Looking down from Arch Rock

OK, while the moon was full, it was a cloudy night so my expectations for a moon-bathed hike were low. But then the clouds parted just enough and all was well.

The plan was to start in the Bear Valley Visitor Center parking lot at Point Reyes around 6 p.m. and hike straight out to Arch Rock and back, an eight-plus-mile roundtrip over a fairly easy trail. No big climbs or dips and the path is a wide fire road nearly the entire way. That would bring our sizeable group to the oceanfront rock just around sunset for a terrific view of the sun dipping into the horizon. That didn’t happen as the clouds obscured the horizon and the sunset itself wasn’t visible, but it didn’t matter. It’s still a great vista point on the edge of Arch Rock. To the north and the south, the rugged cliffs of the rest of Point Reyes are visible along with the usual seaside expanse.

At Arch Rock, there’s a small trail that winds down to the shoreline itself, but it’s not a good idea to head down there when the tide is in. Once down there though, you can go underneath the arch of the rock and have a bit of solitude in a very private speck of sand. Worth doing if you don’t mind a little scrambling over rocks to get there.

Unlike many parks that close their gates at sundown or soon after, the gate to the (free) Bear Valley parking area is open until midnight making it ideal for late-afternoon or evening hikes. The trail itself is shaded much of the way by Douglas firs and oak trees making it cool – or creepy – when darkness sets in. Despite the tree cover and the clouds, it was possible to do nearly the entire hike without the use of flashlights or head lamps, relying solely on glimpses of moonlight from between the clouds and the natural ability of our eyes to adjust to the darkness.

This is probably one of the most popular trails in all of Point Reyes, and on my daytime visits, there can often be literally crowds of people, making it not the most pleasant hike. So if you’ve had that experience, consider going against traffic and making it a night hike, especially on one of the evenings near a full moon. The view will be even better from the overlook spot of the rock, and you’ll likely have the trail to yourself.

(P.S. And speaking of impressive outdoors outings, congrats to Janet Cain of Sonoma, who finished 10th (!) in her age division in this morning’s Boston Marathon. I met Janet and her husband at the SF airport the other day and was cheering for her today to do well in my hometown race.)

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