10.2 miles, Half day
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.
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.