Olema Marsh, Point Reyes: Bear Valley Trailhead, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California
Olema Marsh - 4.7 Miles
Point Reyes: Bear Valley Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||4.7 Miles (roundtrip distance to and through marsh)|
|Start-End Elevation:||125' - 5' (210' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||-120' net elevation loss (+385' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Olema Marsh is located one mile north of the Bear Valley Visitor Center in Point Reyes National Seashore. It's one of the largest freshwater marshes in Marin County, and a prized bird watching destination. Heron, egret, kingfisher, various raptors, and scores of migratory water birds can be found in the vicinity.
Olema Marsh is part of the greater Giacomini Wetlands Area, acquired by the NPS in 2000 for restoration. Ranchers throughout the Olema Valley area dammed and redirected water for decades to create cattle pasture, depriving wetlands of their fresh water tributaries and twice daily flooding from Tomales Bay. Most levees were removed by 2008, with an immediate impact on the area's natural hydrology, ecology, and wildlife.
While marsh exploration is limited, the short hike from Bear Valley Visitor Center is quite varied.
The trek begins at Morgan Horse Ranch, the only breeding horse ranch in the National Park system. It quickly transitions from open meadow to forests dominated by Douglas fir, which can reach 200' tall and live hundreds of years. They're comparably sized to Redwoods, but distinguished by their many lower limbs and draping mosses. The Douglas is not a true fir, but does resemble one (its scientific name translates to false hemlock).
California Buckeye is a deciduous member of this predominantly evergreen forest. The buckeye produces bunches of white to pale pink flowers May - June, but may lose its leaves as early as mid summer. Although its flowers are toxic to bees and generally inedible, early inhabitants used the buckeye's unripe seeds to stupefy fish. Leaves were made into medicinal teas, and the wood was ideal for making fire drills.
California Bay - also known as California Laurel - is in the same plant family as avocados and cinnamon. Always competing for light, bay trees often arch into better lit areas and sprout new branches along its bent trunk. Because they prefer moist soil, California bay is only found on trails on the east side of Inverness Ridge.
Coast Live Oak is named for its perennial leaves, in contrast to seasonal deciduous oaks', which drop seasonally. Coast Live Oak leaves are dark green on top and white and hairy underneath. No other oak in California has leaves that curve backwards at its tip. Like all oaks, coast live oak drop acorns in the fall, which the Coast Miwok boiled and pounded into meal.
Coast Miwok occupied this area for thousands of years, building a complex society from abundant land and sea resources. The trail to Olema Marsh skirts Kule Loklo, a recreated Coast Miwok village and cultural exhibit that showcases dwellings and tools used by the Miwok over 200 years ago:
From Bear Valley Trailhead, head up the Morgan Trail into the forest (.23 miles : 188'). It rises gently beside Morgan Horse Ranch to the Horse Trail - Kule Loklo Trail split (.4 miles : 165'). Veer left on the Horse Trail, and note Olema Marsh is not listed on this sign.
The Horse Trail crests, drops to a bridge, and forks right for Olema Marsh (.65 miles : 75'). The Horse Trail skirts the edge of Kule Loklo, just past which it merges with a gravel road and quickly branches right on a narrow, unmarked path. The tral emerges in a marshy clearing, an excellent place to look for wildlife (1.0 miles : 25').
The oft-wet and muddy trail leads through open space to Bear Valley Road (1.85 miles : 2'). Turn right on Bear Valley Road for .1 miles to the Olema Marsh access road, and left into the Olema Marsh parking area (2.15 miles : 9'). The Olema Marsh Trail continues north through the marsh to its abrupt terminus on Point Reyes - Petaluma Road (2.35 miles : 5').
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N38 02.371 W122 47.994 — Bear Valley Trailhead - Morgan Trail
- N38 02.377 W122 48.171 — .15 miles : Woodpecker Trail split
- N38 02.549 W122 48.270 — .4 miles : Horse Trail - Kule Loklo Trail split
- N38 02.737 W122 48.283 — .65 miles : Horse Trail forks at bridge; veer right
- N38 02.931 W122 48.203 — 1.0 miles : Trail levels through open marsh
- N38 03.487 W122 48.568 — 2.0 miles : Turn left on gravel road into Olema Marsh
- N38 03.615 W122 48.586 — 2.15 miles : Olema Marsh parking lot
- N38 03.799 W122 48.682 — 2.35 miles : End of Olema Marsh Trail
- Olema Marsh was once part of the Bear Valley Dairy Ranch, whose milking barn has been converted to a park residence.
- The Morgan Horse Ranch is the only operational horse breeding ranch in the National Park system. The Morgan Ranch breeds and trains horses for ranger patrol mounts throughout western region National Parks.
- Kule Loklo means bear valley in the native Coast Miwok language.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Camping is by permit only. Camping permits must be obtained from the Bear Valley Visitor Center before starting your trip. If you have made a reservation and are arriving after 5 p.m., a permit will be left for you in a small wooden box on the back side of the information board outside the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
- Campsites may be reserved up to three months in advance. To obtain a reservation, call 415.663.8054 between 9 am and 2 pm, Monday - Friday. Reservations by phone are not accepted at any other time. You may make reservations in person 7 days a week at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. You may also fax your reservation using our fax form and fax number: 415.464.5149.
- Wood fires are prohibited in hike-in campgrounds. Only gas stoves, charcoal or canned heat may be used for cooking. Downed wood may not be gathered and burned.
- Camping is limited to 4 nights per visit, with a maximum of 30 nights per year.
- The minimum age of any camper is 18 unless accompanied by an adult.
- Pets are not permitted in campgrounds. The maximum number of horses or pack animals in any campground is eight. Pack animals and horses must be tied to hitch rails.
- Wildcat Camp is located in a coastal meadow between bluffs and the ocean It's located 5.65 miles from the Palomarin Trailhead, 7.8 miles from the Bear Valley Trailhead, and 6.7 miles from Five Brooks Trailhead.
- There are 5 individual sites and 3 group sites; three of the individual sites only hold up to four people. Each individual site has a picnic table, food storage locker and charcoal grill. Group sites have two picnic tables, two food storage lockers and one large or two regular charcoal grills.
- Glen Camp is located in a quiet wooded valley, 4.6 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center via the Bear Valley Trail and Glen Trail. To access via bicycle, start at the Five Brooks Trailhead and follow the Stewart Trail to the Glen Trail, then north to the Glen Camp Loop. This is 6.3 mile bike ride. No groups, horses, or pack animals are allowed at Glen Camp. There are 12 individual sites at Glen Camp.
- Coast Camp is nestled in a small coastal valley with easy access to Santa Maria Beach. The shortest route begins from the Laguna Trailhead, and travels 1.8 miles on the Laguna and Firelane Trails. It's also accessible from the Coast Trailhead for a longer but easier 2.7 miles route that's also open to bicycles. Coast Camp is located approximately 9.5 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center via the Bear Valley and Coast Trails. 12 individual sites and 2 group sites are available. Sites 1-7 are in a semi-protected canyon.
Wildcat Camp - Campground Information
Glen Camp - Campground Information
Coast Camp - Campground Information
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs are not permitted on the Olema Marsh Trail.
The Bear Valley Trailhead is located at the southwest end of the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
From Highway 1, take Bear Valley Road west about 1/2 mile. Look for a big red barn on the left and a sign for Seashore information on the right. Turn left past the red barn and follow signs to the Bear Valley Visitor Center. Continue through the main parking lot to the far end and Bear Valley Trailhead parking area.
Point Reyes National Seashore
1 Bear Valley Rd.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Visitor Information: 415.464.5100 x2 or 415.663.8522 x2
Headquarters: 415.464.5100 x 1
Volunteer Information: 415.464.5145