The Ultimate Guide to Point Reyes National Seashore

The Ultimate Guide to Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a true paradise right on the edge of the bustling San Francisco City. This nature preserve is quite popular among nature and outdoor enthusiasts from the surrounding areas. But the park’s name is not that well known nationally, and even less – globally. And, perhaps, that’s a good thing – Point Reyes National Seashore offers a ton of activities for hikers, bikers and wildlife enthusiasts.

With fewer people roaming the trails, there’s more for you to enjoy! But don’t get the wrong idea – the park does get very crowded during the peak season. After all, it is an awe-inspiring destination.

Point Reyes National Seashore-sand ridge, Point Reyes

A Quick Navigation

About Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a park preserve located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Western California. It became a national preserve in 1962 and has been maintained by the US National Park Service (NPS) ever since. 

Point Reyes National Seashore is a primary habitat for a large variety of wildlife and unique flora. Point Reyes Peninsula is on a different tectonic plate than the mainland area. Due to this, the vegetation that grows in the nature preserve is quite different from the one you can see on the other side of Tomales Bay. 

Among many activities you can do in Point Reyes National Seashore, the most popular ones are camping, hiking, water activities, whale watching and bird watching.

Point Reyes National Seashore Weather

The weather in Point Reyes National Seashore is suitable for exploring the park at almost any time of the year. Due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean, the weather amplitude doesn’t rise or fall to any of the extremes. 

You can expect quite a lot of rain during the winter. Sometimes, it can continuously rain for days.

Springtime is dryer, but it’s also the season when you can get quite a lot of strong winds. The temperature is cool, and it might be a good time to explore the park with a couple of layers on. 

The summers at Point Reyes are usually dry, but you can expect quite a bit of humidity during some mornings due to the fog.

During the fall, you can expect some of the clearest days in Point Reyes. It’s also a good season for exploring and wildlife watching. Occasionally, you can expect some storms and strong gales, but usually, this happens closer to the wintertime. 

Point Reyes National Seashore-a swing on a tree

Getting to Point Reyes National Seashore

Flying to Point Reyes National Seashore

If you’re flying to Point Reyes National Seashore, the closest big hubs to get to are:

Sacramento – under 2 hours drive from the international airport;
San Francisco – 1:30 hour drive from the international airport;
San Jose – 1:35 – 1:50 hour drive from Norman Y. Mineta International Airport. 

Driving to Point Reyes National Seashore

You can get to the park via the Pacific Coast Highway 1. Depending on the location you’re planning to stay in Point Reyes, you can either get to the park through the Point Reyes Station or Olema. There are some hiking trails further down at Five Brooks. 

You can find the Bear Valley Visitor Center at Olema, where you can check the campground availability and get your permits.

Point Reyes National Seashore Map

Point Reyes National Seashore Map

Find the official maps for Point Reyes National Seashore here or by clicking on the map image.

Things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore

Hiking in Point Reyes National Seashore

Hiking in Point Reyes National Seashore is a stunning experience. The nature preserve has it all – from easy beach walks to scenic ridge trails, from falling waterfalls to historic landmarks. Here are some of the great hikes in Point Reyes.

Tomales Point Trail: this out-and-back trail is perhaps one of the most popular hikes in Point Reyes. It takes you to the northernmost point on the peninsula. Along the way, you will have gorgeous ocean views, beautiful rock formations on the ridge slopes and a lot of opportunities to see tule elk. It’s one of the best trails for wildlife watching. 

  • Trail length: 15.7 km/9.8 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: out-and-back.
  • Hike level: moderate. 
  • Trail guide

Point Reyes Lighthouse Trail: this hike is an easy trail in the westernmost part of the peninsula. The hike takes you to the Point Reyes Lighthouse via a paved road and awards you with stunning scenery of the coastline. It’s a great spot for whale-watching during their migration period and a perfect hike for the whole family.

  • Trail length: 2.2 km/1.4 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: out-and-back.
  • Hike level: easy.   
  • Trail guide
Point Reyes National Seashore-peaceful beaches at Point Reyes

Sky Trail: Sky Trail is a moderate trail that takes you to Kelham Beach. You’ll have coastal views, fir forests and open grasslands along the way. Although the trail is quite long, the elevation gain is under 200 m and it remains the same intensity almost throughout the whole hike.

  • Trail length: 19 km/11.8 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: out-and-back.
  • Hike level: moderate. 
  • Trail guide

Muddy Hollow & The Estero: the Muddy Hollow & The Estero is an easy-moderate loop trail. The trail takes you through some unique flora, offering scenic views of the area. The Muddy Hollow is a great trail for bird-watching. 

  • Trail length: 12.3 km/7.6 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: loop.
  • Hike level: easy-moderate.
  • Trail guide

Alamere Falls: Alamere Falls is another popular trail in Point Reyes National Seashore. The strenuous trail offers you a stunning sight of the cascades dropping down a 30-foot cliff into the Wildcat Beach. Although the hike is worth the effort, bear in mind that the National Park Service stated that “there is no park-sanctioned Alamere Falls Trail”, which means the trail is not maintained and you should weigh the risk of possible challenges you might have to face while on it. Three trailheads lead to Alamere Falls. More information in the trail guide below.

  • Trail length: varies depending on the trailhead.
  • Trail type: varies depending on the trailhead.
  • Hike level: varies depending on the trailhead. 
  • Trail guide 
Point Reyes National Seashore-beautiful trees

Kehoe Beach Trail: this hike is an easy trail taking you to the stunning Kehoe Beach. The hike takes you through a habitat of bobcats, brush rabbits and even mountain lions, which can occasionally be seen in the area. It’s also the only trail in Point Reyes National Seashore where dogs are allowed.

  • Trail length: 1.9 km/1.2 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: out-and-back.
  • Hike level: easy.  
  • Trail guide

Mt. Wittenberg Loop: the Mt. Wittenberg Loop that starts in Olema, is a moderate-strenuous hike that takes you through dense forests and open meadows to the highest point in the park – Mt. Wittenberg (426 m/1,407 ft). The ocean and rock formation views are stunning and are well worth the effort.

  • Trail length: 22 km/13.7 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: loop.
  • Hike level: moderate-strenuous. 
  • Trail guide

Laguna-Coast Loop: this loop trail is an easy hike that takes you through the open meadows and grasslands. The area has little shade, so take care of the winds, sunlight and fog. The trail has a high chance of spotting hawks and shorebirds.

  • Trail length: 8 km/5 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: loop.
  • Hike level: easy. 
  • Trail guide

Estero to Sunset Beach: this out-and-back trail is a wonderful hike that takes you through open grasslands and offers great bird-watching opportunities. Sometimes, you can even spot bat rays and leopard sharks swimming in the Home Bay. 

  • Trail length: 13 km/8.1 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: out-and-back.
  • Hike level: easy-moderate. 
  • Trail guide

Chimney Rock Trail: Chimney Rock Trail is a spectacular hike offering amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and Drakes Bay. The unique rock formations at Chimney Rock attract many hikers, but please be advised to stay on the official trails. Due to coastal erosion, the outer rocks on the cliffs can collapse into the Ocean at any time. 

  • Trail length: 2.8 km/1.75 mi roundtrip.
  • Trail type: out-and-back.
  • Hike level: easy.
  • Trail guide
Point Reyes National Seashore-a vulture at Point Reyes

Biking in Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore attracts mountain bikers and road bikes each year. The park allows bicycles and class I e-bikes, and there are some rules and regulations you need to follow. 

The trails that are open for bike riding at Point Reyes

  • Sky Trail
  • Stewart Trail 
  • Abbotts Lagoon to the footbridge (e-bikes prohibited)
  • Inverness Ridge Trail 
  • Coast Trail 
  • Marshall Beach Trail
  • Kule Loklo Trail to Bear Valley Road
  • Olema Valley Trail
  • Bull Point Trail
  • Estero Trail to Drakes Head and Sunset Beach
  • Bear Valley Trail
  • Lighthouse Service Road 

You can find more information on biking in Point Reyes National Seashore here.

Kayaking at Point Reyes National Seashore

Kayaking in Point Reyes is a great opportunity for those who want to visit this place for its water activities. Do note, that there are some regulations in place to protect wildlife from people. 

The best places for kayaking in Point Reyes National Seashore are Tomales Bay, Drakes Estero, and Estero de Limantour. Note that kayaking in Drakes Estero and Estero de Limantour is prohibited between the 1st of March till the 30 of June to protect the harbor seals during their pupping season. 

Another great option for kayaking is the ocean. Open ocean kayaking can be potentially very dangerous. It’s only recommended for those who have enough experience, required equipment, and needed skills. 

Point Reyes National Seashore-marine birds, Point Reyes

Wildlife Watching in Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes attracts numerous wildlife enthusiasts from all over California and beyond. This nature preserve is an amazing location to see some amazing animal species. 

Whale watching is one of the most popular activities during the gray whale migration period. The southern migration usually occurs around mid-January and the northern migration reaches its peak around mid-March. These are the best times to spot gray whales passing Point Reyes National Seashore. Another whale species you might quite often spot near the shores of Point Reyes is the humpback whale. If you’re really lucky, you might also see blue, fin, minke, or sperm whales, but these are rare. Dolphins, white sharks and orcas sometimes also visit this stunning nature reserve. For more information on the best spots to see whales, check out this page

Point Reyes National Seashore is also one of the best places for birdwatching in the whole world! Point Reyes recorded over 50% of species of birds that are found throughout the whole North American continent. Some of the most popular species you can spot here are northern spotted owls, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks, golden eagles, bald eagles, barn owls, great horned owls, snowy owls and many more. You can find the whole list here. If you want to find out the best spots for birdwatching, check out this page

Point Reyes is also a great place to watch elephant seals, harbor seals, tule elk, coyotes and many more species of mammals. 

This protected area is a permanent or temporary habitat for a huge number of different species of animals. That’s why it is important it’s kept being protected as a nature preserve.

Wildlife at Point Reyes National Seashore

As briefly mentioned before, wildlife at Point Reyes National Seashore is astonishing. The abundance of species you can meet at this nature preserve is one of the most diverse in the world. 

Point Reyes is both a permanent and temporary home to 490 species of birds. That’s more than half of the species you can meet in the entire North American continent. Among these 490, there are eagles, hawks, owls, and other species, some of which are endangered or very rare. Scientists believe this place is such a great habitat for the birds due to its special location. The latitude and temperature is a perfect habitat for many of these species.  

In addition to the birds, you can find 85 species of fish, which play a very important role in the whole environment. Point Reyes protects a big number of its waters, which are necessary to ensure safe migration and reproduction of steelhead trout and coho salmon. These two species have become vulnerable to human activities and one of the park’s missions is to maintain healthy creeks that may be a step in increasing the population of these species.

Point Reyes National Seashore-a humpback of a humpback whale

The park is also a primary habitat for 29 species of reptiles and amphibians, among which you can find the western rattlesnake, leatherback sea turtle, gopher snake, southern alligator lizard, and many others. 

And finally, Point Reyes National Seashore is also home to 80 species of mammals. You should have no problem spotting tule elk, harbor seals, and elephant seals. While black bears, mountain lions, and bobcats are not seen as often. Out of the 80 species of mammals, 25 are different species of whales. Grey whales are perhaps the ones people come for the most. But if you’re lucky, you might also spot orcas, sperm whales, humpback whales, and bottlenose dolphins. 

The diversity of animals that live in Point Reyes is truly remarkable and often is the main reason nature lovers visit this magical destination. 

Point Reyes National Seashore Camping

Backcountry Camping in Point Reyes National Seashore

If you’re looking for the best ways to explore and immerse into the wilderness of the area, I strongly recommend backcountry camping in Point Reyes National Seashore. The hike-in campgrounds in Point Reyes are located in some of the most beautiful and remote destinations of the park, and the only way to get to them is by hiking, bike riding or horse riding. 

Some people might see it as a hassle, as you would have to leave your car and carry all the stuff with you. But there is no better way of exploring the area than that. Backcountry camping in Point Reyes offers great opportunities to be closer to nature, wildlife and because there is limited space available, further from the crowds. 

Point Reyes National Seashore-tule elk

Hike-in Campgrounds

Coast Campground

The Coast Campground is located 200 yards from the beach, in a remote tall-grass valley. It offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the whole beach just for yourself (and other campers, of course).

How to get to: you can take an easy 1.8 mi hike from Laguna Trailhead, or a 2.7 mi hike from the Coast Trailhead. 

Space: 12 individual and 2 group sites.

Wildcat Campground

Wildcat Campground is located on an open meadow with some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean. There’s a short walk to the beach and it’s only a mile away from the Alamere Falls. 

How to get to: you can take a 6.3 mi hike from Bear Valley or a 5.5 mi hike from Palomarin. The only bike trail that leads to the Wildcat Campground is a strenuous 6.7 mi ride from the Five Brooks Trailhead.  

Space: 5 individual and 3 group sites.

Glen Campground

Glen Campground is located in a more secluded and remote part of Point Reyes. This is a perfect place if you want some tree cover from the ocean breeze. 

How to get to: the best way to get to Glen Campground if you’re hiking is the 4.6 mi hike along the Bear Valley Glen Trail. You can also get there by bike via a strenuous 6.3 mi bike trail. The trail starts at the Five Brooks Trailhead, then continues on Stewart Trail to Glen Trail, then north to the Glen Camp Loop and a descent to the Glen Campground.

Space: 12 individual sites.

Point Reyes National Seashore-stunning flora
Sky Campground 

Sky Campground is located on the western side of Mt. Wittenberg. The campground is in a great spot, offering stunning views of Drakes Bay, Point Reyes and the Pacific Ocean. 

How to get to: the best way to get to Sky Campground is by hiking or biking from the Sky Trailhead. The trail is 1.4 mi long with a 840 ft elevation gain.  

Space: 11 individual sites. 

Boat-in Campgrounds

Tomales Bay Campground

Tomales Bay Campground can be reached by boat and is located on the west side National Park beaches north of Tomales Bay State Park’s northern border. The Tomales Bay Campground is located on small sandy coves, near steep cliffs of the shore.

How to get to: you can only use a boat to get to the campground and are not allowed to get there in any other way.

Spaces: 9 sites for groups of 1-6; 8 for parties of 7-14; 3 for parties of 15-25.

All backcountry campsites require you to get a backcountry permit. Advance reservations are recommended but you can also try to get a campground on the same day at the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

Please note that even if you have made an online reservation, you will still have to pick up your backcountry permit from the Bear Valley Visitor Center. 

Point Reyes National Seashore-an owl chilling in a tree

Backcountry Camping fees

  • $20/night/site for individual sites of up to 6 people.
  • $40/night/site for small group sites for 7-14 people.
  • $50/night/site for large group sites for 15-25 people.

For more information and regulations on backcountry camping in Point Reyes National Seashore, check out this page

Frontcountry Camping in Point Reyes National Seashore

There are no frontcountry campgrounds in the Point Reyes National Seashore itself. However, there are some great options nearby.

If you’re looking to be able to drive into your campsite and pitch a tent near your vehicle, these are some of the best options you can consider.

  • Kirby Cove Campground: located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, around 32 miles from the Bear Valley entrance to Point Reyes. 
  • Camp Taylor: located in Samuel P. Taylor State Park, around 6 miles from the park. 
  • Bodega Dunes Campground: located in Sonoma Coast State Park, around 40 miles from Point Reyes.
  • Wright’s Beach Campground: located in Sonoma Coast State Park, around 40 miles from the park.
  • Willow Creek Environmental Campground: located in Sonoma Coast State Park around 50 miles from the park.
  • Pomo Canyon Campground: located in Sonoma Coast State Park, around 51 miles from Point Reyes National Seashore.
  • Reef Campground: located in Fort Ross State Historic Park around 51 miles from the park.
  • Doran Park Campground: located in Doran Regional Park, around 31 miles from Point Reyes.
Point Reyes National Seashore-a falcon

Private Campgrounds near Point Reyes National Seashore

  • Olema Campground: located in Olema, only 0.8 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
  • Lawson’s Landing: located in Dillon Beach, around 21 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

Hotels and Lodging in Point Reyes National Seashore

The only lodging opportunity within Point Reyes National Seashore is the HI Point Reyes Hostel, located near the Laguna Trailhead. The hostel is located in a great spot, which is a short drive from the beach and at the beginning of some great hiking routes. 

Another great lodging option nearby is the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore, located in Inverness, in the northside of the peninsula. It has a nice garden and barbeque facilities and is perfect for those who want to explore Tomales Bay. 

Two more cozy options north of the park, located on the mainland are Nick’s Cove and Mollusk Manor near the town of McDonald. 

There are numerous hotel and lodging options you can choose from if you’re willing to drive a little bit longer. Check out the best accommodation options around Point Reyes National Seashore by following this link

Point Reyes National Seashore-ocean meets land

Point Reyes Restaurants

If you’re looking for some great places to eat, Point Reyes has some amazing restaurants you can explore. 

If you’re in Point Reyes, the closest restaurant you can grab a hot meal that I recommend is the Stir and Star at Olema. This restaurant is known for its great local food, relaxed atmosphere, and good service.

If you’re willing to look a little bit further, Point Reyes Station has a great variety of restaurants and cafes to choose from. If you’re looking for some great pizza, check out the Cafe Reyes, which is also known for its local oysters. If you want something fancier, Osteria Stellina is a great option. They offer great food and emphasize the local produce they get from the farmers in the area. 

You can also check out Bovine Bakery if you want to treat yourself with some delightful locally baked goods. And if you love cheese, one of the top places I can recommend is the Cowgirl Creamery.  

Naturally, Point Reyes is famous for its seafood, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is by visiting the Saltwater Oyster Depot in Inverness. 

Point Reyes National Seashore-lazy afternoon

Getting Supplies at Point Reyes National Seashore

Groceries 

When it comes to supplies, it depends on what you may need. For regular groceries, food and beverages, you can visit the Inverness Park Market or the Inverness Store in the town of Inverness, which are both located within the Point Reyes Peninsula. 

Camping Supplies

If you require camping supplies, your best bet is REI in Corte Madera, which is a 40-minute drive from Bear Valley Visitor Center. Another good option is the Marin Outdoor Trading Co in San Rafael, which is just under a 40-minute drive as well.

Gas Stations

The closest gas station is located at Point Reyes Station, but it’s going to be a bit pricier than the ones further from the park. Another option closeby is the Rino Service Station in Fairfax. If you’re willing to drive a little bit further than that, you can find numerous gas stations in San Rafael, Corte Madera and any other bigger towns in the area. 

Point Reyes National Seashore-seals

Frequently Asked Questions About Point Reyes National Seashore

How far is Point Reyes from San Francisco?

Point Reyes National Seashore is around 36.6 miles away from San Francisco, which is a 1-hour drive.

When can you see whales at Point Reyes?

The two best times to watch the migration of the gray whales are mid-January and mid-March.

Is Point Reyes worth visiting?

Point Reyes is an amazing place that should be on every nature-lovers bucket list. If you like hiking, wildlife-watching and the ocean, this is one of the best places you can choose.  

Where should I stay at Point Reyes National Seashore?

You can choose from quite a few lodging options or frontcountry campgrounds outside of the park, or one of the backcountry campgrounds within Point Reyes. 

How far is Point Reyes from Sacramento?

Point Reyes National Seashore is 96 miles away from Sacramento, which is normally a 1 h 45 min drive.  

Point Reyes National Seashore-ocean views

How many steps does Point Reyes Lighthouse have?

Someone has actually counted that and it’s 313 steps!

How far is Point Reyes from Oakland?

Point Reyes is only 41 miles away from Oakland. The drive to Point Reyes usually takes around 1 hour. 

Can you swim at Point Reyes?

Yes, you can. There are no lifeguards, so be careful and cautious if you decide to swim there. The Limantour and Drakes beaches are great areas for swimming at Point Reyes.

How big is Point Reyes National Seashore?

Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,028-acre park.

How did Point Reyes get its name?

A Spanish explorer who set foot in this area in the early 17th century named the place Punto de Los Reyes, which means King’s Point in Spanish. 

Are dogs allowed at Point Reyes?

Dogs are only allowed in three beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore which are Kehoe, Great Beach and Limantour. You can only bring your dog on one hiking trail though, which is the Kehoe Beach Trail. 

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