Rift Zone Trail (Bear Valley to Five Brooks), Point Reyes: Bear Valley Trailhead, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California

Rift Zone Trail (Bear Valley to Five Brooks) - 9.3 miles

Point Reyes: Bear Valley Trailhead

The Rift Zone Trail passes through open pasture along the San Andreas Fault

The Rift Zone Trail passes through open pasture along the San Andreas Fault

Round-Trip Length: 9.3 miles
Start-End Elevation: 125' - 265' (328' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +140' net elevation gain (+847' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Rift Zone Trail (Bear Valley to Five Brooks) - 9.3 Miles Round-Trip

The Rift Zone Trail runs north-south through open pasture and diverse forests on the eastern fringe of Point Reyes National Seashore. The Rift Zone Trail traces a short piece of the San Andreas Fault between the Inverness Ridge (west) and Bolinas Ridge (east).

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The San Andreas Fault Zone - created by the collision of Pacific and North American plates - is 1 mile wide, 780 miles long and over 20 miles deep.

It's responsible for thousands of earthquakes a year, but despite its volatility, visitors will find little evidence of the fault's activity in this bucolic setting.

The Rift Zone Trail is lightly traveled compared to others starting at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. Families and runners will enjoy miles of open space, mild grades and ecological diversity, but note that it muddies easily and is best suited for dry, sunny days:

The Rift Zone Trail heads south from Bear Valley Visitor Center across a patchwork of meadow and forest before dropping into open pasture (.45 miles : 98'). It moves quickly on level track through a pair of gates into a second, much larger pasture (.8 miles : 68').

The trail skirts the pasture's east side and exits through another set of cattle gates into a thick, diverse forest on its south side (1.4 miles : 156'). Douglas fir, oak, laurel, buckeye, and even small pockets of redwood soon envelop the path.

It rises gently to a large, marshy clearing dotted with ponds (2.85 miles : 285') where you may see waterfowl or hear the croaking of California Red Legged Frog, a federally protected species found in Point Reyes' marsh and riparian ecosystems.

Douglas fir, the signature tree of these forests, are comparably sized to Redwoods but distinguished by their stubby lower limbs and draping mosses.

California Bay - also known as the California Laurel - is in the same plant family as avocados and cinnamon.

The California Buckeye is a deciduous member of this predominantly evergreen forest. Although its flowers are toxic to bees and generally inedible, early inhabitants used the buckeye's unripe seeds to stupefy fish. Coast Live Oak are among the most eerie but important forest constituents, its acorns a vital food source for many small mammals and human inhabitants throughout time.

The trail undulates south and drops to Olema Creek (3.7 miles : 169') where it bends sharply right up a short, steep hill. It moderates to a second, sparingly marked creek crossing into the Stewart Horse Camp grounds (4.25 miles : 179').

The trail cuts through camp and splits left at a fairly anonymous sign located about 30' off the main path - anticipate this point. Here it narrows considerably and climbs steeply to join the Stewart Trail (4.23 miles : 287'), which leads to the south end of the Rift Zone Trail at Five Brooks Trailhead (4.65 miles : 265').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N38 02.375 W122 47.986 — 0.0 miles : Bear Valley Trailhead
  • N38 02.298 W122 47.547 — .45 miles : Pass thru cattle gate into open pasture
  • N38 02.304 W122 47.177 — .85 miles : Pass thru 2nd gate, x road to resume trail
  • N38 01.876 W122 47.236 — 1.4 miles : Exit pasture, enter mixed forest
  • N38 01.505 W122 47.005 — 2.0 miles : Heading south on a wide, graded path
  • N38 01.157 W122 46.709 — 2.5 miles : Mild grades thru dense forest and meadow
  • N38 00.672 W122 46.173 — 3.25 miles : Undulating track past marsh at 2.85 miles
  • N38 00.528 W122 45.983 — 3.7 miles : Reach creek; bear right toward Five Brooks
  • N38 00.162 W122 45.701 — 4.25 miles : Cross creek into Stewart Horse Camp
  • N37 59.931 W122 45.591 — 4.55 miles : Merge onto Stewart Trail
  • N37 59.853 W122 45.476 — 4.65 miles : Five Brooks Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Big earthquakes shift Point Reyes up to 20' about once every 130 years, but otherwise there is little detectable movement along the San Andreas Fault in this area.

  • Be mindful of yellow jackets on this trail.

  • The Rift Zone Trail can be extremely muddy after heavy rains.

  • The Five Brooks Stables is a full service riding facility with a concession to operate in Point Reyes National Seashore. Call 415.663.1570 for information on activities, services, and guided ride information.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • 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.

Stewart Horse Camp

  • The Stewart Horse Camp is located 4.25 miles from the Bear Valley Trailhead, or .15 miles from the Five Brooks Trailhead. It is a privately operated facility.
  • Call 415.663.1570 for reservations (9 am - 5 pm, PST).

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 tucked 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 located 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.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs and Bikes are not permitted on the Rift Zone Trail.

  • Portions of the Rift Zone trail pass through the Vedanta Retreat and private ranch lands. Remain on the designated trail at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

The Bear Valley Trailhead is located at the southwest end of the Bear Valley Visitor Center. The Woodpecker Trail begins on the west (right) side of the main trailhead.

From Highway 1, take Bear Valley Road west about 1/2 mile. Look for a big red barn on the left and a sign for Seashore information on the right. Turn left past the red barn and follow signs to the Bear Valley Visitor Center. Continue through the main parking lot to the far end and Bear Valley Trailhead parking area.

Contact Information

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

Visitor Information: 415.464.5100 x2 or 415.663.8522 x2

Headquarters: 415.464.5100 x 1

Volunteer Information: 415.464.5145

Education Programs: 415.464.5139

Special Use Permits: 415.464.5111

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