SAFETY FIRST: Always check the weather and marine forecasts before kayaking, canoeing, boating, etc. Visit our Your Safety While Boating page for information on preparing for and remaining safe while boating in the Point Reyes area.
Kayaking Around Point Reyes National Seashore
The most popular area for kayaking at Point Reyes National Seashore is on Tomales Bay. Tomales Bay is a 24-kilometer (15-mile) long, 2645-hectare (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 largely bounded on the west by Point Reyes National Seashore. Adjacent communities include Point Reyes Station at the head of the bay, Inverness on the west, Marshall on the east, and Dillon Beach at the mouth of Tomales Bay. Pelican Point, Duck Island, and the east side of Hog Island are closed to the public year round to better protect nesting and roosting birds.
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.
Another area within Point Reyes National Seashore that is sometimes used by kayakers is the open coast. Ocean kayaking is potentially very dangerous. It requires additional skills, experience, and equipment, and is not recommended for most kayakers. The most frequently used section of the coast by kayakers is in Drakes Bay from Chimney Rock to Limantour Beach. Other sections of the coast are kayaked, but they are not as sheltered from the prevailing wind and ocean swell, and are therefore much more dangerous. Per the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), the waters within 305 meters (1000 feet) of shore along the Point Reyes Headlands is closed to all vessels from Chimney Rock west to Longitude 123° 01.00'. Per the Superintendent's Compendium, the waters within 91 meters (100 yards) of shore are closed to all vessels from Longitude 123° 01.00' west to the western end of the headlands below the Point Reyes Lighthouse. There are also 91-meter (300-foot) special closures around Point Resistance and Double Point/Stormy Stack, per the MLPA. Other temporary or seasonal closures may be in effect at different times due to breeding populations of marine mammals, shorebirds, or seabirds. Please check in at the Bear Valley Visitor Center prior to a trip in order to get updated information on closures or conditions.
Recreational use of Tomales Bay has grown in recent years, especially for camping, boating, and wildlife watching. The National Park Service at Point Reyes is concerned about the effects of the growth in recreational use. The Seashore faces the challenge of not only preserving the pristine shorelines of Tomales Bay and assisting in protecting clean water, but also providing recreational opportunities for the public. Visitor use of national parklands must always be weighed against the responsibility to maintain natural and cultural resources for succeeding generations. As such, it is important to minimize our impacts and Leave No Trace of our visits to Tomales Bay and Point Reyes National Seashore. While fishing and the collection of berries and mushrooms is permitted, the collection or take of anything else is prohibited. Take only pictures; leave only footprints. Please read A Guide to Low-Impact Boat Camping if you intend to participate in kayaking in and around Point Reyes National Seashore, even if you aren't camping. Please follow all park regulations. Please note that personal water craft (PWC)—often referred to by the trademarked brand names Jet Ski™, WaveRunner™, or Sea-Doo™—are prohibited on Tomales Bay.
If you plan to have a beach fire on national seashore beaches, stop by a national park visitor center for a free required permit. Beach fires are prohibited on state park beaches. Wood gathering is prohibited. Please wait until you are in West Marin before purchasing fire wood. Don't Move Firewood: Buy it where you burn it. Read the content about Fires on A Guide to Low-Impact Boat Camping for more information.
Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft, such as drones, from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore is prohibited.
Disposing of human waste in the bay or onto park beaches is prohibited. On Tomales Bay, there are vault toilets at Marshall Beach and Tomales Beach. If camping on other beaches, you are required to pack out all human waste using a portable toilet or similar commercially designed waste disposal containers that can be emptied into an RV dump station or pit toilet, or a GO anywhere toilet kit® (formerly sold as WAG® Bags). While there are restrooms at Hearts Desire Beach, Lawsons Landing, and Miller Boat Launch, a pit toilet at Indian Beach, and portable toilets at Chicken Ranch Beach, camping is prohibited at all of these locations.
Water for Cooking and Drinking
Potable water is not provided at any of the beaches along Tomales Bay within the National Seashore. Bring your own fresh water for cooking and drinking, as there are few water sources emptying into the bay on the west side. Boil, treat, or filter any water obtained from the park. If you wash dishes, be aware that all soaps can adversely affect water. Use biodegradable soap when possible. Do not dump wash/graywater in the bay; dispose of all dirty water 30 meters (100 feet) or more from any source source of water.
There is a fee and permit system for overnight camping within Point Reyes National Seashore, including camping on the beaches on the westside of Tomales Bay north of Tomales Bay State Park's northern boundary. Overnight beach camping is not permitted anywhere else on Tomales Bay or elsewhere within Point Reyes National Seashore. Reservations may be made online at Recreation.gov. Reservations may also be made by phone by calling toll free 877-444-6777 (TDD: 877-833-6777). Contact the National Seashore's camping desk at 415-464-5100 x2 x5 if you have any specific questions about overnight camping on Tomales Bay.
Campers on Tomales Bay beaches must arrive by boat and may not hike, bike, or ride horses to the beaches. Overnight parking for boat-in campers is prohibited within Point Reyes National Seashore (i.e., along the Pierce Point and L Ranch Roads and at the Marshall Beach Trailhead) and Tomales Bay State Park.
Read A Guide to Low-Impact Boat Camping for more information about camping on the beaches of Tomales Bay and obtaining a permit to do so.
NPSWilderness has produced three videos entitled Wilderness Calling: Point Reyes, Wilderness Motion: Point Reyes, and Wilderness Visions: Point Reyes featuring images and sounds from the Phillip Burton Wilderness within Point Reyes National Seashore, in addition to two videos about NPS wilderness: America's Wilderness and Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics which kayakers and other visitors to Point Reyes may find of interest.
Day Use Only Areas
Certain areas allow only day use:
DRAKES ESTERO AND ESTERO DE LIMANTOUR
HEARTS DESIRE BEACH
CHICKEN RANCH BEACH
There are six locations at which kayaks or other watercraft may be launched onto Tomales Bay:
With Overnight Parking:
CHICKEN RANCH BEACH - 415-499-6387
TOMALES BAY RESORT - 415-669-1389
MARIN COUNTY PARKS' MILLER BOAT LAUNCH - 415-499-6387
LAWSON'S LANDING - 707-878-2443
Day Use Only, No Overnight Parking:
TOMALES BAY STATE PARK - 415-669-1140
Hearts Desire Beach is on the west side of Tomales Bay off Pierce Point Road. It is a day-use area (no overnight parking) and there is a day-use fee. You must carry your boat approximately 100 meters (110 yards) across a sandy beach. Water and restrooms are available at the beach. Orange floats are placed in the water in summer to indicate the swimming area. Boaters may land to the south of the orange floats. Motorized vessels are prohibited within 30 meters (100 feet) of the swim area markers.
Millerton Point is on the east side of Tomales Bay, five kilometers (3 miles) north of Point Reyes Station. A vault toilet is available. One must carry one's boat along a short trail approximately 100 meters (110 yards) to the water. It is very shallow and is best used at high tides.
For a list of Kayaking Outfitters in the Point Reyes area, check our Outfitters and Tours page.
Disclaimer: The National Park Service provides the names, links, and phone numbers of area businesses as a visitor convenience. Inclusion on this list is not an endorsement.
Last updated: August 27, 2017