Hiking & Wildlife Viewing at Point Reyes
POINT REYES STATION – Located about an hour northwest of the San Francisco Bay Area rests a large, dewy stretch of green, undisturbed land with a mystique that can’t quite be defined—the Point Reyes National Seashore. For the past few years, I’ve made it my mission to explore the bountiful natural treasures this area has to offer. The feeling of being out in protected wildlife reserves, amongst the trees and one with the animals is a feeling that cannot be matched.
The town of Point Reyes Station is situated on Highway 1 and is a great stopping point for supplies or just exploring. Just west of Point Reyes Station is the quaint little town of Inverness, where you can pick up a tasty lunch and some baked goods at the I.P. Market (I highly suggest the falafel!) There will be no other food or gas services west of Inverness.
About 2.5 miles from the I.P. Market, up the road on your right side, is the historic Point Reyes Shipwreck. Located behind the Inverness Store, this is definitely worth a brief stop and photo, as it is very easy to access.
If you prefer to stray from the beaten path, stay right on Pierce Point Road, about 2.5 miles past the Point Reyes Shipwreck, where you’ll cruise the windy roads for miles and trek through historic dairy ranches (you may even have to stop for a cattle crossing!) Another stopping point along your ride is Tomales State Park, which offers great beaches for those with children, as it faces the inner Tomales Cove. If you keep along this road, you’ll find two secluded beaches: Kehoe and McClure. Kehoe is fairly flat, approximately a .6-mile walk and allows leashed dogs. In my experience, it’s one of the most vast and least visited beaches. At the end of the road you’ll find McClures Beach, where a .4-mile descent will lead you into a secret treasure-of-a-beach known to attract tide poolers and sightseers alike. Right before McClures, you’ll spot the historic Pierce Point Ranch, where you can walk up and explore the history dating back to 1858. Next door to the ranch is the 9.4-mile round-trip Tomales Point Trail, which goes through the Tule Elk Reserve (reserve is only 2.4 miles into the trail) and offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Bodega Bay and Tomales Bay.
Coastal Point Reyes is no doubt one of the best wildlife viewing areas in North America, where more than 50% of the bird species can be seen. If you visit between January and mid-April, you may be in for a special treat, with gray whales migrating South (peak is in January.) They begin their trek back North in mid-March, with April and May affording the opportunity to see mothers and calves closer to the shore. Some of the best viewing spots for whale sightings are at the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock offers a .4-mile round trip walk to the Elephant Seal Overlook, where elephant seals can be seen year-round (hundreds in December-March!), as well as gray whale and bird migrations if you’re lucky. You may also take a 1.75-mile round-trip hike to the end of Chimney Rock, which showcases some of the best wildflower viewing in North America (blooms April-May), breathtaking views of beautiful rock formations, and an awe-inspiring look over the ocean, with Drakes Bay on your left and the Pacific Ocean to your right.
If you go: I recommend getting an early start for the best nature viewing and avoidance of traffic. This drive alone is a treat, offering views of vast open agricultural space, wildlife, and trees and land that appear to have been untouched by the hand of man. Remember to keep these gorgeous areas beautiful and protected—leave no signs of your visit!
More to know: During the months of December through early April, the road is closed beyond South Beach on weekends and holidays due to high traffic volumes. There is a shuttle that runs from Drakes Beach out to the Lighthouse, Elephant Seal Overlook, & Chimney Rock for $7 (15 under free) between 9:30am to approximately 3pm. Bring a jacket, as it can get very windy, and prepare to have very spotty (if any) cellular service. Visit nps.gov/pointreyes for more information.