New Meeting: Point Reyes: Woodward - Bear Valley Hike

From: Gary P
Sent on: Sunday, March 16, 2008 8:01 PM
Announcing a new meeting for The Sacramento Hiking Meetup Group!

What: Point Reyes: Woodward - Bear Valley Hike

When: Sunday, March 23, 7:00 AM

Where: Click the link below to find out!

Who should come: Anyone who loves the coast!!

Why: Because Easter on the Coast is the Easter to have!

Meeting Description: Location: South District of Point Reyes National Seashore, about 1.25 hours drive north of San Francisco.

Trailhead: Bear Valley visitor center.

Length: 13.5 miles / 21.6 km

Trail Type: Loop

Elevation Change: 1,000 ft / 305 m

Duration: 6 hours (NOT including drive time)

Trail Condition: Clear and easy to follow, with signed junctions. Bear Valley Trail, the final section of the loop, is a wide, smooth and level track open to cyclists as well as hikers.

Features: Woods, meadows, ocean views, coast and beaches.

Climate: Cool to warm year round. Fog often shrouds the views in summer. Cold coastal winds in winter. Particularly good in spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom and temperatures are pleasant.

Although Point Reyes National Seashore has plenty of shorter trails, none can beat this long circuit through widely varied scenery. Following the route counter-clockwise - out to the coast through Woodward Valley, back along Bear Valley, the two linked together by the Meadow and Coast Trails - will see all the climbing finished in the first hour, taking advantage of the cool of morning.

Bear Valley Trail starts at the far end of the large car park. It soon passes a turnoff for Mt Wittenberg Trail (which you ignore) and heads into woods, following a creek. Keep to this track, lined with tiny pale blue and yellow flowers to the start of the circuit proper at 0.8 mile. Here you turn right, over a footbridge, onto the narrower path of Meadow Trail. A steep climb begins immediately, with a couple of short level stretches to break it up. Look out for wildlife - climbing through the beautiful forest, we saw a white fallow deer bounding back and forth across the path.

Eventually you emerge into a large meadow. The gradient eases as you cross it and move back into the trees, traversing a slope that falls away to your left. The climbing continues through bird-filled forest, but it is much easier than before. Finally the trail levels, a few minutes before a trail junction at 2.3 miles.

Turn left onto Sky Trail and descend through the forest, with hazy glimpses of hills through the trees and the flat summit of Mt Wittenberg on the left. In just 0.7 mile, the trees open into another clearing and you turn right onto Woodward Valley Trail. Head through the clearing before returning to open forest and an easy level trail. A short descent takes you past an area showing signs of fire damage, and soon you get your first hazy view of the ocean, merging into the sky. The descent becomes much steeper as you drop down to the coast, through beautiful flowering shrubs.

Emerge from the trees of Woodward Valley onto rounded, grass and shrub-covered hills. The coastline stretches away into the distance on the left. Out of the protection of the trees you are hit by the wind off the ocean. On a hot day, this will come as welcome relief, but in less clement weather it can be bitterly cold. The trail winds down the hillside, past gorgeous golden California poppies.

At 5 miles, turn left onto the Coast Trail - actually a little inland, but with near-constant sea views. You are heading for Arch Rock, some 3.5 miles away. But first there is Sculptured Beach, an often deserted cove covered with driftwood and surrounded by eroded cliffs, grasses and shrubs. The short, narrow path to the beach turns off the Coast Trail after just 0.5 mile, and you will want to be sure not to miss it.

Back on the Coast Trail, continue on the generally level path flanked by low bushes, allowing open views of rolling hills and ocean beyond. The trail briefly heads inland in a couple of places to round gullies, then moves closer to the sea for a glorious view of the rugged coastline and its eroded rocks (see picture). Perfumed lupine crowds the trail and the only sounds are birdsong and the pounding of surf.

After 45 minutes you approach a massive eucalyptus tree, a real anomaly among the low shrubs. Here a path leads down to Kelham Beach, but storm damage had made it impassable when we hiked in mid-May. There is a view of the beach, however, as you continue beyond the impressive tree, over a footbridge and around another gully. Sky Trail joins from the left, and soon the deeply wooded hillsides of beautiful Bear Valley come into view. In a few minutes, you reach Bear Valley junction, at 9 miles.

Before taking the Bear Valley Trail back to the trailhead, turn sharp right for the short walk to Arch Rock. From the windswept cliff you can watch the waves pounding the beaches to either side, or clamber down a narrow, eroded path to the creek and beach on the left.

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