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Pt. Reyes National Seashore - California

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Pt. Reyes

First there was the fog and then the coast Miwok Indians, who came upon this strangely shaped piece of land that has been shoved more than 300 miles north by the grinding of the huge Pacific and American plates. These apposing plates formed the San Andreas Fault, the rift zone which characterizes this geological preserve.

Sir Francis Drake visited the native encampment here in 1579, needing to beach his ship, The Golden Hinde, for repairs. Spaniards sailed the region from 1595 and in 1603 the explorer Don Sebastian Vizcaino named the headland "La Punta de los Reyes." Spanish rule decimated the Miwok population of Point Reyes and the English never returned. The Mexican period was brief and uneventful and afterward, the Marin coast became farmland.

Then came the lighthouse -- in the late 1800s -- to protect ships from the shoals and reefs of the treacherous Marin coast. Its remote, rocky and fog-infested location drove its keepers mad during the early years of the lighthouse, and summers are still foggy and windy. But the point had a haunting beauty of interest to naturalists and farmers alike. Sea lions bask along the shoreline. Deer are found in the Douglas fir and Bishop pine forests that stretch almost to the long beaches of the point. More than 350 species of seabirds nest in the park. Gray whales migrate to Baja California close to the lighthouse. Seals and migratory shore birds inhabit the estero (marsh) of Drake's Bay.

What to See and Do

The best place to get an orientation to the park attractions is the Bear Valley Visitor Center (one of three in the park). It's just off Highway 1 at Olema. Entering the park, you cross the fault line. The visitor center contains exhibits on the National Seashore geology and wildlife. There are self-guided trails in addition to a replica of a Miwok village.

After a drive through the town of Inverness on Sir Francis Drake Highway, you may drive on to the end of this highway to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse, and a small visitor center, then to Drake's Beach and the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center which has been expanded and re-opened with new exhibits in the summer of 1991.

The Pt. Reyes North and South Beaches are on the ocean, just off the road. A sideroad leads to the estero parking lot, where the Estero Trail leads to the marsh for shore bird viewing. Another fork leads to two other parking areas for trails to Limantour Spit and the beach. This same area can be reached by Limantour Road, which intersects with Bear Valley Road, near the main visitor center.

A network of trails, offering more than 100 miles of walking, fan out from the main Bear Valley Trail. Highlights of a visit here include:

Interpretation Programs

Earthquake walks are conducted year-round. Winter programs focus on whale watching and viewing wintering shore birds. Summer activity shifts to archaeology, marsh habitats and plant life.

Pt. Reyes Light

Located at the end of Drake Highway, 20.5 miles from the visitor center, there is an impressive view, and visitors may walk down the 300 steps to the lighthouse. Murres and sea lions live on the rocks below the light. The best place to see gray whales during winter months is from the lighthouse observation platform. The visitor centerin the old lighthouse is open Thursday through Monday -- weather permitting!

Mt.Vision Overlook

At 8.7 miles on the Drake Highway, a sideroad branches eastward to the Overlook, providing an outstanding view of Drake's Bay and the estero. You'll get a good look at the part of the park that burned during the 1996 Vision Fire, and witness the amazing recovery of the natural environment.

Pt. Reyes Ocean Beaches

A long beach, divided into two sections. The north beach is at 13 miles on the Drake Highway. The south beach is at 15.7 miles. Both are good places for beachcombing and picnics. They are not for swimming, however, as the rip tides are fierce, and waves are too high for water sports.

Drake's Beach

This beach on Drake's Bay is more protected and swimming is permitted. There is a cafe at the beach and the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is here too. The sideroad joins Drake Highway between the north and south beaches. Because this is sheltered water, the beach is often crowded.

Bear Valley Trails

The major trailhead is at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. There are trail maps at the center and the longest one-way distance is 11.5 miles (Palomarin Trail). Shorter trails include: Arch Rock (4.1 miles); Sky Camp (2.7 miles); Wildcat Camp (6.3 miles); and Coast Camp (8.9 miles). These are all one-way distances.

Camping

Car and RV camping is not permitted within the National Seashore.

Walk-in camping is available in four locations: Sky Camp, 2.7 miles from the Bear Valley trailhead, a high campsite on Mt. Wittenberg; Coast Camp is on the ocean about 9 miles from the trailhead; Wildcat Camp is a group campground 6.3 miles from the Bear Valley trailhead; Glen Camp is a small, wooded campground 5 miles from the trailhead.

Car camping is available at Samuel P. Taylor State Park and local RV parks. The state park is located east of Olema via Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

More Info:
Motels are available in nearby
Olema and Pt. Reyes Station, as well as in Stinson Beach and Bolinas.

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