Saturday, December 28, 2019, through late March or mid-April 2020
$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
Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is open on weekdays
Despite what Google Maps and other mapping applications may indicate, 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.
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. more...
The Drakes Beach Café is indefinitely closed, but the PRNSA Bookstore at Drakes Beach is open
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.
Elephant Seal Protection Areas
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:
Drakes Beach Temporary Beach Closure
A temporary closure of the Drakes Beach area south of the junction of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Drakes Beach Road was implemented from mid-January 2019 through April 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 was prohibited, except for from 9 am to 5 pm on weekends and federal holidays when park staff are present. If elephant seals return to Drakes Beach for the winter of 2019–2020, a similar closure may be implemented.
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 for purchase after this point. There is a water fountain available near the Lighthouse Visitor Center, and restrooms are located at the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock shuttle stops, and 100 meters (100 yards) east of the Lighthouse Visitor Center.
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. Buses circle from Drakes Beach to the Lighthouse to Chimney Rock and back to Drakes Beach, but do not backtrack from Chimney Rock to the Lighthouse. Visitors usually disembark for the Point Reyes Lighthouse, whale watching, and wildflowers at the Lighthouse bus stop, and, when ready, return to the bus stop for the second leg to Chimney Rock for hiking and viewing elephant seals. Or, instead of getting off at the Lighthouse, visitors may stay on the same bus as it continues on to Chimney Rock.
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.
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.
Getting to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas
Most visitors wishing to visit the Lighthouse or Chimney Rock areas 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. Buses are accessible and are equipped with wheelchair lifts and assistance is available when boarding the bus.
However, individuals with a Disabled Person parking placard or plate may be able to drive their personal vehicle to the Lighthouse accessible parking lot and/or the Chimney Rock parking lot during times when the shuttles are operating. When one arrives at the South Beach Road junction, they will need to show the parking placard or plate to traffic control personnel, who will then instruct the driver concerning how to proceed to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas. Be sure to let the traffic control personnel know if you do wish to go to Chimney Rock because there are special instructions for driving on the single-lane Chimney Rock Road while the buses are operating. Inquire at the Bear Valley Visitor Center or the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center if you have more questions.
For visitors riding the shuttle bus, after getting dropped off at the lighthouse shuttle stop, one must follow the ~0.45-mile (0.7 km) mostly uphill paved path to get to the Lighthouse Visitor Center and the Observation Deck. Or, for those who are permitted to drive beyond the South Beach Road junction, the lighthouse area's accessible parking lot is located 0.4 miles (650 m) beyond (to the west of) the lighthouse shuttle stop and main visitor parking lot. Individuals with a Disabled Person parking placard or plate may open the gate at the west end of the roundabout at the shuttle stop and drive to the accessible parking lot (be sure to close the gate after you've passed through). Please drive slowly and carefully since this section of the road doubles as the pedestrian path from the main parking lot to the lighthouse. The accessible parking lot is on the right/north side of the road just beyond the cypress trees and before the green apartments. If you start driving up a hill beyond the cypress trees that overhang the road/path, you are going too far.
The ~400-foot (~120 m) long path from the accessible parking lot to the Lighthouse Visitor Center and the observation deck at the top of the stairs is wheelchair-accessible. The visitor center and observation deck are also accessible. Accessible restrooms are located at the east end of the green garages that are located approximately 100 yards (~90 meters) to the east of the Lighthouse Visitor Center. To get to them, follow the accessible path from the accessible parking lot toward the Lighthouse Visitor Center for about 290 feet (~90 meters) and make a very sharp left to follow the accessible path leading to the garage.
Chimney Rock Area
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 when the shuttle system is operating at 415-669-1250.
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 Point Reyes Lighthouse Area (248 KB PDF)
Map of the Chimney Rock Area (130 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: November 8, 2019