Point Reyes National Seashore was the first place we stopped on our recent California trip. And all I can say is WOW. I wish I had planned more time here….in fact, this place was so awe inspiring for me, I’m trying to figure out if I can get back out there for a longer stay. Like tomorrow…..California, you have stolen my heart. Maybe forever.
If you do only have one day to spend here, I suggest really doing some research to narrow it down. There’s so much to see and we actually ran out of time and only did a portion of what we planned. I found a lot of conflicting information online via review sites, however if you look here, it can break down trails for you, which can give you an idea of how much time you may want to spend at each area.
We stopped at the visitor center, located at 1 Bear Valley Rd. G was able to get her National Parks passport stamped here and we chatted with several of the people working there about what to see and do. There is a map located here in case you want to check out distances from each place, however one thing to keep in mind is that you’re not going to be driving 60 mph on these roads. These are windy, curvy, altitude-climbing roads. Which means 20 miles can take you much longer than you expect. Just keep that in mind.
The one volunteer we talked to recommended walking the Earthquake trail, which is located right at the Visitor Center. An easy, paved loop, I thought it would be boring, but it was actually kind of fascinating. This hike takes you along the San Andreas fault zone, with little educational signs giving you the history of earthquakes in the area. The best part is a fence that is part of the trail, broken into 2 pieces 16 feet apart from each other as a result of the earthquake. If you’re at the Visitor Center, I recommend it. Its less than a mile and is a good way to get out and stretch your legs before having to drive to your next destination.
Once we got back onto the road, our first destination was the shipwreck of the SS Point Reyes. Just to clarify, we stumbled upon this by accident. As I was driving, I saw it in the distance and all of a sudden, we were there! Hauntingly beautiful, this mysterious shipwreck is definitely worth a stop. Its located Behind the Iverness Store, at 12781 Sir Francis Drake Blvd for those of you who are not confident in finding it by accident.
From there, continue on Sir Francis Drake Blvd and you will come across the Cypress Tree Tunnel. Another eerie but beautiful place in this area, the Cypress Tree Tunnel leads to the old KPH radio station. You can’t miss it; if you’re coming from Iverness it will be on your right. I want to say this was the point where we lost cell phone reception completely, so be prepared for that. You can pull into the driveway and park or drive all the way to the back and park there. It’s beautiful from both sides of the tunnel.We continued on to Sir Francis Drake Blvd to Drake’s Beach, which was a recommendation of one of the volunteer’s at the Visitor Center. Beautiful and deserted, we only saw one other person while here. Once you’re in this area, there are signs to help you find trails and beaches. We stayed here and ate lunch that we had picked up at Perry’s Deli on the way; there’s nowhere around here to get food so I recommend planning that ahead of time if you’re making a day of it.
It got pretty windy while we were here and the waves were pretty rough. It was a bit chilly but its a beautiful beach to take some time to explore. Note that there are areas of the beach where you can sometimes find wildlife like elephant seals and otters near the shore(or so I’m told); be careful not to disturb them. The Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is here as well, however we didn’t stay as we were eager to find some trails to hike.
If you continue to follow Sir Francis Drake Blvd, you will come across the Chimney Rock Trailhead. It’s about a 45 minute drive from the Visitor Center. This was by far our most favorite trail of the day. There are restrooms here and there are actually 2 trails that can be taken from this parking lot. Note that the driveway leading to this parking lot is a little steep and narrow, so pay attention and slow down. Here you will find the Elephant Seal overlook trail, which is short and paved and you can see lots of elephant seals from a distance. Be prepared, they can be VERY LOUD.
The Chimney Rock trail is a moderate, 1.6 mile pretty well maintained dirt trail that is absolutely breathtaking. We were able to spot whales from here in May and could see seals lying on the beach below as well. Take note, they recently found fissures on one of the bluffs near this trail; nobody wants to be that guy who spends the day in the hospital because he fell off a crumbling cliff…..so just be aware!
From there, you can drive to the Point Reyes Lighthouse; there are signs to guide you there. It’s about a 10-15 minute drive from Chimney Rock. The lighthouse has limited hours; it is open Friday-Monday 10-4:30 and can be closed when there are high winds present. We were there on a Thursday, so while we didn’t get to go down to the lighthouse, we did take the quarter mile walk to view it. It’s beautiful and is definitely worth seeing, even from a distance.
Unfortunately, that had to conclude our day at Point Reyes. If you have more time, there is so much more to explore in the area. We had planned several more stops, however we got a little lost due to my printed directions being slightly cryptic and my compass on my phone being wrong. Who knew?! We were unable to find Pierce Point Rd, which would have led us to several trails we had planned to see. Based on recommendations from the volunteers and other hikers we had met, if you have more time, we recommend:
McClure’s Beach, which is about a 1 mile trek and is home to elephant rock. I was told this can be slightly treacherous and knowing the tide levels is a must
Tomales Point Trail, which is a 2 mile hike where you can spot Tule Elk and can also turn this into a longer hike by hiking to the northern tip of Tomales Point
Kehoe Beach Trail, the only beach in this area that technically allows dogs
Limantour Beach, which is just beautiful from what I hear
And of course, the elusive Alamere Falls, which in case you are unaware, is a beautiful waterfall that falls directly onto Wildcat Beach. Since we didn’t have a chance to do this hike, I can’t make any personal recommendations on how to access it, however, the NPS has some tips here .
As stated before, cell reception is very limited. Bring along your printed directions, screenshots of google map directions or paper map. If you do get lost, there are signs that can direct you to destinations, however if you’re on the wrong road, you may never find what you’re looking for.
There are cows, and lots of them. Be aware that there are designated “cow crossing” sections of the roads and that you need to slow down or these crossings can destroy your car. You may run into an occasional rebel cow who has decided against using the designated area to cross; pay attention especially when coming around a curvy road in these areas.
Bring food and water. There are several small towns(think very small) outside of Point Reyes to grab food to pack for lunch. As mentioned earlier, we stopped at Perry’s deli to grab some food before we hit the road. They have a selection of sandwiches, pasta salad, chips, etc; plan to pay around $7-10 per person for lunch if you stop here. The food was good and very convenient and packable.
Keep in mind the roads are curvy, sometimes narrow, sometimes unmarked and can have steep inclines/declines. Take your time, allow extra time for travel and keep your eyes on the road!
Dress in layers. While it definitely can get warm hiking, some of these places can get very windy, which will make you wish you had a jacket.
Where are your favorite places in Point Reyes??