The Point Reyes Peninsula used to lie a couple hundred miles farther south before the San Andreas Fault decided to shift it to its current location. Unruffled by this forced eviction, the Point Reyes National Seashore presents a serene and sternly beautiful expanse of rock-lined beaches and a forest of fir and pine broken by meadowlands in the south. The Phillip Burton Wilderness makes up roughly one-third of this national parkland. Tall cliffs tower over forested ridges, and chaparral-covered swaths line both sides of a road that splits the Wilderness. More than 450 species of birds and 72 species of mammals have been identified, including seals and other marine animals that often gather along the bays and esteros. From December through April, the far reaches of the peninsula provide a prime spot for catching a glimpse of gray whales as they migrate between their feeding grounds in the Arctic and their breeding grounds in Mexican lagoons.
There are more than 140 miles of trails crisscrossing the area. In numerous small valleys, you'll find the brush dense and highlighted by stinging nettle and poison oak--good reason to stay on the trails. Cliff edges are often crumbly and should be avoided, and their bases are dangerous because of falling rocks. Riptides often make a dip in the ocean dangerous, but if you care to brave the chilly waters, non-Wilderness swimming beaches exist nearby. Overnight camping is allowed only at four hike-in campgrounds: Coast, Sky, Glen, and Wildcat. Weather is often cool and damp with dense fog common in summer. Although it's usually not that difficult to find a spot for solitary contemplation, human use is heavy.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Phillip Burton Wilderness.
The Phillip Burton Wilderness is located within the Point Reyes National Seashore. It is located about 40 miles north of San Francisco and is within about a 1-hour drive from the city. The most direct route to the Seashore and the wilderness from the north or south is to take California Highway 101 to the Sir Francis Drake Highway. Exit in Larkspur, CA. A 20-mile trip along Sir Francis Drake Highway leads to California Highway One in the town of Olema, CA. Follow Highway One north for a quarter-mile, turn left onto Bear Valley Road and travel one-half mile to the Seashore entrance.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates Point Reyes Wilderness) - Public Law 94-544 (10/18/1976) To designate certain lands in the Point Reyes National Seashore, California, as Wilderness, amending the Act of September 13, 1962 (76 Stat. 538), as amended (16 U.S.C. 459c-6)
(No official title, designates National Park Service wildernesses) - Public Law 94-567 (10/20/1976) To designate certain lands within units of the National Park System as wilderness; to revise the boundaries of certain of these units; and for other purposes.
(No official title, changes name of Point Reyes Wilderness) - Public law 99-68 (7/19/1985) To designate the wilderness in the Point Reyes National Seashore in California as the Phillip Burton Wilderness.
The Phillip Burton Wilderness at Point Reyes National Seashore contains spectacular vistas of forested coastal mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The 115 miles of trails provide access to all parts of the wilderness from often fog-shrouded ridge tops to dramatic ocean cliffs and beaches. There are ample opportunities to experience the varied topography and plant communities within the wilderness and view wildlife including tide pool inhabitants, neo-tropical birds, marine mammals and the rare tule elk.
Camping at four primitive backcountry campgrounds is available by reservation. Two of the campgrounds are located near the beach with the other two high on the shoulders of Inverness Ridge overlooking the coast.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The Phillip Burton Wilderness has a Mediterranean climate characterized by mild wet winters and generally warm dry summers. Winter temperatures can be cold from December through January, and summers are often characterized by persistent coastal fog. Winter season rainfall averages 40 inches, mostly occurring from November through March. The mean annual temperature is 55 degrees.
Safety and Current Conditions
The yearround average temperature is 55 degrees. Winters can be cold and rainy so proper clothing and raingear are highly recommended. The mild climate produces lush vegetation including some plants that require caution including poison oak and stinging nettles. Coastal geology is steep with highly errodible cliffs. Approach cliffs with caution and do not attempt to climb them. Narrow cliffside beaches should be approached with caution as rising tides may result in stranding. Travelers along cliff side beaches need to be aware of the "Sneaker Wave" phenomenon that can result in large unexpected surf. The Pacific deer tick is seasonally abundant.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.