Right now, thousands of gray whales are passing Point Reyes National Seashore on their way south to Baja, Mexico. In fact, mid-January is the peak of southbound gray whale traffic at Point Reyes.
As someone who’s logged a lot of hours in Point Reyes trying to spot gray whales, I want to share a few tips:
- Check the webcam at the lighthouse before you leave your house. If it’s an incredibly windy or foggy day at the Point, whale watching can be nearly impossible.
- If it’s a weekend, be prepared to take the shuttle bus, as the road to the lighthouse will be closed to traffic. Add some time into your day for the shuttle, and bring adequate snacks.
- Be sure you’re visiting at the peak of the migration season. Besides the southbound surge in mid-January, there’s another surge of northbound whales in mid- to late-March. Mother’s Day is also known by Point Reyes park rangers as a great time to see lots of mothers and calves, as they travel north much later than the rest of the grays. Check out this graph of whale traffic patterns at Point Reyes.
Whether you have a successful day spotting gray whales or not, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fantastic experience in Point Reyes assuming you packed plenty of windproof layers. The scenery is breathtaking, and if you’re at the Point between December and April for the whales, you get the added bonus of seeing hundreds of elephant seals from the Chimney Rock Overlook (the second stop on the shuttle bus).
In fact, my insider tip is to be sure to walk down to the Historic Lifeboat Station (aka “The Boathouse”) after you go to the Chimney Rock Overlook. There are often a few elephant seals hauled out right near the Boathouse – the closest you will get to these incredible animals while in the park. And there’s hot chocolate and coffee served in the Boathouse on the weekends from 11AM - 4PM during the winter season.