How to See Whales and Seals at Point Reyes National Seashore

A shuttle service is now available during the park's peak whale and seal viewing season.

A young gray whale. Courtesy Laura Francis, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary / National Park Service.
A young gray whale. Courtesy Laura Francis, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary / National Park Service.

By Bay City News Service

Weekend shuttle bus service is available through March at the Point Reyes National Seashore for visitors who want to witness migrating whales and breeding elephant seals.

"Winter is a wonderful time not only to watch the annual Pacific gray whale migration from Alaska to Mexico, but also to celebrate the recovering populations of northern elephant seals as they return to breed at Point Reyes," Superintendent Cicely Muldoon said. 

The shuttle bus service, now in its 16th year, eases traffic congestion at prime viewing areas that include the Point Reyes National Seashore's historic lighthouse and Chimney Rock headlands, the park's spokeswoman Loretta Farley said.

The bus service runs only on weekends and federal Monday holidays in good weather. Ticket sales are between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. at the Ken Patrick Visitor Center at Drake's Beach.

Adult tickets are $5, children under 16 and under are free and federal senior and access pass discounts apply. 

Sir Francis Drake Highway is closed between 9:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. at the South Beach junction when the busses are operating.

More information is available at the Bear Valley Visitor Center at (415) 464-5137 and at www.nps.gov/pore.


Seeing whales and elephant seals at Point Reyes National Seashore:

The peak season to spot Pacific Gray Whales migrating south to Baja California is mid-January, and clear days without strong winds are best, according to the National Park Service. The whales return north in March.

December through March is the peak period to see elephant seals–a colony numbering nearly 100 animals–breeding and giving birth to pups.

Visitors to Point Reyes National Seashore can try to spot whales and elephant seals through park-provided binoculars and scopes on weekends and holidays. Volunteers will be available to answer questions about elephant seals from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and about whales from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Park rangers lead a half-hour program at 1:30 p.m. weekends and holidays through April to learn more about whales, their migration and adaptations. The program begins at the Lighthouse Visitors Center, and visitors coming on a day when shuttles are operating are advised to arrive an hour early to leave enough time for the shuttle ride.

The National Park Service website has more details on planning a visit to the seashore.

Getting there:

The park does not charge an entrance fee. The shuttle is $5 for those 16 years and older. 

Information on hours is available here.

Here are directions from Petaluma, according to the National Park Service website:

  • From Highway 101, take the East Washington Street exit.
  • Follow East Washington Street southwest about 0.6 miles (1 km) to Lakeville Street.
  • Turn left and proceed southeast one block to D Street.
  • Turn right onto D Street, which will become the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, and head southwest for about 16 miles (25 km) to the junction with Platform Bridge Road.
  • Turn right to stay on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road and continue west for about 3 miles (5 km) to the junction with California Highway 1 in the town of Point Reyes Station.
  • Turn left onto Highway 1, drive south through Point Reyes Station and continue south on Highway 1 approximately 2.5 miles (4 km). Look for a brown "Point Reyes National Seashore" sign just beyond the Olema Campground. If you get to a flashing red light, you've gone 100 yards (100 m) too far.
  • Turn right onto Bear Valley Road and head west about 1/2 mile (0.8 km). Look for a big red barn on the left and a sign for "Visitor Center; Headquarters; Information" on the right.
  • Turn left after passing by the red barn and proceed up the left fork of the driveway to the Bear Valley Visitor Center, the park's primary contact station.

Copyright © 2014 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

Cody Kitaura contributed to this report.

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