When a section of Arch Rock cliff crumbled into the ocean at Point Reyes National Seashore last March, killing a hiker, it marked the closure of one of the park’s most popular vistas. That tragedy has permanently closed the tiny 0.2-mile spur that took hikers out to a superb spot for ocean views.
While Arch Rock’s collapse is a reminder of nature’s unpredictability, it hasn’t blocked the seemingly unlimited number of hiking options at Point Reyes, which encompasses 150 miles of trails that afford soul-satisfying vistas of blue ocean, foresty glades, meadows and sandy shores. Everyone has their favorites, many of which criss-cross each other.
The steepest trail is up to Mount Wittenberg, the highest point in the park at 1,400 feet. Although that moniker – highest point – is somewhat misleading. When you reach the summit, marked by a U.S. Geological Survey marker in the ground, you’re pretty well surrounded by a screen of trees that obscure the expected Pacific Ocean views. Twenty years ago, there was plenty of visible ocean from the top and an overlook of the Olema Valley, but the devastating 1995 Vision Fire cleared the way for the growth of scraggly looking bishop pines there.
The Mount Wittenberg trail is about a 5-mile loop, starting from the Bear Valley Trail, with several options for the return. You can turn north along the Z Ranch Trail and follow the Horse Trail back to the trailhead. Or continue back along Mount Wittenberg Trail to the junction with the Meadow Trail and return to Bear Valley and the visitors center. You can easily extend your hike by continuing down Sky Trail or Woodward Valley trails toward the ocean.
To plot your options, trail maps are available at the visitors center.
In summer, when the Sacramento Valley is heating up, Point Reyes is a refreshing refuge from 100-degree scorchers. This time of year, the summer wildflowers are mostly gone. But from late summer through October, it’s elk mating season, which park rangers say affords up-close visibility of the park’s antlered residents. From the Bear Valley visitors center, park rangers advise heading 30 minutes down the road to hike the Tomales Point Trail where you can see herds of elk gathering in the coastal scrub and grasslands.
Point Reyes National Seashore
There’s the charming Point Reyes hostel (reservations recommended) as well as several campsites within the park. There’s also family-owned Olema Campground, just a few yards down the road from the turnoff to the visitors center on Highway 1.
It’s about a two-hour drive from Sacramento, via Interstate 80 west and the cutoff to Highway 37 (San Rafael/Novato). From Highway 37, the park website has directions to the Point Reyes main entrance, which is on Bear Valley Road, just off Highway 1 (roughly 30 miles north of San Francisco).