Point Reyes National Seashore offers a vast network of hiking trails, four backcounty campgrounds, and plenty of opportunity to get outside. It’s possible to bike, ride a horse, trail run, or kayak all around this area. On this particular trip, we hiked to the highest point in the area (not worth it), camped at one of the four backcountry campgrounds, and visited the very popular Arch Rock. We hiked approximately 16 miles (9 miles on Day 1 and 7 miles on Day 2). We spent most of the weekend in dense forest – no sweeping ocean views. It was not what I expected but it turned out to be a relaxing weekend with beautiful scenery.
Red Tape: As far as crowds go, hiking in Marin County is about the same as hiking in Los Angeles. (It’s crowded!) Thus, getting a reservation at one of the backcountry campgrounds requires planning a trip months in advance. I booked an October reservation last May; only Glen Camp still had a couple of sites available. Despite the crowds, there are plenty of options for day hiking and permits are only required for overnight trips. The four backcountry campgrounds are: Sky Camp (open with sweeping views of Drakes Bay), Coast Camp (grassy valley with easy access to beach), Wildcat Camp (on a bluff overlooking the ocean) and Glen Camp (no views but nestled in a secluded wooded valley). If you make a reservation, be sure to pick up a permit and parking pass at the Bear Valley Visitor Center on your way in. The NPS website has lots of helpful information. It’s helpful to hike with a map, but all trails are very well signed.
Trail Description: We weren’t sure where we wanted to begin our hike, but we knew we wanted to visit Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station. We drove straight to the town and immediately located the creamery. We ordered a few sandwiches and purchased a block of cheese to take with us.
After polishing off our sandwiches, we were ready to hit the trail. We debated where to begin hiking. We may have driven in a few circles… but eventually we parked at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. It was getting late (noon) and we were eager to start hiking. So eager that we failed to pick up our actual camping permit and parking pass. (I hadn’t read the fine print on our reservation, so somehow I failed to realize this was necessary.)
After less than a quarter mile, the Mount Wittenberg Trail splits off to the right. It’s a 2 mile hike (approximately) to the top of Mount Wittenberg. Mount Wittenberg is the tallest point in Point Reyes National Seashore. Up we went! Some parts of the trail were steep, but it was all forested and shady.
Eventually we reached a saddle 0.2 miles below the summit. A signed trail ascended to our right. After a few more minutes, we were at the top. What a disappointment! The peak is so overgrown, all you can see from the top is trees! As we stood there, another hiker asked us if we knew where the summit was. We pointed her to the benchmarks a few feet away.
Rob mumbled something about it being Mt Shittenberg as we turned and headed down. (To be fair, there are some use trails descending on the north and east sides of the summit. These may lead to some ocean views. We had many miles ahead of us, so we did not explore. Also, the hike to get there was nice – the summit itself was just a letdown.)
From the Mount Wittenberg Trail, we headed west and soon hit the Sky Trail. The Sky Trail turns to the south and follows an evenly graded path through forest. Everything was green and densely overgrown. I really liked this trail – the sun was gleaming through the trees and it felt peaceful, bright and alive.
After 2 or 3 miles on the Sky Trail, we reached the Old Pine Trail. We followed the Old Pine Trail for another 1.3 miles to the Baldy Trail.
The Baldy Trail descends from the Old Pine Trail to the Bear Valley and Glen Trail junction. It’s a 1.1 mile descent on a very overgrown path. It’s clear the Baldy Trail is less heavily traveled. From the junction (where Baldy Trail, Glen Trail and Bear Valley Trail meet), it was another 1.5 miles to camp.
We climbed a few hundred feet over the last 1.5 miles. We were very tired by the time we reached Glen Camp. It was at this point I realized we were actually supposed to have a permit in addition to our reservation. (I went back and read the fine print in my email.) Oops. I crossed my fingers and hoped our car wouldn’t get ticketed. At least our campsite wouldn’t be given away until the following day; we were only planning to stay one night so that wouldn’t be an issue.
We heated tomato soup and ate our Cowgirl Creamery cheese with crackers. Delicious. Other campers slowly trickled in. It gets dark so early now – we were in bed by about 7:30pm. We heard owls throughout the night. At 1:00am, some other campers showed up and pitched a tent right next to our site!! There was an empty campsite a little further away, but apparently they had trouble finding it in the dark. They must have started walking when it was already dark! Totally weird, but not a big deal. We probably woke them as we packed up the next morning.
We were up and out of camp before the sun was up. We hadn’t seen the ocean yet (despite being at a National Seashore) so on our way out we took a detour to Arch Rock. We followed the Glen Trail back to the Bear Valley junction. Form there, it was 1.2 miles out to Arch Rock.
Arch Rock is not noticeably arched. The arch is actually underneath the rock – if you just hike out to the overlook you won’t see it. There are some use trails descending down to the beach where it’s possible to see the arch.
We were there so early, we beat most of the Sunday morning trail runners. We had the overlook to ourselves. We spent some time watching the waves. Cormorants were sunning themselves nearby and an osprey circled overhead.
After relaxing for a bit, we hiked back to the car via the Bear Valley Trail. We covered 4.3 miles in about an hour and a half.
When we reached the car, there was a big fat orange courtesy sticker stuck on our window for illegally parking overnight. It was a relief to not have a ticket! All in all, this was not our best ever weekend of backpacking, but Rob pointed out: the worst weekend backpacking is still better than the best weekend spent sitting at home.