Thing to Do

Hike the Meadow–Horse Trails Loop

Conifer forests cover ridges in the foreground with a bay and grass-covered ridge in the distance.
Gaps in the forest canopy provide views from the Horse Trail of Inverness Ridge and Bolinas Ridge.

NPS Photo

Distance: 6.5 miles (10.4 km) total

This hike takes you through dense forest and a few meadows, starting with an uphill climb on the east side of Inverness Ridge to a ridgetop with ocean views. Most of this hike's distance is within the Phillip Burton Wilderness. This area was burned in 2020, when lightning strikes in the Woodward Valley started what became the Woodward Fire.

Start at the Bear Valley Trailhead and follow the relatively flat Bear Valley Trail south for 0.8 miles (1.3 km). Turn right on to the Meadow Trail to begin your ascent to the crest of Inverness Ridge. While the Woodward Fire burned along most of the length of the Meadow Trail, it primarily burned in the understory and left most of the canopy of the Douglas fir forest intact. The trail does pass through a fairly large meadow (after which the trail was named), but views from the meadow are of forested hillsides less than a mile distant. As a result, there are very few far-reaching views from this trail until you reach the ridge crest. The Meadow Trail ascends about 840 feet (~255 m) over a distance of 1.6 miles (2.6 km) before intersecting with the Sky Trail 2.4 miles (3.8 km) from the Bear Valley Trailhead. The elevation at this intersection is ~1080 feet (~327 m).

Turn right onto the Sky Trail and, after 55 yards (50 meters), bear right onto the Mount Wittenberg Trail. Head north and east 0.4 miles (0.7 km) to the Mount Wittenberg–Z Ranch trail junction along the ridge crest at an elevation of 1270 feet (385 m). Along this section of the Mount Wittenberg Trail, you may be rewarded (weather dependent) with views looking west across the peninsula to the Pacific Ocean.

From the Mount Wittenberg–Z Ranch Trail junction, the 0.3-mile-long (0.5-kilometer-long) Mount Wittenberg Summit Trail leads, as its name suggests, to the summit of Mount Wittenberg (elevation 1407 feet (426 m). The once unobstructed views from near the summit have, since 2000, become obstructed by dense Douglas fir thickets that sprouted shortly after the 1995 Vision Fire. While the 2020 Woodward Fire burned through much of the forest around Mount Wittenberg, the view-obstructing Douglas fir thickets were largely left unscathed. So, without being rewarded with views for their effort, many hikers pass on ascending the Mount Wittenberg Summit Trail.

From the Mount Wittenberg–Z Ranch trail junction, head north and follow the Z Ranch Trail through a thicket of Douglas fir for 0.7 miles (1.2 km) to the Horse Trail. Turn right and follow the Horse Trail east and downhill for 2.4 miles (3.8 miles) to its junction with the Morgan Trail. Along this section, there are a few gaps in the forest canopy that provide views to the north of Inverness Ridge and Bolinas Ridge and just a little bit of Tomales Bay. Turn right and follow the Morgan Trail around the west side of the Morgan Horse Ranch to return to the Bear Valley Trailhead.

Restrooms and water are available at the Bear Valley Trailhead parking lot. Otherwise, there are no other facilities along this route, unless, instead of following the Mount Wittenberg Trail north from its junction with the Sky Trail, you follow the Sky Trail north for 0.5 miles (0.8 meters) to Sky Campground. Potable water and vault toilets are available at Sky Campground, along with a trailside picnic table. (If you use the picnic tables at the designated campsites, be prepared to vacate the site if campers with reservations for the site arrive.) From Sky Campground, you could return to the Mount Wittenberg–Sky Trail junction, or continue north for 0.5 miles (0.8 km) along the Sky Trail to its junction with the Horse Trail. Turn right to follow the Horse Trail for 0.4 miles (0.6 km) to its junction with the Z Ranch Trail and then bear left to stay on the Horse Trail.

This route description alone is not a substitute for a trail map. Print out the Point Reyes National Seashore's South District trail map (3,422 KB PDF) before your visit, or pick one up at the Bear Valley Visitor Center on your way.

Always check current conditions before heading out into the park and familiarize yourself with park regulations. Please practice Leave No Trace principles.

Visit the park's Hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore page for hiking tips and information about trail etiquette and safety.

Visit the park's Trail Advisories and Closures page for current information about closed trails, trails blocked by trees, or other temporary hazards or advisories.

Details

Allow two to four hours to hike the Sky-Bear Valley Loop.

All ages.

Pets are prohibited on all of the trails that are described on this page. Visit the park's Pets page to learn where pets are welcome at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.

The Bear Valley Trailhead is located at the southwest corner of the Trailhead and Picnic Area parking area at Bear Valley in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Directions to Bear Valley

To help reduce traffic congestion in the paved parking lot adjacent to the Bear Valley Visitor Center, please park your vehicle(s) in the gravel, trailhead/picnic area parking lot on the left (east) side of the access road close to the Bear Valley Trailhead. Parking is free. Download the Bear Valley Area Map (427 KB PDF), which shows the location of the trailhead parking lot relative to the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

Winter

The heaviest rainfall occurs in the winter months. Come prepared for rain and drizzle to possibly last for several days. In between winter rains, it is often sunny, calm, and cool.

Spring

Most spring days are windy. Expect cool temperatures in March. By late May and early June, temperatures can be quite pleasant.

Summer

Although there is very little rain during summer months, there is often dense fog, which tends to burn off by mid-day. Afternoons are often sunny and warm to hot with a light breeze.

Fall

Point Reyes experience some of the clearest days in late September, October, and early November. The occasional storm will start rolling through in late October, bringing clouds, wind, and rain. The strongest winds occur in November and December during occasional southerly gales.

Point Reyes National Seashore is open daily for day-hiking from 6 am to midnight. Overnight parking and camping is only permitted with a valid backcountry camping permit.

Accessibility Information

The Bear Valley Trail is wide, mostly flat, and has a substrate of dirt and gravel. The other trails described on this page vary in width from two to six feet (0.6 to 1.8 meters) and have surfaces of mostly compacted dirt that may be rutted and have exposed roots and rocks in places.The total elevation change from Bear Valley to the crest of Inverness Ridge is about 1200 feet (360 meters) over a distance of 2.8 to 3.7 miles (4.5 to 5.9 km). Restrooms at the Bear Valley Trailhead are accessible and open from 6 am to midnight. The vault toilet building at Sky Campground does not meet accessibility standards. 

Point Reyes National Seashore

Last updated: September 12, 2022