Point Reyes, a haven for birds, heaven for hikers.

With densely forested ridges, wild and open coastal bluffs, and deserted beaches, Point Reyes National Seashore is an unforgettable place to ramble.

I’ve liked hiking Point Reyes ever since I discovered it back during my college days, but I really grew extra fond of it when I led week-long hiking adventures around the peninsula during the first decade of the 21st century. Sometimes when you have the experience of leading others along favorite trails, you learn to admire a place all the more.

Point Reyes, a haven for birds, heaven for hikers.
Point Reyes, a haven for birds, heaven for hikers.

I usually had about a dozen hikers with me, walkers from across the nation as well as from Europe, clients of an upscale British walking vacation company. We walked the Rift Zone Trail to the back door of Point Reyes Seashore Lodge, our “base camp,” then set out on each day to discover more of the many wonders of the peninsula: Bear Valley, Arch Rock, Mt. Wittenberg, Abbotts Lagoon, Chimney Rock, Point Reyes Lighthouse, Hearts Desire Beach, Tomales Bay and Tomales Point.

My English friends say that with its moors, weirs, glens, and vales, Point Reyes Peninsula calls to mind the seacoast of Great Britain. California coast chauvinist that I am, I usually come back at them by saying that when I’ve hiked the Shetland Islands or wandered the Devon Coast, these landforms have reminded me of favorite landscapes in Point Reyes National Seashore.

I delight in the whole Point Reyes experience: kayaking Tomales Bay, cycling the back roads, camping, cheese-tasting, wildflower walks and lighthouse tours. I’ve hiked Point Reyes with friends, family and school children and everyone who ventures into this area seems to experience—and retain—some of the peninsula’s magic.

In hindsight, some conservationists believe that the drawn-out preservation process (a 30-year struggle) actually benefited Pt. Reyes because in the interim attitudes shifted a bit from parks-as-playgrounds to parks-as-nature preserves.

So few roads or recreation facilities were constructed here, and I say thank God for that. The area’s three tiny towns—Olema, Pt. Reyes Station, Inverness—have remained very small. San Franciscans have an altogether different attitude toward their wilderness-next-door than, say, Bostonians have toward summer-crowded Cape Cod National Seashore.

Bear Valley is the busy hub of Pt. Reyes National Seashore, and there’s not a hotel or restaurant in sight. Lots of trails to hike, though. From the park visitor center about 40 miles of trail thread through the valley, and to the ridges and beaches beyond.

More than a hundred miles of trail meandering through the national seashore beckon the hiker to explore wide grasslands, Bishop pine and Douglas fir forest, chaparral-cloaked coastal ridges and windswept beaches. The paths range from easy beach walks and nature hikes to rugged mountain rambles. If you want to plan a backpacking trip, Point Reyes has four hike-in camps available by reservation.

And take it from someone who has walked the entire length of the California coast: the coastal trails in Point Reyes National Seashore are among the finest along the entire 1,600-mile California Coastal Trail.

Hike on.

John McKinney