A Guide to Low Impact Boat Camping

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Ban on Wood and Charcoal Fires

All wood and charcoal fires are prohibited until further notice. Gas campstoves are permitted for use on Tomales Bay beaches.
Determination of Temporary Closure - September 22, 2020, until further notice - signed on September 22, 2020 (112 KB PDF)


 
An infographic entitled "Recreate Responsibly. National Park Service." with a cartoon of a tent near trees under a moon and stars. The text includes five tips for camping.

COVID-19-Related Changes to Camping Protocols and Regulations

Please read and take note of these important changes to Point Reyes National Seashore's camping rules and regulations. Unless referred to in this section, the standard camping regulations apply.

Please keep in mind that there are still Stay at Home (also known as Shelter-In-Place) Orders in place for Marin County (and for other Bay Area counties and much of the state of California) until further notice. Updates pertaining to other pandemic-related closures affecting Point Reyes National Seashore will be posted to our Current Conditions page and to the park's social media channels. Please Recreate Responsibly.

COVID-19 Precautions

  • Follow all CDC, state, and county health department recommendations and best practices for physical distancing and sanitation.
  • Use hand sanitizer after use of vault toilets and other campground equipment.
  • Bring disinfectant wipes and wipe all campsite equipment when you arrive and when you leave.
  • Bring and wear face coverings.
  • Practice physical distancing at and around your campsite.
  • Respect others by providing space when near or passing by other campers on the trail and within the campground.

Camping Permits—No Check-In Required

Campers do not need to check in at the Bear Valley Visitor Center until further notice. And, until further notice, Point Reyes National Seashore no longer has any permits that will be sold on a first-come, first-served, same-day basis. All camp sites must reserved online through Recreation.gov in advance of arrival. All available campsites will be shown as reservable on Recreation.gov. Do not arrive or camp at Point Reyes National Seashore without a reservation.

Camping Permits

Print your Recreation.gov confirmation email and be prepared to show it to park rangers on Tomales Bay and at your camp on a beach. It is advisable to have an electronic copy on your phone or tablet.

One Household per Permit

Each permit may be acquired by only one household or living unit at a time. Multiple households should not obtain multiple permits nor camp and congregate with individuals outside of their household or living unit.

Maximum Occupancy Changes for Group Sites

  • Tomales Bay Boat-in "B" and Group permits (Marshall Beach 1, 2 and Tomales Beach Group) allow up to only 12 campers, instead of 14 or 25.

Wood fires are Prohibited until Further Notice

  • Beach fire permits are not being issued at this time and wood fires on the beach are prohibited until further notice.
  • Until further notice, wood fires on Tomales Bay's beaches are prohibited.
  • Gas camp stoves are recommended for heating water and cooking.
  • Charcoal may be burned in the charcoal braziers provided at the campsite under low, moderate, and high fire danger conditions; the burning of charcoal is prohibited under very high and extreme fire danger conditions. Always ensure that the briquettes are dead cold before leaving them unattended.

Safety First

In Emergency: Contact US Coast Guard Station Bodega Bay on VHF CHANNEL 16 or call 911 and ask for Marin County Dispatch.

Report Oil and Chemical Spills: Call both response numbers below

  • California Office of Emergency Response: 800-OILS911 (800-645-7911)
  • National Response Center: 800-424-8802

Visit our Your Safety While Boating page for information on preparing for and remaining safe while boating in the Point Reyes area.

Reserving a Permit

There is a fee and permit system for overnight camping within Point Reyes National Seashore, including camping on the beaches on the westside of Tomales Bay north of Tomales Bay State Park's northern boundary. Overnight beach camping is not permitted anywhere else on Tomales Bay or elsewhere within Point Reyes National Seashore.

Advance Reservations

Reservations may be made online at Recreation.gov. Reservations may also be made by phone by calling toll free 877-444-6777 (TDD: 877-833-6777).

Party Size

If your party size is one to six people, you will need to reserve a "BOAT A, 1-6 people" permit. If your party size is seven to twelve people, you will need to reserve a "BOAT B, 7-12 people," "Marshall Beach Group 1," "Marshall Beach Group 2," or "Tomales Beach Group" permit. (Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, "Marshall Beach Group 1," "Marshall Beach Group 2," and "Tomales Beach Group" permits were available for parties of 15 to 25 people. As of October 2020, it is too early to know whether groups of that size will be permitted to camp again in the future.) Be aware that if you reserve the "Marshall Beach Group 1" or "Marshall Beach Group 2" permit, you will be required to camp at Marshall Beach. Similarly, if you reserve the "Tomales Beach Group" permit, you will be required to camp as Tomales Beach.

We do not allow groups of more than six people to purchase multiple "BOAT A, 1-6 people" permit. Nor may parties of six or fewer people reserve "BOAT B, 7-12 people," "Marshall Group 1," "Marshall Group 2," or "Tomales Beach Group" permits.

Camping Permits—No Check-In Required

Campers do not need to check in at the Bear Valley Visitor Center until further notice. Print your Recreation.gov confirmation email and be prepared to show it to park rangers on the trail and at your campsite. It is advisable to have an electronic copy on your phone or tablet.

Cancellations and No Shows

Please be courteous and cancel any nights of your reservation that you are unable to use. Review Recreation.gov's Rules & Reservation Policies page for more details.

Permitted Modes of Transportation for Getting to Your "Campsite"

There are no designated campsites along Tomales Bay. Instead, there are a number of beaches on which one may camp, if one has a boat-in camping permit. Campers on Tomales Bay beaches must arrive by boat, kayak, canoe, or other small watercraft (except for PWCs*), and may not hike, bike, or ride horses to the beaches. Overnight parking for boat-in campers is prohibited within Point Reyes National Seashore (i.e., along the Pierce Point and L Ranch Roads and at the Marshall Beach Trailhead) and Tomales Bay State Park.

* Personal water craft (PWC)—often referred to by the trademarked brand names Jet Ski™, WaveRunner™, or Sea-Doo™—are prohibited on Tomales Bay.

 
The Leave No Trace logo. A green square with rounded corners containing a spiral pattern.

Leave No Trace

With increasing visitor use, both day and overnight, it is important to minimize our impacts and Leave No Trace of our visits to wilderness, parks, and other special places. Trips that include awareness and the use of minimum impact practices conserve natural conditions of the outdoors which make the adventure enjoyable and allow others the same experience. Your backcountry permit is a signed contract between you and the National Park Service. It's an agreement to treat these public lands with respect by practicing Leave No Trace (LNT) techniques. Keep in mind that Leave No Trace camping goes beyond following the rules; it requires thoughtful judgement for each situation that comes up.

 

Sanitation

Disposing of human waste in the bay or onto park beaches is prohibited. On Tomales Bay, there are vault toilets at Marshall Beach and Tomales Beach. If camping on other beaches, you are required to pack out all human waste using a portable toilet or similar commercially designed waste disposal containers that can be emptied into an RV dump station or pit toilet, or a GO anywhere toilet kit® (formerly sold as WAG® Bags). While there are restrooms at Hearts Desire Beach, Lawsons Landing, and Miller Boat Launch, a pit toilet at Indian Beach, and portable toilets at Chicken Ranch Beach, camping is prohibited at all of these locations.

NEVER pump boat holding tanks into the bay or outhouses. Lawson's Landing at Dillon Beach (707-878-2443) is the closest place to pump out your tanks. (You cannot pump from the water but if you pull your boat out at this launch site, there is a dump station). A dump station is also available at Olema Campground (415-663-8106) along Highway 1 at Olema.

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Where to Launch

There are three locations (listed in the order in which one would encounter them moving counter-clockwise around the bay from Tomales Point to Dillon Beach) at which watercraft may be launched onto Tomales Bay and overnight parking is permitted:

Chicken Ranch Beach

415-499-6387
Chicken Ranch Beach is a three-acre natural area adjacent to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard 1.8 km (1.2 miles) north of Inverness. Nestled along the west shore of Tomales Bay, it is a popular kayak launch site. One must carry one's boat along a short trail and across sand (and maybe mud at low tide) 100 meters (110 yards) or more to the water's edge. No overnight camping or beach fires.

Miller Boat Launch

415-499-6387
Marin County Parks' Miller Boat Launch is located on the east side of Tomales Bay along Highway 1 just north of Nick's Cove, which is ~6.5 km (~4 mi) north of the town of Marshall. This Marin County park has a public boat launch with a cement ramp into the water, in addition to a pier and restrooms. There is a day use fee and overnight use fee. Overnight parking is permitted in the upper lot, to the right/north as you pull in. No overnight camping or beach fires.

Lawson's Landing

707-878-2443
Lawson's Landing campground and boat launch are located in Dillon Beach with direct access to the north end of Tomales Bay. The boat ramp is a sand-bottomed ramp and Lawson's Landing uses a fork lift to move boats onto the water. Or if you have 4 wheel drive, they allow you to use it to put your boat into the water. There is a dump station and boat rentals. Restrooms and water available. There is a day-use fee and overnight parking requires purchasing a Lawson's Landing campsite.

On the Water

Move gently through the water so that you do not disturb wildlife. For safety, paddle in groups if possible. Ensure that you are close enough to reach fellow paddlers quickly if trouble arises. Paddle close to shore or, if an open-water crossing is necessary, choose the most direct route. Always wear your personal flotation device.

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Where to Camp

Overnight boat-in camping is permitted on a number of the beaches on the west side of Tomales Bay within Point Reyes National Seashore. (Download the Tomales Bay Boat-in Camping Map. [1,817 KB PDF])

Did you reserve a Marshall Beach Group or the Tomales Beach Group permit?

If you reserved the Marshall Beach Group 1, Marshall Beach Group 2, or Tomales Beach Group permit, you are required to camp on the beach specified by your permit, e.g., Marshall Beach or Tomales Beach.

Did you reserve a 1–6-person or a 7–12-person permit and do you have a portable toilet?

Yes.

If you reserved a 1–6-person or a 7–12-person permit, you get to choose to camp on any of the beaches marked on the map as open for camping, e.g., "Boat-in camping permitted"—if you have a portable toilet (see the Sanitation section above). The beaches are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Keep in mind that many of the beaches are large enough for multiple parties, so you aren't guaranteed to have a beach all to yourself. However, if there is already a party camping on a small beach, please do not crowd them by coming ashore and setting up camp—keep paddling until you find a larger or unoccupied beach.

No.

If you do not have a portable toilet, you are required to camp at Marshall or Tomales Beach, where there are vault toilets that you will need to use.

 
A map for locating beaches along Tomales Bay upon which camping is permitted. Click on this image to download a higher resolution PDF version of the map that also contains more detailed alt text.

Some of the Tomales Bay beaches that are open for overnight camping to those who have a current and valid permit are (listed from south to north):

  • Kilkenny Beach
  • Long Cove Beach
  • Marshall Beach - On the west side of Tomales Bay, almost due west from the Hog Island Oyster Company. Vault toilets are available.
  • No Name Beach
  • Tomales Beach - Look for a long sandy beach with vault toilets.
  • Elk Fence South Beach
  • Elk Fence North Beach
  • Pelican North Beach
  • Wall Beach
  • White Gulch Beach
  • Pita Beach
  • Jacks Beach - closed to camping as of March 21, 2018, per the Superintendents Compendium
  • Blue Gum Beach - Tides and currents in this area can be very strong.
  • Avalis Beach - Tides and currents in this area can be very strong.
  • Duck Beach - Tides and currents in this area can be very strong.

Map of Tomales Bay Boat-in Campsites (1,817 KB PDF)

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Water for Cooking and Drinking

Carry water with you, as there are few water sources emptying into the bay on the west side. Boil, treat, or filter any water obtained from the park. If you wash dishes, be aware that all soaps can adversely affect water. Use biodegradable soap when possible. Do not dump wash/greywater in the bay; dispose of all dirty water 30 meters (100 feet) at least from any source source of water.

Food and Food Storage

Raccoons, coyotes, and other animals can be very aggressive and will tear into backpacks, duffle bags, dry bags, tents, and kayaks to get at food and other scented items. Therefore, all food, all trash, all toiletries, and all other scented items should be stored in portable animal-resistant food storage containers unless in immediate use. This includes, but is not limited to, all sealed or packaged food, sunscreen, soap, mosquito repellent, toothpaste, lip balm, deodorant, first aid kits, medications, and feminine products. As a general rule, if you put it in your mouth or on your skin, it should probably be stored in an animal-resistant food storage container.

The container only works if it's closed and locked! Be sure to keep it closed and locked, even while you're around your campsite. Place the container on the ground in a flat, level area or in a depression in the sand to make it more difficult for animals to roll it away. Do not hang or attach anything to the container—ropes attached to the container may enable an animal to carry it away.

Only store food on boats if the food is stored in secure, lockable cabinets. River otters have been known to climb onto boats.

Garbage

Store garbage in a portable animal-resistant container, such as your food storage containers. Pack out all trash, food scraps, and packaging. Food scraps tempt wildlife into camping areas and may endanger them and you.

Glass Bottles and Glass Containers

Leave glass containers at home or in your vehicles. Possession of a glass container within fifteen meters (fifty feet) of any riverbank, lakeshore, or beach, or on the water, or in a vessel is prohibited. Broken glass from bottles or other containers pose a hazard to visitors who walk barefoot on the beaches of Tomales Bay or who go swimming.

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Fires

Gas camp stoves are the preferred means for cooking. Visitors planning to cook food over a beach fire or barbecue briquettes should come prepared with an alternative means (i.e., self-contained gas stove) of cooking in the event of a Winter Spare the Air Alert or high, very high or extreme fire danger conditions.

Wood Fires are Prohibited until Further Notice

  • If you wish to build a fire, obtain a free fire permit at one of the National Seashore's visitor centers.
  • The collection of wood (whether drift wood or downed wood) for fires is prohibited on Tomales Bay. You must bring firewood from outside of the park, but wait until you are in West Marin before purchasing firewood. Don't Move Firewood: Buy it where you burn it. Please do not bring oak, madrone, tanoak, or other species that are susceptible to Phytophthora ramorum* unless the wood has been certified to be free of this organism that causes sudden oak death.
    * You can find a list of plants that either are hosts for or are associated with Phytophthora ramorum at APHIS List of Regulated Hosts and Plants Proven or Associated with Phytophthora ramorum (173 KB PDF) or in paragraph (d) or (e) of Code of Federal Regulations Title 7, Ch. 3, Part 301, Subpart X—Phytophthora Ramorum, Sec. 92-2.
  • Build the fire below the high tide line and not near any large driftwood logs or vegetation nor under overhanging tree limbs. If all campers build their fires below the high tide line, there will be a lot more clean, non-ashy beach above the high tide line on which to set up tents and other camping gear. If you have one, bring and use a fire pan and dispose of the ash into the bay, not on the beach or in the vegetation.
  • Plastic and aluminum foil do not burn, so please do not put them in your fire.
  • Completely extinguish the fire using water before leaving it unattended.
  • Fires are prohibited on state park beaches.

For more detailed information and instructions, check out our Beach Fires page.

Charcoal Fires

  • Charcoal fires are only allowed in camper-provided self-contained barbecue grills.
  • Completely extinguish the briquettes before going to sleep or otherwise leaving the grill unattended.
  • Pack out the ash and charcoal.

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Hiking

The Marshall Beach Trail is the only official park trail that leads from/to any of the park's beaches on Tomales Bay. It is 1.6 km (1 mile) long and ends at the Marshall Beach Trailhead at the north end of the L Ranch Road and doesn't connect with any other trails.

Tomales Bay State Park has a small network of trails, some of which come down to the bay at Indian Beach, Hearts Desire Beach, Pebble Beach, and Shell Beach. Reminder: Camping is prohibited within Tomales Bay State Park.

Pets

Pets are not allowed on beaches within the Tule Elk Reserve or on state park beaches on the west side of Tomales Bay. Pets on leash are permitted within the National Seashore on Tomales Bay beaches south of the elk fence and north of the Tomales Bay State Park boundary.
Map showing locations where pets are permitted along Tomales Bay (2,713 KB PDF)

 
A cartoon silhouette of an unmanned aerial vehicle (a drone) surrounded by a red circle bisected by a red diagonal line.

Drones

Launching, landing, or operating a remotely operated aircraft (aka "remotely piloted aircraft," "unmanned aircraft," or "drone") from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore is prohibited.

If you observe drone use in Point Reyes National Seashore, please call park dispatch at 415-464-5170 or contact staff at the nearest Visitor Center as soon as possible. If you observe drone use in other National Park Service areas or if you find photographs or videos online or elsewhere that were illegally taken within National Park Service areas from drones, you can report the violation to the National Park Service tip line at 888-653-0009 or by email.

 

Wildlife

One of the joys of Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero is the frequent sightings of harbor seals, tule elk, and the many birds, but please respect the needs of wild animals and birds. Wildlife are sensitive to our presence and may change their behavior just by seeing humans. Disturbing wildlife when they are resting or feeding may be life threatening to them.

Harbor Seals

On the water or beach, follow Marine Mammal Protection Act regulations: stay 91 meters (300 feet) away from whales, seals, and sea lions. Harbor seals are most sensitive during their pupping season, which is approximately March 1 through June 30, and as they molt in July and August. You may see apparently abandoned pups (e.g., baby seals), but do not disturb them. Usually, a parent is feeding nearby and has only left the pup for a brief period. The parent may abandon the pup if they sense humans nearby. If you are concerned about a marine mammal, contact the park dispatch office at 415-464-5170 or park visitor centers and leave a message about the location and condition of the animal.

To protect harbor seals from disturbance during the most crucial part of the pupping season, from March 1 through June 30 the National Park Service has closed the following areas to the public: Drakes Estero, Limantour Estero, Double Point, and the western most end of Limantour Spit.
Map of Estero closures (299 KB PDF)
Map of Limantour Spit closure (148 KB PDF)

Birds

Pelican Point, Duck Island, and the east side of Hog Island are closed to the public year round. During summer and fall, brown pelicans—which, up until 2009, was a federally listed endangered species—roost on islands and floats in the bay. Many other seabirds make their home on the bay as well. Keep at least 30 meters (100 feet) away. Visit the Seabird Protection Network website for tips on how to help protect nesting birds.
Map of Hog Island closure (98 KB PDF)

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Tule Elk

Tule elk generally do not come down onto the Tomales Bay beaches, but they may be seen from the water. Always keep your distance. If you encounter an elk, do not come between a cow and a calf, a bull and a group of cows, or between two bulls challenging each other. The rut season—when males are jockeying for position and attempting to gather females for breeding—occurs from July through September. The elk are most active during that period.

Park biologists have noted elk calving and nursing in areas near Avalis Beach and White Gulch. To reduce the chance of disturbing the elk, stay on beaches and do not climb up onto the ridge. And if you plan to land at Avalis Beach, camp or use the extreme northern or southern ends of the beach.
Map of Sensitive Elk Habitat at Avalis Beach (41 KB JPG)
Map of Sensitive Elk Habitat at White Gulch (52 KB JPG)

Marine Protected Areas

On May 1, 2010, a number of Marine Protected Areas went into effect within and adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore, in part to better protect nesting birds. Per the Marine Life Protection Act (MPLA), the Point Reyes Headlands is closed to all vessels within 305 meters (1000 feet) of shore from Chimney Rock west to Longitude 123° 01.00'. Per the Superintendent's Compendium, from Longitude 123° 01.00' west to the Point Reyes Lighthouse the headlands is closed to all vessels within 91 meters (100 yards) of shore. There are also 91-meter (300-foot) special closures around Point Resistance and Double Point/Stormy Stack, per the MLPA.

Multimedia

NPSWilderness has produced three videos entitled Wilderness Calling: Point Reyes, Wilderness Motion: Point Reyes, and Wilderness Visions: Point Reyes featuring images and sounds from the Phillip Burton Wilderness within Point Reyes National Seashore, in addition to two videos about NPS wilderness: America's Wilderness and Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics which kayakers and other visitors to Point Reyes may find of interest.

Ahoy Boaters & Kayakers! Watch this short PSA from the Seabird Protection Network to learn about California's amazing seabirds and how you can help marine wildlife while enjoying the beautiful coast!

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Contact Us

To make, change, or cancel your camping reservations, log in to your Recreation.gov account, or call the Recreation.gov call center at 1-877-444-6777. Call center staff are available every day of the year from 7 am to 9 pm PT, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

If you have non-emergency, park-specific camping questions that cannot be answered by reviewing the content above or on our Backcountry Camping and Campgrounds pages, please send an email to our Camping Desk. Again, DO NOT email the Camping Desk to make, change, or cancel reservations; contact Recreation.gov.

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Last updated: October 21, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Phone:

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.

Contact Us