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. Map of road closure. (960 KB PDF)
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
Cracks were reported on a portion of the bluff near the Chimney Rock Trail on December 21, 2015. These fissures could indicate the possibility of a weakening cliff face in the area. The land may be unstable and a collapse or erosion could occur. Visitors are reminded to stay on designated trails.
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: From December 15 to March 31, the following areas are closed to all entry in order to better protect nursing elephant seal pups:
the southern end of South Point Reyes Beach (as signed) to the Lighthouse;
the beach from the Chimney Rock Lifeboat Station to Chimney Rock; and
the road leading from the gate at the end of the Chimney Rock Road to the Fish Dock area, including immediately adjacent beaches.
NOTICE: A temporary closure of Drakes Beach starting at the southern edge of the cove in front of the Ken Patrick Visitor Center and continuing south to the current permanent elephant seal closure was in effect from Saturday, January 27, 2018, through Thursday, March 15, 2018, to better protect elephant seals from disturbance during the pupping season when they are exceptionally vulnerable. All public use was prohibited. (Map - 123 KB PDF) No decision has yet to be made as to whether a similar closure will be implemented in 2019.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.