Point Reyes National Seashore is known for its stunning bluffs, rolling hills, and miles of pristine shoreline. The park entrance is only an hour from San Francisco, making it a favorite spot for hiking and scenic day trips to enjoy the outdoors.
Point Reyes has several notable attractions, including a historic lighthouse perched on the ocean-front cliffs that draw many visitors. Another incredible site that visitors can regularly see is the majestic Tule Elk that roam the park.
It’s not unusual to see herds grazing in the hills as you drive through the park, but there is one scenic trail that offers beautiful views and an opportunity to see elk. The Elk Reserve is located at Tomales Point, making the Tomales Point Trail the perfect spot for hikers.
The trail has three lengths, so hikers of all levels can enjoy the trail. The first is a short 2-mile round trip to Windy Gap, the second a moderate 6 miles to Lower Pierce Point Ranch site, and finally a 9.5-mile journey to the point. Roughly a mile into the trail is a good spot to see the elk.
Dogs are not allowed in the park, and be sure to stay on designated trails while hiking. Before your visit, check the park’s regulations to ensure your trip goes smoothly.
Conservation efforts over the years
Tule Elk are native and endemic to California, meaning they can only be found here. Due to hunting and increased emphasis on cattle ranches in California in the mid-1800s, the elk population significantly decreased to the point where they were thought to be extinct.
That was until the discovery of a singular herd in the 1870s. The elk may not be roaming Point Rayes today if not for a cattle rancher–Henry Miller– who preserved a small herd he found on his property in Bakersfield in 1874. All of the 5,000 plus Tule Elk in California today come from that one small herd and the conservation efforts of the rancher over 100 years ago.
The Tule Elk have called Point Reyes home long before their extirpation. The elk population also spread to the Marin Headlands and other nearby grasslands. After their population dwindled for decades, a small number of elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes in 1978. The elk were placed in a 2,600-acre fenced area on Tomales Point.
As conservation efforts continued, select elk screened for Johne’s Disease were allowed to roam freely in the park. Today, two free-ranging herds are near Limantour and Drakes Beach, and one fenced herd at Tomales Point.
The elk population is carefully monitored and managed by the National Parks Service, but recent fluctuations in the population have raised questions about the parks management plan. Activists have rallied for removing the fence on the Tomales Point herd, and in June 2023 the National Parks Service released a statement with a proposal to remove the fence to address drought concerns, although an official decision will not come until 2024.