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

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 awesome and a very worthwhile plan (that’s why we’re here).

When it comes to kayak camping in the Bay Area, Tomales Bay is the place to be. Just an hour and a half north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore offers the perfect place to reconnect with your primal self. With open hills, grasslands, and more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, Tomales Bay is a natural wonder. If you plan your trip in the summer or fall, you can catch the bioluminescence in the water—dark, cloudy nights are best, and yes, it’s as cool as it sounds.

(courtesy of @tbocoysters)

the food

About 20 percent of California’s oysters come from Tomales Bay, so if you’ve never tried them, now is the time. And if you love them, now’s the time to stock up. Tomales Bay Oyster Company(15479 Hwy 1, Marshall) It’s a great place to stop on the way to the nearby town of Marshall, a popular place to rent kayaks and grab libations in the austere minute. Grab a bushel or two to go on Fridays from noon to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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The gear

Don’t have a kayak? No problem. Blue Waters Kayaking(11401 CA-1, Point Reyes Station) Located right across from the many overnight camping beaches that stretch across Tomales Bay. For a small fee, they will even tote your extras on the motorboat.


What better way to map out your adventure than with a map. It shows your overnight, boat-in camping options from the National Park Service. In addition to the two most popular beaches, Marshall and Tomals (outhouses are provided), there are 15 other overnight beach sites to choose from. All campgrounds practice leaving no trace, which means you have to pack your poo—so, there it is.

Reserve a boat-in camping permit three months in advance of your trip; There are also some first-come, first-served permits that open at 9:30 each morning. Before you head out the door, reserve a permit to camp on the west side of Tomales Bay. Once you make 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 some of those oysters for dinner.

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

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

origin and destination

If you have your kayak, you can choose one of four areas to launch: Marin County Parks Miller Boat Launch, Tomales Bay State Park, Tomales Bay Resort and Lawson’s Landing. Choose a launch point based on how 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 water, as rising tides can lead to water pooling at your tent in the middle of the night.

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

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– Kilkenny Beach

– Long Cove Beach

– Fruit Tree Beach

– Marshall Beach (it has 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

– Jack’s Beach

– Blue Gum Beach (Closed from March 1 to June 30 to protect harbor seal pupping)

– Avalis Beach (watch for strong waves and currents in this area)

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

Another place to kayak camp in the Bay Area

Angel Island State Park

Overnight kayak camp at Angel Island Campground. Once you reach the island by ferry (no kayaking from San Francisco to Angel Island), you’ll find rentals and a map to a kayak-in camping spot.

Anthony Chabot Regional Park

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


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