A Guide to Low Impact Boat Camping

IN EMERGENCY:
Contact US Coast Guard Station Bodega Bay on VHF CHANNEL 16 or PHONE 911 (Marin County Dispatch).

Visit our Your Safety While Boating page for information on preparing for and remaining safe while boating in the Point Reyes area.

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.

Many individuals attempting to reserve permits for Tomales Bay online have frequently found the reservation process confusing. If you wish to make a reservation for a boat-in permit for Tomales Bay, download and review our How To Guide: Boat-in Camping Reservations at Point Reyes National Seashore. (560 KB PDF)

Campers on Tomales Bay beaches must arrive by boat, kayak, canoe, or other watercraft (except for PWCs), 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.

Leave No Trace

With increasing visitor use, both day and overnight, it is important to minimize our impacts and Leave No Trace of our visits to wilderness, parks, and other special places. Trips that include awareness and the use of minimum impact practices conserve natural conditions of the outdoors which make the adventure enjoyable and allow others the same experience. Your backcountry permit is a signed contract between you and the National Park Service. It's an agreement to treat these public lands with respect by practicing Leave No Trace (LNT) techniques. Keep in mind that Leave No Trace camping goes beyond following the rules; it requires thoughtful judgement for each situation that comes up.

Sanitation

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.

NEVER pump boat holding tanks into the bay or outhouses. Lawson's Landing at Dillon Beach (707-878-2443) is the closest place to pump out your tanks. (You cannot pump from the water but if you pull your boat out at this launch site, there is a dump station). A dump station is also available at Olema Campground (415-663-8106) along Highway 1 at Olema.

On the Water

Move gently through the water so that you do not disturb wildlife. For safety, paddle in groups if possible. Ensure that you are close enough to reach fellow paddlers quickly if trouble arises. Paddle close to shore or, if an open-water crossing is necessary, choose the most direct route. Always wear your personal flotation device.

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Where to Launch

There are four locations (listed in the order in which one would encounter them moving counter-clockwise around the bay from Tomales Point to Dillon Beach) at which watercraft may be launched onto Tomales Bay and overnight parking is permitted:

CHICKEN RANCH BEACH - 415-499-6387
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.

TOMALES BAY RESORT - 415-669-1389
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, and if you pay the launch fee, you may leave your car overnight. No dump station.

MARIN COUNTY PARKS' MILLER BOAT LAUNCH - 415-499-6387
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.

LAWSON'S LANDING - 707-878-2443
The 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 and overnight fee charged.

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Where to Camp

Some of the Tomales Bay beaches that are open for overnight camping to those who have a current and valid permit are (listed from south to north):

  • Kilkenny Beach
  • Long Cove Beach
  • Fruit Tree Beach
  • Marshall Beach - On the west side of Tomales Bay across from the town of Marshall. Vault toilets are available.
  • No Name Beach
  • Tomales Beach - Look for the vault toilets.
  • Elk Fence South Beach
  • Elk Fence North Beach
  • Pelican North Beach
  • Wall Beach
  • White Gulch Beach
  • Pita Beach
  • Jacks Beach
  • Blue Gum Beach - Tides and currents in this area can be very strong.
  • Avalis Beach - Tides and currents in this area can be very strong.
  • Duck Beach - Tides and currents in this area can be very strong.

Map of Tomales Bay Boat-in Campsites (249 KB PDF)

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Water for Cooking and Drinking

Carry water with you, 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) at least from any source source of water.

Food and Food Storage

Raccoons, coyotes, and other animals can be very aggressive and will tear into backpacks, duffle bags, dry bags, tents, and kayaks to get at food and other scented items. Therefore, all food, all trash, all toiletries, and all other scented items should be stored in portable animal-resistant food storage containers unless in immediate use. This includes, but is not limited to, all sealed or packaged food, sunscreen, soap, mosquito repellent, toothpaste, lip balm, deodorant, first aid kits, medications, and feminine products. As a general rule, if you put it in your mouth or on your skin, it should probably be stored in an animal-resistant food storage container.

The container only works if it's closed and locked! Be sure to keep it closed and locked, even while you're around your campsite. Place the container on the ground in a flat, level area or in a depression in the sand to make it more difficult for animals to roll it away. Do not hang or attach anything to the container—ropes attached to the container may enable an animal to carry it away.

Garbage

Store garbage in a portable animal-resistant container, such as your food storage containers. Pack out all trash, food scraps, and packaging. Food scraps tempt wildlife into camping areas and may endanger them and you.

Glass Bottles and Glass Containers

Please leave glass containers at home or in your vehicles. Broken glass from bottles or other containers pose a hazard to visitors who walk barefoot on the beaches of Tomales Bay or who go swimming.

Fires

Gas camp stoves are the preferred means for cooking.

  • If you wish to build a fire, obtain a free fire permit at one of the National Seashore's visitor centers.
  • The collection of driftwood for fires is prohibited on Tomales Bay. You must bring firewood from outside of the park, but wait until you are in West Marin before purchasing firewood. Don't Move Firewood: Buy it where you burn it. Please do not bring oak, madrone, tanoak, or other species that are susceptible to Phytophthora ramorum unless the wood has been certified to be free of this organism that causes sudden oak death.
  • Build the fire below the high tide line and not near any large driftwood logs or vegetation nor under overhanging tree limbs. If all campers builds their fires below the high tide line, there will be a lot more clean, non-ashy beach above the high tide line on which to set up tents and other camping gear. If you have one, bring and use a fire pan and dispose of the ash into the bay, not on the beach or in the vegetation.
  • Plastic and aluminum foil do not burn, so please do not put them in your fire.
  • Completely extinguish the fire using water before leaving it unattended.
  • Fires are prohibited on state park beaches.

For more detailed information and instructions, check out our Beach Fires page.

Drones

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.

Pets

Pets are not allowed on beaches within the Tule Elk Reserve or on state park beaches on the west side of Tomales Bay. Pets on leash are permitted within the National Seashore on Tomales Bay beaches south of the elk fence and north of the Tomales Bay State Park boundary.
Map showing locations where pets are permitted along Tomales Bay (263 KB PDF)

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WILDLIFE

One of the joys of Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero is the frequent sightings of harbor seals, tule elk, and the many birds, but please respect the needs of wild animals and birds. Wildlife are sensitive to our presence and may change their behavior just by seeing humans. Disturbing wildlife when they are resting or feeding may be life threatening to them.

Harbor Seals
On the water or beach, follow Marine Mammal Protection Act regulations: stay 91 meters (300 feet) away from whales, seals, and sea lions. Harbor seals are most sensitive during their pupping season, which is approximately March 1 through June 30, and as they molt in July and August. You may see apparently abandoned pups (e.g., baby seals), but do not disturb them. Usually, a parent is feeding nearby and has only left the pup for a brief period. The parent may abandon the pup if they sense humans nearby. If you are concerned about a marine mammal, contact the park dispatch office at 415-464-5170 or park visitor centers and leave a message about the location and condition of the animal.

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 has closed the following areas to the public: Drakes Estero, Limantour Estero, Double Point, and the western most end of Limantour Spit.
Map of Estero closures (258 KB PDF)
Map of Limantour Spit closure (104 KB PDF)

Birds
Pelican Point, Duck Island and the east side of Hog Island are closed to the public year round. During summer and fall, brown pelicans—which, up until 2009, was a federally listed endangered species—roost on islands and floats in the bay. Many other seabirds make their home on the bay as well. Keep at least 30 meters (100 feet) away. Visit the Seabird Protection Network website for tips on how to help protect nesting birds.
Map of Hog Island closure (42 KB PDF)

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Tule Elk
Tule elk generally do not come down onto the Tomales Bay beaches, but they may be seen from the water. Always keep your distance. If you encounter an elk, do not come between a cow and a calf, a bull and a group of cows, or between two bulls challenging each other. The rut season—when males are jockeying for position and attempting to gather females for breeding—occurs from July through September. The elk are most active during that period.

Park biologists have noted elk calving and nursing in areas near Avalis Beach and White Gulch. To reduce the chance of disturbing the elk, stay on beaches and do not climb up onto the ridge. And if you plan to land at Avalis Beach, camp or use the extreme northern or southern ends of the beach.
Map of Sensitive Elk Habitat at Avalis Beach (41 KB JPG)
Map of Sensitive Elk Habitat at White Gulch (52 KB JPG)

Marine Protected Areas

On May 1, 2010, a number of Marine Protected Areas went into effect within and adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore, in part to better protect nesting birds. Per the Marine Life Protection Act (MPLA), the Point Reyes Headlands is closed to all vessels within 305 meters (1000 feet) of shore from Chimney Rock west to Longitude 123° 01.00'. Per the Superintendent's Compendium, from Longitude 123° 01.00' west to the Point Reyes Lighthouse the headlands is closed to all vessels within 91 meters (100 yards) of shore. There are also 91-meter (300-foot) special closures around Point Resistance and Double Point/Stormy Stack, per the MLPA.

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Last updated: July 6, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Phone:

(415) 464-5100
This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (i.e., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; weather forecast; fire danger information; shuttle bus system status; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.

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