Point Reyes National Seashore

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    Visiting Point Reyes

    On the Beach at Point Reyes
    ©2008 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    If you've seen a few pictures of Point Reyes National Seashore or taken a quick drive through it, you might think it's nothing more than a pretty park with a scenic lighthouse. But that's only a small part of what you can find in the 100-square-mile national seashore and surrounding 33,300 acres of coastal wilderness.

    Estuaries, windswept beaches, coastal scrub grasslands, marshes and coniferous forests are just a few of the things Point Reyes contains.

    The San Andreas Fault also runs through the park, and you can see a dramatic example of its movement on the short Earthquake Trail that starts near the Bear Valley Visitor Center. And then there's the wildlife, which includes a magnificent herd of once-endangered tule elk.

    Will You Like Point Reyes?

    We give Point Reyes National Seashore 5 stars out of 5 for its extreme natural beauty and diversity.

    Things to Do at Point Reyes

    The following pages list some of things you can do. Stop in at any of the three visitor centers: Bear Valley (near Hwy 1), Lighthouse or Drakes Beach for more information, maps, and current conditions.

    Point Reyes National Seashore Tips

    Natural hazards include poison oak, stinging nettle and ticks (which can carry Lyme disease). Wearing long pants and being aware of your surroundings can help keep them off you.

    Dogs can disrupt the wildlife, so their presence is limited. They are not allowed on any of the hiking trails and must be kept on a leash elsewhere. They are allowed on Kehoe Beach, Limantour Beach and Point Reyes Beach.

    Point Reyes weather varies widely and may not be what you think. Check the weather forecast before you go. At the lighthouse, it's almost always windy and very cold, and often foggy.

    If you plan to visit and/or photograph the beaches, check the time for high and low tide to maximize your enjoyment.

    The winding drive out to the lighthouse can be nausea-inducing for those prone to motion sickness. If you're one of them, you know what to do.

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    Earthquake Trail

    San Andreas Fault Splits a Fence at Point Reyes
    ©2008 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    The first place to go at Point Reyes in the Bear Valley Visitor Center, where you can get up-to-the-minute information and tips from the park rangers.

    Near the visitor center, you can walk right on top of the infamous San Andreas Fault. One easy place to locate it is on the short Earthquake Trail, which leads from the parking lot near the Bear Valley Visitor Center to the spot shown above. Just before the big quake that shook San Francisco in April 1906, this fence was continuous. Afterward, it had moved to where you see it now, a distance of about 20 feet.

    More gradual movement along the fault moves the Point Reyes peninsula a little further north each year, separating it further from the Tehachapi Mountains (now 310 miles away) where it was once attached.

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    Kule Loklo Coast Miwok Indian Village

    Recreated Sweat Lodge at Kule Loklo
    Caducosity/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    This structure, made of redwood bark is typical of those built by the Coastal Miwok people who lived in the Point Reyes area. Built as a cultural exhibit, Kule Loklo, which means Bear Valley shows modern visitors how the area's earlier inhabitants lived.

    Most of the time, it's uninhabited, but it comes alive during the Big Time Festival held each July. Other The Roundhouse is also used for religious gathering by the Coast Miwok people. Rangers also offer free guided tours on the weekend in the summer. Check at the Visitor Center for a schedule.

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    Pierce Ranch

    Pierce Ranch at Point Reyes
    ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    Northwest of the Bear Valley Visitor Center, you can visit a remnant of Marin County's coastal past.

    Dairy ranches such as this one are a common sight at Point Reyes, the oldest dating back into the 1850s when early settlers realized that the cool, moist Point Reyes climate afforded near-ideal conditions for raising dairy cows. After California became part of the United States and after a long battle in the courts, a San Francisco law firm gained control of over 50,000 acres here, creating a thriving dairy industry whose products were delivered to San Francisco by boat.

    Located on the road to McClures Beach, Pierce Ranch was one of the area's most successful, established in 1858. Today, the buildings are restored, and you can take a self-guided tour.

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    McClures Beach

    McClures Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore
    Nine OK / Getty Images

    McClures Beach is a small beach, reached by walking down a dirt path. In spring, wildflowers bloom along the trail. A large rock formation nicknamed Elephant Rock anchors one end of the beach, and you may find starfish on the rocks during low tide.

    Other beaches in this part of the park are Kehoe Beach and Marshall Beach, which is on the Tomales Bay.

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    Point Reyes Lighthouse

    Point Reyes Lighthouse
    Westend61 / Getty Images

    To get to the lighthouse at Point Reyes, take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to its end. 

    The best-known feature at Point Reyes is this lonely lighthouse. To keep it below the fog, it's at the bottom of a steep staircase, making it a scenic subject for your camera.

    The lighthouse visitor's center includes an excerpt from a lightkeeper's log and exhibits about the keeper's life.​ Here's how you can find out more about how to Visit the Lighthouse.

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    Drakes Beach

    Point Reyes National Seashore, Drakes Beach
    William Helsel / Getty Images

    Drakes Beach is a long, wide stretch of sand backed by dramatic white sandstone cliffs. It's seldom busy and there's a  small café and a visitor center nearby.

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    Animals at Point Reyes

    Tule Elk at Sunset, Point Reyes National Seashore
    Sumiko Scott / Getty Images

    Once endangered, tule elk now number over 200 at Point Reyes. They are most common at Tomales Point. Other animals you may see at Point Reyes include northern elephant seals, harbor seals, and more than 80 kinds of mammals and 29 types of reptiles. Nearly half of all bird species in North America have been spotted at Point Reyes, that's 490 different kinds of birds.

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    Limantour Beach and Sculptured Beach

    Point Reyes National Seashore, Limantour Beach
    Stephen Saks / Getty Images

    Getting around Point Reyes seems a little confusing sometimes, but a look at the map may help you understand why. There are lots of inlets and marshes, and the roads have to go around them. Returning to Sir Francisco Drake Boulevard and take Limantour Road to get to Limantour Beach and Sculptured Beach. 

    Limantour Beach is actually a long, narrow stretch of sand between the bay and an estuary. You can see lots of wildlife in that area, including shorebirds, gray whales, harbor seals and the endangered snowy plover. You can reach it from the parking area.

    If you go east from the parking area, you'll reach Sculptured Beach, which gets its water-carved rocks on the shoreline. At low tide, they are exposed and make an exciting place to go tidepooling.

    You can find out more about it in the Limantour Beach Guide - and about its use for clothing optional recreation here.

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    Wildcat Beach and Alamere Falls

    Alamere Falls, Point Reyes
    albedo20/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Alamere Falls is a rarity; a waterfall called a tidefall which drops directly onto a beach. There are two of them in California (the other is McWay Falls in Big Sur).

    Wildcat Beach is where you'll find Alamere Falls. This 40-foot-tall waterfall is more impressive during the rainy winter season.

    To access Wildcat Beach, you need to enter the National Seashore from the south end near the town of Bolinas and drive to the Palomarin Trailhead which is near the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. From there, you have to hike more than 5 miles, one way.

    On most weekends, the Palomarin Trailhead parking lot fills up very early in the morning. If you arrive too late, you may be turned away. 

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    More Things to Do at Point Reyes

    Horseback Riding at Point Reyes
    Scott Lowe/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0


    For reasons that matter only to people who draw lines on maps, Tomales Bay (which forms the eastern boundary of the park) actually lies in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. To the rest of us, it's all the same place. Blue Waters in Marshall offers classes and rentals. You can also kayak in Drakes and Limantour Esteros except March 1 through June 30, when they are closed to protect harbor seals during pupping season.

    Ranger-Led Programs

    One of the best bargains at any national park are the ranger-led programs. Check in at any visitor center for the day's schedule or browse their offerings online.

    Creative Workshops

    Point Reyes National Seashore Association offers seminars and workshops for photographers, artists, and nature lovers.

    Horseback Riding

    Five Brooks Stables nearby offers guided trail rides

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    What You Need to Know About Point Reyes National Seashore

    Chimney Rock Trail in Point Reyes
    W Tipton/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    When to Go to Point Reyes National Seashore

    At the risk of sounding like someone from the local visitor's bureau, every season at Point Reyes has its charms. Check this list to see what appeals to you.

    • Whale migration: January-April
    • Elephant seals: December-March
    • Bird migration: Spring through fall
    • Harbor seal pups born: March-June
    • Wildflowers: Peak April-May
    • Tule elk mating season: July-October
    • Sand sculpture contest: Sunday of Labor Day1
    • Beautiful: Anytime

    Point Reyes in the Winter

    From the end of December through mid-April, things get busy at Point Reyes - and it's all about the animals. Gray whales migrate past the shore, and elephant seals come onshore to have their babies. To keep traffic flowing on the narrow roads, individual vehicles are prohibited. The only way to get to the lighthouse or the Elephant Seal Overlook at Chimney Rock is by taking the winter shuttle bus from the visitor center at Drakes Beach. That's the Keeneth C. Patrick Visitor Center, not the one at Bear Valley.

    Other parts of the park are still accessible by car during that time, including most of the beaches and Pierce Ranch.

    Details about Point Reyes

    Point Reyes has no entry fee, but there is a camping fee and a fee to ride the shuttle in winter. You also need reservations if you're going camping.

    Where Is Point Reyes National Seashore Located?

    Point Reyes National Seashore
    1 Bear Valley Rd.
    Point Reyes Station, CA
    Point Reyes Website

    Point Reyes National Seashore is located about 30 miles north of San Francisco on California Hwy 1. You can get there by driving on Hwy 1 all the way just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, or take US 101 to Sir Francis Drake Blvd and follow the signs. A map will help you locate destinations inside the park.

    Crowds of people flock here in the winter to see the elephant seals and whale migrations. To relieve crowding on weekends when the weather is nice, the park closes Sir Francis Drake Blvd beyond South Beach and runs a shuttle to the lighthouse. It usually operates from December through early April. You can catch it at the Drake's Beach parking lot, and shuttle tickets are sold at the visitor center there.

    1 Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.

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    Where to Stay at Point Reyes

    Sky Camp at Point Reyes
    Adam Braziel/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    Camping at Point Reyes

    You will find several campgrounds at Point Reyes, but they are all backcountry campgrounds that you have to hike or boat into. You can find a description of them on the Point Reyes website.

    If you are looking for a place where you can camp in an RV or pitch a tent near your vehicle, check this list of nearby campgrounds.

    Point Reyes Hostel

    The only other place to stay inside the National Seashore is the Point Reyes Hostel. It's just off Limantour Road near Limantour Beach, Sculptured Beach and lots of hiking trails. 

    They have two historic ranch buildings and a new "green" addition. You can stay in a shared dorm room or a private room, and use the guest kitchen.

    More Lodging Nearby

    You can find more suggestions for how to find a place to stay in the area in the West Marin Getaway Guide.