This very pretty hike, a local favorite, runs over rolling hills and flower-strewn fields on the long, narrow northern tip of Point Reyes, ending at a rocky point surrounded by ocean on three sides. It’s Point Reyes’ best all-day ocean view hike. The area is also a Tule elk reserve; the elk, which were reintroduced to the area in 1978, are kept captive by a fence across the point, so there are almost always elk around.
The trail is relatively easy for its length, except for some brushy and sandy areas near the end. It’s at its best during long sunny periods in the winter and spring, when the hills are green and the ocean and sky are brilliant shades of blue. However, it can get muddy if it’s rained within the past few weeks. In summer it’s often cloudy, cold, and windy.
The trail is very popular throughout the year; at peak times you might pass a group of hikers about once per minute. Even though there’s quite a bit of roadside parking, it still fills up.
The entire trail is open, with no tree cover at all. There’s no way to climb down to the ocean on this hike, but there are several beach access trails on the road to the trailhead.
The trail starts at Pierce Point Ranch, a 19th-century dairy farm with attractive white buildings among windswept, starkly open hills and a stand of gnarled Monterey Cypress trees planted as a windbreak. The first few miles of trail are clear and in good condition. Some nice ocean views gradually open up as the trail gently climbs a small hill, culminating in a view of the rugged coastal hills to the north.
The trail descends to Windy Gap, a small valley with a spring where some elk usually hang out in the afternoon. On weekend afternoons from July through September there are some helpful volunteers at the low point of the trail with a spotter scope and samples of elk antlers. During these times, a lot of visitors just come to this point to see the elk and then turn back.
The trail climbs up onto a wide, flat ridge. Although the both ocean and Tomales Bay are visible, the views in this middle part of the hike aren’t that great since the hillop is so wide.
The trail descends into the wide, shallow valley where the Lower Pierce Ranch used to be located. There are some great views of Tomales Bay as the trail descends. There’s also a pond where elk tend to congregate; since the pond is close to the trail, this is often the best place to see the elk. No sign of the ranch itself remains except for a line of Monterey cypresses that stand out in the otherwise treeless terrain.
The trail is unmaintained after Pierce Point Ranch, but at first, as it climbs out of the valley, it doesn’t look any different. However, the trail gets more difficult after it passes a small metal sign with an arrow that says “Tomales Point”. The trail becomes very sandy for a while, then becomes narrower and rather overgrown with dense brush. Fortunately there’s almost no poison oak, and in spring, this area is a riot of wildflowers.
The brush clears up for the final descent to the point. With its surf-pounded rocky outcroppings, some interesting wave patterns as the swell passes by the point, and a great view of the hills across Tomales Bay, the point by far the most scenic part of the hike. The clanging of a bell, which sounds like a church bell but is actually from a buoy, can clearly be heard.
© 2017, 2022 David Baselt