5 mile partial loop through Douglas fir woods to the top of Point Reyes's
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5 mile partial loop hike is easy. Trailhead elevation is about
680 feet. The highest elevation in the area in Mount Wittenberg, at about
1400 feet. Total elevation change for this hike is about 800 feet.
Mix of shade and sun.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
2 1/2 hours.
Nice year round.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Anselmo/Sir Francis Drake. Drive west
on Sir Francis Drake about 20 miles, to the junction with CA 1. Turn right
and drive about 0.1 mile, then turn left onto Bear Valley Road. Drive about
2 miles, then turn left onto Limantour Road. Drive about 3.3 miles to the
signed trailhead on the left side of the road.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, stores, and restaurants on Sir Francis Drake in Inverness. Gas
in Point Reyes Station. There are overnight accommodations available on
the eastern fringes of the park, including a handful of motels in Inverness,
and numerous bed and breakfasts just off Sir Francis Drake. Point Reyes
has several hike-in campgrounds -- inquire at the Point Reyes Ranger Station
in Bear Valley, or read more about the options here.
No car camping in the park. Point Reyes Hostel, farther down Limantour Road,
is an inexpensive lodging option.
Gravel parking lot with about 10 spots. No entrance or parking fees. No
restrooms or maps at the trailhead. If you need a map, stop at the Bear
Valley Visitor Center on the way: once you turn onto Bear Valley Road, drive
about 0.3 mile, then turn left at the Seashore Information sign and drive
a short distance to the visitor center. Pay phone and restrooms at Visitor
Center. There are no designated handicapped parking spots, and trails are
poorly suited to wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation to
Most trails are open to hikers and equestrians only. Bikes are allowed on
Sky Trail only as far as Sky Camp. No dogs.
The Official Story:
NPS's Point Reyes
Bear Valley Visitor Center (Ranger Station) 415-464-5100
the park map pdf from NPS
Point Reyes maps from NPS
Point Reyes by Jessica Lage (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of trails
around Sky Trailhead.
Trail Map of Point Reyes National Seashore, by Tom Harrison
(order from Amazon.com)
is the best all-purpose map to Point Reyes.
Don and Kay Martin's Point Reyes National Seashore: A Hiking and
Nature Guide (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a number of useful maps, including a
map of this hike. Much of the information is duplicated in their Hiking
Marin book (order
this book from Amazon.com), but the Point Reyes book has some nice extras.
View 68 photos from
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Trailhead is just a few miles up the road from the Bear Valley Visitor Center, but it's far from the maddening crowds
that congregate at Point Reyes' most crowded trailhead. Sky's small, tranquil
trailhead, with no amenities, is a great starting point for a hike to
the top of Mount Wittenberg. Most hikers begin at Bear Valley (where the
elevation is around 100 feet), and hike to the summit via Mount Wittenberg
Trail, which despite being pleasantly graded, ascends about 1300 feet.
The elevation at Sky Trailhead is about 700 feet, giving you a significant
head start on the tack to the summit. You can also start at Sky Trailhead
and hike to the beach and back via Sky Trail, Fire Lane Trail, Coast Trail,
and Laguna Trail. This loop clocks in at about 9.5 miles, and drops and
then regains about 700 feet. A few other loop and out-and-back hikes are
possible; consult a map to create the hike you desire.
For this featured hike, start at the Sky
Trailhead parking lot and walk up the obvious gated fire road, Sky Trail,
open to cyclists (as far as Sky Camp), equestrians, and hikers. A slight
ascent begins under oaks and Douglas fir. Huckleberry shrubs stand in
thick clumps off the sides of the trail, along with thimbleberry, hazelnut,
ferns, and honeysuckle. The shade is short lived, as Sky Trail soon enters
chaparral. You may see quail scampering across the trail, seeking shelter
under coyote bush, bush lupine, or California coffeeberry. A stand of
tall, dead bishop pine skeletons stand downslope to the right, testament
to the devastating 1995 Mount Vision fire. Young bishop pines are reinvigorating
this forest. This spot is a good place to compare the two main conifers
found on Point Reyes. Bishop pines have two long needles per cluster,
and large cones. Douglas firs have short needles that poke out from the
branch like a bottle brush. The cones are small, and to me, resemble pine cone candles
that are dripping wax (they just look melty). Small Douglas fir are perhaps
more easily recognizable for most people, as the young trees are often
harvested for Christmas trees. Large towering Douglas fir (with no needles
or cones in sight) can be confused with redwood, in which case the bark
is a helpful clue to the tree's identity (visit
the Douglas fir page for some photos). First glimpses west to the
ocean can be gleaned through remains of the bare bishop pines. Sky Trail
keeps a reasonable and steady pace as it ascends, taking the opportunity
to duck under some Douglas fir as the path curves uphill. Through occasional
breaks in the tree cover you may see mostly treeless rolling hills miles
away to the east. A tangle of oaks, huckleberry, California bay, creambush,
hazelnut, and Douglas fir create a lush feeling. At 0.76 mile,at
the crest of a hill, Sky Trail meets Fire Lane Trail at a signed junction. Continue downhill to the left on Sky Trail, to the signed junction
with Horse Trail, at 0.80 mile. Bear left on Horse Trail.
Look to the left here for a luxuriant display
of salal, a plant commonly used in floral displays. Salal produces white
bell-shaped blossoms in winter (about the same time that huckleberry shrubs
bloom), and edible dark blue berries in late summer. After one short steep
hill, Horse Trail, open to equestrians and hikers, adopts a mostly level
course. The narrow path sweeps across a hillside populated with poison
oak, huckleberry, wild rose, creambush, and blackberry. Large old Douglas
fir persevere downslope to the left, benefiting from the shelter of the
hill. The steep dropoff to the north permits some sweeping views of Mount
Vision. A sunny stretch of grassland and chaparral, punctuated with coyote
brush and bush lupine, ushers Horse Trail to a signed junction
at 1.17 miles. Turn right onto Z Ranch Trail.
Z Ranch Trail, which may be used by equestrians
and hikers, soon seeks refuge in a thick forest of Douglas firs.
After a short moderate climb, the path levels to an easy pace. The tree
cover is so extensive that there is virtually no undergrowth on
the left side of the trail in sections. To the right, the foliage clears
occasionally to permit views of Mount Vision, still bearing scars
of the 1995 fire. Gradually, Douglas firs thin and mix themselves through
grassland, where gopher holes pockmark the landscape. At 2.00 miles, Z
Ranch Trail ends at a signed multi-trail junction. This is a good spot
for wildflowers in the spring. Turn left onto the trail to Mount Wittenberg Summit (respect the restoration effort
by staying on the trail, ignoring the shortcut).
Lizards might scatter as you hike uphill
on the narrow path in summer. Where the trail crosses the shortcut, turn
back for the best view west, to Drake's Bay and the southwestern tip of
Point Reyes. As you ascend, the trail increasingly is choked with young
Douglas firs. Rather abruptly, at 2.20 miles, the path runs out of steam
at the summit, a flat bare spot rimmed with Douglas firs. No views to
the north or west are accessible, but walk to the right and downhill a
few feet to enjoy nice vistas south and east. Mount Tamalpais is visible
on clear days (although every year the view diminishes as the tree cover
thickens). Although the views are a little disappointing, the summit is
a great place for a lunch break, or short snooze in the sun. When you're ready to continue, retrace your
steps back down to the multi-trail junction. Take a soft right
(the sharp right is your old friend Z Ranch Trail) onto Mount Wittenberg
Trail (toward Sky Camp).
The wide and level hiking and equestrian
trail angles under the crest of a grassy hillside. Deer (including the
unusual and non-native fallow and axis deer) are often spotted on this
part of the mountain. A look downhill to the right exposes Sky Trail,
which will be the next path on this featured hike. Huckleberry shrubs
nestle beneath Douglas firs on the left side on the trail. At 2.77 miles,
Mount Wittenberg Trail ends at a signed junction with Meadow Trail and
Sky Trail. Turn right onto Sky Trail.
Sky Trail (which is open from the Sky Trailhead
to Sky Camp to cyclists, but not here) dips downhill underneath Douglas
fir and California bay. Look for snowberry, huckleberry, and ferns in
the understory. The trail bisects the same hillside you're already traversed,
just at a lower elevation. On
a hike in October, I was surprised to glimpse the back end of a bobcat
as he dashed under the cover of the trailside brush. As Sky Trail begins
an easy descent, a tangle of paths around Sky Camp come into view. Monkeyflower
grows profusely on the right bank. Stay straight (on the widest and most
defined of the trails) and continue past the signed junction with the
path to Sky Camp (restrooms are available right off the trail to the
right) at 3.51 miles.
Sky Trail passes a verdant hillside, thick
with hazelnut and Douglas fir, before crossing through another area still
scarred by the 1995 fire. Blackened tree trunks and leafless branches
are a bit spooky. California coffeeberry shrubs give the area burst of
green color even in autumn and winter. As you draw close to the previously
encountered junction with Horse Trail, you might see more salal on the
right side of the trail. At 4.10 miles, bear left to remain on Sky
Trail, and retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Total distance: 4.96 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, January