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Point Reyes National Seashore

This magnificent expanse of parkland is one of the nation's great treasures. Its 71,057 acres include rolling grasslands, forested ravines that open onto steep, rocky blufftops, broad beaches, lush salt marshes, and 600-foot-high granite promontories at the Point Reyes Headlands. Wildlife abounds—including a herd of tule elk, once hunted almost to extinction, that can often be spotted at...
This magnificent expanse of parkland is one of the nation's great treasures. Its 71,057 acres include rolling grasslands, forested ravines that open onto steep, rocky blufftops, broad beaches, lush salt marshes, and 600-foot-high granite promontories at the Point Reyes Headlands. Wildlife abounds—including a herd of tule elk, once hunted almost to extinction, that can often be spotted at the end of Pierce Point Road—and hiking trails extend more than 140 miles, although the terrain makes many of them inaccessible to wheelchair riders. A hostel provides accessible accommodations for overnight visitors.

This park is a good place to learn about tectonic plates and earthquakes: the Point Reyes Peninsula is partly separated from the mainland by 15-mile-long Tomales Bay, which lies in a rift valley formed by the San Andreas fault. The Earthquake Loop, a short, paved interpretive trail near the Bear Valley visitor center, explores the San Andreas fault zone; at one point the trail passes two sections of wood fencing, cut in two by the 1906 earthquake, that are now 16 feet apart.

The weather varies dramatically around Point Reyes and sudden changes should be expected. A sunny day on the east side of Inverness Ridge may be foggy and cold on the ocean side, and clearing fog often signals the onset of strong winds. Try to learn what conditions are expected for the entire day to avoid being caught in bad weather during a several-mile hike, especially on trails that are likely to become muddy quickly.

Bear Valley Visitor Center: This is the park's primary visitor center and a good place to begin your exploration. It offers displays and specimens of native wildlife mounted in dioramas, as well as a seismograph station monitoring activity along the San Andreas Fault. The multilevel interior is ramped, and displays are well conceived for use or viewing from a seated position. Movies about the shoreline and area history are shown on request. A wheelchair is available to visitors.

Lighthouse Visitor Center: At the end of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, about 45 minutes from Bear Valley, the Point Reyes Lighthouse stands on a rocky promontory at the western tip of the Point Reyes Peninsula. Built in 1870, it was retired from service in 1975, when it was replaced by an automated light. The lighthouse is not accessible, but the visitor center, on a cliff 300 feet above it, is. The center's displays and photographs offer a chance to learn about maritime history, marine life, shipwrecks, and lighthouse keepers.

A paved path extends 100 feet beyond the visitor center to an accessible clifftop observation platform from which you might see gray whales passing offshore on their annual migrations between December and April. During the whale-watching season the road from South Beach to the lighthouse is closed to cars, but visitors with a disabled license plate or placard can drive in.

Trail/Pathway Details

Bear Valley Trail

Trailhead: West of the parking lots at Bear Valley visitor center

Length: Over 4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Mostly level or gentle

Terrain: Moderately Firm

The trail is likely to be impassable during wet weather, and may remain muddy and rutted in places even when it is mostly dry.

Description

The Bear Valley Trail begins just past the upper parking lot by the visitor center and travels west a little more than four miles to Arch Rock and the ocean; all but the last mile or so is accessible to wheelchair riders. This wide, hard-packed dirt trail follows Coast Creek as it winds under Douglas fir and other trees amid fern undergrowth. For the first 1.5 miles, the trail slopes gently but steadily uphill, becoming moderately steep for the last several hundred feet of that stretch. Manual wheelchair riders will get a good workout, but there are several level sections where you can rest. Gloves are helpful during extended braking. There were a few deep ruts to negotiate around along this stretch of the trail.

At 1.5 miles out, the trail enters the large and beautiful Divide Meadow, a good place to loll around or picnic. Beyond the meadow the trail travels down a gentle slope, following the creek through dappled shade. On my visit in late April, I saw wild iris, sticky monkeyflower, woodland star, and bleeding hearts blooming along the trail. I also saw plenty of stinging nettle—be sure to keep bare legs and arms well away from foliage. Although this is the park's most popular trail, there were few other hikers on a warm spring weekday, and the only sounds I heard were the burbling creek and birdsong.

About three miles out, you come to a bike rack and a juncture with the Baldy Trail. Here bike riders who want to continue to Arch Rock must leave their bikes behind, and this also marks the turnaround point for wheelchair riders, as the trail to Arch Rock is badly eroded and impassable.

Abbotts Lagoon

Trailhead: Off Pierce Point Rd. a little over three miles from Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

Length: 1-2 total miles

Typical Width: 30 in. to 4 ft.

In some stretches, weeds growing along the trail narrow it to less than 30" but are possible to navigate across

Typical Grade: Mostly level or gentle

Terrain: Moderately Firm

The trail may be impassable during wet weather

Description

If you plan to visit the lighthouse at Point Reyes, consider making a detour down Pierce Point Road on the peninsula's north side to look for tule elk and take a short hike on the Abbotts Lagoon Trail. It was accessible for about a mile out when I visited in late April, although erosion from a wet winter can make it impassable. The broad, decomposed granite-and-dirt trail takes off from the west side of the parking lot, across from the restrooms, and travels through rolling grasslands dotted here and there with cattle from one of the historic farms that still operate within the park's boundaries. In the distance you can see Abbotts, a dune-sheltered, freshwater lagoon, and if it's not foggy, you'll catch glimpses of the ocean beyond.

You soon cross a wooden bridge next to a small pond; on my trip, a red-necked phalarope was splashing in the reeds here. Abbott's is a good place for spotting birds—coots, western grebes, hawks, osprey, and quail are common, and if you're very lucky you may spot a golden eagle. After the bridge, the trail climbs moderately to a broad, flat area with a bench and a view of the lagoon in the distance. A sign provides information about the coastal dunes. The trail then curves south, heading toward some hills, then west again to cross a marshy drainage via a wooden boardwalk. On my visit, bright yellow buttercups bloomed thickly in the seep to the right of the trail; on my left were luxuriant clumps of marshy grasses. Past the boardwalk the trail climbs steeply uphill to a viewpoint over the lagoon, then turns south again and approaches a fence line, where it became too narrow to navigate in a wheelchair.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Several signed spaces are in the paved lot at the Bear Valley visitor center and two are in the gravel lot that serves the picnic area across the road. The gravel parking lot at the Abbotts Lagoon trailhead has two accessible spaces. Lighthouse parking: Sir Francis Drake Blvd. from South Beach junction to the lighthouse visitor center is closed to private vehicles during whale migration season (from late Dec. to mid-April). An accessible shuttle departs from the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center; alternatively, vehicles with a disabled parking placard can pass the guard station at South Beach junction and continue to the paved parking lot, .5 miles below the visitor center. With prior permission (call 415-669-1534 or 415-464-5100, x2 x5) you can park even closer to the center by opening the unlocked gate at the paved access road to the lighthouse (close it again after you pass through) and driving to a small dirt-and-gravel parking area on the side of the road. From there it’s a short climb to the center.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

Accessible restrooms are at the lighthouse visitor center, outside the Bear Valley visitor center (toilet height is 20"), and in a building near the picnic area; an accessible vault toilet (no sink) is at Divide Meadow along the Bear Valley Trail (you must negotiate a steep lip onto the concrete pad). The unisex vault toilets at the Abbotts Lagoon trailhead are accessible but have no sinks.
Bear Valley visitor center

Reviewed by Eileen Ecklund, March 1, 2013

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Rangers on horseback at Divide Meadow, Bear Valley Trail
Rangers on horseback at Divide Meadow, Bear Valley Trail (Eileen Ecklund)

Features icon key

  • bicycling
  • hiking
  • picnic
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Website: www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm
Managing Agency: National Park Service
Address: 1 Bear Valley Rd.
Nearest City: Pt. Reyes Station
Phone: (415) 464-5137 (Bear Valley visitor center), (415) 669-1534 (lighthouse visitor center)
Hours: Park: Daily, sunrise to midnight.
Bear Valley visitor center: Dec. 1 through April 30: Mon.-Fri., 10 am-4:30 pm; weekends and holidays, 9 am-4:30 pm. May 1 to Nov. 30: Mon.-Fri., 10 am-5 pm; weekends and holidays, 9 am-5 pm. Closed Dec. 25.
Lighthouse visitor center: Fri.-Mon., 10 am-4:30 pm; closed Tues.-Thurs.
Fees: Shuttle
Dogs: In restricted areas
Public Transportation: Marin Stagecoach

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Access Northern California is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization

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