This loop combines many favorite views, beaches, and formations in the Point Reyes peninsula. All of the climbing is accomplished at the very start of the loop, so the rest is downhill and mostly level. There are several side trips that can be added or left off depending on interest and stamina.
From the south end of the Bear Valley Trailhead parking lot, follow the park access road through a meadow that leads directly south. This soon intersects with the start of the Mt Wittenberg
trail heading west. The Mt Wittenberg
Trail passes through dense Douglas fir and oak forest on its way, 1300 feet up to the summit. The grade is mostly steady but there are some steep sections. Once you emerge into the first open meadow and the grade eases, a short trail (Mt. Wittenberg Summit
Trail) to the top of Mt. Wittenberg departs to the north. Views from the summit are partly obscured by trees. Mt. Wittenberg is named after a farther son pair who ran a diary ranch here in the 1860's.
Retrace your steps down from the summit and continue on the Mt Wittenberg
trail briefly before intersecting with the Sky
Trail. Follow the Sky
trail southwards along a ridgeline, then take the right (southwest) fork onto the Woodward Valley
The Woodward Valley
trail descends gently along densely wooded ridges and through hillside valleys. Beware on one steep section, then travel is mellow through open fields where the views open up. Exit the Woodward Valley and switchback more steeply down to the coast. Join the Coast Trail - North
but be sure to head southeast! (if you reach Coast Camp above the Santa Maria Beach access
, you went the wrong way!)
Once on the Coast Trail, watch out for the Sculptured Beach
turnoff. This appropriately named beach is known for its sandstone formations built by wind and ocean erosion into arches, tunnels and cliffs. Poke around in the creeks than come from inland and in the pools at waterline for starfish and other ocean life often caught on the beach here. The next beach and fantastic cliffs to the south have additional rock formations and are accessible only during low tides.
Get back on the Coast Trail - North
. This section between the Sky
and Woodward Valley
Trails is spectacular. It traces the coastline in and out of shallow valleys, staying above the beach on bluffs. The next stop off is a spur trail to Kelham Beach. Watch for a huge eucalyptus tree next to the path which leads to the wide, tan, sand oasis of -you guessed it- Kelham Beach
Rejoin the Coast Trail - North
, pass the junction with Sky
trail and prepare for one of the highlights: Arch Rock
. Take either of the signposted short spur trails (called Arch Rock
here) down the narrow isthmus to the point. (keep kids away from the cliff edges here). Some adventurous visitors time their visit for very low tide and low water levels in Coast Creek so that they can climb down to the beach and shimmy through Arch Rock
When you're ready to rejoin civilization, head back to the Coast Trail - North
and follow it inland just briefly before it hits the Bear Valley
Trail. Take this family friendly trail (Bear Valley
Trail) even though it gets considerably more crowded the further inland you venture. Leave the coast behind and meander through open fields, gaining elevation gradually along the bluffs. Enter lush forest and eventually reach the flat junction of Glen
Trail and Bear Valley
Trail, where a bike rack marks the boundary beyond which bike travel is allowed (between here and the Bear Valley Trailhead).
The Bear Valley
Trail turns to head north and parallels the Coast Creek which flows to the sea. Once you reach the Douglas fir-rimmed Divide Meadow, the uphill work is over. This pleasant meadow has picnic tables and pit toilets. Pass downhill through an attractive Douglas fir forest, along side the burbling Bear Valley
Creek where a wide variety of ferns happily make their home. Back to the real world: the Bear Valley
Trail ends at the south end of the parking lots for the hectic Bear Valley Trailhead and visitor center.
Maidenhair, huckleberry, ferns, deer, and birds can be found on the Mt Wittenberg
section. The Coast Trail - North
section features lupine, sea thrift, lizard-tail, coast fiddleneck, gumplant, shorebirds, pelicans, and seals. Watch for Douglas fir, tanoak, bay, alder, hazelnut, ferns, willow, buckeye, coffeeberry, honeysuckle, forget-me-nots, friendly snakes, and deer on the Bear Valley
section of this loop.