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.
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 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