Rutting season is on! Fall at Tomales Point is a great time to see bull elk sparring and hear the crazy sound of them bugling. The hubs and I decided we needed an easier hike after the strenuous Pole Mountain hike the previous weekend so we headed out to the coast to watch the Tule elk during rutting season. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t weirdos to be excited to watch this. It is a very interesting time in the animal kingdom!
The Tule elk were almost gone in the late 1800s and have been brought back to Tomales Point and Point Reyes to become one of the largest herds in California, per the National Park Service. So, watching them build their harems and see the sparring is more interesting than weird. Have you heard their bugle? It’s crazy and I am guessing distinct. So distinct that even the male knows his female’s call and goes running to her aid. We’ll get to that.
We reached Pierce Point Ranch early enough to get a front-row spot and some good lighting. It takes a while to get out to Tomales Point as the road is bumpy and winds around through ranches, please take this into account when making your plans to visit. Also, make sure and pee before driving on this road to avoid any anxiety of accidents! 🙂 This was the first time we were at Pierce Point Ranch with no one around so we took advantage and snapped several photos while we walked around all of the historic structures. So great they are still standing and are preserved so nicely!
The first part of your 9.5 mile hike is protected from the wind. You’ll be tempted to remove a layer or 2 but keep them handy because once you turn the corner the ocean breeze sort of smacks you in the face. If you go on a calm day to Tomales Point you might be able to see whales if it is during migration! The day we went out it was breezy with whitecaps but clear for days!! It was a great trade-off. We saw a Tule elk here and there, some deer, and signs of a coyote while we ventured out on the trail. Not many people were there at 9 am which allowed us to take our time on the narrow trail and check everything out.
After the first wide turn in the trail and after the gorgeous views of the cliffs alongside Tomales Point the trail drops down into a canyon. Make sure and look to your right! There’s usually a herd here that hangs out in the wind-sheltered canyon. This is also where you will find a docent when they are out volunteering. The Tomales Point docents have telescopes, antlers, and other visual aids with them while they answer ALL of your questions!
When you are done asking all your questions, head on up the hill and keep your eye out for more Tule elk. This climb doesn’t last too long before you find yourself walking down a gentle slope to the watering hole. The Tule elk like to hang out here. The watering hole is about 3 miles out from the start of the trailhead on Tomales Point. It’s so exciting when you get to this spot. You can see a ton of Tule elk depending on the season. Careful not to trip while you try and speed walk down a dirt path while gaping at the site of 20 Tule elk! This is my favorite part of the hike. You can see the rest of Tomales Point where it almost touches Bodega Head and beyond the Tule elk, you see Dillon Beach. It truly is an amazing spot to just stop and be. Oh and to slow down so you don’t fall down the path…not that I would ever fall down it.
The hubs and I walked up and down the trail next to the watering hole just watching all the male Tule elk. There was one bull that had built his harem already and a few of the other bulls were wanting to check the ladies out. Every time one came close the big daddy would just walk toward the approaching male and the curious one would back down. We watched for a while as the male Tule elk walked around eating and staring each other down. A couple of the younger bulls would try out their smaller racks and practice sparring. It was like watching a teen learn how to drive! 🙂
Several of the Tule elk ladies decided to get up and walk toward the watering hole where all the other men were hanging out. One particularly cocky male decided to sniff a couple of booties and was quickly warned by the big daddy male that he was not welcome. After this, the big daddy bull decided to escort some of his harem to the watering hole. They waded into the water and drank that way. The ducks didn’t mind sharing the watering hole with the Tule elk.
While the big daddy bull was distracted, one of the other bulls got a little too sniffy with one of the females and she cried out as she ran. The big daddy one ran down to save her with his big rack on his head ready for a fight. The other bull backed down, as anyone would with that running toward them, so there was no sparring. This event did cause the other Tule elk to be on alert so they were all wandering around trying to stay out of each other’s way. Then two of them started sparring. The sound of their antlers while locked is like nails on a chalkboard! Yikes!
After they settled down, the rest of them settled and began to just chew the cud. The entire scene looked like something you would see at any bar. All the lonely guys hanging out at the watering hole looking for a mate and fighting over them. The hubs and I had a running commentary on all of them. Good thing no one was near us to hear it! We were being silly cracking ourselves up.
Since we weren’t missing any action, the hubs and I decided to keep going to the end of Tomales Point. We dipped down into a small cypress grove with a view of Dillon Beach before we headed up the sandy hill. It wasn’t easy to climb as it was just like a sand dune out at the end of the point. We reached the top with our shoes half full of sand and walked a bit. The wind was picking up so we opted to stop halfway down the other side of the sandy hill and just take in the views of Tomales Point reaching out to touch Bodega Head and over to Dillon Beach. It is such a gorgeous spot. You feel so remote until you see civilization not too far away!
There is a spot at the bottom of the sandy hill on your way back with a trail marker that works great to use to balance while dumping all the sand out of your shoes. When we reached the Tule elk again they were all relaxing and curled up like our dogs just with big antlers sticking out. Some were using their antlers to scratch their own backs. These things could come in handy!
More and more people started showing up so we decided to hike back before the crowds really started forming. This is an out and back trail so if you don’t want to go all the way to the end of Tomales Point you can turn around at any time. When we reached the parking lot it was overflowing with new explorers wanting to see the Tule elk during rutting season. Some lucky person got our front row parking! Any time of year out on Tomales Point is great! I would highly suggest the rutting season and late spring when the wildflowers are in bloom. Have you been out there? Do you have a favorite season? Leave your comments below!
Free parking. Pit toilet at the McClures Beach parking lot down below. 9.5 miles out and back with very little elevation gain/loss, moderate level hike. No dogs. No water. Can get busy so get there before noon for a decent parking spot. No shade and not many places to hide and pee on the trail.
Map My Walk Stats (no laughing! We enjoy the hikes, we don’t speed hike)