California: Point Reyes National Seashore
Tomales Point Trail
For hikers who want awe-inspiring ocean views this is the Tomales Point Trail in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Located 2 hours Northwest of San Francisco, California. This is a popular 9.4 miles (15.13 km) length, there and back hike spans a ridge line towards the northernmost tip of the Pt. Reyes. Dividing Tomales Bay from the Pacific Ocean and terminating at Point Reyes.
Hikers flock to this trail year round for the views of the Pacific coastline and down into Tomales Bay. Being a former ranch road hikers pass through scrub and grasses. Unlike a hard hike like the John Muir Trail In the Sierra National Forrest. This trail is best for families, because it’s more like a long walk than an uphill hike. You only have to travel over small undulating slopes. Its the best to hit this moderate trail during the Spring.
Expect to witness elephant seals on the beaches below during March. Wildflowers (like poppies, iris and lupine) are blooming April through June. The big wildlife attraction on this trail is the herd of Tule Elk as this area has an elk preserve. Other wildlife you may see are raccoon, rabbits, birds and non-venomous snakes.
Parking at the trailhead is free but fills up fast, particularly in the afternoon. In the event you have to park along the Pierce Point Road ensure that no part of your vehicle is on the pavement. Keep in mind, the shoulders of this road get muddy in Spring.
Pro’s: Breathtaking Pacific ocean views. Wildlife viewing. Child friendly. No fees.
Con’s: Dogs aren’t allowed. Full wind and sun exposure. No water available. Lack of food or fuel services within 16 miles (25.75 km) of the park.
The Drive To Tomales Point Trailhead
Expect the trip to take one hour and thirty-five minutes for the drive (3 hours round-trip). This is the amount of time from the Santa Rosa area, northwest of San Francisco, California. The location of the trailhead is at the northern-most end of the Point Reyes peninsula.
These are the directions from the Bear Valley Visitor Center, the main visitors center for the park. Start by driving Northwest for 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) on Bear Valley Road. Next turn left on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Travel for another 5.6 miles (9.01 km) and then turn right at the Y signed for “Tomales Bay State Park” and “Pierce Point Ranch.” Follow Pierce Point Road for 9 miles (14.48 km) to the parking lot at Pierce Point Ranch. This is also the Tomales Point Trailhead.
Ensure to consider the types of roads inside the Point Reyes National Seashore area. The roads are windy and slow-going, so allow thirty-five minutes to drive the 16.6 miles (26.72 km). Many visitors spend at least 3 to 4 hours trekking the Tomales Point Trail.
What To Expect On This Californian Hike
At the western edge of the parking lot is the sign to start the Tomales Point Trail. Start walking this wide trail as it sweeps past one of the ranch buildings. It will then turn right and navigate to the North where cypress trees give way to a sparse mix of vegetation. Including yellowish bush lupine, coyote brush, and even wild radish. Pay attention to where you step as coyote scat is common.
After about 1 mile (1.61 km) at a level elevation, the path curves to the right and descends into Windy Gap. This is a common location to start seeing the elk. Next, you begin a moderate ascent, finally arriving at the ridge line.
On this wind-swept ridge line the vegetation hugs close to the ground. Watch for rock formations with some poking through the hard dirt trail surface. Anyways, after continuing on for 3.2 miles (5.15 km) you’ll reach old Lower Pierce Point Ranch. All that remains is a cluster of cypress and eucalyptus trees.
At 3.8 miles (6.12 km), is a sign pointing north to Tomales Point, here the trail turns into loose sand. It begins as a slog uphill, but does level out after a while.
At the 4.4 miles (7.08 km) mark, you’ll reach the turnaround, an unmarked sandy bare spot. Past this point, steep bluffs drop straight to the sea. There is a path downhill to the tip of the point, but it’s best for sure-footed hikers only. Bluffs along the California coast are unstable. They tend to crumble and slide, especially in wet weather. Instead, groups with kids should stop and retrace their way back to the trailhead.
Preparation Is Key
- Map: Take a topographic map with you, as this trail is confusing. Going off route can lead to deadly consequences. Click to download a Tomales Point Map. (1,116 KB PDF)
- Check The Weather: Morning bring fog to this area, plus the entire hike is in an exposed area. Expect varied weather and temperatures since you are near water. For accurate weather check the National Weather Service forecast for Tomales Point.
- Fill Up Your Car: Due to the remote location of this hike it’s best to fuel up before entering the park. The nearest fuel station is 16 miles (25.75 km) away in Point Reyes Station.
- Bring Hydration: There aren’t any natural potable water sources on this hiking trail. In a pinch there is a water bottle filling station inside the Bear Valley visitors center.
- Nutrition: Like water, there isn’t food available in the park. The closest food services are in Inverness, which is a 25-minute drive from the trailhead parking lot.
- Proper Footwear: Visitors and locals love to wear flip-flops in California. But don’t wear them for this hike, obstacles on the trail lead to sprained ankles. Wear supportive runners or better yet trail specific running shoes or boots.
- Layered Clothing: The best way to combat stiff winds, cool temps, fog or rain is layering. A light rain shell should suffice in Spring and Summer months. Also bring sun protection, including sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
- Cell phone: Reception is minimal to nonexistent but have one and set to airplane mode to save the battery. In an emergency your cell should allow a 911 call if you get reception. Plus, there’s a pay phone at the Tomales Point trailhead parking lot.