Any traveler who plans to spend a night or two at HI Point Reyes hostel in the infinitely interesting Point Reyes National Seashore should be prepared to forget that the bustle of the rest of the world exists. Here, where it’s mercifully free of Wi-Fi-fueled distractions and the sounds of highway traffic, you get to reconnect with nature and soak in the sights and sounds of unspoiled California. A great way to do so is to go wildlife viewing within the great park to see the creatures great and small that live, eat, and breed here. You’ll be surprised at the variety of life, and the experience of seeing a deer or a bird in its natural habitat will bring a closer connection and appreciation of the beautiful surroundings. And that is after all one reason why we travel and stay in hostels: to discover the magic of our planet and rediscover the bond between nature and humanity.
What You Can See
The Point Reyes National Seashore has a stunning diversity of wildlife, from birds and tiny reptiles, to water-loving mammals and wild rodents. Named as one of the best parks in the country to go bird watching, Point Reyes is a favorite of avid birders who have collectively spotted nearly half of the species of birds found in North America right here. The shoreline is also renowned for being a hot spot for elephant seals near Chimney Rock in Drake’s Bay, and from January through May, the Pacific Ocean is a highway for grey whales on their annual migration to and from Baja California.
Back on land, another wildlife highlight of the park is the herd of tule elk, which were on the verge of extinction before they were awarded protection by the state of California. Today, the Point Reyes herd is one of the largest in the state. You might also see black-tailed deer, grey foxes, long-tailed weasels, jackrabbits, and even the occasional coyote or bobcat. The trick is to hit the trails early and try to make as little noise as possible so the animals are more likely to come out of hiding for you to snap some pictures. Remember not to disturb any habitats and be aware of breeding seasons when certain areas of the park might be off limits.
Where to See the Wildlife
It can certainly help to know where to look for wildlife within this vast park, and it all depends what you’re looking to find. The wetlands in Point Reyes are definitely the best for birdwatching, particularly during the fall and winter migrations – waterfowl, sparrows, and hawks are commonly spotted at Abbotts Lagoon, while herons, ducks, and grebes flock to Five Brooks Pond or the Giacomini Wetlands, which is a general hotspot for all kinds of animals. Of course you’ll likely run into a species or five of different birds everywhere from the hostel’s front patio to the lighthouse at the northern end of the park.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse and the area around it are hubs for bigger birds, like turkeys, vultures, and sometimes Peregrine falcons, and from its vantage point high above the beach and endless ocean, it’s a sweet spot to catch the annual grey whale migration. You can also see the harbor seals and sea lions catching some sun on the rocks below, and might even run into the native black-tailed deer closer to the trees and brush inland.
If you’re on the hunt specifically for elephant seals, you’re guaranteed to find them above Drakes Bay near Chimney Rock where there might be males competing in shows of dominance or females nursing their young pups. The seals are around year ‘round, but from December through March they’re on the shore by the hundreds during breeding season. On weekends and holidays, park docents are around Chimney Rock armed with binoculars and knowledge of the best viewing spots to see the giant mammals at their finest.
Finally, if it’s the tule elk you’re after, then make a beeline for the Tomales Elk Preserve at the very tip of the peninsula. Point Reyes is the only national park where tule elk can be found, and while they are concentrated in the northern end of the park, there’s still a chance that you might see two or three grazing along the roads and trails further south.
Whatever you’re looking for during your Point Reyes safari, remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints so that these precious natural wonders can be around for the next generation of travelers to enjoy.