management in November, and is being run by local couple Jane Kennedy and Ben Angulo. Kennedy and Angulo have committed to selling local and organic foods, and often list the actual percentage of ingredients that are local right on a menu item. Hamburgers made with beef from Lunny Farm being raised by the owner of Drake's Bay Oysters a mere mile or so from the Cafe, stinging nettles from Star Route Farms in nearby Bolinas, Straus organic milk products, and bread from local favorite Brickmaiden bakery.



The youth hostel is the only lodging in the park, but nearby towns offer a variety of additional options.

  • Point Reyes Hostelling International, located off of Limantour Road, Ph: (415) 663-8811, [6]. The only lodging available within the park, offering 44 beds in dormitory-style accommodation. Prices for beds start at $16 per night, and a private room is available for families for $54 per night. The hostel is closed daily for cleaning from 10AM-4:30PM and all visitors must exit the building.


There are no organized campgrounds within the park, although backcountry camping is allowed by permit. The organized campgrounds are located at Olema Ranch Campground (415) 663-8001 and Samuel P. Taylor State Park (800) 444-7275.


Point Reyes offers backpackers four hike-in campgrounds from which to choose. Boat-in camping is allowed on national seashore beaches on the west side of Tomales Bay, beginning north of Indian Beach in Tomales Bay State Park. There is no car camping at Point Reyes National Seashore. Dogs are not allowed on any trails or in the designated campgrounds.

Stay safe

Possibly the most dangerous hazard in the park, a sneaker wave is an unexpectedly large wave that is higher, stronger and reaching farther up the beach to levels far beyond where the normal waves reach. There have been several incidents of visitors to Point Reyes being caught by sneaker waves and drowned. Sneaker waves also have the ability to toss around large driftwood logs that may fall on a person, injuring or even killing them. Sneaker waves can occur at any time, day or night, during incoming and outgoing tides, during storms and during sunny calm weather; they are often preceded by a sudden lowering of the water level.

An additional danger comes from rip currents, which are channeled currents of water flowing away from shore that can easily drag strong swimmers out to sea. If you are caught in a rip current, remain calm and swim along the shoreline in order to escape the outgoing current. Once out of the current, swim towards shore.

Another park danger is from hypothermia. The coastal water temperatures at Point Reyes rarely exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and prolonged exposure to these temperatures can result in hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) or death. Do not stay in the water for more than a few minutes unless you are wearing a wetsuit. Do not wait until you start to shiver or for your lips to turn blue before you get out of the water; if you start to shiver, you are already suffering from mild hypothermia.

  • Point Reyes Station. A nearby small town with boutiques, restaurants, and an excellent pub. It makes a nice place to rest up after a day trip to the park.
  • Napa Valley. The numerous wineries in America's largest wine producing region make for a great day trip.
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