A short drive from San Francisco proper, this 9.7-mile out-and-back to the northern tip of Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore offers some of the best birding and wildlife viewing in the country along coastal terrain lacking in strenuous climbs.
Starting from the Tomales Trailhead on Pierce Point Road, begin hiking northwest through a historic dairy ranch and a grove of wind-swept cypress trees. Roaming the spine of Tomales Point, the trail looks down on Tomales Bay to the east (which covers the San Andreas Fault) and the Pacific Ocean (due west). After only a mile, you'll enter the Tule Elk Preserve where countless bulls and their harems graze on green pastures.
Continuing north up the point, watch for pelicans, cormorants and peregrine falcons along the coast to the left. From January to April, you may also spot gray whales (about 10 miles offshore) migrating from Alaska to Baja. As you hike, the point gradually narrows and the increasingly sandy trail cuts through a bush-covered ridgeline toward Tomales Bluff. Here, you'll enjoy coastal vistas of Bodega Bay and, if you're lucky, sunbathing seals hamming it up for the camera. Once you've had your fill (and your lunch), backtrack to the trailhead.
-Mapped by Dave Miller
TO TRAILHEAD: Head north on US-101/Van Ness Avenue. In 1.8 miles, turn left at US-101/Lombard Street. In 1.5 miles, take the ramp onto US-101 North. In 7 miles, take the CA-1 exit toward Stinson Beach/Mill Valley. In 0.3 mile, merge onto CA-1. Bear left to stay on CA-1. In 27 miles, turn left onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. In 6.4 miles, make a slight right at Pierce Point Road. In 1.3 miles, turn right at Marshall Beach Road. Bear left to stay on Marshall Beach. In 1.4 miles, turn left toward Pierce Point Road. In 79 feet, turn right onto Pierce Point and continue 2.2 miles to the trailhead on the right side of the road.
- Distance: 15.6
Location: 38.18906, -122.9540545
From the Tomales Trailhead, hike through a cypress tree grove and turn right after passing the historic Upper Pierce Ranch. The hard-packed dirt trail follows the Pacific coast, gradually ascending and then descending a moderate slope.
Location: 38.1986388, -122.961967
Reach Windy Gap, which is due east of Driftwood Beach. Begin a three-quarter-mile ascent to the highest point on the trail (535 feet). Watch for tule elk on both sides of the trail. Tomales Bay and the Pacific are visible from various spots for the remainder of the out-and-back.
Location: 38.2243271, -122.9788742
Pass the former site of Lower Pierce Ranch, marked by a set of cypresses. Continue climbing along an easy grade and look out for Bird Rock just off the western shore. Pelicans and cormorants are a frequent sight here. In late winter and early spring, wildflowers carpet the trailside slopes.
Location: 38.2298355, -122.9861679
From this point on, the trail is comprised entirely of sand. Any of the use-trails that wander between coyote bushes lead to the tip of the point.
Location: 38.2406239, -122.9952371
Reach Tomales Bluff at the northern edge of Point Reyes National Seashore. The trail is steep and sandy down to the bluff. Aside from the marine birds and coastline, look for elephant seals. Enjoy the view before backtracking to the trailhead.
Location: 38.2333092, -122.9883599
Location: 38.1895743, -122.9552937
Trail at Upper Pierce Ranch
Location: 38.1901983, -122.9557014
The trail begins a the site of the historic Pierce Ranch. ©Dave Miller
Location: 38.1909151, -122.9600894
Location: 38.1939929, -122.9627502
Location: 38.196084, -122.96363
Old Ranch Road
Location: 38.1970873, -122.9634476
Tomales Bay near Windy Gap
Location: 38.1989086, -122.9620957
Location: 38.2159634, -122.9752278
Location: 38.2173964, -122.9760432
Follow the Leader
Location: 38.2189642, -122.9767942
Bull Tule Elk
Location: 38.22065, -122.975657
Location: 38.2212063, -122.9761398
Location: 38.2214929, -122.9766548
Location: 38.2221672, -122.9770946
Location: 38.2228247, -122.9779637
Location: 38.231708, -122.9864395
Tomales Bluff and Point
Location: 38.2341267, -122.9892933
Location: 38.2347503, -122.9898727
Birds on a Rock
Location: 38.2352644, -122.9903126
Location: 38.2394947, -122.9947436
Location: 38.2405312, -122.9951298
Location: 38.2406197, -122.9951835