Point Reyes National Seashore

Looking back at the Point Reyes headlands from the Chimney Rock trail in winter. Elephant seals lie in the sand at the bottom of the cliffs.

Point Reyes National Seashore is a United States National Seashore that is one of the Bay Area's overlooked treasures. Located at the westernmost tip of Marin County, it is a reasonable day trip from San Francisco, but also worth visiting as a destination on its own.



Aside from its natural beauty, Point Reyes is of some historical significance, as it is believed to be here that England's Sir Francis Drake came ashore during the summer of 1579, in order to careen his ship and repair its hull, during his circumnavigation of the globe. The ship's chaplain complained in his log of "the stinking fogges", so nothing much has changed.

The Point Reyes National Seashore was established by President John F. Kennedy on September 13, 1962.


Point Reyes lies at the tip of a narrow peninsula which sticks out some 15 miles into the Pacific Ocean. The point itself is significantly higher than the peninsula connecting it to the mainland and gives spectacular views, especially from the lighthouse at its highest point. But be prepared for it to be either very windy or foggy.

Flora and fauna

Native land mammals number about 37 species and marine mammals augment this total by another dozen species. The biological diversity stems from a favorable location in the middle of California and the natural occurrence of many distinct habitats. Nearly 20% of the State's flowering plant species are represented on the peninsula and over 45% of the bird species in North America have been sighted.


Point Reyes Peninsula's climate is characterized by warm, dry summers and cool, rainy winters, similar to the type of climate that prevails on the Mediterranean. Usually, there are constant winds of moderate to strong velocity on the exposed headlands and outer beaches. Headlands and beaches on the Pacific Coast are subjected to frequent heavy fogs, most commonly during July, August and September. Sunshine and higher temperatures occur inland. The east side of Inverness Ridge and the beaches of Tomales Bay are sheltered from the summit of the ridge westward to the ocean, leaving sunny areas for picnicking and swimming. Inland temperatures in the summer are often 20 degrees warmer than temperatures on the Headlands and outer coast. The rainy season is December through March. Dressing in layered clothing is recommended.

Get in

Point Reyes area map

By car

From Highway 101, take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard west through Fairfax and western Marin county to Highway 1. Turn right, and take the first left (almost immediately). The next left is the entrance to the seashore.

It's also possible to get to the park from Highway 1, north from Stinson Beach or south from Sonoma County.

By bus


There are no entrance fees charged to visit Point Reyes. Permits are required for backcountry camping and for all fires. Overnight parking without a backcountry permit is not allowed.

Get around

The park is open daily (with overnight camping available by permit only) from sunrise to sunset throughout the year. Although some of the park's best attractions are accessible by car, the best way to get around in Point Reyes is by hiking. The park is crisscrossed with excellent and well-maintained hiking paths.

There are limited bike paths from the Bear Valley entrance, and of course bikes can be used on the park's roads, but single-track mountain biking isn't allowed on most trails.



A female tule elk at Tomales Point


There are over 147 miles of hiking trails located within the park. The park provides an official list of trails.


The most popular area for kayaking at Point Reyes National Seashore is on Tomales Bay. Tomales Bay is a 15-mile long, 6780-acre tidal water body located in rural west Marin County, California. It is the largest unspoiled coastal embayment on the coast of California. The bay is bounded largely on the west by the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Kayaking is also permitted on Drakes Estero and Limantour Estero from July 1 through February 28. To protect harbor seals from disturbance during the most crucial part of the pupping season, from March 1 through June 30 the National Park Service closes Drakes Estero and Limantour Estero to boating.

Guided kayak trips and rentals are available from local outfitters:

Wildlife Viewing

Gray whales can be seen during their migrations between Mexico and Alaska. The whales often swim close to shore, and can frequently be viewed from the Lighthouse. The best time of year to see the whales is from January through May, with whales being most frequently seen from the Lighthouse area in mid-January and mid-March. Gray whales swim about 5 mph, 24 hours a day with a 4 to 7 week layover (late January through early March) in Baja California. The last to leave Baja are the cows and calves. Therefore, they are the last northbound whales to be seen, April through early May.

Extinct in the park for 150 years, northern elephant seals began re-colonizing Point Reyes in the 1970s, and the population has been growing at the astounding rate of 16% annually. From December through March a breeding colony of elephant seals can be observed from Elephant Seal Overlook near Chimney Rock. The males arrive in December, and pregnant females arrive soon after to give birth to a single pup. Subadult and juvenile animals arrive later, and the colony can number close to one hundred animals. Be aware that elephant seals can weigh up to 5,000 pounds and can be very dangerous; they should not be approached closer than 100 yards.

Tule elk are most often seen at the Tule Elk Preserve at Tomales Point. A large harbor seal rookery can be found at Drakes Estero as well as near the Lighthouse. Sea Lions are most commonly seen at Sea Lion Overlook or near the lighthouse.


The visitor centers offer books of local interest, postcards, and other souvenir items for sale.


At Drakes Beach (approximately 45 minutes drive from the Bear Valley Visitor Center) there is a wonderful albeit rustic cafe that focuses on local food. The restaurant changed management in November, and is being run by local couple Jane Kennedy and Ben Angulo. Kennedy and Angulo have committed to selling local and organic foods, and often list the actual percentage of ingredients that are local right on a menu item. Hamburgers made with beef from Lunny Farm being raised by the owner of Drake's Bay Oysters a mere mile or so from the Cafe, stinging nettles from Star Route Farms in nearby Bolinas, Straus organic milk products, and bread from local favorite Brickmaiden bakery.



The youth hostel is the only lodging in the park, but nearby towns offer a variety of additional options.


There are no organized campgrounds within the park, although backcountry camping is allowed by permit. The organized campgrounds are located at Olema Ranch Campground (415) 663-8001 and Samuel P. Taylor State Park (800) 444-7275.


Point Reyes offers backpackers four hike-in campgrounds from which to choose. Boat-in camping is allowed on national seashore beaches on the west side of Tomales Bay, beginning north of Indian Beach in Tomales Bay State Park. There is no car camping at Point Reyes National Seashore. Dogs are not allowed on any trails or in the designated campgrounds.

Stay safe

Possibly the most dangerous hazard in the park, a sneaker wave is an unexpectedly large wave that is higher, stronger and reaching farther up the beach to levels far beyond where the normal waves reach. There have been several incidents of visitors to Point Reyes being caught by sneaker waves and drowned. Sneaker waves also have the ability to toss around large driftwood logs that may fall on a person, injuring or even killing them. Sneaker waves can occur at any time, day or night, during incoming and outgoing tides, during storms and during sunny calm weather; they are often preceded by a sudden lowering of the water level.

An additional danger comes from rip currents, which are channeled currents of water flowing away from shore that can easily drag strong swimmers out to sea. If you are caught in a rip current, remain calm and swim along the shoreline in order to escape the outgoing current. Once out of the current, swim towards shore.

Another park danger is from hypothermia. The coastal water temperatures at Point Reyes rarely exceed 50°F, and prolonged exposure to these temperatures can result in hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) or death. Do not stay in the water for more than a few minutes unless you are wearing a wetsuit. Do not wait until you start to shiver or for your lips to turn blue before you get out of the water; if you start to shiver, you are already suffering from mild hypothermia.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, November 20, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.