Hailing from Washington D.C., Hostel Assistant Kate Reese is a newbie Northern Californian with a passion for the great outdoors. On her days off, you'll find her nose-deep in a good book, wandering around a Bay Area flea market, or lost in the wilderness with her trusty pair of hiking boots.
Although new to the area, Kate already loves everything about Point Reyes. "It's not every day you fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves, wake to sunny green hills, and meet vivacious travel lovers. Oh wait, that is my every day!"
An outdoor enthusiast and a great guide to all things hiking, Kate thinks winter is as good a time as any to hit the trails.
"Winter (I use the term loosely as an East Coaster who is used to snow before Thanksgiving) in Point Reyes National Seashore might not seem an ideal time to take a hiking vacation. The wildflowers aren't out, the water is too cold to swim in, and rain falls more often. But this doesn't stop the wildlife from staying active, and shouldn't scare you away either!"
The Tule Elk have ended their rutting season, but they are now in their harems while the males continue to bugle. (For specific information on what bugling is, and about the Tule Elk season, check out the Point Reyes National Seashore website).
Grab a cup of coffee and a chili cheddar scone from Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station before jumping in the car for the 45-minute cruise north to Tomales Point. Take Sir Francis Drake Highway to Pierce Point Road, and you'll deadend into the trailhead. To the end of the point, it's an easy 10 miles round-trip, but one mile is all you really need to see these animals by the hundreds. When you're done, have lunch, or a nap, on McClures Beach (the trailhead is adjacent to the Tomales Point trailhead).
My inside tip: be the first on the trail! Being the first on the trail can allow you to see hundreds of elk; you don't have to wake up at dawn, but hitting the trail before 9 a.m. can make all the difference in your sightings. Weekdays are ideal because there are less people, and you can take advantage of our mid-week winter savings! Also, I'm really not kidding about that chili cheddar scone, it will change your life!
Sculptured Beach, the beach connected to the hostel via the Coast Trail, and Agate Beach in Bolinas are two of my favorite tide-pooling sites. The amount of starfish is overwhelming! Just make sure to check a tide chart for the days you plan to venture out... getting caught between a rock and a wave is sure to put a damper on any vacation.
Coho salmon are spawning now, and steelhead trout will start this December in the Lagunitas watershed. Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a great place to spot the fish as they swim upstream; it's a short drive from Point Reyes National Seashore, nestled in a redwood grove. I'll be joining some of the creek walks offered by SPAWN this November and December. Salmon runs are fascinating -- talk about perseverance!
As always, Point Reyes is a birdwatcher's paradise. Travel to Drakes Estero, or stroll down Limantour Beach to Limantour Spit, which has the Estero on one side and the ocean on the other. Or better yet, just stay in the hostel parking lot! Just the other day, I saw a falcon swoop down and pick up a quail right outside the front doors of the hostel. You don't see that in the city!
This story is part of a series asking hostel staff to share their insider tips and recommendations with travelers. Last month, Paul dished out his favorite eateries in San Francisco. Before that, Oak shared his top seven spots to snap a photo in the Marin Headlands.