While summer is great in many destinations, there are also places that reach peak epicness in the fall and winter. The Point Reyes National Seashore, about an hour north of San Francisco, is one such place, especially if you’re the type of person who loves being immersed in nature and among the beautiful plants and animals that make our planet a magical place. Take a look at the reasons why you should travel to this rugged coastal park in Northern California this winter, and then book your room at HI Point Reyes hostel, a cozy spot at the heart of it all.
It’s whale watching season
From the end of December to the middle of March, the California grey whale makes the longest known mammal migration from Alaska to Baja California, swimming past the Point Reyes Lighthouse and Chimney Rock along the park’s headlands. During the peak season weekends, the parks service runs a shuttle bus from the Drakes Beach parking lot and there are docents and ranger-led programs to teach visitors about the giants of the blue. Bonus: this time of year is also prime elephant seal season, and you can see giant bulls and cows catching rays on the beach below Chimney Rock.
The annual Fungus Fair
California’s winter rains make for perfect conditions for wild mushrooms to grow, so each year, the Bay Area Mycological Society hosts the Fungus Fair to celebrate the fantastic fungi found within Point Reyes National Seashore. The free event features talks by local experts, and mesmerizing displays of colorful mushrooms collected within the park. If you miss the Fungus Fair in December, worry not, because in the society hosts many other events, including collecting forays in February.
The winter activities offered by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association
If you’re the kind of person who likes to pick up a little knowledge while you’re on vacation, you might want to look into the Point Reyes National Seashore Association (PRNSA), an organization that works with the park and the public to maintain and preserve the natural land. From guided hikes exploring hidden caves and secret beaches, to mushroom foraging and kayaking in the wetlands, the association has a wide range of activities to help you explore Point Reyes on a deeper level. Check the PRNSA calendar for dates and events.
The seasonal ranger-led programs
All year long, you can find rangers at key locations in the park leading education programs covering fauna and flora and local history and geography on the weekends. But during the winter months, there are rangers on hand at the Point Reyes Lighthouse and Chimney Rock to share information about the migrating whales and elephant seals. The Journey of the Whales, a 30-minute program about the habits of gray whales, runs from December through April at 1:30 on weekends and holidays. The historic Lifeboat Station is also open from mid-December through mid-March for visitors to learn about history, view exhibits, and sip on complimentary hot beverages.
The fogless views of the Point Reyes Lighthouse
As is the general rule of thumb in the San Francisco Bay Area, winter weather means clearer days because of the absence of the area’s ubiquitous fog. The colder months are the best to see the views of the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which is perched at the end of a long, steep staircase and often invisible behind the summer haze. In fact, almost everywhere you go within the park you’ll be rewarded with excellent scenery, from the shores of the beach to the top of valley. Just make sure you’ve got enough warm clothes, and if it’s rainy out, there’s always the comfy, cozy common room at HI Point Reyes.
HI USA Tips: See some of the creatures of California with our Point Reyes safari guide, and find out how you can stay at the hostel for free just for doing some volunteer work during HI USA’s Great Hostel Give Back.