Tomales Point Trailhead,
Point Reyes National Seashore, National Park Service,
Marin County
In brief:
Excellent ocean views and wildlife watching (lots of tule elk) on this 9.5 mile out and back hike to the tip of Tomales Point.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 9.5 mile out and back hike is moderate. Trailhead elevation is about 300 feet, and the hike has a rolling profile, climbing to 470 feet, descending to 135 feet, climbing to 250 feet, and dropping to 80 feet. You'll face those same hills on the return leg, and all the elevation changes do add up. The middle 2 miles of the hike are mostly through loose sand. Total elevation change is about 1300 feet.

Exposure:
Full sun.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Wide dirt trail that shifts to loose sand as the route reaches the turn-around point.

Hiking time
:
4-5 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Sir Francis Drake/San Anselmo. Drive west on Sir Francis Drake about 20 miles, to the junction with CA 1, turn right, drive 0.1 mile, and then turn left onto Bear Valley Road. After about 2 miles, Bear Valley Road ends at Sir Francis Drake; turn left. Continue on Sir Francis Drake about 5.5 miles, then turn right onto Pierce Point Road. Drive about 9 miles on Pierce Point Road to the signed Tomales Point Trailhead, a short distance from McClures Beach, at the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/369

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3811'20.87"N
Longitude
12257'14.86"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, stores, and restaurants back on Sir Francis Drake in Inverness. Gas in Point Reyes Station. 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, off Limantour Road, is an inexpensive lodging option. Read my page describing Point Reyes hikes, accommodations, food, and more.

Trailhead details:
No entrance or parking fees. Small dirt parking lot, with some overflow along the road. No water, toilets, or designated handicapped parking. Wheelchairs may be able to navigate a short distance on the trail, but not in or just after wet weather. There are pit toilets down the road at the McClures Beach trailhead. There is a map on an information signboard and a pay phone. The Bear Valley Visitor Center (look for the sign on Bear Valley Road) has maps and drinking water. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead.

Rules:
Trails are open to hikers and equestrians only. No dogs.

The Official Story:
Point Reyes National Seashore website
Bear Valley Visitor Center (Ranger Station) 415-464-5100

Map/book choices:
 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.
Download the park map pdf from NPS
Other Point Reyes maps from NPS
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of this hike.
• Point Reyes by Jessica Lage (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of this hike.
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 has a good map and trail descriptions (read more about this book at Amazon.com).
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Martin, has a good map and trail description (order this book from Amazon.com).
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (read more about this book at Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of this hike.

Tomales Point in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.



Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


The Tomales Point tule elk reserve is not only a great place to watch wildlife, it's one of the quietest trails on Point Reyes. TrailheadThe single trail drifts north away from the trailhead, eventually reaching Tomales Point, nearly 5 miles from the nearest road. Squeezed on three sides by water, the only sounds are wind, surf, and bird cries. At a bluff overlooking the ocean you can spy on pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls, while elk bellow in the distance.
     The preserve's tule elk population is rapidly expanding. When I first hiked at Tomales Point around 1994, some days the elk were elusive, and I scanned the hillsides with binoculars for a glimpse of them. As of 2002, herds are scattered through the preserve, and on one visit I counted 50 elk in one group.
     Hikers flock to this trail year round, and I've never had the place to myself, even early on weekday mornings. Tomales Point Trail Tomales Point may be at its best during the clear and gentle weather of autumn and spring, but I enjoy it in summer as well, when conditions are reliably cool. Think twice before scheduling a hike during the rainy season, when the trail gets very muddy. Note that on a windy day (and there are many of these at Tomales Point) you'll need a warm tight-fitting hat and a jacket -- and even then the wind can be oppressive.
      Tomales Point Trail, a 4.7 mile out-and-back route, is the only long distance option here, but you could also walk from the trailhead to McClures Beach, an under 1 mile round trip, or cut short a Tomales Point Trail hike wherever you choose along the way.
     Start at signed Tomales Point Trail, at the west edge of the parking lot (you could also begin with a meander through the historic ranch buildings, to the right). The broad trail,open to hikers and equestrians, sweeps past one of the ranch buildings, then turns right and begins to travel north. AscendingA few cypress trees soon give way to a sparse mix of vegetation including coyote brush, wild radish, and yellow bush lupine. You may see coyote scat along the trail and northern harriers swooping over a ravine on the left. From the west, an unsigned path feeds in, connecting to the McClures Beach trail. Although the trail runs downslope from the ridgeline, there are still sweeping views west and north. After about 1 mile at a level grade, Tomales Point Trail curves right and descends to Windy Gap. This is a common elk location, and on one visit I counted a herd of 50 cupped in the hollow. The trail begins a long moderate ascent, finally attaining the ridgeline. On this wind-swept peninsula the vegetation huddles close to the ground, and coyote brush and grasses are the dominant plants in this part of the reserve. In summer, when the multiple branches on thistle plants mimic elk antlers, look for small white orchids called hooded lady's tresses, nestled in the dry grass. You may notice rock formations to the left and right, and some rocks poke through the otherwise smooth dirt trail surface. The trail descends, slightly at first, then with more purpose. On clear days Dillon Beach is visible to the east. Yellow bush lupine crowding the trailAt 3.18 miles you'll reach old Lower Pierce Point Ranch. All that remains of the former settlement is a cluster of cypress and eucalyptus trees. (If you're already tired this is a logical turnaround point.) At a damp spot on the right side of the trail nettles and a small tangle of salmonberry thrive. The trail begins to climb again, through a landscape with ever increasing amounts of yellow bush lupine. At 3.80 miles, just past a sign pointing north to Tomales Point, the trail shifts to a course through loose sand. The first stretch is a slog slightly uphill, but the trail does level out somewhat, and there are a few sections on firmer ground. Yellow bush lupine almost completely crowds the trail in places, and elk paths do not help with navigation. Try to stay on the ridgeline, always aiming north. If you're hiking in a group the elk herds in this part of the reserve will probably notice your approach, bellow to warn others in the area, and move out of the area, but if you're alone be alert for solitary bucks roaming the hillsides -- the vegetation is over 4 feet tall in places and the elk can be tough to spot. In late summer and early autumn these male elks can be feisty as they hit their rutting season. View at the pointTo me, their vocalizations range from sounds resembling a shrieking toddler, squeaking door, and howling power drill. The trail crests but does not linger, and almost right away heads downhill toward the point. Just off the coast to the left, you might notice Bird Rock, populated with many cormorants on my visit. Look for yellow-blossomed lizardtail and sand verbena along the trail in early summer. When the many bush lupine seed pods dry out in late August they rustle in the wind like a rattlesnake's warning. A buoy on Tomales Bay bobs on the water, pealing like a church bell. Finally, at 4.78 miles, you'll reach the point. Steep, unfenced bluffs drop like a mouth agape, straight to the sea. Be cautious at the crumbling edge. A path continues downhill to the tip of the point, but I was content at this viewpoint -- the route seemed precipitous at best. When you're ready retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 9.56 miles
Last hiked: Monday, August 19, 2002