Whale Watching at Point Reyes
Engaging in the longest migration of any mammal, the California gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) swims 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) each year, spending about one third of its life migrating from the cold, nutrient-rich waters of Alaska, to the warm, shallow lagoons of Baja California. Along the way, these incredible animals can often be seen from the shores of Point Reyes. What drives the gray whale to undertake this incredible annual round trip from Alaska to Baja? Food and reproduction.
Jutting 16 kilometers (10 miles) into the Pacific Ocean, the headlands of the Point Reyes Peninsula offer one of the finest spots to view the gray whale. The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary provides a 32-kilometer (20-mile) wide "highway" along which the whales cruise; sometimes they travel in the close lane (nearer to shore), and sometimes they travel in the far lane (farther out to sea). The areas around Chimney Rock and the Point Reyes Lighthouse offer some of the best whale watching spots in the park.
Here at Point Reyes National Seashore, the peak of the southern migration usually occurs in mid-January and that of the northern migration in mid-March. Late April and early May afford the opportunity to see mothers and calves close to shore.
There is a mystery about these beautiful giants. Like humans, they breathe air, have warm blood and give birth to live young. However, their home is in the depths of the dark ocean where so much is concealed from our probing human eyes. As the gray whales migrate along the Pacific Coast, we may have a brief chance to view them before their return to a world that remains mysterious. Download the Pacific Gray Whales Resource Newsletter for more information about the gray whale. (298 KB PDF - Adobe® Acrobat Reader® required).
Numerous ranger-led programs are offered during the Whale and Elephant Seal Season.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to the high volume of traffic out to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas during the gray whale migration, the park will be operating a shuttle bus system from the Drakes Beach parking lot (usually from New Year's to Easter each year on weekends and holidays—weather permitting). Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from South Beach to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas WILL BE CLOSED during shuttle operating hours. Check the "Shuttles, Whales, and Elephant Seals" recording at 415-464-5100 x2 x3 x1 for updates on whether shuttles are operating.
Some of the best places to view whales from shore besides Point Reyes National Seashore are listed below:
(drive times and distances are approximate)
North of Point Reyes National Seashore
South of Point Reyes National Seashore
Highway 1 Bluffs
Whale watching by boat
Our Outfitters & Tours page lists the businesses and organizations offering Whale Watching trips out of San Francisco Bay and Bodega Bay.
The Whale Trail
The Whale Trail is a series of sites along the Pacific coast where the public may view whales and other marine mammals from shore. The Whale Trail's mission is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of whales and our marine environment by establishing a network of viewing sites along the whales' trails through Puget Sound and the coastal waters of the Pacific.
Last updated: March 3, 2017