Point Reyes National Seashore is a place of many contrasts: land and sea; forests and grasslands; sunshine and fog as well as quiet and crowded trails. Even the mode of transportation is varied from mountain bikes, horses, backpacking and hiking. Here you will find lush, shaded canyons that lead to windswept grasslands next to the ocean or tucked away meadows far from the fog. Many ocean bluffs bear wind-sculpted bushes with their tops shaved off or a lone Eucalyptus tree swaying in the wind. At higher elevations you will discover lush forests of Douglas fir and the unique Bishop pine (which incidentally is on its way toward extinction). My favorite tree is the Coast Live Oak with its sprawling branches found in open meadows or intermingling with Tanoak and the California-laurel.
We began our overnight backpacking trip at the popular Bear Valley Trailhead and headed toward Glen Camp about 4.6 miles away (one of four backcountry camps) . The trail is wide and level with only a slight slope until you reach what I call the Bear Valley Divide. From this midway point the trail and creek slope downhill toward the ocean. Occasionally we came across beautiful open meadows like this one at the "divide," which incidentally is a fine resting spot with restrooms. Much of the trail is shaded by lush deciduous trees and towering Douglas fir and Bishop pine along the hillsides. You will also find most of the people on this trail.
The following day we trudged through tall grasses, stinging nettles, scrappy chaparral, and ate blackberries along the way. Meandering toward the ocean we discovered colorful wildflowers and hardy succulents blooming near the ocean bluffs. Upon arriving at Arch Rock, we couldn't find the "arch" until we looked closely beneath us. Two people passed below us and out onto the beach; hence we discovered the arch was directly beneath us. This arch is typical of northern California's coastline, known as a emergent coastline, where the coastline is actually rising faster than the sea level. Relentless wave action then batters and carves away this newly rising land, leaving erosional features such as sea caves, sea stacks and arches like this one shown.
We spent most of our time inland because I knew how the summer brings chilly morning fog and strong afternoon wind. I was also eager to explore the varied landscape of Point Reyes and a different camp. Previously I stayed at Coast Camp and found its open setting unappealing, especially when a troop of Boy Scouts started screaming "skunk" as one ran through their camp. We opted for Glen Camp this time in the gentle hills with trees and protection from the ocean breeze. This camp was quiet, with only 3 campers on this weekday, but I didn't like the camp arrangement because it is located in a giant meadow with everyone facing one another. The Park Service even put a camp in the middle of the meadow as a joke so everyone can stare at them. Quite frankly, I consider this type of backpacking similar to car camping with designated campsites, picnic tables, toilets, trash cans, grills (even though wood fires are prohibited), food boxes and running water. We found no skunks at this camp, but a mighty mouse managed to break into our food box and eat our oatmeal. Watch it because these Pt. Reyes animals are domesticated and will nibble right through your wooden food box. While I am talking about hazards, much of the terrain is covered with poison oak, stinging nettles and ticks. My favorite part of Glen Camp is a majestic Coast Live Oak that drapes itself over someone's lucky campsite.
Point Reyes is more than beautiful scenery and unruly animals though. It is about geology and what happens deep beneath the Earth's surface. If you look at Point Reyes on a map it looks geographically funny with its elongated Tomales Bay and fluted coastal points. Stranger yet, its parent rocks match that of the Tehachapi Mountains, more than 310 miles to the south. What's going on here? Here's a clue... earthquakes frequently occur here. You guessed it--the San Andreas Fault runs right through Point Reyes. Incidentally, California is not falling into the Pacific Ocean as illustrated here. Rather, part of California is sliding along this transverse fault at an average of about 2 inches a year. Because of plate tectonic pressure and friction, the earth occasionally shakes in spurts and fits. "From time to time this pressure becomes too great, the underlying rock breaks loose, and the surface actually moves. This is what happened in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 when the peninsula leaped 20 feet northwestward," according to the Park Service. Because of this continuous movement, Los Angeles will some day be next door to San Francisco (what a cultural clash!). This explains the funny looking geography of Point Reyes.
If you are interested in these natural wonders, the main Bear Valley Visitor Center has many displays: an earthquake seismograph, plant and animal displays like a stuffed bobcat along with many other photographic displays, exhibits and artifacts. You will also find a replica of a Coast Miwok Indian village within a short hike away. The main visitor center is where you obtain a camping permit. I recommend visiting the Lighthouse Visitor center as well for an impressive view of the ocean.
Best parts: climate, ocean views, unique landscape, plant diversity, year-round camping, near urban areaDirections - You can reach Pt Reyes several ways, either from the north or south directly off Hwy. 1. Many country roads lead from U.S. 101. The main Bear Valley Visitor Center is about 1/2 hour from Petaluma, CA and right next to the small hamlet of Olema, CA, abbot mile away.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Open year round
Campgrounds - car camping is not permitted. Four (4) hike-in campgrounds, however, are available by permit only for groups and individuals: Glen, Coast, Sky, and Wildcat. You can reserve two month in advance (highly recommended for weekend campers in the summer season) or just show up on the weekday (like we did) and probably receive a free permit. For reservations call before noon at (415) 663-1092.
For more information, try these Web sites: "www.pointreyes.net" and the National Park "www.nps.gov/pore"