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.
Camping on the beaches on the westside of Tomales Bay north of Tomales Bay State Park's northern boundary, if you have obtained a boat-in camping permit from the Bear Valley Visitor Center. Even if you aren't camping, feel free to download our Tomales Bay Boat-in Camping Map (1,798 KB PDF), which shows the locations of some launch sites, beaches, and other useful landmarks to help you navigate around the bay.
Please note: 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.
Drakes Estero and Estero de Limantour
Kayaking and canoeing are also permitted on Drakes Estero and Estero de Limantour 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 Estero de Limantour to boating.
Since Drakes Estero and Estero de Limantour are designated as Wilderness, motorized watercraft are prohibited year-round.
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.
Marine Protected Areas
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.:
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.
There are six locations at which kayaks or other watercraft may be launched onto Tomales Bay:
Day-use Only, No Overnight Parking:
Tomales Bay State Park provides two sites at which one may launch kayaks onto Tomales Bay: Millerton Point and Hearts Desire Beach. No overnight use or beach fires. Contact Tomales Bay State Park for more information at 415-669-1140.
Hearts Desire Beach
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.
Tomales Bay Resort
Cement boat ramp available. The inn and marina are located on the west side of the bay. It is off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) north of Inverness. There is a boat launch fee plus a parking fee. No dump station. Contact Tomales Bay Resort for more information at 415-669-1389
With Overnight Parking:
Chicken Ranch Beach
Chicken Ranch Beach is a three-acre natural area adjacent to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard 1.8 km (1.2 miles) north of Inverness. Nestled along the west shore of Tomales Bay, it is a popular kayak launch site. One must carry one's boat along a short trail and across sand (and maybe mud at low tide) 100 meters (110 yards) or more to the water's edge. No overnight camping or beach fires. Contact Marin County Parks for more information at 415-499-6387.
Miller Boat Launch
Miller Boat Launch is located on the east side of Tomales Bay along Highway 1 just north of Nick's Cove, which is ~6.5 km (~4 mi) north of the town of Marshall. This Marin County park has a public boat launch with a cement ramp into the water, in addition to a pier and restrooms. There is a day-use fee and overnight-use fee. Overnight parking is permitted in the upper lot, to the right/north as you pull in. No overnight camping or beach fires. Contact Marin County Parks for more information at 415-499-6387.
Lawson's Landing's campground and boat launch are located in Dillon Beach with direct access to the north end of Tomales Bay. The boat ramp is a sand bottomed ramp and Lawson's Landing uses a fork lift to move boats onto the water, or if you have 4 wheel drive they allow you to use it to put your boat into the water. There is a dump station and boat rentals. Restrooms and water available. There is a day-use fee and overnight parking requires purchasing a Lawson's Landing campsite. Contact Lawson's Landing for more information at 707-878-2443.
Day-use Only Areas
Certain areas allow only day use:
Drakes Estero and Estero de Limantour
The only marine Wilderness on the west coast of the continental United States, the esteros (Spanish for estuaries) offer relatively undisturbed habitat for harbor seals, bat rays, leopard sharks, and many species of birds and fish. Overnight use of Drakes Estero and Estero de Limantour is prohibited. A vault toilet is available at the kayak launch site at the south end of the Drakes Estero Access Road.
The island is in the northern section of Tomales Bay across from Whites Gulch on the west side and Nicks Cove on the east side. It is a critical wildlife habitat, a favorite haul-out for seals, and roosting place for brown pelicans. The island is open on the west side only for day use. Map of Hog Island closure (98 KB PDF).
Hearts Desire Beach
Orange floats are placed to mark the swimming area during the summer. Boaters may pull up on the southern edge of the beach to access the restrooms and drinking water. No overnight use or beach fires.
This beach is north of Hearts Desire Beach and has two redwood kotcas (traditional Coast Miwok sleeping shelters) on it. A pit toilet is available. No overnight use or beach fires.
Millerton Point is on the east side of Tomales Bay, five kilometers (3 miles) north of Point Reyes Station. A vault toilet is available.
Nestled along the west shore of Tomales Bay, Chicken Ranch Beach County Park is a three-acre natural area adjacent to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard 1.8 km (1.2 miles) north of Inverness. A portable toilet is available.
Additional Rules and Regulations
Launching, landing, or operating a remotely operated aircraft (aka "remotely piloted aircraft," "unmanned aircraft," or "drone") from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore is prohibited.
If you observe drone use in Point Reyes National Seashore, please call park dispatch at 415-464-5170 or contact staff at the nearest Visitor Center as soon as possible. If you observe drone use in other National Park Service areas or if you find photographs or videos online or elsewhere that were illegally taken within National Park Service areas from drones, you can report the violation to the National Park Service tip line at 888-653-0009 or by email.
Possession of a glass container within fifteen meters (fifty feet) of any riverbank, lakeshore, or beach, or on the water, or in a vessel is prohibited. This restriction is necessary to reduce the amount of injurious trash in the park and for the protection of visitors who frequent these areas in bare feet.
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.
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, Drinking, and Cleaning
Microscopic, single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates produce and emit light through a chemical reaction process. When these organisms are moved by waves or by the paddle of a kayak or canoe, the light becomes visible, especially on dark nights. Learn more about dinoflagellates and bioluminescence.
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.
Last updated: August 26, 2020