Beauty and tragedy all in one. Point Reyes National Seashore is a bit of both. This is definitely a place you should go to and decide for yourself. Point Reyes is filled with beauty and life, and depending on what areas you visit you can immerse yourself in its beauty. (Marshes, beach, forest hikes, lighthouse.)
Other areas of Point Reyes, such as the road to see the Tule Elk Reserve is not so fortunate. This area is used for dairy cattle so it is barren and quite the eye sore. If you want to see the elk you will need to bare the drive, but seeing the native protected landscape, beautiful cliff views and the Tule Elk grazing just off the trail is worth the drive.
Embarking on an adventure to Point Reyes with family and friends is a great way to create cherished memories that will last a lifetime. There is something unique and thought provoking for every type of adventurer.
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A bit about Point Reyes
This beautiful peninsula was eyed for development in the 1960’s, when a U.S. Congressman rallied for its protection. With pristine beaches, estuaries, forests, and grasslands, the peninsula was conserved as Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962. Point Reyes sits atop a separate tectonic plate than the land to the east, supporting different soil types and growing a variety of plants. This sets the stage for unique communities, some of which are found nowhere else on earth. Plants and animals that exist in just one geographic region are called endemic species. With almost 500 avian species documented here, Point Reyes holds the title for greatest bird diversity in any U.S. national park! This contributes to the area’s biodiversity, which is the richness of life in all forms – from genes and species to habitats and people – emphasizing the important services provided by protecting all the interconnected levels of life.
Herds of Tule elk can be found on the peninsula, a subspecies of North American elk that once roamed grasslands throughout the state. Habitat conversion to agriculture and unregulated hunting drove them nearly to extinction. Beginning in 1978, a group of ten Tule elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes National Seashore that has since grown into a herd numbering over 400 (the largest free-ranging herd in existence today). Similarly, elephant seals were once observed here in high numbers but were hunted nearly to extinction for their oil-rich blubber. The U.S. government banned the hunting of elephant seals in the 1920’s as their numbers plummeted, and it wasn’t until 1981 that the first breeding pair was observed in Point Reyes. The population continues to grow. Biologists worked on these projects as an important step in restoring the natural ecological functions of Point Reyes.
What you can see and do at Point Reyes
Hike Tomales Point Trail (Tule Elk Reserve)
This is a 4 mile round trip hike, that takes you to see herds of Tule Elk. This hike takes you to the end of the peninsula, but you don't need to hike to the end of the trail to see the Tule Elk. The entire area you are hiking through is their home, so Elk can be seen throughout the hike.
The trail is on a peninsula at Point Reyes so the cliffs and ocean views can be seen as you hike. This is a great area to take pictures.
Hike the Estero Trail to the Footbridge
This is 2.4 miles round trip hike. This was my favorite hike in Point Reyes. I recommend hiking this trail to the footbridge then turning back. The footbridge gives you spectacular views of the mudflats.
Take binoculars to better see the shore birds that may be feeding in the mud. Also, Look up into the trees as you hike, you may find turkey vultures nesting, or hanging out in the trees.
Walk the Kule Loklo Trail to Miwok Lolo Village
This is a .8 mile out and back walk to the reconstructed Miwok Lolo Village. This is an easy hike on a fairly flat trail through a eucalyptus grove.
The Miwok people are the first know inhabitants of the Point Reyes Coast. They lived in their village year round living off the land and sea. More about the Miwok at Point Reyes here.
Walk the Earthquake Trail Loop
This is a short .7 mile loop that takes you to see a fence that was constructed to show the 16 foot shift that the earth moved in the 1906 earthquake.
Point Reyes is located on the San Andreas Fault in California.
Relax and get your feet wet at Drakes Beach. This the easiest beach to get to in Point Reyes and is a fun spot to get some sun, picnic and watch pelicans as they fly by.
Point Reyes Pro Planning Tips
- Season: Fall, Winter and Spring. Summer brings clouds and lots of fog.
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate, trail near cliffs.
- Time Needed: 1-2 Days
- Cost: Free
- Estero hike easy mellow hike, 2-3 people wide trail. Lots of poison oak to the side. Shorebird viewing and there are crabs under the bridge. Recommend turning around after the bridge.
- The Elk reserve is worth the visit, Be prepared for a long drive through barren dairy farm land to get to it.
- Don’t walk on the mudflats, they are delicate habitats and you can sink deep into the mud.
- Cypress tree tunnel is a popular picture spot and is located off the main road on the way to Drakes Beach.
- If you want to kayak the area with kids go to Whitehouse Pool near Point Reyes Station. It is a parking lot and is a place to kayak or paddleboard the Tomales Bay Ecological Preserve.
- Hike out to Point Reyes Lighthouse, this is s short .65 hike and can be quite cool and foggy so plan ahead.
- If you want to learn a little more about the controversy regarding the Tule Elk and the cattle at Point Reyes check out this video called The Shame of Point Reyes . I found it eye opening.
More Point Reyes Favorites, Can you Spot it?
Point Reyes bonus! If you keep your eyes alert you will see some of the unique and incredible things that make Point Reyes so incredible.
Tule elk are an endemic species to Point Reyes in California, where today they number around 5,700 animals. This number is less than the historic population, numbering 500,000. Males may weigh up to 700 pounds, while antlerless females may weigh upwards of 400 pounds.
Poison oak grows along the Pacific coast in clumps or vines. The fuzzy green leaves occur in groups of three and resemble the rounded, lobed leaves of oak. The plant contains an oil called urushiol, which causes an allergic reaction in many people. Remember “Leaves of three let it be”
Turkey vultures are scavengers that don’t kill their own prey. They use their powerful beak to help force their heads into the body of dead animals. With the ability to identify scents over a mile away, these animals possess the strongest sense of smell of all birds.
Eucalyptus seeds are contained in small acorn-resembling pods. Both red gum and blue gum species reproduce throughout California via seeds that range in color from brown or black to orange or tan. Eucalyptus plants are native to Australia but thrive in the California environment.
California Brown Pelicans
California Brown Pelicans have good eyesight and can spot fish as they fly over the water. They dive into the water head first to catch their food! They breed on islands without mammals to protect their eggs. The parents take turns sitting on eggs and feeding chicks!
Point Reyes is truly a unique destination. From its Tule Elk Reserve, migratory shorebirds, to its beaches, stunning mudflats, and forests there is something here for everyone to enjoy.