What makes hiking Point Reyes National Seashore unique is that it has five broad ecosystems, ranging from Forests to Oceans, Prairies and Grasslands, Sand Dunes, and Wetlands, Marshes, and Rivers. Additionally, it is home to a wide diversity of wildlife. Hiking Point Reyes is an epic experience that is hard to match. It is vast, full of life, and extraordinary. Trails and day hikes that are listed in this guide will take to amazing places and astounding experiences. Let’s dive in and find out the best day hikes and trails in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Hiking Point Reyes: Exploring the Hidden Trails of Coastal California
Approximately 50 miles north of San Francisco, located in Marin County, Point Reyes “la Punta de los Reyes” meaning “Point of the Kings” was named by explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1603 who first sighted the rocky headlands along the Miwok-inhabited coast. Coast Miwok people were the inhabitants of today’s Marin and southern Sonoma Counties before the Europeans came to California.
Please remember to check trail conditions and obtain any necessary permits before you head out. Additionally, dress in layers to accommodate the rapid weather conditions, as Point Reyes is known for its fog, changing coastal climate and brisk coastal winds. I can attest to the rapid change in weather conditions since there were many times where I started the trail with perfect sunny weather, and finished the trail with windy and foggy conditions. I was happy to have that extra layer or jacket in my backpack. It’s also extremely important to follow Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the natural beauty of this national seashore. And have your camera ready…
TOMALES POINT TRAIL
Tomales Point Trail is by far my favorite day hike and trail in Point Reyes National Seashore. It is long trail (9.4-mile out-and-back) which takes you to the northernmost tip of Point Reyes Peninsula. The reward at the end is stunning views of the Pacific Ocean while offering spectacular views of Tomales Bay and Bodega Bay along the trail.
I can say in confidence that Tomales Point Trail is the one trail you can count on seeing wildlife, especially Tule elk. And, if you are lucky you can walk you can walk between the herds that roam the bluffs. It’s a relatively flat trail, but it can be windy and exposed, so be prepared. Even though it is a long trail, you can hike as long as you want and turn back where ever you like if you have limited time. You will still enjoy the amazing views and spot wildlife 2-3 miles into the trail.
- Location: The Tomales Point Trailhead is at the end of Pierce Point Road, approximately 40 minutes driving time from Bear Valley.
- Length: The trail is an out-and-back route, approximately 9.4 miles (15.1 kilometers) long
- Elevation gain: +1,090′ total roundtrip elevation gain
- Difficulty rating: Moderately strenuous. It includes some elevation changes and uneven terrain, and it can be windy and exposed in some sections. In the last mile or so, the trail turns to sand which makes the trail a bit challenging.
- Scenic Highlights: Wildlife, Coastal Views, Flora, Historical Sites
- Directions to Trailhead: Google Maps Location
Trail Insight: There is a parking lot at the Pierce Point Ranch trailhead; however, it can fill up quickly, especially during weekends and holidays, so arriving early is advisable.
CHIMNEY ROCK TRAIL
If you are looking for a short hike with dramatic landscapes, ocean views, and elephant seals Chimney Rock Trail will check all these boxes. Usually overshadowed by the Point Reyes Lighthouse, Chimney Rock Trail offers panoramic views that can match the lighthouse.
Point Reyes National Seashore is renowned for its wildlife, and Chimney Rock Trail is no exception. From December to February, Elephant Seal Overlook within Chimney Rock trail is one the best places to observe these enormous and loud creatures with trumpeting calls. In addition, from January to May, Chimney Rock Trail is a great place spot gray whales migrating on their northward journey.
Please note that parts of Chimney Rock Trail may be closed seasonally to protect nesting birds and harbor seals. These closures are in place to minimize human disturbance and ensure the safety of wildlife.
- Location: Point Reyes National Seashore
- Roundtrip distance: 1.75-mile out-and-back trail
- Elevation gain: 269 feet
- Difficulty rating: Easy
- Directions to Trailhead: Google Maps
Trail Insight: The trail generally has good maintenance and is relatively easy to hike, making it suitable for a wide range of visitors. However, it does feature some inclines and uneven terrain, so we advise wearing sturdy footwear and exercising caution.
POINT REYES LIGHTHOUSE
The the trail that leads to the Point Reyes Lighthouse is short one, only 0.65 miles one way, but it is definitely challenging. The trail is mostly uphill with a 400-foot elevation gain to the Lighthouse Visitor Center, and you need to go down 308 steps to reach the lighthouse itself. In addition, you will be more likely to experience either cool temperatures, high winds, or fog any given day.
I have been to the Point Reyes Lighthouse many times and I can say I have experienced all these weather conditions. Sometimes the weather can be sunny at the parking lot, and by the time you reach the lighthouse, it can be foggy or windy, so layered clothing is recommended.
- Area: Point Reyes National Seashore
- Roundtrip distance: 1.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 400 feet
- Difficulty rating: Moderate
- Directions to Trailhead: Google Maps
Trail Insight: The famous Leaning Cypress Tree is located along the trail as well.
Trail Insight: The scenic South Beach Overlook Trail can also be reached from here. The dirt trail is located at the northwest end of the Point Reyes Lighthouse parking lot.
Always please remember to follow Leave No Trace principles to ensure our trails remain unspoiled and pristine for generations to come, and stay safe.