Beginners Coastal Ramble Through Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14148A, Backpack


  • 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 unique history and biodiversity


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


DatesSep 14–19, 2014
Difficulty2 (out of 5)
StaffJoanne Mohr

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 while 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 elks' 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 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 on Sunday, September 14 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, the Farallon Islands, which are 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 is perched 265 feet above the ocean. We’ll barbeque at the hostel and relax.

Day 2: In the morning, the leader will do a gear check and go over your 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 tide pools. 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. There will be a 750-foot gain on this day. 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! One option will be to hike a mile down to Alamere Falls, which cascades to the shore, or hike to several lakes on the grassland plateau. A layover will provide opportunities to scout caves, journal, sketch, bird-watch or just appreciate the Point 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 14th, with breakfast at 8 a.m. on day one at the Bear Valley Visitor Center in Point 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 that 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 20, or later.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying at the Pt. Reyes Hostel in Point 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 (to keep help those pesky raccoons out of 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 or limitations, or if you 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, with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet on the first backpacking day, and 800 feet elevation gain on day three. Elevation on this trip fluctuates between sea level and 1,407 feet. You should sustain a physical conditioning program to prepare for this trip. If this is your first backpacking trip or you are getting back into backpacking, the leader will have suggestions to assist in your pre-trip preparations. You will be expected to practice with a full backpack prior to the trip. 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 to visit, 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 ten 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 us 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 (sharing 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 -- it 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.



2014 is the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club’s outings program is a vital part of our organization’s celebrations for wilderness. While the Act was far in the future when our Outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: the need to set aside, by civic agreement, certain special places—forever—from human developments. Pt. Reyes is a perfect example of this.

In addition, Point Reyes National Seashore celebrated its 50th anniversary in September 2012. During the trip we will discuss some of the Park’s history, the Wilderness Act and how it informs and inspires us on current and future public land issues. We will be in a federally designated wilderness, 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 and invasive plants and animals. 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.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

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



Joanne Mohr has been staffing Sierra Club trips since 2008. 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:

Teresa Gonsoski

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