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