Beginners Coastal Ramble through Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13150A, Backpacking


  • Hike through tule elk reserves and visit elephant seal breeding grounds
  • Explore beaches, coastal forests, dunes, lakes, a waterfall, and an estuary
  • Learn about Point Reyes National Seashore's history and biodiversity


  • All group campgrounds and hostel
  • Delicious meals, inspirationally prepared
  • All group camping and commissary gear 


DatesSep 15–20, 2013
Difficulty2 (out of 5)
StaffJoanne Mohr

This trip has already run. Here are a few others you may enjoy:

To search our full lineup by destination, date, activity, or price, please visit our Advanced Search page. Or give us a call at 415-977-5522 to find the trip that's right for you.

Trip Overview

The Trip

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” - John Muir

If you would like to try out backpacking or refresh your backpacking skills, come join us as we explore Point Reyes National Seashore, one of the least known gems of our National Park system. The Pacific Ocean views, wildlife, cultural history, and splendid biodiversity offer something for every hiker. The Seashore protects over 70,000 acres of sand dunes, beaches, grasslands, Douglas fir and pine forests, estuaries, marshes, lakes, waterfalls, and 80 miles of unspoiled, undeveloped coastline. This trip presents a leisurely opportunity to learn and develop backpacking skills in addition to exploring this special place.

We start by exploring parts of Point Reyes on a day hike -- a ramble through the Tule Elk Reserve, which coincides with the elk's rutting season, and a visit to the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse and elephant seal breeding grounds. Our five-day, 23-mile backpacking route is designed to be a perfect beginner's trip. We will take time to teach backpacking skills and discuss Leave No Trace practices throughout our ramble. This trip will give you a week of coastal exploration, inspiration, and solitude. Join us!


Day 1: After meeting at Bear Valley Visitor Center for breakfast, we will start our first day hike at Historic Pierce Point Ranch and walk toward Tomales Point through the Tule Elk Reserve, home to over 400 tule elk. We will likely hear bugling and see elk rounding up their harems during their rut season. This route entails a seven-mile round-trip hike with superb views of the coast, and, if it is clear, of the Farallon Islands, 20 miles off the coast in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. If time allows, we will drive out to Chimney Rock to see the elephant seal breeding grounds, then visit historic Point Reyes Lighthouse -- constructed in 1870 -- which perches 265 feet above the ocean. We’ll barbeque at the hostel and relax.

Day 2: In the morning, we will do a gear check and go over each hiker’s equipment to be sure you are properly prepared (and not weighed down!). Then we will pack up and head to the trailhead at Bear Valley. We finally hoist our backpacks and start off in the afternoon. The hike up to Mt. Wittenberg is a 1,300-foot climb, our highest on the trip. En route we’ll enjoy the grand views as we head west on this short three-mile day to our first camping spot at Sky Camp with its sweeping ocean view.

Day 3: After breakfast, we will head down four miles to our next stop at Coast Camp, in a grassy valley close to the beach and tidepools. This hike will be one of the highlights of the trip: through shaded forests, through a sublime valley and out onto high, open expanses overlooking the blue Pacific. Once at camp, we will have time to hike along the sand dunes to Limantour Spit and look for harbor seals. The crashing waves of the nearby ocean will serenade us as we prepare dinner and hopefully take in a late summer sunset!

Day 4: We will backpack 8.5 miles down the coast to Wildcat Camp on this most sublime of all walks. Two short side trips, one to Sculptured Beach and the other to Arch Rock, will possibly add to the abundance of this day. Wildcat Camp will be our home for two nights -- in a meadow on a bluff overlooking the ocean.

Day 5: Our layover day! Options for the day are to hike a mile down to Alamere Falls, which cascades to the shore, or to hike to several lakes on the grassland plateau. A layover will provide opportunities to journal, sketch, and bird watch, or just appreciate the Pt. Reyes coastline!

Day 6: We will return back to the Bear Valley Trailhead through chaparral, Douglas fir, Bishop pine and oak woodland in a 6.5-mile day with our now light backpacks. We expect to have an early afternoon arrival back at our cars.

Remember that this is a group experience and we will be working together! Please bring good humor and a flexible demeanor with you on the trip. Trip logistics, an unlikely emergency or rare wet weather might cause a change in our plans. Be open to all the possibilities and adventures of our shared hike together!

“Hark, now hear the sailors cry,

smell the sea, and feel the sky

let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic...” – Van Morrison



Getting There

This outing officially begins the morning of Sunday, September 15th, with breakfast at 8 a.m. on day one at the Bear Valley Visitor Center in Pt. Reyes National Seashore, our gathering spot. We will be staying one night at the rustic, coastal Pt. Reyes Hostel in Point Reyes National Seashore, since there is no car camping within the National Seashore. The nearest airports to fly into are San Francisco and Oakland, each about 45 miles from our meeting place. One advantage of this trip starting near a population center is there are public transportation options to get to Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Ride-sharing is strongly encouraged and a roster of trip members, driving directions, and public transportation options will be sent well ahead of time to facilitate this. Return flight reservations should be made for Saturday, September 21 or later.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying at the Pt. Reyes Hostel in Pt. Reyes National Seashore for the first night. The hostel is a rustic retreat where we will make our base. The hostel has a kitchen, flush toilets, and hot showers. Our four backpacking camps will not be so luxurious, but they will have tables, food lockers (for our food and personal toiletries), grills, vault toilets, and potable water.

The trip price includes all meals from breakfast on day one through lunch on day six.  Group camping gear (stoves, cooking pots, fuel, etc.) will be provided. The staff enjoys creating wonderful meals from freeze-dried and home-dehydrated fruits and vegetables. The food will be nutritious, high energy, and tasty. Please indicate to the leader if you have any food allergies, limitations, or are vegetarian when you complete your trip paperwork. Chicken, fish, cheese, and minimal meat will be on the menu. Vegetarians can be easily accommodated, but participants unable to eat dairy should consider another outing. Participants will be divided into cook crews and share in meal preparations and cleanup in the Sierra Club tradition!

Trip Difficulty

Although this trip is rated light-moderate, good physical condition is required to carry a 35-pound pack for four moving days. Daily mileages will range from 3-8.5 miles, though the only elevation gain is 1,300ft on the first backpacking day. Elevation on this trip fluctuates between sea level and 1,407 ft. You should sustain a physical conditioning program to prepare for this trip. If this is your first backpacking trip or you're getting back into backpacking, the leader will have suggestions to assist in your pre-trip preparations. Proper training will enhance your wilderness experience and enable you to better enjoy the trip.

Point Reyes lies in a Mediterranean climate and fall is the ideal time, with mild temperatures and usually clear weather. The characteristic morning coastal fog is often absent as warm Indian summer days linger until the October rains begin. Point Reyes extends into the Pacific Ocean 10 miles farther than the surrounding coastline, so strong winds and fog may be encountered at places like Chimney Rock. Expect daytime highs in the 60s to 70s, and nighttime lows in the 40s and 50s. However, coastal humidity may make it feel cooler, so layers of clothing are recommended. We don’t expect to have much, if any, rain, but fall can bring weather surprises, so bring good reliable raingear and pack covers. This trip is entirely on well-maintained trails, which should help avoid poison oak, stinging nettles, and ticks.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be provided, and you can check for suggested gear in the meantime.

Trip participants must furnish their own personal camping equipment, including a backpack, a lightweight tent (can be shared, which is encouraged), a sleeping bag rated to at least 20 degrees, a sleeping pad, reliable raingear (including backpack cover), layers of clothing comfortable between 40-70 degrees, and medium-weight (preferably leather), well-broken-in waterproof, lug-soled boots. Hiking poles are helpful on rough or steep terrain. If this is your first backpacking adventure, you may wish to borrow or rent equipment for this trip and the leaders are happy to make recommendations. You will be encouraged to practice with your gear on a couple of weekend trips prior to this trip.

Your personal backpack gear should weigh less than 25 pounds, as we will give you up to approximately 12 pounds of group commissary. We can’t stress this enough. The group’s commissary equipment will be provided, and consists of pots, utensils, stoves, fuel and of course, food. Time will be spent with each participant before the backpack trip to go over gear and teach efficient packing techniques so your pack will be comfortable and light to carry.



  • Wilderness Press Recreational Map:  Point Reyes National Seashore and West Marin Parklands
  • Tom Harrison Maps: Point Reyes National Seashore Trail Map


  • Evens, Jules, National History of the Point Reyes Peninsula.
  • Lage, Jessica, Point Reyes: The Complete Guide to the National Seashore and Surrounding Area.
  • Salcedo-Chourre, Tracy, Exploring Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate Recreation Area.
  • Hart, John, Walking Softly in the Wilderness, The Sierra Club Guide to Backpacking.
  • Wayburn, Edgar, Your Land and Mine: Evolution of a Conservationist.



Point Reyes National Seashore celebrated its 50th anniversary in September 2012. During the trip we will discuss some of the Park’s history and how it informs and inspires us on current and future public land issues. We will be in federally designated wilderness and yet just a few miles from one of the largest urban areas in the United States -- a unique situation to learn backpacking and conservation history and ideas.

The Miwok Indians were the first human inhabitants on Point Reyes 5,000 years ago, and left over 120 known village sites. Europeans followed Sir Francis Drake’s landing in 1579, and Mexican land grants established ranchos for cattle grazing and dairy farming 150 years ago that are still functioning today. As development pressure mounted in the 1960s, an odd partnership was formed between the Sierra Club, other groups, and the remaining ranchers to preserve Point Reyes as a National Seashore. Today, traditional land uses coexist with the large amount of the peninsula preserved as wilderness. We will see and discuss the problems threatening Point Reyes today, and the management issues Point Reyes currently faces, such as air pollution from the ever-growing Bay Area, invasive plants and animals, and rising sea levels could make this area uninhabitable for many species.  We will talk about the Seashore’s amazing history and the personalities who helped create it, such as Edgar Wayburn, a past Sierra Club president.

We will help keep the Seashore wild by learning and following Leave No Trace practices and principles.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Point Reyes National Seashore.



Joanne Mohr will be staffing her sixth Sierra Club trip. She has backpacked since she was a kid, and has a keen passion for the Sierra and the California wilderness, which she enjoys sharing with others. She has lived abroad at various times and has hiked and climbed in Africa, Asia and Central America. Joanne loves to cook and create inspirational meals on packing trips. She currently is lucky enough to live in San Francisco and close to Point Reyes National Seashore where she visits as often as she can.

Assistant Leader:

Ann Carey rediscovered the joys of hiking in the Sierra Nevada 18 years ago on an Outward Bound trip for women, and has been exploring this vast range every year since then. From initial trip planning, to gear “pfaffing,” camp setup and deconstruction, and the final haul back to the trailhead, she relishes every challenge of an extended trip in the backcountry. Summits are her passion, but a high pass or open meadow hold equal beauty. She characterizes her leadership style as “leading from behind,” encouraging individuals and groups to take initiative and test their skills. When not in the mountains, she is an avid road cyclist and aspiring gardener, and a financial consultant to public agencies.

Contact the Staff

Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.

Try Another Trip

By Date