Hiking the California Coast: Tomales Point ~ Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a National Park jewel in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Point Reyes will always have a special place in my heart, because it was where we had our first family backpacking adventure.  Not only is Point Reyes a great place for family backpacking, it also has many fantastic location for numerous day hikes.

Ever since my husband and I "discovered" Point Reyes we have always wanted to hike out to Tomales Point, but we just haven't found the opportunity to make it there.  Even though Point Reyes is in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's still 2.5 hour drive to reach the trail head from the East Bay!  It was definitely worth the drive, since we had an out-of-town guest coming to California for the first time.  We wanted to show the beauty of the California coast, so off we went to Tomales Point.

Hiking the California Coast

When you think about hiking on the California coast, everyone thinks about warm sunshine, beautiful views of the Pacific ocean and cliffs.  I would say that on all our coastal hiking outings: Año Nuevo SPRancho Corral de TierraBaker BeachPirates Cove and Backpacking Point Reyes have been for the most part, completely the opposite of sunny/warm and Tomales Point was no different!

Weather Conditions ~ The majority of the hike was foggy, it wasn't until 4 p.m. that the sun FINALLY broke through the fog.  It was cold, misty, foggy and windy during most of the hike and then winds became stronger after the sun broke through the fog!  I was almost knocked down a couple times near "Windy Gap" by the gusts!  I normally bring multiple layers for myself and especially for the kids since they get cold sitting in the carriers.

Foggy trail near same location below

Fog-less Tomales Point  
I usually do not like "Out and Back" trails because I want to see new scenery the entire hike but since it was foggy one way and sunny on the way out, it was like two completely different hikes!  Everything looked different from the foggy morning hike.  We were also able to see the tide roll into Tomales Bay, which none of us have ever seen before!

Bird Rock in the Pacific Ocean
Trail Conditions ~ Tomales Point Trail is an out and back trail, 4.75 miles (one way) for a total 9.5 miles.  We were aiming to hike to the bluffs but we were not committed since 9.5 miles is a really long hike with toddlers.  We did not complete the entire trail, we opted out to not hike the last 0.5 miles to the bluffs (see trail report below).  Everything I read about this hike said it was an easy "10 mile" hike but everything takes twice as long with kids.  With that said, my toddlers LOVED this hike and the adults did too!

The trail itself was mostly single track with some wider trail sections.  It was a combination of hiking on beach sand and compact dirt.  A huge motivator to get my kids hiking and out of the carriers is SAND. There was a trail section where we were hiking uphill (with toddlers on our backs), in sand, "bushwhacking" our way through the tall wildflowers...I don't know about you but that was HARD.  I made it about 20 ft and then my daughter yelled "Ooh sand!! I want to get out!!" and I happily let her out.  My kids love to bring their shovels in case they find sand on hikes. 

Getting There ~ Tomales Point Trail Head is at the end of Pierce Point Road a 40 minute drive from the Bear Valley Visitor Center, which I highly recommend visiting.  Directions to Tomales Point Trailhead.

Abundant Wildlife

One of the main attractions of Tomales Point is the wildlife, in particular the Tule Elk.  I was hoping to see a few Tule Elk but I was surprised that we hiked all day with the Tule Elk.  Of course we always kept our distance since wildlife should never be disturb, but we took many moments to just stop and stare at these beautiful creatures.  National Park Service states that "In 2009, over 440 were counted at Tomales Point" and we definitely saw at least 50 elk during our hike.

Can you find the Elk scratching it's ear like a dog?

Seeing wildlife with kids is really amazing, so many teachable moments that I will need to write another post about it soon.  My kids haven't really grasped the concept of specific type of animals, so when we told them those animals were "Tule Elk" they just gave us blank stares.  When I told them they were kind of like deer they were a little confused because they didn't look like deer.  It wasn't until we saw the bucks with antlers, that my toddlers were satisfied with telling me that we were hiking with "Reindeer". 

Why did the turkey cross the road?
We also found some wild turkeys crossing the trail.  As we let them cross our path, I joked with our children that we were going to eat them and my son turned around and said "Mommy, we don't eat turkeys!".  Sorry buddy, we do and they are delicious!  Wild turkeys are not native to Point Reyes National Seashore, so maybe we could have eaten them...

Wildlife Proximity ~ We've had a few close wildlife encounters in the past, so we are very careful when wildlife is nearby.  As we were hiking along the ridge, a herd of Tule Elk (bucks) ran across the trail 30 feet ahead of us.  The low bushes hid the elk, so we could not see them until they were running across the trail (picture above).  Thankfully we had our "herd" of children near by and my daughter (two years old) was up high in the carrier. My daughter was able to see the herd running and said, "Daddy, that is beautiful!".

Wildflowers Galore

I have never hiked where I was completely surrounded by wildflowers.  My hiking ground is the San Francisco East Bay hills that dry up the second the rainy season stops, so all the hills surrounding me are currently golden brown with a few sparse wildflowers.  The California coast stays a little more damp due to the fog, so even our precious California Golden Poppies were out in droves!

The one flower that stopped us in our tracks was the Cobwebby Thistle - Cirsium Occidentale (spiky pink "flower").  We found it near the last mile of the Tomales Point Trail, the closer we got to the end the more abundant they became.  I could only identify the California Golden Poppy, and some type of purple lily but we were always surrounded by wildflowers.  If you have allergies to pollen, I would suggest waiting until wildflower season is finished because we were covered in pollen!

My daughter was in HEAVEN...she absolutely loves flowers, one of her favorite things about the outdoors.  It took us forever to walk through the field of flowers (about 4 ft high) because she had to stop and smell all the flowers.  I had to "part the waters" with my hiking sticks so she could walk through and not get hit in the face.

Trail Report Details

Who: Four Adults, Two Toddlers
Family Friendly: Difficult
Mileage: 8.5 miles Round trip

Elevation Change: 1256 ft
Trails: Tomales Point Trail (Out and Back) 

Approximate Time: 4 hours (Moving time) ~ 7 hours 15 mins (Breaks Included)
Method: Toddlers Partially Hiking/Carriers

I would not suggest this hike in its entirety for families new to hiking, hence the difficulty rating but if your are used to hiking with your kids this hike would be a great all day hike.  A more family friendly hike at Tomales Point Trail would be hiking to Windy Gap (approx 1 mile - 2 miles roundtrip) and exploring the barns near the trail head.  I absolutely loved this hike, from the wildflowers, wildlife to hiking the beautiful California coast, Tomales Point is a hike definitely worth the drive, effort and time.  

Have you been to Point Reyes National Seashore before?  If so what parts?

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Related Posts and Links:
  1. Point Reyes National Seashore - National Park Service Site
  2. Backpacking at Point Reyes: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3