Bear Valley is a small valley at the very end of Tomales Bay. It’s home to the town of Olema and the Bear Valley Visitor Center and you’ll drive through it on your way to the rest of the park.
The location which will work best for photos on any given day seems to be largely dependent on the fog. The meadows around the visitor center and Olema can be beautiful in the early morning, filled with low ground fog or even frost in the winter. If there’s a heavy layer of fog, though, you might be better off driving up Mt. Vision and trying to get above the fog before sunrise.
On hazy afternoons, the valley can be quite pretty when seen looking west from highway 1. Conversely, the hills around the visitor center and Limantour road can catch some dramatic lighting if heavy fog banks are rolling in during the late afternoon.
A word of warning about the fog: the light changes quickly when the fog is blowing in. Driving along Limantour road one evening, I looked up and saw the rich orange light bathing a small herd of cows grazing on a grassy hill. Behind the cows, thick fog banks were stacked up, providing a dark, contrasty backdrop. I quickly turned the car around and stopped, but by the time I had run up the hill on the other side of the road, the fog had blocked the sun, and the color was gone. Lesson learned? If the fog is coming in, you have to work fast!
Bear Valley Fog
This was early in the morning (before sunrise) on the road between Olema and the Visitor Center. There was heavy marine fog on the hills east of Olema, while the valley had whispy ground fog. The light was pretty low, so I used a tripod in the middle of (empty) road.
Bear Valley Haze
This shot was taken from Highway 1, just north of Olema. There was a lot of moisture in the air, and as the late-afternoon sun lit it all up. When the haze is like this, it accents the depth of the ridges.
I had to shade the camera lens to keep the low sun from causing lens flare.
After a winter backpacking trip, I got up to hike out early Monday morning before going to work. We were staying at Sky Camp and I had parked by the Visitor Center, so I hiked down Mt. Wittenberg and out. The temperatures up in camp were decent, but cold air had pooled in the valley. All the grass was covered in frost. I set up the tripod and got this shot before driving to work