Thing to Do

Hike the Rift Zone Trail

Six day hikers walking along a narrow trail along the edge of a meadow.
Hikers enjoying the Rift Zone Trail.

NPS Photo

Distance: 2 to 8.6 miles (3 to 13.8 km) roundtrip

Explore the floor of a valley that follows the San Andreas Fault, passing through meadows and woods. Evidence of former earthquakes are rather subtle, coming in the form of diverted streams, shutter ridges, and sag ponds that most visitors overlook. One will only find a fresh scar on the surface of the ground if there has been a large earthquake recently; the last one was on April 18, 1906.

Start at either the Bear Valley Trailhead at the trail's north end, or the Five Brooks Trailhead at its south. The description below proceeds from north to south.

From the southwestern corner of the Bear Valley Trailhead, the Rift Zone Trail heads east through a meadow for 0.3 miles (0.5 km) before crossing a bridge over the tree-lined Bear Valley Creek. Those paying attention may notice that the creek is deflected by a low ridge just upstream from this location—one of the first indications one will encounter of the valley's seismic history. After crossing the bridge, the trail climbs up and over a partially wooded shutter ridge and then crosses through another meadow, which, until relatively recently, served as a cattle pasture.

After another 0.5 miles (0.8 km) [0.8 miles (1.3 km) from Bear Valley], the trail crosses the access road for the Vedanta Society Retreat. The trail beyond this road is only open to the general public from 8 am until 2 hours before sunset. Please be sure to close the gates after you pass through. South of the road, the trail passes through private property for the next couple miles (few kilometers); please treat both the private land and public park lands with respect and practice Leave No Trace principles. Take only pictures and leave only footprints.

From the access road, the trail turns south and passes through two active (and sometimes muddy) cattle pastures. The trail may be difficult to distinguish from the cattle paths, but, so long as the cows haven't pushed them over, there should be posts with small signs along the designated path to help you find your way. After 0.3 miles (0.5 km), the trail pass through a gate in the fence separating the pastures. Again, please be sure to close any gates you open. The trail then turns south-southwest for another 0.3 miles (0.5 km) before heading west through a gate near the southwest corner of the pasture. Follow the trail ~235 feet (~70 m) west between the fence line and the tree line. Pass through the smaller gate to the left (closest to the tree line) and keep to the left to stay on the Rift Zone Trail, which intersects in this immediate area with ranch roads and fences.

From this junction, the trail (an old ranch road) heads south a bit before bending south-southeast to travel between a fenced meadow on the west and trees to the east. After another 0.2 miles (0.3 km), the trail enters the woods. After another hundred yards/meters or so into the woods [1.8 miles (2.9 km) from Bear Valley], one will encounter a shallow sag pond. Young redwoods grow east of the trail to the south of the pond for a few hundred yards. Beyond the pond, the terrain becomes more hilly, but the trail should be easier to follow with only a couple junctions with other ranch roads that are rarely used (and are closed to the general public). Follow the Rift Zone Trail through woods and a few meadows until you reach the Five Brooks Horse Camp, located 4.0 miles (6.4 km) from Bear Valley Trailhead.

The southernmost 0.2 miles (0.3 kilometers) of the Rift Zone Trail are closed due a severe washout of the trail. Due to the presence of these hazardous conditions, use of the trail by anyone is not safe until these hazards are mitigated. Please do not use this section of trail until the trail has been repaired. There is a detour route available:

  • To get from the the Rift Zone Trail at the north end of the Horse Camp to Five Brooks Trailhead:
    • head south on the Rift Zone Trail through the Horse Camp for 460 feet (140 m) to the Stewart Trail-Horse Camp Connector Trail/Road;
    • turn right and follow the Stewart Trail-Horse Camp Connector Trail/Road for ~0.3 miles (0.5 km) past the horse camp's bath house and up the hill past the water tank to the Stewart Trail;
    • follow the Stewart Trail south ~0.4 miles (0.7 km) to the Five Brooks Trailhead.
  • To get from Five Brooks Trailhead to the Rift Zone Trail:
    • follow the Stewart Trail north ~0.4 miles (0.7 km) to its junction with the Stewart Trail-Horse Camp Connector Trail/Road;
    • turn right and follow the Stewart Trail-Horse Camp Connector Trail/Road for ~0.3 miles (0.5 km) down the hill past a water tank and the horse camp's bath house to the junction with the Rift Zone Trail;
    • turn left onto the Rift Zone Trail and head north through the horse camp for 460 feet (140 m) to a gap in the split rail fence.

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.

While designated as part of Point Reyes National Seashore, the trails on the Vedanta Society Retreat property are managed by Marin County Parks.

This trail is shared with horse riders. It also traverses open rangeland, and grazing cattle may be present. Give them plenty of space when passing.

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 approximately four hours to hike roundtrip from the Bear Valley Trailhead to the Five Brooks Trailhead and back (or vice versa).

Distance: 2 to 8.6 miles / 3 to 13.8 km roundtrip

Explore the floor of a valley that follows the San Andreas Fault, passing through meadows and woods. Evidence of former earthquakes are rather subtle, coming in the form of diverted streams, shutter ridges, and sag ponds that most visitors overlook. One will only find a fresh scar on the surface of the ground if there has been a large earthquake recently; the last time was on April 18, 1906.

Start at either the Bear Valley Trailhead at the trail's north end, or the Five Brooks Trailhead at its south. The description below proceeds from north to south.

From the southwestern corner of the Bear Valley Trailhead, the Rift Zone Trail heads east through a meadow for 0.3 miles (0.5 km) before crossing a bridge over the tree-lined Bear Valley Creek. Those paying attention may notice that the creek is deflected by a low ridge just upstream from this location—one of the first indications one will encounter of the valley's seismic history. After crossing the bridge, the trail climbs up and over a partially wooded shutter ridge and then crosses through another meadow, which, until relatively recently, served as a cattle pasture.

After another 0.5 miles (0.8 km) [0.8 miles (1.3 km) from Bear Valley], the trail crosses the access road for the Vedanta Society Retreat. Please be sure to close the gates after you pass through. South of the road, the trail passes through private property for the next couple miles (few kilometers); please treat both the private land and public park lands with respect and practice Leave No Trace principles. Take only pictures and leave only footprints.

From the access road, the trail turns south and passes through two active (and sometimes muddy) cattle pastures. The trail may be difficult to distinguish from the cattle paths, but, so long as the cows haven't pushed them over, there should be posts with small signs along the designated path to help you find your way. After 0.3 miles (0.5 km), the trail pass through a gate in the fence separating the pastures. Again, please be sure to close any gates you open. The trail then turns south-southwest for another 0.3 miles (0.5 km) before heading west through a gate near the southwest corner of the pasture. Follow the trail ~235 feet (~70 m) west between the fence line and the tree line. Pass through the smaller gate to the left (closest to the tree line) and keep to the left to stay on the Rift Zone Trail, which intersects in this immediate area with ranch roads and fences.

From this junction, the trail (an old ranch road) heads south a bit before bending south-southeast to travel between a fenced meadow on the west and trees to the east. After another 0.2 miles (0.3 km), the trail enters the woods. After another hundred yards/meters or so into the woods [1.8 miles (2.9 km) from Bear Valley], one will encounter a shallow sag pond. Young redwoods grow east of the trail to the south of the pond for a few hundred yards. Beyond the pond, the terrain becomes more hilly, but the trail should be easier to follow with only a couple junctions with other ranch roads that are rarely used (and are closed to the general public). Follow the Rift Zone Trail through woods and a few meadows until you reach the Five Brooks Horse Camp, located 4.0 miles (6.4 km) from Bear Valley Trailhead.

The southernmost 0.2 miles (0.3 kilometers) of the Rift Zone Trail are closed due a severe washout of the trail. Due to the presence of these hazardous conditions, use of the trail by anyone is not safe until these hazards are mitigated. Please do not use this section of trail until the trail has been repaired. There is a detour route available:

  • To get from the the Rift Zone Trail at the north end of the Horse Camp to Five Brooks Trailhead:
    • head south on the Rift Zone Trail through the Horse Camp for 460 feet (140 m) to the Stewart Trail-Horse Camp Connector Trail/Road;
    • turn right and follow the Stewart Trail-Horse Camp Connector Trail/Road for ~0.3 miles (0.5 km) past the horse camp's bath house and up the hill past the water tank to the Stewart Trail;
    • follow the Stewart Trail south ~0.4 miles (0.7 km) to the Five Brooks Trailhead.
  • To get from Five Brooks Trailhead to the Rift Zone Trail:
    • follow the Stewart Trail north ~0.4 miles (0.7 km) to its junction with the Stewart Trail-Horse Camp Connector Trail/Road;
    • turn right and follow the Stewart Trail-Horse Camp Connector Trail/Road for ~0.3 miles (0.5 km) down the hill past a water tank and the horse camp's bath house to the junction with the Rift Zone Trail;
    • turn left onto the Rift Zone Trail and head north through the horse camp for 460 feet (140 m) to a gap in the split rail fence.

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 a visitor center on your way.

While designated as part of Point Reyes National Seashore, the trails on the Vedanta Society Retreat property are managed by Marin County Parks.

This trail is shared with horse riders. It also traverses open rangeland, and grazing cattle may be present. Give them plenty of space when passing.

All ages.

Pets are prohibited on the Rift Zone Trail. 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.

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 is only permitted with a valid backcountry camping permit.

The Vedanta Society property, through which the Rift Zone Trail passes, is only open to the general public from 8 am until 2 hours before sunset. The northern boundary of the Vedanta Society property is ~1 mile (~1.6 km) south of the Bear Valley Trailhead. The southern boundary of the Vedanta Society property is ~1 mile (~1.6 km) north of the Five Brooks Trailhead.

Accessibility Information

The northern 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers) of the Rift Zone Trail from the Bear Valley Trailhead is fairly flat, but narrow, only a couple feet across. The trail surface is packed dirt. As the trail progresses, it becomes narrower and rutted in places, and frequently muddy. Short sections of moderate to steep grade exist.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Last updated: September 12, 2022