Hiking Trails in San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes

San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes

San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes

Agate Beach County Park - Agate Beach Trailhead

Alcatraz Island

Big Basin Redwoods State Park: Redwood Trailhead

China Camp State Park

Devil's Gulch Trailhead

Golden Gate NRA - Muir Beach Overlook Trailhead

Henry Coe State Park: Dowdy Draw

Marin County: Bon Tempe Lake Trailhead

Marin County: Phoenix Lake Trailhead

Marin Headlands - Rodeo Beach

Marin Headlands - Tennessee Valley Trailhead

Mt Diablo State Park: Mitchell Canyon Trailhead

Mt Tamalpais State Park - Dias Ridge Trailhead

Mt Tamalpais State Park - Dipsea Trailhead in Mill Valley

Mt Tamalpais State Park - McKennan Gulch Trailhead

Mt Tamalpais State Park - Pantoll Ranger Station

Mt Tamalpais State Park - Redwood Creek Trailhead

Mt Tamalpais State Park - Rock Spring Trailhead

Mt Tamalpais State Park - Steep Ravine Environmental Campground

Mt. Tamalpais State Park - East Peak Visitor Center

Muir Woods National Monument - Dipsea Trailhead

Muir Woods National Monument - Entrance Station

Point Reyes: Abbotts Lagoon Trailhead

Point Reyes: Bear Valley Trailhead

Point Reyes: Bull Point Trailhead

Point Reyes: Chimney Rock Trailhead

Point Reyes: Estero Trailhead

Point Reyes: Five Brooks Trailhead

Point Reyes: Kehoe Beach Trailhead

Point Reyes: Laguna Trailhead

Point Reyes: Lighthouse Visitor Center Parking Area

Point Reyes: Limantour Beach Trailhead

Point Reyes: McClures Beach Trailhead

Point Reyes: Palomarin Trailhead

Point Reyes: Pierce Point Ranch Trailhead

Point Reyes: Sky Trailhead

Samuel P Taylor State Park - Taylor Campground

San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes - Photos

San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes - Ecology

California enjoys one of the most diverse assemblages of landforms, vegetation types and ecosystems in the world. There is more climatic and topographic variation in California than any other region of comparable size in the United States.

This variation is exemplified in the natural features and ecosystems of the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes National Seashore.

While there are many ways to classify this complex region, the broadest and closest category places Point Reyes National Seashore and nearby coastal communities in a Mediterranean biome.

Point Reyes is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean, which dramatically affects daily and seasonal climates, as well as many resident and migratory marine species.

Besides the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), the most significant oceanic impact on the peninsula is the seasonal upwelling phenomena.

Upwelling occurs when nutrient-rich cold water rises to replace relatively warm surface water to create summer coastal fog - a driving force behind the region's ecological diversity and productivity.


Forest composition in the Bay Area is determined by many factors, including the geologic formations in which trees and plants sink their roots.

For example, the north side of Inverness Ridge is covered by Bishop pine that thrives in granitic soil, while southern slopes are dominated by Douglas fir which favor a shale and sandstone mix.

150 million years ago Redwood and Redwood-like trees covered most of the Northern Hemisphere. Climate change thinned out these forests and today only two redwood species remain in California: the Coast Redwood and Giant Sequoia.

Coast Redwoods are the tallest living organisms on earth and can live 2,000 years. Redwoods grow best in moderate temperatures and need significant moisture to thrive.

The Redwoods' success along the California coast is due in part to year-round fog, which condenses on the trees' needles, drips to the ground and provides moisture - even during the dry season.

Thin understories yield limited food, and therefore wildlife activity is relatively quiet compared to other forest types.

Oak woodlands support small pockets of tanbark oak and coast live oak interspersed with open grasslands.

Coast live oak is 'live' because its leaves live on the tree year round, unlike deciduous oaks which drop annually. Live oak is known to attract insects, which in turn draws many birds.

Bishop Pine Forests are among the most diverse, featuring bay laurel, madrone, California buckeye, California wax myrtle, coast live oak, coffeeberry, huckleberry, salal, manzanita and ceanothus.

Douglas Fir Forests include cedar, spruce, hemlock, California bay, big leaf maple, California coffeeberry, California hazel, red elderberry, ceanothus, poison oak, huckleberry and thimbleberry.


Coastal scrub and chaparral are the two most common shrublands found in coastal California. Plants that make up coastal scrub typically have bendable stems and soft leaves that shrivel or fall in the dry summer months.

The leaves of many species also contain aromatic compounds that smell like kitchen herbs (e.g. sage or rosemary).

In Golden Gate and Point Reyes, coastal scrub is comprised of species adapted to relatively wet, cool and saline conditions.

Chaparral shrublands are made up of somewhat taller shrubs that have stiff, woody branches and thick leathery leaves that generally do not fall off or shrivel up during the dry summer months.

In the Bay Area, chaparral can be found in very cool, moist conditions near the coast (e.g. maritime chaparral), on relatively dry and harsh serpentine soils (e.g. serpentine chaparral), and also on ridges or in dry interior canyons associated with a variety of soil types.

Fire is critical to a healthy coastal scrub and chaparral ecosystem. Both habitats include species that are well-adapted to wildfire, and will rebound after these naturally occurring disturbances. In fact, some species require fire to germinate. All types of coastal scrub and chaparral are adapted to a particular fire cycle, which is based on the fire return interval, intensity, seasonality and other factors.


Less than one percent of California's native grassland is still intact today. The northern coastal prairie, which extends into Oregon, is the most diverse type of grassland in North America.

Pristine patches of this vegetation still grow at Point Reyes on either side of the San Andreas Fault.

Deschampsia coastal prairie is found on the Point Reyes peninsula and Danthonia coastal prairie is found on Bolinas Ridge. Coastal prairie is dominated by perennial bunchgrasses such as Purple needle grass, California fescue and California oatgrass, all of which can stay green year round with moisture from the fog belt.

By 1850, dairy ranchers had arrived at Point Reyes and planted many non-native grasses, some of which were invasive and effectively out-competed native grasses.

The most common forage plants seeded on these lands are Italian ryegrass and clover. While these are non-native species, they're not invasive. Unfortunately, invasive non-native grasses (Velvet grass, Harding grass and Tall fescue) were planted as well.

Since 2000, the National Park Service has been attempting to increase native seed use in these pastoral zones. Some species of native grass seed are commercially available, but it's expensive, and would not reflect the local genetic variations.

The ideal conservation strategy is to collect seed from local grasses, send it to a nursery, and have it grown out on a landscape scale to create a supply for restoration projects.

This strategy been successfully executed with California brome seed collected in the Point Reyes, which by April 2007, had multiplied to over 900 pounds - enough to seed 75 acres.


Point Reyes, the GGNRA, Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay Marine sanctuaries collectively protect one of the richest marine habitats on earth, highlighted by annual whale migrations and one of the largest concentrations of great white sharks in the world.

Gray whales follow the continental shelf 35 miles offshore where cold, nutrient-rich water upwells from the deep ocean. Pacific gray whales travel south to Baja each fall to give birth, then back to Alaska each spring to feed.

The intertidal zone is a coastal area exposed to air at low tide, and submerged at high tide. This complex marine ecosystem is found along coastlines worldwide with general similarities expressed by local diversity.

The intertidal zone is characterized by four zones delineated mostly by the amounts of moisture, exposure to the sun, water movement, temperature and salinity.

Above the intertidal zone is the wrack line where seaweed and other flotsam gather on the upper beach. Bull kelp, feather boa algae, dead sea life, and drift wood provide homes for amphipods and black flies. These beach decomposers help break down organic matter, and in turn are food for shorebirds such as the endangered snowy plover.

San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes - Wildlife


Point Reyes National Seashore is part of the California Floristic Province (characterized by Mediterranean vegetation) and overlapping marine provinces of California and Oregon that collectively support an extraordinary range of wildlife in a relatively small space.

Approximately 40 species of land mammals and 490 bird species - 45% of all North American species - make Point Reyes home at some point in their life cycle.

Tule Elk

Tule Elk are a subspecies of North American elk found only in California, distinguished by their lighter color and smaller size.

Vast tule herds thrived in central and coastal California until the mid-1800s, when the gold rush triggered uncontrolled market hunting and rapid agricultural development that nearly drove them to extinction. Elk were extirpated from Point Reyes by the 1860s.

In 1874, the last surviving tule elk (possibly as few as two individuals) were discovered and protected in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Subsequent conservation efforts and reintroduction programs have increased the statewide population to several thousand.

Tule elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes National Seashore in 1978. It began with 10 individuals that number over 400 today, one of the largest populations in California.

There are two separate herds of tule elk at Point Reyes. The larger herd is at Tomales Point, a 2,600-acre fenced reserve at the north end of the Seashore. The other is a herd of roughly 30 animals that was recently transplanted from Tomales Point to the Limantour wilderness area of the Seashore.

Reintroducing free-range elk is an important component to the ecological restoration of the Park. Elk keep grasslands and forest understories at natural densities, which is critical to maintaining a healthy fire cycle.

Black Bear

Black bears were extirpated from the Point Reyes area by 1901. Sightings in 2003 and 2010 suggest at least one individual is migrating back to its former range, but evidence and research is scant.

Black bears are an important part of the ecosystem, culling larger mammals and distributing seeds from berries, acorns and fruits.

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions inhabit the grasslands, chaparral and forests of Marin County and Point Reyes National Seashore.

These secretive, primarily nocturnal predators sit at the top of the terrestrial food chain hunting deer, rabbit and elk. Though sightings are not uncommon, encounters are extremely rare.

Elephant Seals

Elephant seals returned to Point Reyes in the early 1970s after a 150 year absence. The first breeding pair was discovered near Chimney Rock in 1981, and the colony has grown 16% annually since.

Today the Point Reyes elephant seal population is 1,500 - 2,000, and expanding further into Drakes Bay.

Bulls can reach 14-16' in length, and weigh over 5,000 lbs. Females are considerably smaller and slimmer at up to 10' and 1,000 - 1,500 lbs.

Males arrive first in December and Drakes Beach to claim territory. Pregnant females arrive soon after and give birth to a single pup. Juveniles trickle in, pushing single colonies into triple digits. By late April many have left to begin their gender-specific migration at sea.

Males return to the same feeding areas off the Aleutian Islands each year, while females feed in the northeast Pacific and near Hawaii. Females journey over 11,000 miles, and males 13,000 miles on their annual migrations.

Although their locations and diving patterns differ, both sexes dive repeatedly for four to five months during summer and fall.

Research suggests that elephant seals forage continuously during their migrations and sleep very little, which explains why sightings are so infrequent.

Harbor Seals

Harbor seals, northern fur seals, California sea lions, Steller sea lions and northern elephant seals inhabit the waters and coast of northern California.

Harbor seals are rather small, topping out at 5-6' long and 250 lbs (by contrast elephant seal bulls can weigh 3,000 to 5,500 lbs).

Harbor seals and elephant seals are in the Family Phocidae (earless seals), and do not have external ear flaps on the head. Neither can rotate their pelvis, and therefore move laboriously on land.

Sea lions can rotate their pelvis forward and walk on all four limbs, enabling them to access shorelines unavailable to harbor and elephant seals.

When in water, harbor seals propel themselves with their hind flippers in a sculling motion, and steer with their front flippers; sea lions and fur seals propel themselves with their fore-flippers, like wings.

Harbor seals and sea lions haul out (come out of the water) almost daily to rest and warm up. Harbor seals, especially, cannot maintain body temperature in cold water too long because of their small size and thinner blubber.

All pinnipeds give birth on land, a major distinction from cetaceans. Harbor seals give birth March - June on tidal sandbars, rocky reefs or protected beaches. Harbor seal pups can swim at birth, unlike most pinnipeds.

Harbor seal milk contains 48% fat, which can double birth weight (25 lbs) in 30 days.

During the breeding season, male seals hold territories in the waters adjacent to females haul outs, called maritory. Females are receptive to mating when the pups are weaned, and mating occurs in the water. Male seals will protect their maritory from other males and engage in stylized fighting during the breeding season.


Amphibians are vertebrates (animals with backbones) that spend a part of their life underwater and the remainder on land.

Amphibians are classified in part by those that are voiceless and produce larvae without teeth (salamanders), and those that make noise and whose larvae have teeth (frogs and toads).

There are six species of salamanders at Point Reyes including the slender salamander and arboreal salamander. Larval California giant salamanders are found in cooler streams of Olema Valley, but adults are rarely seen except on warm, rainy nights.

There are four species of frogs and toads in the Seashore, one of which is not native (bullfrog). The Pacific Tree Frog is common, recognized by its loud vocalizations in the late winter and spring.

The state's highest concentration of California red-legged frogs is found in Point Reyes. This federally threatened frog was the muse for Mark Twain's legend of the jumping frog of Calaveras County.


With nearly 490 species recorded (45% of species of birds in North America), Point Reyes National Seashore features the greatest avian diversity of any U.S. national park.

Point Reyes' diverse habitats and optimal latitude along the Pacific Flyway contribute to these great numbers. While all birds at Point Reyes are protected, two are threatened: snowy plover and northern spotted owl.


Fish are the Bay Area's most abundant vertebrates in terms of species and individuals. An estimated 22,000 species of fish are found in these combined marine sanctuaries - almost half of all vertebrates on earth.

Coho Salmon & Steelhead Trout

Mt Tamalpais State Park and Point Reyes National Seashore span critical spawning habitat for endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Coho will begin and end their lives in Redwood Creek, while steelhead will venture out to sea and return each year to spawn.

Adult fish can be seen in the winter making their way up Redwood Creek - coho typically arrive December - January, and steelhead January - March. Redwood Creek slows down before spilling into the ocean at Muir Beach, forming a lagoon and protected nursery for young fish.


The GGNRA;s grasslands, scrublands, wetlands and forests support an estimated 53 species of mammals, 250 birds, 20 reptiles and 11 amphibians.

Over 80 rare or special status wildlife species have been identified as permanent, seasonal or dependent residents of the GGNRA. Of these, 12 are listed as federally endangered, and 12 are federally threatened.

Rabbit, quail, coyote, bobcat and rattlesnakes inhabit the coastal chaparral and prairies of Marin County. Forests and oak woodlands are home to black-tailed deer, banana slugs and spotted owls.

Marshes and creeks host an array of amphibians, fish, and reptiles including the red-legged frog, San Francisco garter snake and Coho salmon.

Some species have evolved very specific preferences, such as the endangered mission blue butterfly for the silver-leaf lupine. Migratory monarch butterflies return to the same tree stands year after year to winter.

Hundreds of bird and marine species visit the GGNRA at some point in their life cycle. Whales, seals and sea lions make use of the park's varied coastal habitats, with numerous haul out and pupping sites spread throughout these protected areas.

San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes - History

The cultural history of Point Reyes reaches back some 5,000 years to the Coast Miwok Indians who were the first human inhabitants of the Peninsula. Over 120 known village sites exist within the park. According to many experts, Sir Francis Drake landed here in 1579, the first European explorer to do so. In response to the many shipwrecks in the treacherous coastal waters, key lighthouse and lifesaving stations were established by the United States Government in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the early 1800s, Mexican land grantees established ranchos. They were followed by a wave of American agricultural operations, which continue to this day in the Seashore's pastoral zone.


Before the Europeans came to California, the Coast Miwok people were the inhabitants of what we now call Marin and southern Sonoma Counties. They knew and blended with this bountiful land for thousands of years, developing a rich economy based on gathering, fishing and hunting. Village communities of 75 to several hundred people developed in sheltered places near fresh water and plentiful food. "Kule Loklo" (meaning "Bear Valley") is a recreated village. It stands where no village ever was, but where one might have stood.

Coast Miwok life was intricately woven into the changing seasons. In the late spring, fresh new greens of Indian lettuce, young nettle leaves and clover were gathered. Fire-hardened digging sticks were used by the women to reach deep-set roots and bulbs. The ocean provided kelp in large amounts, some to be eaten fresh, the rest dried and stored for the winter. Tule was gathered in the fall for skirts and tule baskets. The summer sun ripened grasses and flower seeds, gathered by hitting the ripened seed with a beater basket and letting them fall directly into a collecting basket.

Fall was the season for collecting a variety of nuts: acorns (stored in a granary for year-round consumption), buckeye, hazel and bay. Tule was cut and dried for kotcas (houses), boats and mats. Gray willow for baskets and traps was abundant. Winter and early spring were times of shortage when stored acorns, seeds and kelp became important food sources.

The ocean provided food year-round. Crab, clams, mussels, abalone, limpets and oysters were some of the seafood gathered by the women in the tidal zones. Cleaned of meat, the shells were also fully utilized. Abalone shells were made into beautiful ornaments. The Washington clam was one of the most important shells; these were ground into circular, flat disk beads with a hole drilled in the middle. Strings of these beads were the main trade item (money) and were used extensively through Northern California.

The men adopted many different techniques for fishing. Dip nets (bags of netting attached to wooden frames on a handle) were used to scoop up fish, and woven surf nets were used along the open beaches. Cone-shaped traps of woven gray willow were set up in creeks and mouths of rivers. With hook and bait one could successfully catch halibut and rockfish year-round.

Hunting by use of traps and bow and arrow supplied the Coast Miwok with meat, fur and tools. Traps were used to capture such game as quail, acorn woodpeckers and rabbits, which were highly valued for their fur and meat. Deer were usually hunted with bow and arrow, and provided many necessary items. Antler tips were used for shaping arrowheads, sinew (muscle tendon) was used to fasten points to arrow shafts and leg bones were made into awls (needles used in basketmaking) and hair pins. In this way, the Coast Miwok wasted little of the animals they hunted.

In 1953, Congress passed Public Law 280, which turned over law enforcement on California reservations to state and county agencies. By 1958, the federal government "terminated" the recognition of Coast Miwok people as well as many other tribes.

After over 40 years, the Coast Miwok are once again a federally recognized tribe. Legislation was signed in December 2000 granting the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, formerly known as the Federated Coast Miwok, full rights and privileges afforded federally recognized tribes. Currently there are almost 500 members registered with the tribe.

As you explore Kule Loklo, try to imagine the lives of the people who lived so intimately with the land. In the old days, a village like Kule Loklo would have been a busy place... acorns being pounded into meal by women with stone mortar and pestle, basket weavers chatting as they worked under the sun shade, cooking fires smoking with mussels baking or deer roasting, children laughing and playing , new dancers learning songs and steps in the dance house, hunters flaking obsidian for knife blades.


The ancient home of the Coast Miwok people, the dramatic landscape of the Point Reyes peninsula with its wave battered cliffs, remained undiscovered by European explorers until the late 1500's. Sir Francis Drake probably first sighted and mapped the fog-shrouded headlands in 1579, at which time he is thought to have camped along the beach which today bears his name. Drake's quest for new lands and riches had taken him around South America to the Spanish trade routes of the Pacific Ocean. His ship, the Golden Hinde, was full of gold and luxuries such as porcelain, taken from Spanish galleons traveling from the Philippines to Acapulco.

During the summer of 1579, Drake came ashore somewhere in California to careen his ship to repair the hull. The ship's chaplain complained in his log of "the stinking fogges". The nearly omnipresent fog at the Point Reyes headlands throughout the summer, along with the chaplain's descriptions of the inhabitants, the landscape and the wildlife, indicate that Drake's Estero may be the location of Drake's camp. Drake claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth before setting sail southwest to complete his circumnavigation of the globe before returning to England in 1580.

During the late 1500's, Spanish galleons were making numerous voyages between Mexico and the Philippines. To sail across the north Pacific, ships from Manila would sail north before catching the prevailing easterly winds, arriving along the North American coast north of Point Reyes. It is likely that numerous Spanish crews saw Point Reyes as they sailed south along the California coast toward Acapulco and other Mexican ports where Asian luxury goods such as porcelains and spices were then shipped to Europe. We do know that in 1595, Sebastian Cermeno anchored in the calm waters of what is now called Drakes Bay. As his crew was ashore seeking fresh water, their Manila galleon stuffed with silks and spices, was wrecked in a sudden storm. The crew managed to return home by rowing their long boat to Mexico.

The Spanish had been sending ships along the Pacific Coast and overland explorations throughout North America for many years. In an age of empire building, the Spanish expanded their domain up the California coast from Mexico. Point Reyes officially entered Spanish maps on January 6, 1603 when Sebastian Vizcaino sighted the headlands on the Roman Catholic feast day of the three wise men. Following Spanish tradition, the headlands were named after these religious figures: "la Punta de los Reyes" or the Point of the Kings. Spanish expeditions along the north coast continued. Later, sailors eventually found and entered Tomales Bay, where they would have seen the Miwok village at Segogolue or Toms Point. Amongst the kotças (sleeping shelters), the Spanish traded goods made of metal for finely woven Miwok baskets.


The sea is the soul of Point Reyes. It not only affects the climate and the species found here, but it is the key influence on the human history of the area. The Coast Miwok have depended on this coastline for food and materials for thousands of years; Spanish explorers and merchants, returning with spice and silk from the Asia, navigated by these cliffs and shores; and gold miners, dairy farmers, and lumbermen counted on the ships that sailed these waters for transporting their goods to and from market. Point Reyes’ maritime history is a microcosm of California’s history.

Today, Point Reyes National Seashore helps preserve the maritime history of California. Among the dozens of shipwrecks that were lost in the waters off Point Reyes, lie the remains of the San Agustin. Wrecked in Drakes Bay in 1595, it is the first shipwreck in California history. The San Agustin was only the first of a long line of tragedies. While Point Reyes provided a landmark, it also posed a hazard to generations of sailors who navigated these waters.

In an attempt to reduce the number of wrecks and to provide aid in navigation along these rocky shores, the U.S. Lighthouse Service built the Point Reyes Light Station in 1870. For 105 years, it provided mariners with guidance and aid. Despite the efforts of the men and women who worked at the lighthouse, ships continued to wreck on the rocks and beaches. In 1889, the Life Saving Service opened the first of two Life Saving Stations built at Point Reyes. The second station, the Point Reyes Lifeboat Station at Drakes Beach, and the last intact marine railway on the West Coast, closed in 1968. The men stationed there attempted the rescue of victims of storm and wreck. The incredible danger of their job can be sensed in their unofficial motto, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back in.”

As technology improved, other means of protecting navigation and communication with ships at sea appeared. Beginning in 1913, Guglielmo Marconi, a pioneer of wireless radio, built radio stations in the area. Ultimately, transmitting and receiving stations in Bolinas, on Tomales Bay, and near the Great Beach reached out across the Pacific to provide communications to ships at sea. Station KPH, the maritime radio station owned by Marconi and later, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), signed off in 1997 and brought to a close an important chapter in Point Reyes’ history.

Whether in climbing down the stairs to the Lighthouse or walking out to the Lifeboat Station, today’s visitor can gain a better appreciation for the impact the sea has played on the history of California and in particular, on Point Reyes.


When you cross Inverness Ridge toward the Point Reyes headlands, you leave the pine/fir forest behind and enter the stark beauty of the coastal grasslands, dotted with cattle and scattered ranches.

This open, working landscape is known as the Pastoral Zone. At first glance, open pastures and rolling fencelines are punctuated by windbreaks, stockponds, and feedlots arrayed around a ranch core. There, the mix of nineteenth century redwood homes and barns with twentieth century aluminum and steel utility buildings becomes evident, suggesting the evolution of the dairy industry. In fact, the National Seashore visitor has happened upon one of the earliest and largest examples of industrial-scale dairying in the state of California.

The 1849 California Gold Rush brought an influx of capitalists, merchants, professional practitioners, laborers, and agriculturists, amongst others seeking alternative wealth along the shores of San Francisco Bay. Some of those who vainly sought mineral gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills came further west, finding gold of another kind at Point Reyes. With their dairying skills honed in their previous homes, they could envision production of golden wheels of cheese and casks of butter to provision the growing population of nearby San Francisco. The treeless coastal plain beckoned with opportunity.

The early American settlers of the 1850s were impressed with the cool, moist climate of Point Reyes, providing near-ideal conditions for raising dairy cows. Abundant grass and forbs, a long growing season, and sufficient fresh water supplies promised productivity well in excess of domestic need. Unknown to the early ranchers, the expansive coastal prairie was most likely the byproduct of burning, weeding, pruning and harvesting for at least two millennia by Coast Miwok and their antecedents.

The Franciscan missionaries set the stage for the explosion of dairy in west Marin with the introduction of feral cattle in 1817. They established the San Rafael Asistencia, near San Francisco Bay, as an annex to Mission Dolores in San Francisco, serving as a recuperative center for ailing Coast Miwok and Ohlone natives. Secularization of the missions following Mexican independence from Spain led to land grant subdivision and the expansion of cattle ranching on the peninsula.

The advancing front of Americano ranchers brought to light poor record keeping, and the behavior of several Mexicano land grantees coveting and utilizing a neighbor’s adjacent parcel. As land was sold to the new immigrants, the title to the land usually became ensnared in litigation. During a five-year period ending in 1857, the San Francisco law firm of Shafter, Shafter, Park, and Heydenfeldt obtained title to over 50,000 acres on the peninsula, encompassing the coastal plain and most of Inverness Ridge. Unlike the small dairy operations pre-existing on the peninsula, these Vermont-native lawyer / businessmen saw the opportunity to market large quantities of superior quality butter and some cheese under a Point Reyes brand to San Francisco. The remote location of Point Reyes would be overcome with the expeditious delivery of finished products and livestock to the foot of Market Street by way of small schooners, and eventually by rail and ferry.

Initially, the Shafters signed new leases with the existing dairy ranches. The singular exception was the sale of Tomales Point to an old friend from Vermont, Solomon Pierce. The Pierce family built a small town to support their isolated twin dairy ranches with the commanding views of the Pacific and Tomales Bay. In time, the Pierce Point Ranches out-competed the Shafter dairy collective in production and quality of finished product.

Oscar Shafter’s son-in-law C. W. Howard, and the Shafter brothers proceeded to divide the remainder of their real estate into a tenant dairy enterprise in 1866. The land was subdivided into 33 ranches. Three years later, the business partners partitioned the dairies into six tracts, leaving each to own and manage a collection of coastal plain and ridgeline ranches. Oscar Shafter and Howard utilized the letters of the alphabet to name their individual ranches. "A" Ranch was located closest to the headlands; "Z" Ranch was located at the summit of Mt. Wittenberg, while several letters were left unneeded. James Shafter bequeathed more poetic names like Drakes Head, Muddy Hollow, Oporto and Sunnyside.

The Shafters and Howard employed family members, local residents, or recruited European dairymen as superintendents to construct new dairies, refurbish existing ranches, recruit immigrant ranch hands, and aid selection of the tenant ranchers. The tenant ranches were rented by Irish, Swedish, Italian-speaking Swiss, and Azore Islands-Portuguese families. Surviving Coast Miwok families displaced by the Spanish missions also found work on the dairies situated above their Tomales Bay homes. The Shafters envisioned creating a more civil society for the nineteenth century Bay Area, refining bachelor ranch hands and educating ranch family children. Chinese, Canadian, Filipino, Mexican and German immigrants all found their chance to get started in America through dairying at Point Reyes.

The ultimate success of the Shafter / Howard dairy enterprise rested on their ability to market and negotiate contracts with high-end hoteliers and fine food purveyors. The Point Reyes brand of butter conveyed a high level of quality, attested in articles in local contemporary newspapers. "The grass growing in the fields on Monday is butter on the city tables the following Sunday," as the 1880 History of Marin County reported. The brand with letters “PR” inside a star was stamped into cheesecloth-wrapped rolls or casks of butter. This familiar symbol was actually forged by other dairy farmers of the time.

Record yields of butter and cheese came from the dairy farms at Point Reyes throughout the late 19th century. Herds of Devons, Jerseys, Guernseys, and later on Holsteins, numbering from 100 to 250 cows per ranch, catapulted the Point Reyes enterprise as perhaps the largest operation in the early years of the state. In 1867, Marin County produced 932,429 pounds of butter, the largest yield of butter in California. These huge amounts of butter were produced in an era when the finest restaurants served every good steak with a melting slab of butter on top.

The distance to San Francisco and east Marin communities precluded the ability to ship milk for domestic consumption. In the absence of refrigeration, the raw milk was briefly useable by the ranch families and employees. Collected by milkers either outdoors or inside large milking barns, raw milk sat in pans inside dairy houses to allow for cream separation. The surplus skim milk was dumped into a drain leading to an open trench, finding its way to penned, thirsty hogs. It was not unusual to see swine and casks of butter shipped off together on the decks of schooners headed for the city.

The estates of the three Shafter / Howard families declined shortly after the turn of the century. Following the 1906 earthquake, several dairies located on Inverness Ridge shuttered their doors. Although building damage contributed to their demise, these ranches failed due to the absence of Coast Miwok burning and the rapid expansion of native coyotebrush and poison oak thickets, leading to dramatic reductions in grazeable pastures for cows. By 1933, all ridgeline dairies were gone.

The demand for Shafter / Howard ranch produce waned, particularly as transportation throughout the Bay Area improved. Other regional dairies were improving their quality, quantity and distribution of produce, while the cumulative impacts of overgrazing on Point Reyes had caused a significant decline in pasture quality. The accumulation of massive debt, the 1929 stock market crash, and the close of the Depression ultimately brought an end to the three estates, and the “butter rancho”. Land speculators picked up the pieces, and in most instances resold the ranches to the contemporary tenants.

The Shafter / Howard enterprise “corresponded to the feudal system of England”, according to the San Rafael Independent in 1939. The new owners had chafed at the terms of their leases and the increasing inability of their landlords to make capital improvements to their dairy infrastructure. The timing of the demise of the Shafter family estates coincided with Federal and state regulation of milk production for consumer health. Butter production shifted from the individual ranches to cooperative creameries located on “F” Ranch and railroad town of Point Reyes Station. The most important improvements, in the form of more profitable Grade A dairy operations, began to appear in 1935, though most were constructed after the conclusion of World War II. Ranch homes and bunkhouses built in the 1870s were found to be too small and difficult to maintain, and began to be replaced with stucco-covered, single story residences.

During the Depression, ranchers struggled to make ends meet. It was not uncommon for ranchers to augment their incomes with expanded livestock production, such as beef cattle, chickens, and eggs. Several ranches invited Japanese immigrants to raise peas, and Italian immigrants to cultivate artichokes on more remote parcels. These ventures were usually successful. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the subsequent internment of the Japanese-Americans and relocation of Italian-Americans, the fields went fallow for lack of labor, and mounting soil erosion problems. During Prohibition, whiskey and rum smuggling at Home Ranch on Limantour Estero replaced dairy operations as their sole source of income.

Others changes were coming. The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, expediting movement of produce from the North Bay region into San Francisco. During World War II, the ranches became connected to the regional electric power grid, replacing gas-powered generators to run milking and refrigeration equipment. The cooperative creameries closed, allowing for ranchers to sell raw milk as commodity to regional creameries. After the war, some dairies ceased operation, converting to far less labor-intensive beef cattle operations. Probably most important, fresh war veterans who had transited through San Francisco enroute to the Pacific theatre decided to relocate their families to the Bay Area, swelling the tide of suburbanization into Marin County.

Marin County had embraced a favorable growth plan in the 1950s and 60s to benefit real estate developers and speculators, with assistance from the state department of transportation. With the influx of new residents, many of them affluent, property taxes for the county as a whole dramatically increased. At the same time, dairy operators nationally saw prices for the products drop considerably. Dairies regionally had been closing or consolidating for sometime, but the combination of economics, competition, labor costs, taxes, environmental regulation, and land values accelerated the pace. Point Reyes dairies feared the loss of the quality of life as much as declining profitability. If more dairies closed their doors, the fear rose that the supporting dairy industry infrastructure might collapse. Most important, the ranchers valued the pastoral landscape that their parents and grandparents had set roots in, often back to the nineteenth century.

In order to secure their place at Point Reyes, the dairy and cattle ranchers formed an uneasy alliance with the Sierra Club in hopes of preserving their ranches and west Marin open space. The National Park Service had actively sought to establish a literal beachhead on the California coast, and Point Reyes in particular, as early as 1936. Washington was approached to help solve the pressing needs of many local and national constituencies. The compromise hammered out by Congress and signed by President Kennedy in 1962 explicitly provided for the retention of the ranches in a designated pastoral zone, with ranchers signing 25-30 year reservations of use and occupancy leases, and special use permits for cattle grazing. Over the ensuing ten years, NPS acquired the 17 remaining operating ranches and the property of the abandoned ranches.

In 2002, six historic Shafter / Howard era dairies are operating in the park. An additional nine occupied historic ranches and former ranch sites run beef cattle. The Pierce Point Ranch on Tomales Point ceased operations in 1973. Three years later, Congress authorized creation of the wilderness area incorporating that ranch as habitat for the reintroduction of tule elk. Beginning in 1980, NPS invested in the rehabilitation of the ranch core, citing it as the best example of a nineteenth century west Marin dairy ranch. Pierce Point Ranch was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and was subsequently opened to the public as an interpretive site.

The former “W” or Bear Valley Ranch was early on designated as the new National Seashore’s headquarters. Visitors to the Bear Valley Visitor Center pass through the former ranch core, adaptively reused for park administration and support services. The visitor center itself is a new addition, designed to echo the surrounding agricultural landscape and local history. Plans call for seventeen ranches on Point Reyes to be included on the National Register as a historic landscape district.

Imagine what this windswept, fog-enshrouded landscape may have looked like almost two hundred years ago, before the first cattle made their way here. Imagine Coast Miwok coexisting with tule elk, grizzly bear, mountain lion, whales, dolphins, countless birds and their innumerable prey species. Then imagine the early beginnings of these formerly remote ranches as you drive by enroute to the lighthouse or the tule elk preserve. Perhaps you can imagine in 1916 Pierce Ranch school teacher Helen Smith walking into the creamery to scoop a small cup of cream from the cooling pans to pour over her breakfast pancakes. Her experience is a far cry from our contemporary neatly wrapped packages of butter and milk purchased at the local supermarket. If, on your way home from Point Reyes, you should stop to treat yourself with ice cream, don’t be surprised if several days ago it started as grass and a cow you just passed.

San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes - Camping


Point Reyes National Seashore offers year-round backcountry camping, and boat-in camping on the west shore of Tomales Bay.

  • Camping is by permit only. Camping permits must be obtained from the Bear Valley Visitor Center before starting your trip. If you have made a reservation and are arriving after 5 p.m., a permit will be left for you in a small wooden box on the back side of the information board outside the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

  • Campsites may be reserved up to three months in advance. To obtain a reservation, call 415.663.8054 between 9 am and 2 pm, Monday - Friday. Reservations by phone are not accepted at any other time. You may make reservations in person 7 days a week at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. You may also fax your reservation using our fax form and fax number: 415.464.5149.

  • Wood fires are prohibited in hike-in campgrounds. Only gas stoves, charcoal or canned heat may be used for cooking. Downed wood may not be gathered and burned.

  • Camping is limited to 4 nights per visit, with a maximum of 30 nights per year.

  • The minimum age of any camper is 18 unless accompanied by an adult.

  • Pets are not permitted in campgrounds. The maximum number of horses or pack animals in any campground is eight. Pack animals and horses must be tied to hitch rails.

Wildcat Camp - Campground Information

  • Wildcat Camp is located in a coastal meadow between bluffs and the ocean It's located 5.65 miles from the Palomarin Trailhead, 7.8 miles from the Bear Valley Trailhead, and 6.7 miles from Five Brooks Trailhead.

  • There are 5 individual sites and 3 group sites; three of the individual sites only hold up to four people. Each individual site has a picnic table, food storage locker and charcoal grill. Group sites have two picnic tables, two food storage lockers and one large or two regular charcoal grills.

Glen Camp - Campground Information

  • Glen Camp is located in a quiet wooded valley, 4.6 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center via the Bear Valley Trail and Glen Trail. To access via bicycle, start at the Five Brooks Trailhead and follow the Stewart Trail to the Glen Trail, then north to the Glen Camp Loop. This is 6.3 mile bike ride. No groups, horses, or pack animals are allowed at Glen Camp. There are 12 individual sites at Glen Camp.

Sky Camp - Campground Information

  • Sky Camp is located on the west side of Mt. Wittenberg in open rolling meadows, 1.4 miles from the Sky Trailhead on Limantour Road. The site is located at 1,025'. On clear days it provides sweeping panoramas across Drakes Bay. Sky Camp has 11 individual sites and 1 group site.

Coast Camp - Campground Information

  • Coast Camp is nestled in a small coastal valley with easy access to Santa Maria Beach. The shortest route begins from the Laguna Trailhead, and travels 1.8 miles on the Laguna and Firelane Trails. It's also accessible from the Coast Trailhead for a longer but easier 2.7 mile route that's also open to bikes. Coast Camp is located approximately 9.5 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center via the Bear Valley and Coast Trails. 12 individual sites and two group sites are available. Sites 1-7 are in a semi-protected canyon.


    Pantoll Campground
  • The Pantoll Campground is located on Panoramic Highway adjacent to the Pantoll Ranger Station. It has 16 campsites, each with a table, rock barbecue, food locker and space for a tent. Phones, faucets, firewood and flush toilets are nearby. There are no showers. Sites are first-come, first-served.

  • Steep Ravine Environmental Campground
  • The Steep Ravine Environmental Campground is located on a coastal terrace off Highway 1, one mile south of Stinson Beach. It has nine rustic cabins and seven primitive campsites. Each cabin has a wood stove, picnic table, benches, sleeping platforms and outdoor bbq. The cabins do not have running water or electricity. Primitive toilets, faucets, and firewood are nearby. Primitive campsites are located a few hundred yards from the parking area. Each site has a table, fire pit, food locker and space for a tent. Primitive toilets and water faucets are nearby. There are no showers at Steep Ravine Campground.

  • Alice Eastwood Group Camp
  • Alice Eastwood Group Camp is located off Panoramic Highway on Alice Eastwood Road. It has two campsites. Site A holds up to 50 people; Site B holds up to 25 people. Both sites have tables, flush toilets, water faucets with sinks, bbq grills and a large area for tents.

  • Frank Valley Group Horse Camp
  • Frank Valley Group Horse Camp is located 1.5 miles West of Muir Woods National Monument on Muir Woods Road. It has 12 pipe corrals, water faucets, watering troughs, picnic tables, fire rings and a pit toilet. The minimum group size is 2 horses; the maximum size is 12 horses.

  • To reserve a campground visit www.reserveamerica.com or call 800.444.7275. For specific camping and campground questions, call Pantoll Ranger Station at 415.388.2070.

  • Backcountry camping is not permitted within Mt Tamalpais State Park.

San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes - Contact

Golden Gate National Parks
Building 201, Fort Mason
San Francisco,CA 94123-0022

Pacific West Region Information Center
Phone: (415) 561-4700

Special Event & Commercial Film Permits
Phone: (415) 561-4300


Crissy Field Center
Open:Open All Year Wednesday to Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm
Phone:(415) 561-7690
Location: Crissy Field Center 603 Mason at Halleck, Presidio
Special Programs: The Center acknowledges the interdependence of peoples, cultures and environments and therefore encourages socially and ecologically responsible actions that respect the earth and its natural and urban communities. The physical and social landscape of the Crissy Field area has taken on many different faces, from the Native Americans to today's National Park. At each phase in history, the environment was impacted in a significant way. The Crissy Field Center seeks to recognize this history in an innovative approach to environmental education, using the resources of our National Park. The building was completely renovated using sustainable building materials. Today, the Center includes a media lab, resource library, arts workshop, urban ecology lab, gathering room, and kitchen-providing fun, provocative and educational experiences for people of all ages.
Available Facilities: Administration Phones (all phone numbers are in area code 415): General 561-7690 Administrative Offices 561-7752 Fax 561-7695 Bookstore 561-7761 Café 561-7756 Program Phones (all phone numbers are in area code 415): Community Partner Projects 561-7751 Weekend Workshops & Classes 561-7752 School Programs 561-7763 Parks to People 561-4318


Alcatraz Island Visitor Center
Open: Open All Year
Phone: (415) 705-1042
Location: Alcatraz Island is located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. A ferry, located at Pier 41 will take you to the island. Just remember to make your reservation in advance since this popular attraction tends to fill up fast.
Closures: Christmas and New Year's Day. There are various locations on the island that are closed off to the general public certain times of the year, due to the nesting of a variety of sea birds. Please be sure to ask a ranger for more information at the closed areas.
Special Programs: There are various ranger-led programs on a daily basis on Alcatraz. Be sure to check out the ranger programs at the dock as soon as you get off the boat for any of the popular programs on the island. There is also an audio tour that you can get either at the pier or on the island. For more information on ticket reservation call (415) 981-ROCK [415.981.7625] or go to www.alcatrazcruises.com.
Available Facilities: There are limited bathroom facilities on the island. They are located at the dock and at the top of the island. Aside from the limited bathroom facilities, due to the lack of water, there is place where food can be purchase on the island. Picnic areas are designated only at the dock area, to assist in localizing the trash produced and to keep the island clean.

Fort Point Bookstore
Open: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 10 AM to 5 PM
Phone: (415) 556-1693
Location: The Fort Point Bookstore is located inside the fort, underneath the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge, on the northernmost part of the Presidio.
Closures: Monday through Thursday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Due to the retrofitting of the Golden Gate Bridge there are a few areas that will be closed off to visitation. For your own safety, please stay clear of these areas. If you have questions regarding the restoration, please ask one of the rangers.
Special Programs: There is a cannon loading demonstration, where visitors get a "hands-on" opportunity to learn about the firing of Civil War artillery. There is also a tour of the fort led by one of the staff on a daily basis. If that's not something you're interested in perhaps you may want to try the audio tour of the fort. You can rent these headsets from the Fort Point Bookstore and wander through the fort at your own pace. For more information on the bookstore, please feel free to call (415) 673-5642.
Exhibits: There are various exhibits within the fort itself, where the Fort Point Bookstore is also located. On the first floor there is an exhibit about the construction and Civil War solider responsibilities. On the second floor there are two photo exhibits. One depiciting the roles of women in the military, Women at War. The other is about the lives of African-American soldiers and their struggle for acceptance. On the third floor there is an exhibit about the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Available Facilities: At this time there are only portable toilets located outside the fort. To find them walk south from the fort (away from the fort), approximately 140 yards. You will find them just to the right after the lawn.

Marin Headlands Visitor Center
Open: Open All Year 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM
Phone: (415) 331-1540
Location: The Marin Headlwands Visitor Center is located in the historic Fort Barry Chapel, at the intersection of Field and Bunker Roads. The Visitor Center is approximately 3 miles from either entrance to the Marin Headlands.
Closures: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
Special Programs: Rangers answer questions and lead scheduled interpretive walks and programs.
Exhibits: The Center's exhibits introduce the Headland's natural history and trace the area's human history from the days of the Miwoks through modern times. You can see how a hawk flies and look through a microscope at the hidden life of local ponds. A Miwok shelter invites you inside to listen as present-day Coast Miwok people talk about their lives. A shop carries a good selection of books and field guides about the area.
Available Facilities: Bathroom facilities are available inside the building.

Muir Woods Visitor Center
Open: Open All Year 8:00 AM to sunset
Phone: (415) 388-7368
Location: Muir Woods Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Muir Woods, approximately 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The visitor center is located at the main entrance.
  • Last Sunday of January 6 pm
    (collect fees until 4:30 pm, Visitor Center closes at 5:30 pm)

  • Second Sunday of March 8 pm
    (collect fees until 6 pm, Visitor Center closes at 7:30 pm)
    note: this is also the start of Daylight Savings Time

  • Third Sunday of of September 7 pm
    (collect fees until 6 pm, Visitor Center closes at 6:30 pm)

  • Second Sunday of October 6 pm
    (collect fees until 4:30 pm, Visitor Center closes at 5:30 pm)

  • First Sunday of November 5 pm
    (collect fees until 4:30 pm, Visitor Center closes at 4:30 pm)
    note: this is also the end of Daylight Savings Time

  • Visit our Muir Woods trail pages for more information.

  • Pacific West Regional Information Center
    Open: Open All Year Monday to Friday, 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM
    Phone: (415) 561-4700
    Location: The Pacific West Region Information Center is located on the first floor of building #201 at Fort Mason. Fort Mason, the headquarters for the GGNRA, is located at the cross streets of Bay and Franklin, in San Francisco. Closures: The information center is closed on holidays and weekends.
    Exhibits: Information about all of the National Parks located in the Pacific West Region can be found in this office. Pamphlets and other visitor information can be found in the room across from the information center. Volunteers are also available to answer questions. Visit their website for more information.

    Presidio Visitor Center (Located in the Presidio Officer's Club)
    Open:Open All Year 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
    Phone: (415) 561-4323
    Location: Located on the main post at 102 Montgometry & Lincoln Blvd. on the Presidio of San Francisco.
    Closures: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The William Penn Mott, Jr. Visitor Center is currently located at the Officer's Club on the main post.
    Special Programs: Currently there is a video about William Penn Mott Jr. the namesake of the visitor center, and one of the pioneers of modern park ideas.


    Point Reyes National Seashore
    1 Bear Valley Rd.
    Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

    Visitor Information:
    415-464-5100 extension 2, or
    415-663-8522 extension 2

    415-464-5100 extension 1
    Volunteer Information: 415-464-5145
    Education Programs: 415-464-5139
    Special Use Permits: 415-464-5111
    Fax: 415-663-8132

    The park is open daily from sunrise to midnight throughout the year.

    Visitor Center Hours:

    Bear Valley Visitor Center
    Sundays: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
    Mondays through Thursdays: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
    Fridays (except for July 4): 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
    Saturdays and July 4: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

    Throughout the rest of the year, the Bear Valley Visitor Center is open weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weekends and holidays 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

    Lighthouse Visitor Center
    • The Lighthouse Visitor Center is open Thursday through Monday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

    • The Lighthouse stairs, exhibits in the lower Lighthouse chamber and Equipment Building are open (weather permitting) Thursday through Monday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

    • The Lens Room is open (as weather & staffing permit) Thursday through Monday, 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

    • All Lighthouse facilities are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

    Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center
    EXPANDED DAYS OF OPERATION FOR JULY AND AUGUST 2008: The Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center will be open Fridays through Tuesdays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays.

    Throughout the rest of the year, the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is open weekends and holidays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Mondays through Fridays.

    All Visitor Centers are closed December 25. Visitor Centers may close at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Call 415-464-5100 for hours of operation on these holidays.