Your Guide to Kayak Camping on Tomales Bay (+ Beyond)
Kayak camping on Tomales Bay (Courtesy of @blue.waters.kayaking)

Your Guide to Kayak Camping on Tomales Bay (+ Beyond)

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You may have kayaked, and you may have camped, but what happens when you combine the two?

We won't spoil it for you, but we can say that it's pretty damn magical, and very much worth planning (which is why we're here).


Tomales Bay is where it's at when it comes to kayak camping in the Bay Area. Just an hour and a half north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore provides the perfect place to reconnect with your primal self. With open hillsides, grassy meadows, over 1,000 species of plants and animals, Tomales Bay is a natural wonder. If you plan your trip in summer or fall, you can catch bioluminescence in the water—dark, cloudy nights are best and, yes, it's as cool as it sounds.

(Courtesy of @tbocoysters)

The Food

Roughly 20 percent of California's oysters come from Tomales Bay, so if you've never tried 'em, now is the time. And if you love 'em, now is the time to stock up. Tomales Bay Oyster Company(15479 Hwy 1, Marshall) is a great place to stop on your way to the nearby town of Marshall, a popular place to rent kayaks and grab last-minute libations to go with said oysters. Grab a bushel or two to go on Fridays from noon to 5pm and Saturdays and Sundays, 9am to 5pm.

The Gear

No kayak? No problem. Blue Waters Kayaking(11401 CA-1, Point Reyes Station) is right across from many of the overnight camping beaches that span Tomales Bay. For a small fee, they'll even tote your extra stuff across on a motorboat.

The Permits

What better way to map out your adventure than... a map. This one from the National Park Service shows all of your overnight, boat-in camping options. In addition to the two most popular beaches, Marshall and Tomales (where outhouses are provided), there are 15 other overnight beach sites to choose from. All campgrounds practice leave no trace, meaning you have to pack out your poo—so, there's that.

Reserve a boat-in camping permit up to three months in advance of your trip; there are also some first-come, first-served permits that open up around 9:30am each morning. Before you rush out the door, make sure to reserve a permit to camp on the west side of Tomales Bay. Once you've made your reservation, you'll also need to get a free beach fire permit from the nearby Bear Valley Visitors Center(1 Bear Valley Rd.,
Point Reyes Station)
. You'll definitely want to grill up some of those oysters for dinner.

Read over the National Park Service's guide to low-impact boat-in camping before paddling out.

Overnight kayak rentals are available through Blue Waters Kayaking.(Courtesy of @blue.waters.kayaking)

The Launch and Destination

Once you have your kayak, you can choose one of four areas for launch: Marin County Parks Miller Boat Launch, Tomales Bay State Park, Tomales Bay Resort, and Lawson's Landing. Pick the launch point depending on how epic you want your paddle to be.

Start your kayak trip as early as possible to snag one of the better beach spots. Also, be careful not to camp too close to the water as rising tides could lead to water lapping at your tent in the middle of the night.

The following beaches are open for overnight camping (listed from south to north):

- Kilkenny Beach

- Long Cove Beach

- Fruit Tree Beach

- Marshall Beach (this one's got vault toilets, yes!)

- No Name Beach

- Tomales Beach (more vault toilets!)

- Elk Fence South Beach

- Elk Fence North Beach

- Pelican North Beach

- Wall Beach

- White Gulch Beach

- Pita Beach

- Jacks Beach

- Blue Gum Beach (closed March 1 through June 30 to protect harbor seal pupping)

- Avalis Beach (watch for strong tides and currents in this area)

- Duck Beach (watch for strong tides and currents in this area)


Where Else to Kayak Camp in the Bay Area

Angel Island State Park

Kayak camp overnight at Angel Island campground. Once you arrive on the island via ferry (kayaking from San Francisco to Angel Island is a no-no), you'll find rentals and a map to the one kayak-in camping spot.

Anthony Chabot Regional Park

Kayakers can paddle it out at the East Bay's Anthony Chabot Regional Park, about 20 minutes from downtown Oakland. Rent a kayak at the onsite marina or bring your own.

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