Alongside the 70,000 acres of Point Reyes National Seashore there are more than 150 miles of trails that visitors can use to explore it on foot and on horseback. While all the trails are beautiful and popular, the Mt. Wittenberg Loop winds through meadows and forests all the way to the top of the park's highest point of the eponymous Mount Wittenberg. The summit only sits around 1,400 feet above sea level with the trail leading gently up, making it a lovely trek for any fitness level. Although not a hard hike, the summit does display stunning views of this pristine piece of Pacific seashore.
|Trail Length:||5.7 miles||City/State:|| Point Reyes,
|Elevation:||1,207 feet gain
The loop trail formally starts at the Bear Valley trailhead. From San Francisco, head north along Highway 101 and take the turn off to Route 1, otherwise known as the Shoreline Highway that runs along the Pacific throughout California. After roughly an hour of beautiful driving that traces the Pacific coast, visitors will want to take the exit for Bear Valley Road which heads into the park. After a brief drive, take the first left which leads to a parking lot and visitor's center right by the trailhead.
Once at the trailhead, the start of the loop, visitors are hiking the Bear Valley Trail as it glides through grassy meadow until it reaches the tree line as well as the junction for the Mt Wittenberg Trail. After bearing right, the trail wastes no time sloping upwards into the foothills of the mountain. This section of the trail can be steep at first, but soon the switchbacks begin to take off some of the strain on the legs. During this stretch of the hike, visitors may feel like they are taking a hike through the Pacific Northwest instead of the Bay area of California. The trail winds through a thick fir forest which keeps the ground cool and moist enough from moss and ferns to thrive. This is the hardest section of the hike as it leaves foothills and heads up the mountain, but it is thankfully kept cool by the trees.
The forest finally breaks into a grassy meadow for a sunny reprieve from the thick canopy. The trail skirts around the meadow which hosts an array of wildflowers during the summer. The meadow only lasts a short while before retreating back into the forest where the path is lined with lichens draping from the trees and forget-me-nots along the path. The switchbacks of the previous trail are gone for this section as it only has a slightly incline sloping upwards. Through the breaks in the trees, visitors can spot several steep, rocky ravines cutting into the earth as they continue up the mountain.
Hikers will begin to notice that the trail slowly flattens out. The Mount Wittenberg summit is hard to pinpoint and can be deceptive because of this. It has a wide flat summit, so when the trail flattens out, hikers will know that they are nearing the top. The trail unceremoniously drops hikers off into a wide grassy meadow, which is technically the summit. However, visitors will need to press on through the pleasantly soft and wildflower-strewn plains to get to the good views.
The trail at the summit just fades out into many game and social trails. Nearing the center of the field, the value of this hike comes into view. The lofty perch of this mountain top provides unparalleled views of the Olema Valley and the Drake Bay beyond. Essentially, in front of hikers is miles of unspoiled Pacific coastline put on display while when they turn around, they are offered fantastic views of the Inverness Ridge. This area is gorgeous during sunny afternoons and a perfect place of a picnic or a few games, but hikers should be aware that during the early morning to late afternoon or on rainy days, it can be a bit foggy.
Heading back to the tree line, visitors can head back the way they came, but to round this hike out into a loop, they should take the junction for the Meadow Trail. This lovely little trail lengthens the hike by a little under a mile, but hosts a gentler decline and spends less time in the forest. Unlike the trail heading up, the Meadow Trail back down wanders primarily through the large meadow in which the trail gets its name. It is sunbathed and a perfect way to unwind after the occasionally tough climb up. After a brief dip back into the forest, the trail rejoins the Bear Valley Trail and leads right back to the parking lot and visitor's center where the hike began.
The Mt. Wittenberg Loop is a perfect showcase of the Point Reyes National Seashore and how it can be the perfect day trip for those in the Bay area. It sits just over an hour away from San Francisco, host endless hours of beautiful hiking and grassy meadows to play in. The Mt. Wittenberg Trail is proof that there is more to this park than just the seashore.