KAYAK-BACKPACKING & BIOLUMINESCENCE IN TOMALES BAY

SUMMARY

TRIP · 3-day backpacking trip
FOR · Friends & beginner backpackers

DISTANCE · At least 2 miles of paddling

VIBE · New & challenging

COST · $$ - $$$
DRIVE · 1.5 hours from SF

PERMIT · Yes! Reserve one for Point Reyes National Seashore Campground 
IDEAL DATES · May - October
PETS · Welcome on kayaks, certain launch areas & beaches

WHY TOMALES BAY?

This 15-mile long inlet off of the Pacific Ocean is the largest unspoiled coastal embayment, aka bay, in California. The west side of the bay belongs to Point Reyes National Seashore, and that's where you can camp overnight in places only accessible by boat. Bop around various beaches, explore small sandy coves & paddle through bioluminescent waters underneath a starry sky. Kayak-backpacking in Tomales Bay is a special experience worth doing at least once, if not more. 

· Directions to Chicken Ranch Beach Launch Site

· Official Point Reyes National Seashore Website

· Blue Waters Kayaking Website

FIND A BOAT-IN CAMPSITE ON MARSHALL BEACH & WAKE UP TO BAYSIDE VIEWS
Once you reserve a camping permit, finding a boat-in campsite in Tomales Bay is largely first-come, first serve. You can camp just about anywhere along the bay, unless you book a Marshall or Tomales Beach Group campsite designated to those beaches. Marshall & Tomales Beach are the only campsites with toilets & trash collection though. For everywhere else, you'll need to bring a wag bag to carry out your 💩& trash. Leave No Trace, baby! Also, plan on bringing drinking water, at least a gallon per person a day, because there isn't any potable water available in Tomales Bay.
 
Saturdays are the busiest time to be paddling around the Bay so score a mid-week camping permit to duck the crowds.


Nightly rate: $20

CAMP

ONLY MARSHALL & TOMALES BEACH HAVE:

- Vault toilets 
- Trash cans 

DOG-FRIENDLY BEACH CAMPSITES: 

- Indian, Kilkenny, Long Cove, Fruit Tree, Marshall, No Name, Tomales & Elk Fence South Beach

The Coast Miwok used to live in Tomales Bay. Their villages included Echa-kolum, Sakloki, Shotommo-wi & Utumia 

Tomales Bay was named after Rancho Bolsa de Tomales, a Mexican land grant given by Governor Pío Pico to Juan Nepomuceno Padilla in 1846.

 
STUFF YOU NEED TO KNOW

🛶

Reserve and rent a kayak from Blue Waters Kayaking. If you have a sedan, they'll show you how to strap the kayak onto your car. You can also pay a little extra to have them deliver the kayaks to your launch area. They also have this nifty kayaking map!

🔥

Beach fires are allowed, but that changes on a daily basis. You must pick up a campfire permit from Bear Valley Visitor Center the day of your trip to see if campfires are cool. BVVC is open daily from 9:30 AM - 5 PM.

🦝

Raccoons are the largest critter you'll have to worry about, but they're FEISTY! Bring a rodent-proof container to store your food overnight and when you're away from camp. Don't leave your snacks out because they're known for snatching them!

☁️

Depending on the time of year, Tomales Bay can get foggy in the morning. Bring a compass to help you navigate 

ITINERARY

DAY ONE
LEAVE SF BY 8 AM & PICK UP YOUR KAYAK AT BLUE WATERS KAYAKING
- Single kayak rental for 2 nights is $180 & a double kayak rental is $250. Reserve your kayaks as early as possible! Rentals also come with a drybag.
- Located at 11401 CA-1 in Point Reyes Station
- Open from 9 AM - 4 PM daily
LAST PIT STOP · Point Reyes Station - 11401 CA-1 in Point Reyes Station
PICK UP A CAMPFIRE PERMIT FROM BEAR VALLEY VISITOR CENTER
- Depending on wildfire conditions, campfires aren't always allowed, but swing by the visitor center to make sure. It opens at 9:30 AM. 
PICK UP SANDWICHES, WATER & SNACKS AT INVERNESS PARK MARKET

- Locals love their sammies, breakfast burritos & fresh ingredients

- Located at 12301 Sir Francis Drake Blvd in Inverness Park

- Open daily from 8 AM - 8 PM

PARK & LAUNCH YOUR KAYAK FROM CHICKEN RANCH BEACH

- This is the only dog-friendly launch site in Tomales Bay. You can also launch from Miller Boat, Hearts Desire Beach & Lawson's Landing

- The bay gets pretty windy in the afternoon so try to start paddling as early as possible. Kayak closer to shore to do some sightseeing along the way!

- It's a 1 to 2 hour paddle to Marshall Beach so pace yourself

PADDLE TO INDIAN BEACH & ENJOY A QUICK LUNCH BREAK

- Or if you're feeling ambitious, enjoy lunch as you go

KAYAK THE REST OF THE WAY TO MARSHALL BEACH & SET UP CAMP

- If you fancy another beach along the way, then set up there, but if you prefer having a toilet & trash collection, then get to Marshall Beach sooner rather than later

- Be mindful of low & high water tides so you don't wake up to a soaking tent!
 

COOK UP DINNER & MAKE A BEACH FIRE

(IF CAMPFIRES ARE ALLOWED)
- You did it! Enjoy your first night in Tomales Bay!

DAY TWO
MAKE BREKKIE & PREP FOR A DAY PADDLE

- Pack water, snacks, lunch to-go, sunscreen, bug spray, hat & sunglasses

- Download this map (the same one from above) and choose your own adventure in Tomales Bay

- Check out Hog Island, which you can't land on due to nesting wildlife, but it's still a cool spot to paddle to

- Pick a beachside lunch spot along the way & cool off with a swim!

CHILL & UNWIND BACK AT CAMP

- Clean up & dry off your swimsuits and any damp clothes

PREP A SUNSET DINNER

- Soak up your last dinner in Tomales Bay!

IF YOU'RE FEELING AMBITIOUS...GO NIGHT KAYAKING IN SEARCH FOR BIOLUMINESCENCE
- After the sun completely sets, flip on your headlamp's red light feature and go for a night paddle along the coast

- Bioluminescence is best seen in dark conditions. Try paddling north, away from homes and artificial light. Some people haven't always been able to see bioluminescence, so at the very least enjoy the starry skies

DAY THREE
PACK UP & LEAVE CAMP AROUND 9 AM

- Cook up brekkie, pick up any random pieces of litter around camp, pack snacks & water for the return paddle back to Chicken Ranch Beach

- Layer on sunscreen, bugspray & fill up your water bottles!

RETURN KAYAKS & STOP BY SIDE STREET KITCHEN FOR LUNCH
- Diners love their sandwiches & rotisserie chicken
- Located at 60 4th Street in Point Reyes Station
- Closed Mondays & Tuesdays | Open from 11 AM - 6PM
HEAD HOME!
 

GEAR

ESSENTIALS
CLOTHING
ACCESSORIES
 
DAY ONE

Dinner

DOTTIE'S CHICKEN & DUMPLINGS

Dessert

STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE

FOOD

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LAST UPDATED: July 23, 2021

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