Monday, June 30, 2008

Pt Reyes - Bear Valley to Arch Rock

"To cross this valley to the peninsula (Point Reyes) is to leave modern California and enter an island of wilderness, forgotten by progress, a quiet land misplaced in a noisy world."

-Stephen Trimble

Locale: Point Reyes National Seashore, Olema, Marin County, CA
Date: Saturday, June 27, 2008
Duration: 8.8 miles (4.5 hours)
Price: Free
Activity Level: Easy
All in All: A great way to spend a morning or afternoon stroll to the ocean.
Rating: ****
Maps and More Info:

I love Point Reyes. I don't think I can emphasize this notion any other way then to simply express it. It's not very far away from the Bay Area and offers people such an array of things to do. Whether it's hiking, camping, kayaking or just eating oysters. In fact I get so upset when I find Bay Area natives who have never been here. I have only lived here for 2 years and could not imagine living here my whole life without escaping to this national seashore. This particular hike is easy to get to, far easier than the Palomarin hike. Simply from 101N or S from either San Fran or the north, take the Sir Francis Drake exit near San Quentin. Follow this through the cities of Fairfax and San Anselmo through Samuel P Taylor Park into the small town of Olema. Once at the stop sign in front of numerous Olema lodges, turn right, followed by a quick left on Bear Valley rd. Take this left past the red barn to the end of the lot by the visitor's center. Though we didn't spend much time perusing the center, it offers books, maps, a donation box and a few exhibits.

There are many trailheads here but take the Bear Valley trailhead at the end of the horse trailer parking lot to begin. You'll stay on Bear Valley Trail all the way except for a small bit approaching Arch Rock - just follow the signs. This trail is so simple that you do not need a map or compass, all you need to do is stay on the trail and take in the fresh air. In our case, it was a bit of smoky air coming from the numerous wildfires. But this and the cool weather didn't stop us or dozens of other hikers we saw on the trail. As I hear, the Bear Valley hike is one of the most popular Point Reyes hikes. I could tell just by parking in the lot. There were scores of cars and we passed many families and campers on the trail as well.

The beginning of the hike leads you into woodsy area with Bear Valley Creek to the left side. At around 1.6 miles in, you will see a bathroom and carved out trees made into benches. This is a good spot to have a quick break if you need, though you have about 7 more miles to travel.

About a mile before Arch Rock, there's a bike rack. Weird, huh? Not really. Bicyclists are allowed on the trails to this point and are expected to park here for the remainder of their hike or stay. If you do not sharing trails with equestrians then I suggest taking the hike on the weekends even if it's a bit more crowded. Equestrians aren't allowed here on the weekends but you will definitely be stepping in and around horse droppings.

The hike to Arch Rock is around 4.4 miles after which, you turn back and go the way you came. Approaching Arch Rock is exciting because if you've been driving on Sir Francis Drake, you have yet to see the beautiful Pacific. When the trail splits into two, take the left descending trail. At this point you will not be able to see the ocean quite yet but you can hear it. Soon enough though you see Arch Rock with people around sitting enjoying a brief lunch. This is what I like about Pt Reyes, it's ability to completely astound you. Atop Arch Rock you will see the beach below and many cliffs to either side of you and below. The trail continues down to the beach as well if you like to get closer to the water. We chose to simply sit and have a snack and watch seagulls.

Before we headed back, we saw a group of kayakers go by and waved at them. It was still a bit smoky and cloudy but it was still a wonderful view to take in. I can never deny a day at Point Reyes. When ready, turn back and follow Bear Valley Trail the way you came in. Hopefully you'll enjoy this featured hike as much as I did. Though I did enjoy the Palomarin hike to Alamere Falls a bit better, Bear Valley still has me wanting to come back for more.

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