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Point Reyes National Seashore, California, United States

Backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore

Sampling Northern California's spectacular coastline on an overnight camp-out.

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Length: 57 miles / 93 km
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Overview: Point Reyes National Seashore has more natural wonders than you could ever hope to absorb in one day, so you might as well camp out.

All four of Point Reyes' hike-in campgrounds have a privy and running water. The main challenge -- almost as daunting as lugging 40 pounds of camping gear several miles on foot -- is securing a campsite: reservations go quickly, particularly during spring and summer weekends.

But given that Point Reyes is one of the top vacation destinations on the West Coast, why not take a midweek mini-holiday and enjoy the park without so many people around?

When to go: Springtime's the best, when the hills are green and the wildflowers are popping. Summers are typically foggy along the coast, but autumn is warmer and sunnier. Winters are rainy, but you might get a chance to spot migrating whales.

Cliffs and tides: The park's high cliffs are extremely dangerous -- soil at the edge can give way with fatal results. If you're planning to explore the beach, make sure you know when high tide comes in -- don't get stranded by high water.

Tips: To reserve a site, call (415) 663-8054 between 9 am and 2 pm (Pacific time) Monday through Friday. These are the only times reservations will be taken.

Must reads: Fees and reservations | Camping rules | Campsite descriptions | Driving directions

What to bring:
Trail maps, available at the Bear Valley Visitors Center (PDF downloads at this link).
Overnight backpacking gear - tent, stove, sleeping bag/pad.
Enough food to last your entire stay.
Flashlight or headlamp for after-dark outings.
Water purification as a backup precaution.
Bug repellent

Point Reyes on Everytrail: Guides | Destination | Trips

Points of Interest


Bear Valley Visitors Center

Backpacking trips at Point Reyes start at the Bear Valley Visitors Center, where all campsite permits are issued, though you can drive to many trailheads once you've picked up your permit. Be sure to ask park personnel about the safest spots for overnight parking.

The center is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends and holidays. See this page for extended summer hours.
Click this link for driving directions.

Bear Valley Trailhead is also a major embarkation point -- the heavily traveled Bear Valley Trail goes to Arch Rock, one of the most popular day-hiking locales at Point Reyes.

All the campgrounds are accessible from trails out of Bear Valley, but there are closer trailheads for Sky and Coast campgrounds.

Sky Trailhead

Sky Trailhead, about 10 minutes' drive from Bear Valley Visitors Center, offers the most direct route to Sky Campground, which is just 1.4 miles from the trailhead on Sky Trail. Note it's a small parking lot so it could be full.

Click this link for driving directions

Sky Campground

Sky Camp's 12 campsites often go overlooked as backpackers flock to Coast and Wildcat campgrounds. Sky Camp may not be next to the ocean, but many places in the campground offer impressive Pacific vistas on clear days. Sky is often still available when other campgrounds are booked solid.

Sky Camp is at 1,025 feet, on the windward side of Mount Wittenberg, which at 1,407 feet is the highest point at Point Reyes. The most direct route is via Sky Trail, 1.4 miles and about 400 feet of ascent from Sky Trailhead, though there are are more options for longer, more strenuous hikes from Point Reyes' multiple trailheads.

Four miles of steep trail lie between Sky Camp and the shore -- keep the return climb in mind as you explore the nearby terrain.

Point Reyes Hostel

The hostel, about 15 minutes' drive from Bear Valley, is just across the road from the Coast Trail, which offers the easiest access to Coast Camp. Some parking is available here, and along the road near the trailhead. Ask about parking here when you pick up your permit.

Click this link for driving directions

Coast Campground

Coast Camps' 14 campsites lie just 200 yards from the Pacific Ocean and 2.7 mostly flat miles away from the Coast Trailhead near the Point Reyes Hostel.

The ease of getting there combined with the next-door Pacific splendor make Coast Camp one of the most coveted backpacking sites on the California coast. Sites here are often booked months in advance, especially on springtime weekends.

Best ways to enjoy a Coast camp-out: avoid weekends, and avoid the wind. Some of the campsites are sheltered from ever-present Pacific breezes, but others offer much more exposure. When you make your reservation, ask how windy your site is.

There are far more adventurous routes to Coast Camp -- it's about six miles from Bear Valley with a stiff climb near Mount Wittenberg, or 15 long (but drop-dead gorgeous) miles along the Coast Trail from the Palomarin Trailhead in the southern section of Point Reyes. Feeling strong? Check out Everytrail developer Chris McCarty's over-nighter along this route.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock is about four miles from the Bear Valley Trailhead at the western terminus of the Bear Valley Trail. On clear days it offers commanding views of Point Reyes National Seashore, and even when fogged in it'll have a certain mysterious magic.

Note this is one of the most popular locales in the park, so you might be best advised to just stop by, take a few pictures, and move on.

When you get to Arch Rock, you may well wonder where the arch is. Well, you're standing on top of it. It's possible to hike down to the arched ocean cavern nearby, but it's not advised, as it's steep with precarious footing. Also, you wouldn't want to get trapped by rising tides down there.

Glen Campground

Glen Camp's 12 campsites are centrally located in a secluded, woodsy section of Point Reyes midway between the Palomarin and Bear Valley trailheads.

If you spend a day getting pummeled by Pacific winds, Glen Camp could be a nice respite. Shortest hike there is 4.6 miles along the Bear Valley and Glen Trails.

Glen Camp sites may be available when the coast-side campgrounds are full.

Wildcat Campground

Wildcat Camp's seven campsites are the closest to the ocean of all the sites at Point Reyes. Some are highly exposed to the wind, so be sure to ask how sheltered your site is when reserving.

The closest attraction to Wildcat Camp is Alamere Falls -- a waterfall that pours into the Pacific all year. Just hike down to the beach and hang a left -- you'll see it far down the beach. It's a mile distant, which is harder than you might think when it's all in sand. Also: Mind the tides, you don't want to get stranded in high water.

The most direct route to Wildcat Camp is 5.5 miles along the Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead. This is one of the nicest stretches of trail in northern California, making the hike as much fun as the camp-out.

Palomarin Trailhead

This trailhead -- with its large parking lot -- is a favorite of local hikers setting out for daylong explorations of the southerly sections of Point Reyes.

Palomarin is also the preferred starting point for hikes to Wildcat Camp. Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid the necessity of driving to Bear Valley Visitors Center first to pick up your permit, then drive on to Palomarin to park.

Click this link for driving directions.

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