The variety of its landscapes and the pleasant, sunny weather throughout the year makes California one of the best places to hike on the planet, anyway. Now add some fantastic coastal scenery, and you can imagine you’ll never want to leave once you’re there. And Point Reyes peninsula is one of the highlights of California’s coast.
Since California coast is breathtaking all along, it’s a bold statement. Still we are quite confident in our two favorite coastal areas there: Big Sur and Point Reyes. While Big Sur is the ideal place for roadtripping along the coastline, Point Reyes can be best explored on foot.
About Point Reyes
Located only about 1.5 hours drive from San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore could be a nice weekend getaway from the Bay Area. And despite being so close to SF, it feels remote and unspoilt. It’s a nature preserve maintained by the US National Park Service. It was established in 1962 so that the whole peninsula can be protected from development. So as it was.
It’s an interesting fact that the peninsula is on a different tectonic plate than the rest of Marin County and almost all of the continental United States.
There are three visitor centers at Point Reyes National Seashore, and two of them are usually open throughout the year: Bear Valley Visitor Center and Lighthouse Visitor Center. The primary visitor center is in Bear Valley where many trailheads are located. The Lighthouse Visitor Center gives access to a historical lighthouse. But what is more exciting is that it’s also an excellent whale watching spot from late December through mid-April when grey whales pass by close to the shores.
What makes hiking at Point Reyes so special?
We were amazed by the wild coastal landscape we found in this park! It includes headlands, uplands, estuaries and pristine beaches that are the cleanest in California. It even has a beach with a waterfall that flows directly into the ocean at high tide. Just like Big Sur’s popular McWay Falls, but this waterfall is far lesser known. And, unlike at McWay Falls, we could also get very close to it.
Then Point Reyes National Seashore is home to the largest population of tule elks in California. We could confirm it from firsthand experience as we bumped into herds of them on our hike at Tomales Point. Tomales Point also offers excellent lookouts to catch a glimpse of seals and seabirds.
All in all, this peninsula offers countless trails for day hiking, backpacking or easy beach walking. Here comes our three favorites:
Our favorite hike: Tomales Point Trail
For us Tomales Point Trail is the most special at Point Reyes. It leads along the ridge crest of a narrow peninsula in the northernmost area of the park and it rewards with breathtaking ocean vistas, views of Tomales Bay and the coastline and wonderful wildflowers in early spring.
But in addition to the unforgettable vistas there’s another reason to fall for this trail: wildlife. As the trail passes the Tule Elk Preserve you have a very high chance to bump into herds of tule elks on your way. We did and not only once, not even twice…
The last part of the trail is not maintained. It’s a sandy route ending at the very edge of Tomales Point that’s often foggy and windy. It was at the time of our visit, too, though we enjoyed a sunny hike until that point. But it’s not only the chill that makes Tomales Point special. It’s the ocean vistas and the countless birds and seals around the cliffs.
We ended our day with watching the sunset on McClures Beach that’s just a short walk from the Tomales Point Trailhead.
The hike to spectacular Alamere Falls
Alamere Falls is probably the most popular sight at Point Reyes. The water cascades over a 30 feet tall cliff onto Wildcat Beach – or into the ocean at high tide. But when the 2.5 miles long beach exists it’s a pretty sight, as well, and you can walk from Wildcat Campground to Alamere Falls on the beach.
You need to do some hiking to enjoy the beauty of Alamere Falls though. Wildcat Campground can be accessed on several trails and from there it’s only an easy walk to the waterfall. We started our hike at the Palomarin Trailhead and reached Alamere Falls in 1-2 hours. But walking and chilling out on Wildcat Beach easily made it a day hike.
Laguna Trail & Limantour Beach Walk
Limantour Beach is a long, narrow spit of sand between Drakes Bay and an estuary surrounded by salt marshes. Both harbor seals and seabirds like visiting this beach and no doubt, it’s a pretty one. It’s so long that it can’t really get crowded and it’s just a perfect spot for romantic walks.
Though Limantour Beach can be accessed by car, we chose to hike there on Laguna Trail. We turned it into a loop hike by choosing Muddy Hollow Trail and Bayview Trail on the way back late afternoon.
Best time to visit Point Reyes National Seashore
The coastal hikes of California are always pretty and they are suitable for any time of the year. Our favorite season was early spring (February-March) when everything is lush green and the meadows are covered by millions of wildflowers – including vivid orange California poppies.
Though winter is said to be the rainiest season, it’s still sunny California we are talking about. In between winter rains, the weather is often sunny and calm. We enjoyed long weeks of sunshine throughout the winter, and the ocean coast was less windy and foggy than in the summer. But collapses can happen after heavy storms. (Restoration works can also happen.) So please always check the National Park Service website about current conditions and alerts before you visit.
Have you been to Point Reyes National Seashore? What’s your favorite coastal hike in California?
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