Courtesy of Visit California
Jutting dramatically out into the blue Pacific, the over 70,000-acre/28,732-hectare Point Reyes National Seashore almost seems to break away from the Northern California coast. The coastal preserve, some 30 miles/48 kilometers north of San Francisco, protects more than 1,500 animal and plant species and 80 miles/130 kilometers of shoreline. Here, breakers pound remote beaches, wisps of fog wash over coastal hills, and tule elk roam in wild meadows.
The park’s main visitor center at Bear Valley is a great place to start exploring—and kids love its interactive displays. Get updates on whale watching (typically January to mid-April), wildflower displays (best in early- to late-spring) and trail conditions. For wildlife watching, head to Tomales Point to see the tule elk, especially during the fall rutting season. Then move on to 200-acre/81-hectare Abbotts Lagoon to view rich bird life (more than 45 percent of North America’s bird species have been spotted at Point Reyes). For beach walks, try dog-friendly Kehoe Beach, 11-mile/18-km-long Great Beach, or intimate McClures Beach. For a worth-it workout, take the 308 steps down (and yes, up on the back) to the 1870s-era Point Reyes Lighthouse.
It doesn’t get more idyllic than horseback riding at Point Reyes National Seashore. Imagine meandering along a gently snaking trail, soaking up panoramic views of lush forests and serene meadows, with ospreys soaring overhead. As the trail curves to reveal a wide stretch of pristine coastline, all you hear is the sound of waves crashing on the empty shore as you cruise down the white-sand beach.
Point Reyes National Seashoreis one of the few places in California where you can ride horses on the beach.
Take a trail ride through towering tree groves and along a peaceful creek offering glimpses of the cerulean waters of the Pacific. Whichever trails you decide to explore, bring your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for the abundant wildlife. The seashore is a sanctuary for nearly 40 species of land mammals and at least a dozen types of marine mammals. Look for elk and deer, sea lions, otters, dolphins, and migrating grey whales (plus almost 500 bird varieties).
Visitors also have the rare opportunity to glimpse an array of threatened or endangered animals that call the area home, such as the Point Reyes Mountain Beaver and various types of turtles and seals. And talk about a super bloom—there are some 900 types of flowering plants here, as well as 120-plus tree species. (A ranch representative recommends visiting in the springtime—to bypass the summer crowds while enjoying views of the flowers beginning to open.)
Popular Trail Rides
From Bear Valley:
Arch Rock. Take Bear Valley Trail. This is the most direct and level route to the ocean from this trailhead. Bear Valley Trail is not open to horses on weekends and holidays beyond the Mt. Wittenburg trail junction. Easy. 13.1 kilometers / 8.2 miles.
Mt. Wittenberg. Take Horse Trail to Z Ranch Trail to Mt. Wittenberg Trail to Bear Valley Trail to trailhead. Horse Trail begins behind the pastures used by the Morgan Horse Ranch, between the ranch and Kule Loklo. Please do not take horses into the Kule Loklo village. Moderate. 8.8 kilometers / 5.5 miles.
Inverness Ridge. Take Bear Valley Trail to Wittenberg Trail to Sky Trail to Coast Trail to Bear Valley Trail to trailhead. Strenuous. 17.3 kilometers / 10.8 miles.
Coastal Ride. Take Bear Valley Trail to Mt. Wittenberg Trail to Sky Trail to Woodward Valley Trail to Coast Trail to Fire Lane Trail to Sky Trail to Horse Trail to trailhead. Access to beach at Coast Camp. Strenuous. 20.3 kilometers / 12.7 miles.
From Five Brooks Trailhead:
San Andreas Fault. Rift Zone Trail to Bear Valley and back. Mostly flat trail with cattle gates; can be extremely muddy during rainy season. Easy. 13.8 kilometers / 8.6 miles.
Wildcat Beach. Stewart Trail to Wildcat Camp and back. Access to beach at the camp. Return loops can be quite a variety of combinations. Moderate to Strenuous. 21.4 kilometers / 13.4 miles.
Lakes Tour. Olema Valley Trail to Bolema Trail to Lake Ranch Trail to Coast Trail to Wildcat Camp/Beach to Stewart Trail to Greenpicker Trail to Stewart Trail to trailhead. Strenuous. 22.6 kilometers / 14.1 miles.