The Point Reyes National Seashore has more than 140 miles of hiking trails to explore the coastal wilderness and backcountry. Trail closings are possible; go to a visitor center and ask before you leave (while you're there, pick up a free map of the park's trails).
The popular Earthquake Trail is a short 35-minute walk past exhibits describing the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the San Andreas Fault Zone, and the geology of the area. The museum archives located in the nearby Bear Valley Visitor Center include 20,000 photographs, some of which depict the great earthquake.
Mount Wittenberg is ideal for hikers in search of adventure and challenge. The 5-mile hike, up a steep 1300-foot climb to the highest point in the park, takes about three hours. When you reach the top, you'll understand why it was worth the investment of sweat and tears -- the panoramic views of the National Seashore and Olema Valley at its peak are amazing.
Point Reyes offers a variety of mountain biking paths traversing diverse habitats and terrains. You can explore trails through evergreen forests, coastal scrub, or along estuaries and beach bluffs.
Please note: The National Seashore permits biking only along emergency access/dirt fire roads, paved roads, and a few single-track trails. Please don't use any of the wilderness trails for biking.
The odds are with you: With 40 species of land mammals (another 12 in the water), roughly half the bird species of North America, and half of the land designated as wilderness, you should encounter wildlife during your visit. Along the coast look for whales, seals, and sea lions and look closely at the tide line for an abundance of birds. In the forest you might see a bobcat, coyote, elk, deer, raccoon, or skunk.
Elephant Seal Breeding: December - March
Gray Whale Migration: Mid-January - Mid-March
Harbor Seal Pupping: March - June
Peak Wildflower Blooms: April - May
Tule Elk Rut Season: July - November
Bird Migration: August - May
More than 45 percent of the bird species in North America have been sighted in Point Reyes National Seashore, one of the reasons the area is considered a top birding site. The American Bird Conservancy has named the park a globally important bird area -- one of only 100 such sites worldwide.
Abbots Lagoon is a top birding site in fall and winter. While you're there, walk around and lose yourself in the dramatic views of the lagoon shoreline, the Pacific Ocean, and Great Beach -- three very different water sources that sustain the area's diverse wildlife and habitat. Birds: Shorebirds, waterfowl, sparrows, hawks, and osprey. A few fortunate souls spot a golden eagle or a peregrine falcon.
Drakes Estero offers the best birding opportunities during the fall migration and winter layover. If you tire of the birds, Drakes Estero is home to 20 percent of California's mainland harbor seal population, and the largest harbor seal breeding colony in the National Seashore. Birds: Egrets and herons, many species of shorebirds, as well as hawks and osprey.
Olema Marsh is one of the largest freshwater marsh areas in Marin County and is a peaceful bird watching spot. In autumn, migratory water birds rest in the marsh. It's a good spot for migratory water birds in winter. Birds: Kingfishers and red-winged blackbirds (near the cattails), and egrets and herons (during high tides).
Point Reyes Lighthouse
There are 25 miles and 300 stairs in your way, but a visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore should include a stop at the lighthouse. The lighthouse is a breathtaking sight to see, resting on the tip of the 12-mile-long Point Reyes peninsula, the longest in California. Its historic light contains the original first-order Fresnel lens and still-operational clockworks.
After taking the 300 stairs that lead down to the lighthouse, you'll find an excellent location to observe marine life (harbor seals and sea lions are often sunning themselves on the rocks) and see exhibits on whales, wildflowers, and lighthouses. The lighthouse is also the best spot in the San Francisco Bay Area to view gray whales during the northern migration season (most sightings happen mid-January to mid-March). Bring an extra layer (or two) because weather conditions are unpredictable on the peninsula.
Bear Valley Visitor Center
The Bear Valley Visitor Center features excellent exhibits about the plant and animal communities found in Point Reyes National Seashore, and gives a good overview of the park's ecological and historical significance. If the seismograph and weather station on display trigger distant memories of elementary science, head to the auditorium to watch a short movie or slide show about the Point Reyes Lighthouse and other park features.
The staff members are friendly and knowledgeable (and much more animated than the displays) -- they're a primary reason to begin your National Seashore visit at "The Barn." There's also a bookstore and gift shop for the souvenir hunter.
Ken Patrick Visitor Center
The exhibits at the Ken Patrick Visitor Center near Drakes Beach focus on 16th century maritime exploration, marine fossils, and environments. The key word is "marine," including that full-sized minke whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling.
Get a taste of life in California before the Europeans arrived. Located about a half-mile from the Bear Valley Visitor Center, Kule Loklo is a replica of a village built by the early Coast Miwok. Exhibits scattered along the trail hint at the life and culture of the Coast Miwok, the first inhabitants of the Point Reyes peninsula.