Winter Shuttle Bus System

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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.
Background: Due to the partial government shutdown from December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, Point Reyes National Seashore was unable to operate the Winter Shuttle Bus System for the first month of the shuttle season. In January 2019, female northern elephant seals hauled out at Drakes Beach adjacent to the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center and gave birth to pups. In order to better protect the seals during this sensitive time as mother seals were nursing their pups, the National Park Service (NPS) implemented a temporary closure of the Drakes Beach area south of the junction of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Drakes Beach Road. On Saturday, February 2, the NPS reopened Drakes Beach Road and the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center to the public for the weekend from 9 am to 5 pm each day, but did not operate the shuttle bus system. After a couple successful weekends with positive feedback from visitors happy to be able to get a close look at elephant seals at Drakes Beach and much lower than normal visitation to the Point Reyes Headlands (in part due to the closure of the Point Reyes Lighthouse area), park officials decided to cancel the shuttle system for the remainder of this winter. Park managers will continue to monitor this new situation and may need to make additional changes to visitor access, as necessary. No decision has yet to be made as to whether the park will operate the shuttles during the 2019–2020 season. Please continue to monitor this page and our social media sites for updates.

Tentatively scheduled from
Saturday, December 28, 2019, through late March or mid-April 2020
Weekends And Federal Holidays

$7 Shuttle Bus Tickets are Available
at the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center
at Drakes Beach from 9:30 am to ~3 pm

Five visitors boarding a coach-sized bus that is decorated with a rainbow-colored horizontal stripe.


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.

Shuttle Season

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)

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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.
Map of the temporary closure in the Point Reyes Lighthouse Area - Monday, August 6, 2018, through Sunday, March 31, 2018 (315 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: The following areas are closed to all entry in order to better protect nursing elephant seal pups:

From December 15 to March 31:

  • 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.

From December 1 to March 15:

  • Drakes Beach starting approximately 1/2 mile southwest of the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center and continuing south to the current permanent elephant seal closure.

NOTICE: Drakes Beach Temporary Beach Closure - January 13, 2019, until further notice
A temporary closure of the Drakes Beach area south of the junction of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Drakes Beach Road was implemented in January 2019 after female elephant seals hauled out in the cove in front of the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center and gave birth to pups. To better protect elephant seals from disturbance, all public use of the area is prohibited, except for from 9 am to 5 pm on weekends and federal holidays when park staff are present.

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How It Works

A color map of the winter shuttle bus system from Drakes Beach to the Chimney Rock. (Click on this image to download a higher resolution PDF file.)
This map was produced for the 2018-2019 season before the season was cancelled. The 2019-2020 season map will be uploaded soon.

At Drakes Beach

Purchasing Tickets

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.

Get Prepared

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.

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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.

(L) A gray whale starting a breach and (R) whale watchers at the Lighthouse Observation Deck.
(L) A gray whale starting a breach. (R) whale watchers at the Lighthouse Observation Deck.

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.
Point Reyes Lighthouse Area Map (248 KB PDF)

A map of the Chimney Rock peninsula, showing the locations of the roads, trails, historic Lifeboat Station, and Elephant Seal Overlook. (Click on this image to download a higher resolution map.)

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.
Chimney Rock Area Map (128 KB PDF)

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.

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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.

A cartoon silhouette of a dog surrounded by a red circle with a red diagonal line bisecting the circle.


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.

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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.

Feedback Welcome

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.

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Last updated: March 15, 2019

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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