In Spring, there is around the lighthouse an abundance of common and rare wildflowers.
On the first photo, the pink flowers are from the ice plant, a native to South Africa that has now been removed to restore the natural habitat for several rare and endangered plant species such as the Point Reyes checker lily and the Point Reyes rein orchid.
Though, one native plant resists very well to the invasion by non native plants, the Yellow California poppy. It grows everywhere (photo 2). It is California state flower.
Just below the lighthouse, the ocean’s wave brake on dangerous reefs and rocky shoals. I can hardly imagine how it must look when the wind is really strong. By Point Reyes standards, when I visited, there was no wind and the ocean was calm!!
On almost 20 km, the coastline north to Point Reyes is straight and low, with a wide strip of coarse sand. The always present wind lifts strong rollers that break a long way before they reach the coast. Even on a nice and sunny day, the foam is impressive. If it was possible to stand at the view point when there is a strong gale (which I doubt!), the landscape must then be terrific and nightmaring! I have read that when wind speeds exceed 40 m.p.h., the steps to the lighthouse are closed for visitors' safety but they do not tell if the view point is open.
Point Reyes is considered as the windiest and foggiest place on the Pacific Coast. The highest wind speed recorded was 133 mph, and 60 mph winds are common. As the wind is always coming from west, the few, meager trees that succeed in living are bent eastwards.
Fog is the other specialty of Point Reyes. It is not unusual to have over 2,100 hours of fog annually which is one day out of four. One time, the keepers recorded 176 hours of continuous fog (7 days, eight hours).
I visited Point Reyes on a gorgeous day with a bright sun and a nice little breeze. I have been very lucky. Among the visitors, I heard a man complaining that it was the fifth time he visited and the first time he could see the lighthouse from the top of the cliff!
Coming down from Mt. Wittenberg, take Sky Trail to Coast Trail. Coast Trail to Bear Valley Trail. Then Bear Valley back to trailhead. Views along coast trail are wonderful. Stop for lunch along beach. Rest up at Arch Rock cause it's 4 miles back to trailhead.
It's a mountain. Now, 1,400 feet in elevation isn't much of a climb, but you're starting at about sea level, so it IS a climb of over 1,000 feet in elevation. There isn't any view at the top, but the trail up to it is pretty nice. And from here you can take trails down to the Coast Trail.
Tomales Bay runs along the San Andreas Fault. This is the famous fault line the runs along California's coastline, through San Francisco and Los Angeles. Only here is it plainly visible. Along the bay are numerous shops, restaurants, and places for boating, fishing, and other water sports.
Point Reyes curls around, forming a bay called Drake Bay. Here are many seabirds, often seen foraging for small sea creatures along the brown sandy beach. Sir Francis Drake visited here in the late 1500s.
This lighthouse dates back to 1870. It has undoubtedly saved many lives. This is the original lighthouse, with an authentic Fresnel lens. Designed by French engineer Augustin Jean Fresnel, it produces a powerful beam that is visible for many miles. This is the windiest point on the West Coast, where wind speeds often top 60 mph. So most lighthouse keepers considered it a less then desirable posting, but many showed great devotion to keeping mariners safe.
Nearby is a small cistern, for collecting rainwater. It's an ingenious system, taking advantage of the frequent rains that fall in an area that lacks a fresh water source of its own.
After leaving the forests near the top of the Woodward Valley Trail, you'll pretty much have breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean all the way down. The trail cuts through an area that burned by a forest fire in 1995. Although burnt trees appear tragic, a forest fire is part of the natural process of forest replenishment. The Bishop pines in the area need the heat from a forest fire to open up the pine cones and release the seeds. Forest fire control in the area has delayed this process for decades.
I mentioned in a prior tip that the peak of Mt. Wittenberg is unspectacular - this is it. It is simply a flat meadow ringed by spruces. You don't even get a view. When I reached it, I didn't even know it was the peak, until I noticed that the trail seemed to go in circles, and the one other trail I could find went downhill in the opposite direction from where I came.
OK, we've made it to the top - 1407 feet high. No need to tarry here. There are more sights to see, so let's head down to the coast.
To the south, you'll get a terrific view of the southern part of the Point Reyes National Seashore. On a great day, you'll be able to see Point Resistance, Arch Rock, Wildcat Beach, Stormy Stack and Double Point (furthest point in this picture). The Coast Trail hugs the coast and goes all the way to Palomarin Beach on the other side of Double Point. But that is a hike for another day.
You'll approach a meadow with another fork. Follow the Woodward Valley sign and take the trail that heads west. This will take you all the way down to the coast. The trails generally are all well-marked but the Woodward Valley trail is less maintained than the Sky Trail. For about a mile and a half, you'll be walking through tall grasses and some thistles. Not really a problem, but it's advisable to check periodically for ticks. I did, and didn't get any on me (I don't think).
After the spectacular vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the trail descends through old growth forests of spruces and cedars. Another fork in the trail will take you to the Sky Camp to the right (north) and to the Woodward Valley by going straight (west). For coastal access, head straight toward Woodward Valley.
As you descend Mt. Wittenberg on the west side, you'll catch your first breathtaking views of Drake's Bay and the Pacific Ocean (weather permitting). I've lived in the San Francisco area for 9 years and Memorial Day 2006 was the first time I had taken this hike. I was astounded by the beauty of the ocean and coastline. Just goes to show, there's always something more to discover in your own backyard, if you'll just give it a chance.
From this view, you'll see Limantour Beach, the Limantour Estero, Drake's Beach, Drake's Bay, Drake's Estero and the point with the lighthouse.