The Bear Valley Trail is Point Reyes' most popular hike. The wide dirt road is convenient to the park's main visitor center and makes a relatively easy walk. With its large trees, year-round brook, and carpet of ferns, the forest in this area is noticably more attractive than most other parts of Marin County.
Nonetheless, the trail's popularity is a litle mystifying since most hikers just go to Divide Meadow and back, which makes kind of a dull hike. Bear Valley Road is a rather utilitarian trail; it feels like a way to get to the real hiking at the coast, not a hiking destination in and of itself.
This hike improves on the out-and-back hike by taking Bear Valley Road all the way to the coast and adding a loop on the best of the area's many trails, providing a nice scenic payoff of ocean views and attractive coastal woodland.
Start at the Bear Valley Visitor Center and hike up the dirt road at the end of the access road. After starting in a open meadow, the Bear Valley Trail soon plunges into lush woodland. The road is quite busy; on a nice summer weekend you might see one or two groups each minute. There's also a lot of horse manure on the road.
The road climbs gently up to Divide Meadow. As the road gets steeper, the woods become somewhat less lush and begin to open up.
Divide Meadow is a popular turnaround point; there are a lot fewer people on the trail as it starts to descend on the other side of the meadow. The woods on the second half of the trail are also somewhat more attractive, becoming dark and lush as the trail descends.
The good part of the hike begins at a bike rack and 4-way intersection, which is a popular rest area. The scenery improves quite a bit as the trail gets narrower and passes through a narrow, fern-encrusted canyon. The trail may look like a dirt road or a singletrack trail in this area.
The trail emerges from the woods near the coast and then turns into a true singletrack trail. An unofficial side trail to the leads to the edge of a cliff with a good view of the collapsed remnants of Arch Rock.
The trail climbs the scrub-covered hillside, offering some nice ocean views. After a long climb the trail levels out and passes through an attractive pine grove. Much of the trail as carved out of a 6 foot thick mat of coastal scrub.
Skip the Coast/Glen Spur North and continue to the Coast/Glen Spur South. This detour adds about a mile to the hike. The payoff is a short but very scenic descent through a very attractive fir grove, the best woodland of the hike.
The woodland isn't quite as nice on the Glen Trail, but it's still one of the highlights of the hike; the glimpses of the densely conifer-covered hills provide a sense of being in a wilderness. Looking at the unbroken woodland, it's hard to believe that miles of stark coastal scrub starts nearby.
© 2016 David Baselt