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Point Reyes Station, California, United States

Tomales Point at Point Reyes National Seashore

Glorious views and grazing elk await at Point Reyes National Seashore. Moderate 10-mile hike.

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 10.2 miles / 16.4 km
Duration: Half day
Overview: It's nearly impossible to get lost on the way to Tomales Point, a rocky fingernail of land poking into the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. And that's a shame, because if ever there was a place to lose yourself, this is it.

The narrow, windswept sliver of Point Reyes National Seashore ending at Tomales Point has just one main trail, which rolls gently for just under five miles. Along the way you'll see the ragged coastline and roving tule elk herds that make this the essential northern California coastal hike.

While seabirds and sea breezes complement your Tomales Trail experience, the tule elk are the main attraction. Every year during late summer and early autumn the bulls use their giant racks of antlers to battle it out and build harems of females to mate with. The "rut," as the mating season is called, features fierce combat and the piercing, high-pitched bugling of bulls declaring their dominance (or challenging another bull's).

Most of the year the elk will be standing around and grazing, but even so they are a sight to behold. While most hikers prefer loops to out-and-back routes, you'll have no issues with this one because after you reach the rocky tip of Tomales Point, you'll get to see everything again on the way back. And you'll want to.

Weather is the wild card for a Tomales Point hike: often the coast will be fogged in during the morning, though it may clear up in the afternoon. Don't worry about never seeing any elk: I've hiked here in pea-soup fog and rain and still seen a few off in the distance.

Tips: Tomales Point requires a long drive and a long hike. Plan for an all-day outing if you want to go the distance.

Don't count on solitude: this is a popular trail, especially during the elk rut. The trails won't be packed, but they won't be empty, either.

Elk are massive, dangerous wild animals; never try to get close to one. Human hide is no match for bull elk antlers; an unfortunate few have been fatally gored.

Check the weather forecast for Point Reyes Station before you go. The hike's worth doing in all weather but you'll have a better chance of enjoying yourself if you're properly prepared.

What to bring:
A camera and binoculars.
Layers, especially a wind-breaker.
Sun screen; there's no shade on this hike
Water and snacks.

Points of Interest


The Trail

Tomales Point Trail starts next to the historic Pierce Point Ranch, and heads in a fairly direct line toward Tomales Point. While the ups and downs are no big deal, they do add up. It's a relatively mild 10 miles but it's still 10 miles.

You may start seeing elk as soon as a mile in. Occasionally, National Parks Service staff will set up viewing points with binoculars or spotting scopes to provide a better view of the elk grazing far in the distance.

One of the prime elk gathering spots is near a pond just over 3.5 miles down the trail. A digital camera on maximum zoom often can capture nice images of the elk; all the better if you have pro-grade equipment with long lenses.

Tomales Point

The trail turns to sand in the last mile, which makes the going a bit more challenging. Around mile 4.5 the trail edges right up to a precipitous cliff with roaring surf below. Watch your step here; a fall will be fatal.

From there it's a short jaunt to the point, where you can kick back, grab a few snacks, enjoy the antics of aquatic birds and rest up for the return walk.
Pictures in this guide taken by: wokwok1, dgreno, tmusolf, tmeekins, SnowRiderJ, EwaSkB
Great 10 mile loop, filled with Elk and whale spottings. Easy hike, bring a windbreaker, as there isn't much wind cover if it's whipping in.
Visited on Aug 31, 2014

by mikegraham78 on Dec 23, 2014
Dress in layers. We saw a lot of hikers wearing shorts and short sleeves turning back around to leave the trail because of the cold wind.
Visited on May 03, 2014

by legkickr on May 04, 2014
Absolutely amazing. You definitely want to bring a windbreaker, though -- windy as all well. But well worth it for unobstructed ocean views, and I recommend eating your lunch/snack at Tomales Point and take in all the splendor. Amazing.

by MelG on Nov 30, 2013
We were fortunate to have perfect weather for this hike, but I imagine it could be uncomfortable if you did this hike on a windy day, therefor I strongly suggest checking the forecast before going. For viewing wildlife, you probably can't top this hike, and the massive 700 lb. elk are just spectacular! I highly recommend this hike, even for the less experienced or less fit hikers among us. Overall, the hike is pretty easy for a 10 mile hike.
Visited on Jan 23, 2013

by abaloneman on Feb 28, 2013
Very relaxing and peaceful hike. Overall the terrain was not too demanding. Most likely you will see elk and deer for the majority of the hike. They were extremely calm and were not too far from the trail. I picked up a vibe that they were respecting me and trusting that I would stay on the path and not get too close and respect them back, so definitely stay on the path. I'd recommend going in the morning because it's cooler and not too many people are there yet. Amazing views, definitely worth the 10 miles!
Visited on Nov 03, 2012

by chiropracticdiva on Nov 03, 2012
The trail at the Point area itself is heavily overgrown and it's easy to loose the main trail. Seems to be a lack of trail maintenance not happening in the Point Reyes area maybe from lack of funding?

by bdouglas on Jun 30, 2010

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