Visit the Morgan Horse Ranch at Point Reyes
One of our favorite places to visit in Point Reyes National Seashore is the Bear Valley Visitor Center near Olema. It's a popular family destination for a number of reasons: the visitor center with its dioramas and nature exhibits, short trails that are perfect for a hike with small children, an huge picnic area with tables and barbecue grills, and a working Morgan horse ranch.
We always make a point of hiking up to the Point Reyes Morgan Horse Ranch on our outings to the area. Combined with another short trail like the Earthquake Trail or the one to the Kule Loklo Miwok village, it makes for a managable hike with little kids. Of course there's something to do and see at the end of the trail, too, which is a plus.
The Morgan Horse Ranch is run by the National Park Service, and rangers use the horses at parks all of the country to patrol the back country and wilderness areas. Morgan horses are considered the first American breed of horse, and are prized for their sturdy nature and calm temperament. Famous Morgan horses in American history include Union cavalry commander Philip Sheridan's Rienzi and Comanche, the sole survivor of George Armstrong Custer's command at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
To get there, head west from the visitor center out past the parking lot. The aptly named Morgan Trail leads up a small hill to the ranch. At half a mile, it's a easy walk for almost anyone, and there are accessible handicapped parking spaces up near the ranch if needed. At the ranch, there are exhibits of old farm equipment, the history of Morgan horses, and of equestrian gear. Several of the buildings are open to the public, and of course you can visit the horses, who live in paddock just past the barn. The Morgan Horse Ranch recently celebrated its 51st anniversary (the 50th anniversary took place last summer while things were closed due to COVID).
There are always several horses hanging around. They're friendly and will usually come over to say hello, but make sure you mind the signs that say "Do not feed — horses may bite." if you're lucky, you'll run into a park volunteer who'll let you meet her horse and pet it, which is always exciting for the kids.
After you're finished at the horse ranch you can continue on the short Woodpecker Trail (a mile or so round-trip) to see some nature or head back down the hill to the parking lot. Restroom facilities and drinking water are located down the hill, too. It's definitely worth the trip—and even repeat visits, so make sure to check it out when you're in the area.
If You Go
The Morgan Horse Ranch and the Bear Valley Visitor Center are located off of Bear Valley Road near Olema. From Point Reyes Station, head south on Highway 1 and then turn right after the bridge onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Take your next left onto Bear Valley Road and follow it until you get to the visitor center. The road and trail to the Morgan Horse Ranch ares located on the far end of the parking lot past the visitor center building. From the south, via Sir Francis Drake Boulevard or Highway 1, go north on 1 and turn left on Bear Valley Road just north of Olema. Follow Bear Valley Road to the visitor center.
The Morgan Horse Ranch is open daily and ranch staff or volunteers are usually on hand from 9 am to 4 pm.
At any time of year in West Marin, the weather can change drastically in a short time. Dress in layers: a sweater or fleece jacket is ideal along with a shell or windbreaker that you can stash in your backpack just in case. Drinking water is available at the visitor center and the adjacent picnic area, so you can fill your water bottles if you need to. Obviously take the usual necessities like sunscreen and hats, and bring your lunch if you plan to picnic.
There's not food available at the visitor center, but you can pick up good deli sandwiches and snacks at the Palace Market or Tomales Bay Foods in Point Reyes Station or at the Inverness Park Market or the Inverness Store. Restrooms are available at the visitor center and picnic area.
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