Please note: The shuttle bus system has been cancelled for winter 2018–2019. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Chimney Rock Road are open to privately owned vehicles from 6 am to midnight, seven days a week.
Tentatively scheduled from
$7 Shuttle Bus Tickets are Available
Winter is an exciting time to visit the park. As the gray whales migrate past and the elephant seals return to the Point Reyes Headlands, so do lots of visitors. This means increased traffic on the narrow roadways and in the small parking lots near the Point Reyes Lighthouse and at Chimney Rock—especially on weekends and holidays. In order to reduce traffic congestion in the Point Reyes Headlands, the Seashore instituted a shuttle bus system in 1998.
The Point Reyes Headlands shuttle bus system usually begins on the last Saturday of December and continues through late March or mid-April. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard will be closed to private vehicles—including bicycles—at the South Beach junction from 9 am until ~5:45 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays when the weather is fair or better. Shuttle service will not run during stormy or extremely wet weather. Check the "Shuttles, Whales, and Elephant Seals" recording at 415-464-5100, ext. 2 (then press 3 and then 1) for updates on whether shuttles are operating. To ensure the safety of bus operators and passengers, we do need to limit private vehicle access—including bicycles—on the narrow and curving road while the buses are running.
Closure and Safety Notices
NOTICE: All areas beyond (e.g., west of) the Point Reyes Lighthouse's visitors' parking lot—including the visitor center, the lighthouse and the stairs leading down to the lighthouse—are closed to all entry. The lighthouse is not visible from the parking lot. Visitors found in the closed area are subject to citation.
NOTICE: Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from the South Beach junction to the Lighthouse visitor parking lot and the Chimney Rock parking lot is open to private vehicles—including bicycles—on weekdays, and on weekend days when the shuttle bus system is not operating.
NOTICE: Fissures Near the Chimney Rock Trail
NOTICE: The Drakes Beach Café is indefinitely closed, but the PRNSA Bookstore at Drakes Beach is now open Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays (except for Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day) from 10 am to 4:30 pm; closed Mondays through Fridays and on Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Some beverages and light snacks are for sale at the PRNSA Bookstore, but there are no restaurants or grocery stores beyond the community of Inverness.
NOTICE: The following areas are closed to all entry in order to better protect nursing elephant seal pups:
From December 15 to March 31:
From December 1 to March 15:
NOTICE: Drakes Beach Temporary Beach Closure - January 13, 2019, until further notice
How It Works
At Drakes Beach
Tickets must be purchased at the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center at Drakes Beach. The charge is $7 per person (children 15 and under are free). Ticket sales begin at 9:30 am, and bus service begins at ~9:45 am. Tickets are usually sold until 3 pm and the last bus taking visitors from Drakes Beach to the headlands departs at 3:30 pm. NOTE: Ticket sales may end before 3 pm on days when visitation levels are high and all of the tickets for the 3:30 pm bus are sold before 3 pm. There are no advance ticket sales.
Senior and Access Pass Discounts
Interagency Senior, Interagency Access, Golden Age, and Golden Access passes may apply to the shuttle fees. Holders of these passes should request information at the time of purchasing bus tickets. The Interagency Annual Pass and the Interagency Annual Pass for US Military and Their Dependents do not provide the pass owner a discount on the shuttle fee. Fee waivers are not available for recreational use user fees such as bus transportation.
Dress warmly and be sure you have everything you need for the next few hours. No food or water is available after this point. There is a vault toilet located at the Chimney Rock shuttle stop.
The Bus Ride
Buses depart from Drakes Beach every 15 to 20 minutes—although, if ridership is high, one may have to wait in line for more than 20 minutes. Bus service is provided from Drakes Beach directly to the Chimney Rock parking lot, a ride of approximately 20 minutes.
At the Lighthouse
Disembark the bus and walk 0.7 km (0.45 miles) to the Lighthouse Visitor Center. On most weekend days through the winter, the Journey of the Whales ranger program is offered at 1:30 pm outside the visitor center. Just beyond the visitor center, one can watch for gray whales from the observation deck, or descend down the ~300 steps to the Lighthouse. Winter Wildlife Docents are stationed at the Observation Deck to assist visitors with seeing whales through park-provided binoculars and spotting scopes. Return to the shuttle stop when you are ready to move on, and a bus will come by every 15 to 20 minutes to take you to Chimney Rock. Be sure to return to the Lighthouse shuttle stop by 5 pm, or you may miss the last bus taking visitors back to Chimney Rock and Drakes Beach.
At Chimney Rock
Whales, seals, and wildflowers! Walk about 450 meters (495 yards) to the Elephant Seal Overlook , visit the Historic Lifeboat Station, or take the 2.8 km (1.75 mi) round-trip hike to the end of the Chimney Rock Trail to watch for whales. Tidepool areas are closed while elephant seals are present.
Return to the shuttle stop when you are ready to go back to Drakes Beach, and a bus will come by every 15 to 20 minutes. Be sure to return to the Chimney Rock shuttle stop by 5:30 pm, or you may miss the last bus taking visitors back to Drakes Beach. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard will remain closed to private vehicles until approximately 5:45 pm.
Anyone wishing to visit Chimney Rock when the shuttle buses are operating must ride the shuttle bus from Drakes Beach. Bus tickets cost $3.50 for individuals with Interagency Access or Golden Access passes. The accessible buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and assistance is available when boarding the bus.
The parking lot at Chimney Rock is composed of dirt and gravel. The path to the Elephant Seal Overlook involves a rather short but moderately steep descent along a paved driveway, and then a flat traverse along a rammed-earth 0.2 mile-long (0.3 kilometer) trail. Individuals in wheelchairs or individuals with mobility issues may need assistance with the descent and accent of the driveway.
Volunteers sometimes staff the Lifeboat Station's Boathouse on weekends and holidays from January through March. At other times, visitors may explore the Lifeboat Station grounds, where wayside exhibits provide information about the U.S. Lifesaving Service and U.S. Coast Guard history at Point Reyes. The 0.4 mile-long (0.6 kilometer) driveway from the Chimney Rock Trailhead parking lot to the Boathouse is paved, but has steep sections on which individuals in wheelchairs or individuals with mobility issues will likely need assistance. The Boathouse's first floor and boat bay are wheelchair accessible. There is also an accessible restroom within the Boathouse.
For more specific needs or questions, please contact park staff at the Bear Valley Visitor Center any day of the week at 415-464-5100 x2 x5 or the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center at Drakes Beach on weekends at 415-669-1250.
Pets are prohibited on the shuttle bus and at Drakes Beach (except for the parking lot). ADA-defined service dogs are welcome to accompany individuals with disabilities on the shuttle bus.
Pet owners should be aware that a minimum round-trip on the shuttle bus takes one hour—and that is without getting off the shuttle bus at either the Lighthouse or Chimney Rock shuttle stops. Many shuttle bus riders are away from Drakes Beach for two and a half to four or more hours. Please do not leave pets unattended in your vehicle while you ride the shuttle bus. If you wish to ride the shuttle bus, please leave your pets at home. Visit our Pets page for more information, including locations within Point Reyes National Seashore where pets are welcome.
Maps and Directions
Park Map (5,125 KB PDF)
Directions to Point Reyes National Seashore's Bear Valley Visitor Center (near the park's main entrance)
Map of the Chimney Rock Area (128 KB PDF)
Shuttle System History
In the mid-1990's, the park experimented with a variety of options to meet the increased demand for parking. Options included closing the road, numbering parking spaces, and running van shuttles. Those options, unfortunately, resulted in two hour waits and lines of cars backing up in the South Beach parking lots. The whales were passing by as visitors waited patiently in their cars.
In 1998, to relieve this congestion and eliminate the two-hour waiting period, Point Reyes National Seashore contracted large 40-passenger buses to provide transportation from Drakes Beach to the Headlands. The 1998–1999 lighthouse shuttle bus experiments proved successful, parking lot congestion was relieved, and visitors were provided with a comfortable and quick trip to the Headlands. The success of the lighthouse shuttle bus prompted the National Park Service to indefinitely continue this service.
The National Park Service at Point Reyes appreciates your support of the shuttle service and welcomes your comments. The bus service is an important means by which park managers and the public can better protect and manage the fragile Headlands area for visitor enjoyment and safety.
Last updated: March 15, 2019