Elephant Seal Overlook Trail, Point Reyes: Chimney Rock Trailhead, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California

Elephant Seal Overlook Trail - 0.3 miles

Point Reyes: Chimney Rock Trailhead

Elephant seals began re-colonizing Point Reyes in the early 1970s

Elephant seals began re-colonizing Point Reyes in the early 1970s

Round-Trip Length: 0.3 miles
Start-End Elevation: 72' - 78' (86' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +6' net elevation gain (+15' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Elephant Seal Overlook Trail - 0.3 Miles Round-Trip

The Elephant Seal Overlook Trail is located on the north side of the Chimney Rock Headlands in Point Reyes National Seashore. A short path leads from the parking lot to an overlook of Drakes Beach, where a breeding colony of elephant seals now returns every year in greater numbers.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Elephant seals returned to the Point Reyes Headlands in the early 1970s after a 150 year absence. The first breeding pair was discovered near Chimney Rock in 1981; the colony has grown 16% annually since.

Today the Point Reyes elephant seal population is 1500 - 2000, and expanding further into Drakes Bay. An estimated 650 pups were born in the 2011-2012 birthing season.

Feeding and Diving
Northern elephant seals range from Mexico to Alaska to Hawaii. They spend 80% of their lives in open sea, 90% of which is thought to be underwater eating, sleeping, digesting, and traveling.

Elephant seals are specially equipped to dive 1000 to 2000', where they face much less competition for prey. Their large eyes, long whiskers, and sensitivity to bio-luminescence help find octopus, squid, hake, skates, rays, shrimp, small sharks and crabs.

Dives may last close to 30 minutes, and resume minutes later after a brief reprieve on the surface. Elephant seals carry all the oxygen they need in their blood, rather than lungs.

Elephant seals exhale before diving, collapsing their lungs so there's little air to be compressed. As they dive, the seals' fat is also compressed so the animal loses its buoyancy and sinks, allowing it to reach great depths with minimal effort.

Dives are prolonged by reducing their heart rate to 4-15 beats per minute. The seal maintains normal blood pressure by decreasing blood supply to its extremities, favoring the brain and vital organs. This also helps the seal conserve body heat at colder depths.

The difference between a male and female elephant seal is thought to be the greatest relative size difference of any mammal. Bulls can reach 14-16' in length, and weigh over 5000 lbs. Females are considerably smaller and slimmer at up to 10' and 1000 - 1500 lbs.

Migration and Colonies
During semi-annual migrations, adult males and females are not only thousands of miles apart, but they have different feeding patterns.

Males return to the same feeding areas off the Aleutian Islands each year, while females feed in the northeast Pacific and near Hawaii. Females journey over 11,000 miles, and males 13,000 miles on their annual migrations.

Males dive deep and repeatedly for food. After about three weeks, they have eaten so much that their dive pattern changes to a flat-bottom dive, following the bottom as they rest and digest. Females also dive deep and repeatedly, but go deeper during the daytime than at night.

Although their locations and diving patterns differ, both sexes dive repeatedly for four to five months during summer and fall. Research suggests that elephant seals forage continuously during their migrations and sleep very little. Their brief, infrequent surfacings explain why so few are seen in the open ocean.

Males arrive first in December and Drakes Beach to claim territory. Pregnant females arrive soon after and give birth to a single pup. Juveniles trickle in, pushing single colonies into triple digits. By late April many have left to begin their gender-specific migration at sea.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N37 59.771 W122 58.786 — 0.0 miles: Chimney Rock - Elephant Seal Overlook Trailhe
  • N37 59.847 W122 58.934 — .15 miles: Elephant Seal Overlook

Worth Noting

  • Feeding, disturbing, or approaching wildlife is strictly prohibited.

  • Elephant Seals were hunted for meat and oil - it's thought that an adult bull elephant seal could yield nearly 25 gallons of oil.

  • Approximately 650 pups were born in the 2012 birthing season, a successful year. During the 1998 El Nino, storms washed away approximately 85% of the 350 pups before they had learned to swim.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Camping is by permit only. Camping permits must be obtained from the Bear Valley Visitor Center before starting your trip. If you've made a reservation and arrive after 5 p.m., a permit will be left for you in a small wooden box on the back side of the information board outside the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
  • Campsites may be reserved up to three months in advance. To obtain a reservation, call 415.663.8054 between 9 am and 2 pm, Monday - Friday. Reservations by phone are not accepted at any other time. You may make reservations in person 7 days a week at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. You may also fax your reservation using our fax form and fax number: 415.464.5149.
  • Wood fires are prohibited in hike-in campgrounds. Only gas stoves, charcoal or canned heat may be used for cooking. Downed wood may not be gathered and burned.
  • Camping is limited to 4 nights per visit, with a maximum of 30 nights per year. The minimum age of any camper is 18 unless accompanied by an adult.
  • Pets are not permitted in campgrounds. The maximum number of horses or pack animals in any campground is eight. Pack animals and horses must be tied to hitch rails.

Wildcat Camp - Campground Information

  • Wildcat Camp is located in a coastal meadow between bluffs and the ocean. It's located 5.65 miles from Palomarin Trailhead, 7.8 miles from Bear Valley Trailhead, and 6.7 miles from Five Brooks Trailhead.
  • There are 5 individual sites and 3 group sites; three of the individual sites only hold up to four people. Each individual site has a picnic table, food storage locker and charcoal grill. Group sites have two picnic tables, two food storage lockers and one large or two regular charcoal grills.

Glen Camp - Campground Information

  • Glen Camp is located in a quiet wooded valley, 4.6 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center via the Bear Valley Trail and Glen Trail. To access via bicycle, start at the Five Brooks Trailhead and follow the Stewart Trail to the Glen Trail, then north to the Glen Camp Loop. This is 6.3 mile bike ride. No groups, horses, or pack animals are allowed at Glen Camp. There are 12 individual sites at Glen Camp.

Sky Camp - Campground Information

  • Sky Camp is located on the west side of Mt. Wittenberg in open rolling meadows, 1.4 miles from the Sky Trailhead on Limantour Road. The site is located at 1,025'. On clear days it provides sweeping panoramas across Drakes Bay. Sky Camp has 11 individual sites and 1 group site.

Coast Camp - Campground Information

  • Coast Camp is located in a small coastal valley, 1.8 miles south of the Laguna Trailhead via the Laguna and Firelane Trails. It's also accessible from the Coast Trailhead for a longer but easier 2.7 mile route that's open to bicycles.
  • Coast Camp is located approximately 9.5 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center via the Bear Valley and Coast Trails. 12 individual sites and two group sites are available. Sites 1-7 are in a semi-protected canyon.

Rules and Regulations

  • To reduce traffic and regulate crowds, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is closed beyond South Beach Junction to motor traffic on weekends and holidays from late December - mid April, 9 am to 5:30 pm.

  • Access to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock during this closure is only available by Shuttle Bus, bicycle, or foot.

  • The shuttle is $5 per person, and free to children 16 and under.

  • Vehicles more than 24' long are not permitted on Chimney Rock Road.

Directions to Trailhead

The Chimney Rock - Elephant Seal Overlook Trailhead is located 20.25 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

From the Visitor Center, turn left and follow Bear Valley Road 1.75 miles northwest to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Turn left and follow Sir Francis Drake Boulevard 17.6 miles west to Chimney Rock Road, just south of the Historic "A" Ranch.

Tip: Follow road signs for "Lighthouse" until you see a sign for Chimney Rock. Turn left and follow Chimney Rock Road 0.9 miles east to the Chimney Rock Trailhead Parking Area.

Contact Information

Point Reyes National Seashore
1 Bear Valley Rd.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Visitor Information: 415.464.5100 x2 or 415.663.8522 x2

Headquarters: 415.464.5100 x 1

Volunteer Information: 415.464.5145

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