Point Reyes’ Little Known Alamere Falls

When visiting Point Reyes national seashore, the first thing that comes to mind is usually not waterfalls. For this reason, a lot of people miss the wonderful Alamere Falls which flows year round and falls directly onto the beach. One of the reasons it’s not well-known to most visitors is that it takes quite a hike to get there. You’re either going to have to walk 16 miles round trip from a trailhead near the visitors center, or 8.5 miles round trip if you drive to the Palomarin trailhead. Either way, it means a substantial hike which keeps the vast majority of people who visit the park from ever going there.

These photos were taken in Mid November 2013 during a year with far below normal rainfall, taking the trail that begins at Palomarin (a warning on taking this shorter route — the last 4/10 of a mile to the waterfall is on a “unmaintained trail” — while there is not an issue walking the trail, there is quite a bit of poison oak and you’ll want to have long pants and sleeves when walking this portion to avoid it)

The first part of the falls you’ll see is the upper falls:

Alamere waterfall upper section

Just below you come to a small middle falls:

Alamere waterfall mid section

From this vantage point you can see where the river flows over the edge creating the lower (and main) falls with the ocean in the background:

the top of Alamere waterfall

You aren’t able to actually see the lower falls from up here. In order to get there, you have to descend a rather steep unofficial trail with a lot of loose rocks. If you’re a strong hiker and have good balance, you shouldn’t have too much trouble doing it, but it helps to have a partner to help make it up and down some of the steeper areas. If you get nervous or don’t have good balance, it might be difficult to make it down to the beach. It’s not recommended for small children. Once you get down, however, you’re met with this:

Alamere waterfall main falls

Alamere Falls Point Reyes

Alamere waterfall at Point Reyes national seashore

You can even get up right up next to it:

Looking up at Alamere waterfall

And if the sun is out, you’ll see numerous rainbows within the falling water:

Rainbow in Alamere waterfall

Since it’s pretty spectacular when there has been little rain and it has a low flow, I can only imagine what it’s like after a rainfall or a wet year.

Plastic Bottle Art Point Reyes National Seashore

When you drive up to the main visitor center (Bear Valley Visitor Center) at Point Reyes National Seashore (CA), the first thing that will catch you eye is five large bottles, which are themselves filled with plastic bottles, sitting in a field:

year worth of plastic found Point Reyes National Seashore

Plastic bottles found Point Reyes visitors center

These are part of an art project created by Richard James which he hopes nobody will enjoy. He created the plastic bottle art from the large amounts of trash that he has collected on the shores of Point Reyes National Seashore. The five 8 foot tall bottles that are filled with plastic bottles are just the plastic bottles James found during one year of collecting trash on the shores of Point Reyes. Not all people like the art, but it serves to show where many of the plastic bottles we use end up.

On the fence by the bottles is an explanation of the art:

Thirsty Point Reyes National Seashore


In One year
One person collected these bottles
On the beaches of One national park: Point Reyes.

Most plastic in the ocean breaks into particles that contaminate the fish that eat them and us when we eat the fish.

Use One metal bottle.

I have a policy to always leave the National Parks I visit in better shape than when I arrive. While at Point Reyes, I filled up two large bags with trash that had washed up on the beaches that I walked. It hardly took any time to do this, so I can imagine the amount of trash that James has collected in all the hours that he has spent cleaning the beaches. I hope that we all can get into the habit of leaving every National Park in better shape than when you arrived — and if you haven’t yet purchased yourself a metal water bottle, do it.

Bear Valley Visitors Center Point Reyes National Seashore

The first place I begin all my visits to National Parks is at the visitors center. Even if I know a park fairly well, the staff at the visitors center will know the latest news regarding the park. That information will often lead me to do something which I may not have been planning to do that day. If I’m unfamiliar with the park, and especially if it is my first visit, the staff can give me the list of places that I should absolutely see and what I should do within the park for the time frame I have.

Bear Valley Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore

In addition to the helpful staff, the Bear Valley visitors center at Point Reyes National Seashore (CA) has an excellent little museum style display of the animals which live within the park, including a huge, life-size elephant seal to greet you as you walk in:

Elephant seal in Bear Valley Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore

I took my 6 year old niece through all the displays and she was fascinated with all the animals and the information about them. For any child who likes animals, it’s worth putting aside a little extra time to walk through the animal displays at the visitors center.

Sea bird display in Bear Valley visitors center at Point Reyes National Seashore

Animal display in Bear Valley Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes Lighthouse 308 Steps

When you first see the Point Reyes Lighthouse from the observation deck at Point Reyes National Seashore (CA), your first instinct is to want to see the lighthouse up close. Then you take a look at these:

Steps going down to Point Reyes lighthouse

There is a sign that warns that the over 300 steps is the same as a 30 story building and while it’s easy to get down, you need to be in decent shape to make it back up. To help with the effort, there are three rest areas with a bench where you can stop to catch your breath on the way up. You begin the hike back to the top at step number 308:

Step 308 at Point Reyes Lighthouse

I consider myself to be in pretty decent shape and I was a bit winded by the time I reached the top. The key is to take it slow, rest when needed and give yourself plenty of time to make it back to the top. Even with the physically taxing climb, a visit to the lighthouse is well worth it.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Once you make your way past the Point Reyes Lighthouse visitors center, the gray whale skull and the water collection system at Point Reyes National Seashore, you’ll round the corner and get your first glimpse of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. There is an observation deck that looks down upon the lighthouse and you’ll immediately understand why so many people love to come out to see it:

Point Reyes Lighthouse from observation deck

Warning to all: The Point Reyes Lighthouse is not open on Tuesday or Wednesday. Even on the days that it is closed, you can still view the lighthouse from the observation deck, but you will not be able to descend the stairs to the lighthouse to see it up close and personal. The lighthouse stairs, the exhibits in the lower lighthouse chamber, and the equipment building are open Thursday through Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (stairs to go down to the lighthouse close at 4:00 p.m.) weather permitting. Point Reyes is the windiest area on the Pacific coast and even on clear days, the stairs will sometimes be closed due to high winds. The light house lens room where the Fresnel lens and clockwork mechanism are located is open Thursday through Monday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Point Reyes Lighthouse close-up Point Reyes National Seashore

Tomales Bay California State Park

While driving to Tomales Bay California state park within Point Reyes National Seashore (there are also areas of Tomales Bay state park across Tomales Bay on highway 1) you will turn off Pierce Point Road and descend into the park. Tomales Bay isn’t part of Point Reyes and there is an entrance fee of $8.00 per vehicle to enter (or you can purchase a California State Park Pass)

The road is quite curvy and there really aren’t any places to park, but it can be worthwhile to try and find a spot (or decide to hike the road) as it provides some great photo opportunities. This includes seeing Tomales Bay with all the forest before it:

View from road going into Tomales Bay California state park

There’s also spectacular undergrowth below the trees if you take the time to explore a bit.

Trees and undergrowth Tomales Bay California State Park

Again, the road isn’t really made to do this and you definitely need to be very careful if you decide to do it, but there’s a good chance that you will be well rewarded with some interesting photos if you decide to do so.

Point Reyes Lighthouse Water Collection System

Across from the Point Reyes Lighthouse visitors center and gray whale skull at Point Reyes National Seashore is a concrete dome that appears to be some type of military bunker:

Point Reyes water collection system

In reality, it has nothing to do with the military and everything to do with being able to survive. The dome is actually part of a water collection system since fresh water was a continuing problem for those that lived out on Point Reyes. As explained on an information placard by the concrete dome:

Although surrounded by seawater, the Point never had adequate wells or springs to supply fresh water. The lightkeepers were forced to devise this elaborate system for catching and storing rainwater. They piped the cistern water to the residences and down to the fog signal for making steam.

The dome in front of you covers the cylindrical concrete cistern. The catchment area around the cistern extends far up the hillside and captures runoff from natural rock formations.

Water collection system diagram Point Reyes National Seashore

The information sign can easily be missed because those arriving tend to focus on the visitors center and the sign is around a slight bend on the way out.

Gray Whale Skull Point Reyes Lighthouse

After passing the wind swept trees on your way to Point Reyes Lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore, you will reach the Point Reyes Lighthouse Visitors Center. Just outside the visitors center to the left is a gray whale skull:

Gray Whale Skull Point Reyes Lighthouse National Seashore

Along with some other gray whale bones:

Whale bones at Point Reyes Lighthouse

The skull and bones are well weathered as they are outside and not protected from the elements, but you have the chance to see the skull up close and touch the bones if you wish. Definitely worth stopping to investigate before or after you hit the Point Reyes lighthouse.

Wind Swept Trees Point Reyes Lighthouse

Once you begin walking up the road toward Point Reyes Lighthouse, you have about a half mile hike before you reach the lighthouse. There are several benches along the side of the road where you can rest and get a slightly different perspective on the view of Point Reyes Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. About half way through the hike you will come to about 5 trees that have been shaped and twisted by the wind:

View of Point Reyes Beach through tree

I think most people walk briskly by these trees because they are so excited to get to the Point Reyes lighthouse, but I think that the trees provide a great photographic opportunity for those that spend a bit of time there, especially with Point Reyes beach in the background:

Point Reyes lighthouse wind swept tree

Even after passing the trees, they still provide some interesting photo shots.

Rocks and trees Point Reyes Lighthouse National Seashore

Point Reyes Lighthouse Parking Lot Trail

Once you see the dramatic view at the Point Reyes Lighthouse parking lot view looking over Point Reyes Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore you’ll be tempted to take a short path (about 1/4 mile) you can see right in front of you to a point a little farther out. The hike is fairly easy, but the view isn’t much different than the one you see at the top:

Point Reyes Lighthouse parking lot hike beach view

You are able to see a bit more of the sand dunes of Point Reyes Beach, but there isn’t a big difference in the view (compare here) so passing on it shouldn’t be a huge issue.