Bear Valley Trailhead, Point Reyes National Seashore,
National Park Service,
Marin County
In brief:
Departing from Point Reyes's most popular trailhead, this is an out and back hike through woods and coastal grassland, leading to a scenic bluff above the ocean.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 8.9 mile out and back hike is easy, but long. Total hike elevation change is about 400 feet. Trailhead elevation is around 100 feet. The hike's high point is about 375 feet.

Exposure:
Mix of shade and sun.

Trail traffic
:
Heavy.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time
:
4 hours.

Season
:
Nice year round.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Anselmo/Sir Francis Drake. Drive west about 20 miles, to the junction with CA 1. Turn right and drive about 0.1 mile, then turn left onto Bear Valley Road. Drive about 0.4 mile, then turn left at the "seashore information" sign just past the red barn. Drive about 0.2 mile to the parking lots at the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/379

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 2'22.83"N
Longitude
12247'59.29"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores at Point Reyes Station, a few miles north of the Bear Valley turnoff on CA 1 (limited other facilities also available in Inverness and Olema). There are overnight accommodations available on the eastern fringes of the park, including a handful of motels in Inverness, and numerous bed and breakfasts just off Sir Francis Drake. Point Reyes has several hike-in campgrounds -- inquire at the Point Reyes Ranger Station in Bear Valley, or read more about the options here. No car camping in the park. Point Reyes Hostel, down Limantour Road, is an inexpensive lodging option. Read my page describing Point Reyes hikes, accommodations, food, and more.

Trailhead details:
Lots of parking in gravel lots. No parking or entrance fees. Maps, restrooms, drinking water, and pay phone at Visitor Center. There are designated handicapped parking spots, and several paths at this trailhead are wheelchair accessible. West Marin Stagecoach offers public transportation to this trailhead.

Rules:
No dogs. Some trails are multi-use, others are open to hikers and equestrians, or hikers only.

The Official Story:
NPS's Point Reyes website
Bear Valley Visitor Center (Ranger Station) 415-464-5100

Map Choices:
Download the park map pdf from NPS
Other Point Reyes maps from NPS
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order this book from Amazon.com.
• Point Reyes by Jessica Lage (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of trails around Bear Valley.
Trail Map of Point Reyes National Seashore, by Tom Harrison (order from Amazon.com) is the best all-purpose map to Point Reyes.
• Don and Kay Martin's Point Reyes National Seashore (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of the featured hike. The same information can be found in their Hiking Marin book (order this book from Amazon.com).
• North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of trails around Bear Valley.

Bear Valley to Arch Rock in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page




Point Reyes' Bear Valley Trailhead is the seashore's busiest staging area. Parking lotThree short self-guided interpretive paths depart from Bear Valley, in addition to the more challenging routes to Mount Wittenberg and beyond. But the busiest trail at the busiest trailhead is Bear Valley Trail, a nearly flat wide fire road that winds to the coast. For years I'd only trod Bear Valley Trail as briefly as possible, as part of a Mount Wittenberg loop. The traffic on this trail can be overwhelming, with backpackers heading to coastal camps, equestrians trotting along, cyclists and tourists mingling with dayhikers and joggers (horses are prohibited on weekends and holidays). The crowds thin a bit as you head to the coast, but this is never a good trailhead when you're seeking solitude.Start of Bear Valley Trail  It's a great place to bring out-of-town visitors in that Muir Woods frame of mind though, you can zip them through the Visitor Center, and escort them along an interpretive trail or two, then drive them out to a beach, and finish up your day with a platter of iced oysters in Olema.
      Some visitors don't make it all the way to Arch Rock, the Bear Valley logical destination, and those who cut their trip short miss the best part of the out and back hike. Arch Rock, an outcrop perched over the ocean, is a fantastic place to watch pelicans, shorebirds, and harbor seals. From here wonderful views unfold in every direction: Mount Wittenberg back to the west, sparkling ocean to the east, and shoreline north and south.
     There are a couple of other loops for dayhikers and backpackers, starting at Bear Valley. Bear Valley TrailGlen and Wildcat Camps are to the south, and you could spend a few days dayhiking Point Reyes, with either location as a base camp. Four miles north of Arch Rock via Coast Trail brings you to Coast Camp, another option for backpackers. Dayhikers most often use Bear Valley as the staging area for a summit of Mount Wittenberg. Shortest loops combine Meadow Trail with Bear Valley Trail and Mount Wittenberg Trail. Tack another mile and half to a circuit that opts for Old Pine Trail instead of Meadow. You could also choose Baldy Trail, but if you make it so close to Arch Rock, why not go all the way and hike a long loop on Bear Valley Trail, Coast Trail, Sky Trail, and Mount Wittenberg Trail. Total mileage is about 11 miles. The three loop trails originating at the Visitor Center clock in at 1 mile or less, and are safe bets for older folks or young families. Divide Meadow One of those paths, Earthquake Trail, is wheelchair accessible.
     Although winter brings muddy trails (particularly with such heavy equestrian use), Bear Valley is pretty quiet during the wettest months of the year. Summer weekends are busy, and when school is in session, hoards of kids on field trips traipse along the trails closest to the Visitor Center. One weekend visit was enough for me for a lifetime, but when I came back on a sweltering July weekday, the crowds were bearable, and the temperature at the coast was perfect.
      Start at the signed Bear Valley Trail, at the southern edge of the parking lots. Rift Zone Trail departs to the left just past the gate, while Woodpecker Trail starts on the right. Continue on Bear Valley Trail. The wide multi-use trail climbs ever so slightly on the western edge of a meadow, and reaches a signed junction with Mount Wittenberg Trail at 0.21 mile. Bear Valley TrailContinue straight on Bear Valley Trail.
      The trail steps under a forest of Douglas fir, tanoak, California bay, and alder. Look in the understory for hazelnuts and thimbleberries in July, but don't stray too far off trail, or you'll be "stung" by nettles. At 0.78 mile, Meadow Trail begins to the right at a signed junction. Continue straight on Bear Valley Trail.
      A small year round north-flowing creek burbles melodically on the right, feed by streams running downhill from Mount Wittenberg. A moist climate and deep shade fosters plenty of elk clover, ferns, and creambush, as well as a few huckleberry shrubs here and there. Bear Valley Trail climbs at an almost imperceptible grade, with some very tall Douglas firs lining the trail, and visible upslope to the right. Junction with Coast TrailAt about 1.47 miles, the trail steps out of the woods into Divide Meadow. No camping is permitted here, but it's a nice place for a picnic. Pit toilets are off the trail to the right, just before a signed junction with Old Pine Trail. Continue straight on Bear Valley Trail.
      Descending gently, the trail lingers at the meadow's edge, with coyote brush, willow, California coffeeberry, poison oak, honeysuckle, and a few buckeye off to the sides of the path. You may also see a few ceanothus and some gooseberry, tucked between profuse hazelnut shrubs. Watch out for snakes crossing the path or basking in the sun. Bear Valley Trail heads back into a forest of alder, California bay, and Douglas fir. Another stream follows along, this one headed south toward the sea. Coast TrailRed elderberry flourishes alongside ferns, nettles, thimbleberry, and blackberry. Unlike its sibling blue elderberry, red elderberry is poisonous, but the berries, prominent in summer, are very pretty. At 3.18 miles, you'll reach a signed multi-trail junction. Since bikes are not permitted any further south on Bear Valley Trail, a bike rack presents an option for cyclists to continue the course to the sea on foot. Baldy Trail departs to the right, while Glen Trail sets off to the left. Continue straight on Bear Valley Trail.
     You can kiss your gps reception good-bye as the trail travels through a lush canyon. Coast Creek picks up more steam, and is full of water even in summer. Gorgeous sword, wood, and fivefinger ferns cascade from the steep hillside on the right. Arch RockIn this sheltered mini-gorge, coast live oak and some massive and gnarled buckeyes accompany Douglas fir, alder, and California bay. The quiet woods are home to plenty of birds and some cute chipmunks. You might catch a glimpse of foxglove in summer; the bright pink and purple flowers brighten the woods in July. Bear Valley Trail emerges into coastal grassland. Shrubby Douglas firs mix through lupine, sagebrush, monkeyflower, and coyote brush. At 4.10 miles, Bear Valley Trail ends at a signed junction with Coast Trail. Bear left, toward Arch Rock.
      The narrow trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, heads for the sea. At an easy to miss junction at 4.25 miles, Coast Trail breaks off to the left, while a path straight, signed "to Arch Rock" takes you the rest of the way. View northPaintbrush is common in spring, but by summer only a few plants set forth flowers, including bindweed, monkeyflower, lizardtail, and seaside daisy. Coast Creek takes a final tumble downhill, then reaches the ocean. A path heads sharply down to the beach on the left, but keep walking straight, to the end of the trail at Arch Rock. Be careful (especially if you're brought children) to keep away from the abrupt, unfenced cliff edge. On a clear day, Arch Rock offers some spectacular views in every direction. When I visited in July, a trio of harbor seals surfed the waves, occasionally poking their heads out of the water and lolling about on the surface. View back northPelicans and other ocean and shore birds fished and squabbled over their quarries. Weather permitting, this is a great place for lunch. When you're ready to head back, retrace your steps to the trailhead. (Option: If you'd like to extend this hike, when you get to the junction of Coast Trail and Bear Valley Trail, turn left on Coast Trail. After about 0.5 mile, turn right on Sky Trail. You can return to Bear Valley Trail (and the trailhead) via Baldy, Old Pine, Meadow, or Mount Wittenberg Trails.)

Total distance: 8.88 miles
Last hiked: Monday, July 2, 2001