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.
Mix of shade and sun.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Nice year round.
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:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* 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.
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.
No dogs. Some trails are multi-use, others are open to hikers and equestrians,
or hikers only.
The Official Story:
NPS's Point Reyes
Bear Valley Visitor Center (Ranger Station) 415-464-5100
the park map pdf from NPS
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
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
Reyes' Bear Valley Trailhead is the seashore's busiest staging area. Three 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. 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. Glen 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. 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. Continue 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. At 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.
Red 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. In 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. Paintbrush
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. Pelicans 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