Distance: 40 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1620 ft
Point Reyes gets in your blood. The first time I went there, it seemed barren, cold, featureless, and generally uninviting. Now I love it with an abiding passion. It isn’t obviously dramatic. It’s not Yosemite. It’s open, gently rolling wild grassland, and it’s often windy and frigid. But give it time. It will work its magic.
This ride comes with a bevy of caveats. First, I’d try to do it in winter or a shoulder season, but not in summer, and I wouldn’t go anywhere near it on a summer weekend—the traffic is like two-for-one day at Walmart. Second, the weather can be windy, cold, and damp on any day of the year. Don’t judge by the weather in Point Reyes Station or Inverness, don’t trust the weather report, and don’t assume summer means warm. Pack at least one layer more than you think you’ll need. The last time I did this ride, in early June, it was 68 degrees, still, and sunny in Inverness and 52 degrees, very windy, and heavily fogged further south. Third, it’s more work that meets the eye. The land looks relatively flat, but it is in fact constant rollers, many of them steep. My computer recorded over twice Mapmyride’s elevation total. I once started to count the substantial rollers in one direction and gave up after twenty. Fourth, I’d avoid the ride if the wind is smoking. The prevailing wind direction is out of the northwest, which means the wind is either in your face on the ride home, which makes those steep little climbs that much harder, or it’s on your beam, which makes all the descents dicey.
The road surface used to be bad, sometimes dangerously so. But it’s just been repaved (4/21) and is now glass from the Pierce Point Rd. fork to the lighthouse.
For a point-by-point comparison of this ride with the Limantour Road ride nearby, see the introduction to the Limantour Road ride.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
Ride south on Hwy 1 from Pt. Reyes Station, whose virtues (and food choices) are sung in the Bakeries Ride description (if you don’t care about food, you can start in Inverness). A stone’s throw down the road, go R onto Sir Francis Drake Blvd. and stay on it to the lighthouse at the end of the road. The stretch of road from Inverness Park to just past Inverness is narrow and busy. The hectic traffic in and around both places, combined with the lack of shoulder and poor road surface, makes the riding sketchy and stressful.
Once the road leaves Tomales Bay there are at least sightlines so cars can pass safely. Climb a noticeable hill to a saddle, go down the other side, and roll up and down ceaselessly to the lighthouse. The further you go, the more up and down the ride profile becomes. The little hill from the parking lot to the lighthouse complex is a steep little stinker.
Check out the Visitor’s Center. Learn why they built the lighthouse halfway down the cliff face. Ask about lighthouse keeper suicide rates. Hike down to the lighthouse if you’ve got the legs. Gaze out to sea in hopes of glimpsing passing whales. Ride back. Watch for wildflowers, cows, deer, raptors. Let all the crap that we accumulate in our lives melt away.
There are bathrooms and water at the lighthouse complex, but nothing between Inverness and there.
Shortening the ride: Starting in Inverness will save you a few miles. I’m not sure that parking on the shoulder is allowed on Point Reyes National Seashore land.
Adding miles: The other great ride at Pt. Reyes is our Limantour Road ride, which takes off about a mile from the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse route.
All other pavement in the Regional Seashore is more of the same good riding. The north road, to McClure Beach, is especially isolated, so ride it if the traffic on Sir Francis Drake disturbs your tranquility or you want to see the elk herds that populate the hillsides. Mt. Vision Road is a short (gated off), steep little sweetie with expansive views—you should have it to yourself.
Pt. Reyes Station is on our Chileno Valley Road/Tomales Bay Loop route, so all the riding discussed there is available to you. If you have big tires you could ride the smooth dirt of Bear Valley Trail from the Bear Valley Visitor Center to Arch Rock, a wonderful trail with a postcard coastal arch at its end. Bring walking shoes—the last leg of the trail is closed to bikes, but you can ride the bulk of it, lock your bike to the bike rack thoughtfully provided, and walk the remainder.
I know this is a bike site, but off the bike there is a vast amount of hiking and on-foot exploring to do in this area, so you might want to bring some walking shoes, a lock, and a backpack. First among equals is the hike to Chimney Rock, which takes you to a dramatic rock formation amid coastal cliffs—do it at the right time in the spring and the wildflowers are world-famous. Native plant enthusiasts come long distances to see them, and the Rangers give free wildflower tours. Second is the Bear Valley Trail (see above). While you’re there don’t miss the Bear Valley Visitor Center, which is extensive and state-of-the-art. The outhouse across the parking lot from the main building must have cost more than my house. I’m also fond of the hiking in Tomales Bay State Park, which lies within Pt. Reyes National Seashore.