A Day Discovering Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore is a hiker’s paradise. Trails lead through rugged coastline, grasslands, forest, and marshes. Located a 60-90 minute drive north of San Francisco, it’s an easy side trip from the city.
A full day can be dedicated to exploring the northern section of the park. Visitors will enter that portion through Bear Valley Visitor Center, a good resource for maps and ranger advice. From the center, it’s another 25-45 minute drive to most of the major trails. Below is an itinerary outlining my visit to the park in early June:
Grab Breakfast and a To-Go Lunch at Inverness Park Market.
Drivers will pass through the small town of Inverness en route to the trails. Stop at Inverness Park Market to stock up on snacks, drinks, and a farm-fresh sandwich to eat for lunch.
Elephant Seal Overlook and Chimney Rock Trails
These two easy, quick trails start from the same parking lot on the eastern spur of the Point Reyes Headlands. Elephant Seal Overlook Trail is a short 850 feet stroll that grants hikers a glimpse of the southwest end of Drakes Beach where dozens to hundreds of elephant seals bask. Though the animals can be spotted there any time of year, December through March is when the most can be observed. Allot 20-30 minutes.
Chimney Rock is a 1.75-mile (2.8-km) round-trip trail that follows the ridge of a peninsula that juts into Drakes Bay. On the crest, visitors will be surrounded by views of the coastline and water. There’s a cliffside spot that looks down on to a rocky beach where seals can also be seen. The trail has little shade, so wear sunscreen and a hat. Allot 60-90 minutes.
- Make sure your tank is filled with gas before entering. The park is spread out and most trails take 30-45 minutes to reach by car.
- Cell coverage is low to non-existent in the park. Download any important information on your phone beforehand.
- Several trails offer restroom facilities and water-refilling stations.
- Many of the coastal trails are windy, bring a light jacket or layer clothing as it may feel chillier than inland temperatures.
Point Reyes Lighthouse
On the tip of the headlands lies the Point Reyes Lighthouse. It was built in 1870 and operated for over 105 years to protect Pacific mariners. The parking lot is a 0.6 mi (0.9 km) walk that leads through cypress trees including majestic views of the Great Beach to an observation deck that ends with a descent of 308 steps to the lighthouse. From January through mid-April, it is a good vantage point for whale-watching. If you have the chance to catch a free ranger tour of the facility, it’s worth it. It’s fascinating to hear about the resources and manpower that went into operating and maintaining the lighthouse before the advent of electricity. The Lighthouse Visitor Center and the stairs leading down to the Lighthouse are closed Tuesday through Thursday. Allot 40-80 minutes.
Point Reyes Beach (Great Beach)
Enjoy your packed lunch on Point Reyes Beach and admire heavy waves crash into the surf on this undeveloped 11-mile beach. The beach is accessible from the North or South Beach parking lots.
One the way back up the headlands, make a quick detour at the Art Deco-designed KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station. Here you’ll find an Insta-worthy landscape of a cypress tree tunnel. Allot 15 minutes.
This pleasant9.4 (15 km) round-trip trail meanders through the Tule Elk Reserve and along a ridge with sweeping panoramas of the Pacific Ocean. During the spring, this is a popular destination to view wildflowers. The trail starts at Pierce Point Ranch, an old dairy complex where visitors can take self-guided tours to learn about the history of the buildings. The trail follows the old ranch road for the next three miles, a broad and fairly level meadow path that traces the coastline. About a mile in is Windy Gap, where many wild elk like to congregate and graze. Trekkers short on time can complete this portion of the trail and head back or continue on until the trail becomes sandy and ends at a dramatic bluff overlook. Allot 3-6 hours.
Visit The National Park Service site for Point Reyes to get up-to-date information, hours, and events: www.nps.gov/pore
What are your favorite Point Reyes trails? Share questions and tips for other travelers below.
Lara was infected with the travel bug at an early age. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of discovering the world. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, for her husband’s job and hopes to explore much of Asia while there. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance graphic designer. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR,is an ambassador for FIG Clothing, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, practices yoga, dabbles in photography, and of course, travels as much as possible. like and share: