What’s Best: Attractions on the beautiful grounds of park headquarters keep families coming back for more. Coastal ridges lure adventurous hikers to 150 miles of trails.
Parking: From southern Marin: Take Hwy. 1-Stinson Beach exit from north of Sausalito and follow Hwy. 1 past Stinson to Olema. Just north of Olema, go left on Bear Valley Rd. and watch for signs to visitors center. From central Marin: Take Sir Francis Drake Blvd.-San Anselmo exit and follow through Fairfax to Hwy. 1 at Olema. Jog north and make an immediate left on Bear Valley Rd. Note: Trail and road maps are available. Agency: Point Reyes National Seashore
Several short hikes are near the Bear Valley Visitor Center. The most popular may be the Earthquake Trail, beginning in the towering oaks and picnic area, off the parking lot to the left as you pass the main building. The San Andreas Fault runs under foot the epicenter of the great quake of ’06. Here, poor Matilda the cow was swallowed as the fault shifted. Staggered fence posts demonstrate the 20-foot shift that took place that morning in an instant.
The Morgan Horse Ranch is where the rangers’ mounts for the National Park Service are bred and trained. Go right up the road at the beginning of the Bear Valley trailhead that is south of the visitor center. Working exhibits and displays tell you all about America’s first native breed. Plenty of horses are on hand. The Woodpecker Trail, a riparian nature walk, imparts a deep-forest experience without having to go far. Beginning to the right at the Bear Valley Trail, the Woodpecker Trail circles through the habitat of woodland creatures and passes the horse ranch on the way back.
Kule Loklo which is Miwok for “bear valley,” named in the days when grizzlies ruled is now a replica of a Coast Miwok village, replete with a bark dwelling, an earthen sweatlodge, sunshade and other structures, made using traditional methods and tools, and native materials. About 120 village sites having been discoverd in the park, dating back 5,000 years. The trail begins to the right, or north as you drive in toward the visitors center.
Grounds at Bear Valley Headquarters
For the hike up to Mt. Wittenberg, which at 1,407 feet is the highest point on the peninsula, start south on the Bear Valley Trail. Go right at the trail junction .25-mile from the trailhead gate. This steepest of trails takes you up some 1,300 feet over 1.75 miles, through a sampling of the peninsula’s flora. Once at the ridge, take a spur trail to your right, .25-mile, to the summit and its grand view of Drakes Bay and northern Marin. More Stuff: From Mt. Wittenberg you have several loop options. All options involve heading south on the Sky Trail, taking a connector trail left down to the Bear Valley Trail, and going left on this main trail back to visitors center. A Meadow Trail loop is 5.75-miles. A loop using the Old Pine Trail is 7.5 miles. Finally, you can come down the Sky Trail for 2.5 miles and go left on the Baldy Trail, a loop of almost 10 miles.
Photo Gallery BEAR VALLEY HEADQUARTERS MAP SAN FRANCISCO
BEAR VALLEY HEADQUARTERS MAP SAN FRANCISCO Images
To Divide Meadow, a pleasant bird watcher’s hike, head down the Bear Valley Trail. In the shade of a mixed Douglas fir forest beside Bear Valley Creek. The trail features several benches to sit and enjoy a woodland habitat rich with birds, including owls, thrushes, woodpeckers, and wrens. After climbing a rise, you come to the grassy meadow.
For the strenuous hike to the battered coastline at Sculptured Beach, take the Bear Valley Trail south from the parking area for 1.5 miles and go right on Old Pine Trail. This forested grade takes you on a 2-mile trek up to the ridge, gaining about 400 feet on the way. From the ridge with its east-west views go right on the Sky Trail for about .25-mile and then drop off to the west on the Woodward Valley Trail. This trail snakes 2 miles down to the coast. To Sculptured Beach you need to go south, or left, on the Coast Trail. In less than .5-mile you’ll see a spur trail from the bluff. To get to Arch Rock, a landmark on a craggy coast, head south on the Bear Valley Trail for 3 miles, all the way to its end. The Arch Rock Trail will be straight ahead, the middle of three options. You hike the next mile alongside Coast Creek, and reach the Coast
Trail. A short spur leads west from this junction to the formation.
Bear Valley Visitor Center
Walk: Bear Valley Visitor Center and Park Headquarters
The open-beamed Bear Valley Visitors Center and Park Headquarters, with displays, photos, and dioramas, is a destination unto itself. The center is also the first stop to learn about trail conditions, obtain permits, and become acquainted with the history and ecology of the seashore. From 1890 through the early 1930s, Bear Valley was a private hunting club. In September 1962, John F. Kennedy signed a bill authorizing the national seashore, one of his last official acts as president.
Bike: The Bear Valley Trail presents great opportunities for a hike ‘n’ bike: Ride in the 3 miles through lush forest, lock your bike at racks provided by the Park Service, and take a hike to the coast. One hiking option from the end of the Bear Valley Trail is to walk to Arch Rock, and head on north on the Coast Trail for 2.5 miles, passing Kelham Beach, Secret Beach, and coming to Sculptured Beach. This option is 7.75 miles of hiking, plus a 6.25-mile bike ride.
For a Baldy Trail loop of 4 miles, walk down the trail to Arch Rock and go north on the Coast Trail for .5-mile. Then head up the ridge on the Sky Trail.
You climb about 600 feet for 1.5 miles, before joining the Baldy Trail, where you hang a right and travel a rough contour through mostly chaparral back to the bike rack.