A Guide to Low Impact Boat Camping

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

Learn about the area and what to expect. Check local tide tables and maps. Bring adequate liquids and food. Check all equipment so that it is in good condition before you get on the water. Carry extra dry clothing. Know some first aid such as the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, sunstroke, heat exhaustion, etc. Check at park visitor centers and/or via the park web site for current weather forecasts and wildlife sightings. PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICES MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES. Personal water craft (PWC) such as a JetSkis or Waverunners are not permitted on Tomales Bay.

Use outhouses where provided (Hearts Desire Beach, Indian Beach, Marshall Beach, and Tomales Beach). On other beaches, pack out all human waste.

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.

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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Stoves are the preferred means for cooking. If you wish to build a fire, obtain a free fire permit at national park visitor centers. The collection of driftwood for fires is prohibited on Tomales Bay. You may bring pine, or almond wood for your campfire. Please do not bring oak, madrone, or tanoak unless it has been certified to be free of the organism that causes sudden oak death. Build the fire below the high tide line and not near any large driftwood logs or under overhanging limbs. Plastic and aluminum foil do not burn, so please do not leave them in your fire pit. No fires are permitted on state park beaches. For more information, check out our Beach Fires page.

Pack out all trash, food scraps, packaging. Food scraps tempt wildlife into camping areas and may endanger them and you.

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, all soaps can adversely affect water. Use biodegradable soap when possible. Do not return wash water to the bay; dispose of all dirty water 30 meters (100 feet) at least from the source.

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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 us. Disturbing wildlife when they are resting or feeding may be life threatening to them.

On the water or beach, follow Marine Mammal Protection Act regulations: stay away 100 meters (300 feet) 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 single pups 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 and South Blue Gum Beach. Pelican Point, Duck Island and the east side of Hog Island are closed to the public year round.
Map of Estero closures (258 KB PDF)
Map of Tomales Bay closures (209 KB PDF)
Map of Hog Island closure (42 KB PDF)

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.

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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 late August 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 beach at the north end or south end 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)

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.

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

Water temperatures in Tomales Bay may be as low as 10°C (50°F). Symptoms include uncontrollable fits of shivering, slurred speech, frequent stumbling. Cold water can be more dangerous than cold air since body temperature can be drained away much more quickly. Wear a wet suit.

There were two white shark attacks at the mouth of Tomales Bay in 1996. In general, white sharks may be found near seal resting areas. The most likely place for a shark encounter in Tomales Bay is the area north of Tom's Point.

Weather can change rapidly at Point Reyes. Tomales Bay can act as a wind tunnel. Be aware of afternoon wind forecasts. Weather radio stations give the most useful information for boaters.

The change between high and low tide can create strong currents, especially at the mouth of Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero. Check the tide charts. Low tides also expose mudflats at the south end of Tomales Bay and you may become stuck at Millerton Point or White House Pool access points.

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Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956


(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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