Distance: ~13 miles (21 km), strenuous
Travel from forest to tidepools on this ambitious walk through the central part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness. This trail includes beautiful forest and spectacular coastal hiking with sweeping ocean views. Much of this area through which this route passes was burned in the Woodward Fire, which was started by lightning strikes in August of 2020.
Start at the Bear Valley Trailhead and follow the relatively flat Bear Valley Trail south. A short distance beyond a sign indicating you are entering the Phillip Burton Wilderness, you will get to choose between two routes that will lead you to the Sky Trail along the crest of Inverness Ridge.
- Turn right on to the Mount Wittenberg Trail 0.2 miles (0.3 km) from the trailhead if you want a more strenuous ascent of about 1,130 feet (~340 m) over a distance of 1.8 miles (2.9 km). While the Woodward Fire burned along most of the length of the Mount Wittenberg Trail, it primarily burned in the understory and left most of the canopy of the Douglas fir forest intact. As a result, there are very few far-reaching views from this trail until you reach the ridge crest. Remain on the Mount Wittenberg Trail at the Z Ranch Trail junction, which is located at the highest point along this route with an elevation of 1270 feet (385 m).* From the crest of Inverness Ridge along the western 0.4 mile-long (0.6-kilometer-long) leg of the Mount Wittenberg Trail, you may be rewarded (weather dependent) with views looking west across the peninsula to the Pacific Ocean. The Mount Wittenberg Trail intersects with the Sky Trail 0.4 miles (0.6 km) beyond the Z Ranch Trail junction and 2.4 miles (3.8 km) from the Bear Valley Trailhead.
*From 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.
- Turn right on to the Meadow Trail 0.8 miles (1.3 km) from the trailhead if you want a slightly easier climb over Inverness Ridge. Similar to the Mount Wittenberg Trail, the Woodward Fire mostly impacted the understory of the forest along the Meadow Trail. While the trail does pass through a fairly large meadow (after which the trail was named), views from the meadow are of forested hillsides less than a mile distant. 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).
Both the Mount Wittenberg Trail and the Meadow Trail intersect the Sky Trail at the same large trail junction. Turn left (south) on to the Sky Trail and follow it for 0.8 miles (1.3 km) to its junction with the Woodward Valley Trail. Once hemmed in by a ~six-foot-tall (~two-meter-tall) hedge of huckleberry bushes, the Woodward Fire cleared out most of the shrubs and a lot of the lower branches of the trees in this area so that this section of trail feels a bit more open than it did before 2020.
Turn right (west) on to the Woodward Valley Trail, which was one of the lushest, greenest trails in the park before the Woodward Fire. The Woodward Valley Trail descends about 800 feet (~240 meters) over a distance of 2.0 miles (3.2 km) before intersecting with the Coast Trail, where you will turn left/south. Open ocean views are plentiful along the last 0.5 miles (0.8 km) of the Woodward Valley Trail and along the length of the Coast Trail as you pass through coastal grasslands intermixed with some coastal scrub.
The Sculptured Beach Trail branches off after 0.5 miles (0.8 km), leading down to Sculptured Beach, where there are tidepools exposed at low tides. A second location to descend to a beach occurs 2.5 miles (4 km) later when you reach the Kelham Beach Trail junction.
Continuing south on the Coast Trail for another 0.9 miles (1.5 km ) brings you to the Coast-Bear Valley Trail junction. Turn left on to the Bear Valley Trail and follow it 4 miles (6.4 km) east and north back to the Bear Valley Trailhead parking lot. The Bear Valley Trail has a gentle grade as it first follows Coast Creek to Divide Meadow and then gradually descends along Bear Valley Creek for the final 1.6 miles (2.6 km) of this hike. Aside from the large meadow at Divide Meadow, the trail passes through a beautiful forest of buckeyes, oaks, and Douglas firs.
Restrooms and water are available at the Bear Valley Trailhead parking lot. Otherwise, there are no other facilities along this route until you reach Divide Meadow, at which there are vault toilets, but no potable water.
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.
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.