Story by Carol Canter with photos by Lee Daley.
Tule Elk grazed on the grasslands along the Tomales Point Trail, seemingly indifferent to the steady stream of photographer-hikers captivated by the stately herds. The superstars were clearly the bulls, their branching racks of antlers silhouetted against the azure sea, sky, and bay. This was not fall rutting season when the air is electric with its libidinous energy, but a warm sunny December 29. The mild weather and readiness for a break from holiday revelry brought us to the great outdoors, and into the natural wonders of Point Reyes National Seashore.
We met casual and serious hikers of all ages, including multi-generational families with grandparents shepherding young children. All were walking the trail that begins at the historic Pierce Point Ranch. Some planned to make it all the way out to the point, a walk of almost 5 miles each way; others enjoyed a casual stroll, turning back when the spirit moved them.
About a mile or so in, we ran into my colleague, Susan Alcorn, whose first book title, We’re in the MOUNTAINS Not Over the Hill offers “Tales and Tips From Seasoned Women Backpackers.” She covers the best trails around the globe for her readers, from Patagonia to Point Reyes to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Author Alcorn told us we’d begin to see the elk in another mile, and then to watch for a watering hole in the distance, where several bulls were gathered. Through our binoculars, we were able to focus on a downed bull, clued to its location by Susan’s hiking party, and by the turkey vultures circling overhead. It was a startling and disturbing discovery for some of us city folk, but clearly a part of the natural cycle of life.
Tomales Point marks the northernmost tip of Point Reyes Peninsula, narrowing and thrusting northward between Tomales Bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The serenity of the bay that separates the peninsula from the California coastal mainland contrasts with the sea and its breaking waves. We had a sense of striding atop the world, the views in every direction breathtaking.
Our reward for completing the hike was a short drive to nearby McClure’s Beach, and a 10-minute walk downhill, in time to catch the sun’s golden orb drop into the sea. We zipped up jackets, warmed hands in pockets, and watched the sky light up in flame. Just another winter’s day in the Bay Area, we marveled, only 90 minutes from home.
Stop by the Bear Valley Visitor Center for advice, maps, and information. http://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm
California State Parks website has info on Tomales Bay State Park: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=470
There are no parking or trail fees for the Tomales Point Trail.
Bring water and a picnic from home, or stop for provisions in the hamlets of Olema, Inverness, or Point Reyes Station.
Always dress in layers for hiking in Northern California. Use sunscreen. Bring binoculars.
Tomales Point is a perfect hike for all seasons, enlivened by the riotous wildflowers of spring and the bugling mating calls of the male Tule Elk in fall.
Lovely article and beautiful photos.
Thanks, Stephanie. Let’s plan to hike the trail on a beautiful winter day!
Thanks for reminding me that I’m due for a hike to see the elk! I hope the rain that we are currently having will help replenish the supply of water to the area because the elk are being impacted. The Tomales Point trail is one of my favorites in the world. I love being on this beautiful peninsula and being able to see Bodega Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.