Point Reyes Watershed

Watershed Overview


The Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) includes the watersheds that drain into Drake’s Estero, Abbotts Lagoon, Estero de Limantour, the Pacific Ocean, and portions of the Bolinas Lagoon and the Tomales Bay east and west shore drainages.  PRNS extends from Tomales Point at the mouth of Tomales Bay toward the town of Bolinas at Pablo Point. It comprises nearly 100 square miles of open grasslands, coastal scrub, forested habitats, and coastal beaches and headlands as well as nearly 80 miles of undeveloped coastline.  It is renowned for its unique biological and historical elements.  Over 45% of North American bird species, 20% of the State’s flowering plants, 37 native land mammals, and a dozen marine mammals have been identified on the peninsula.  Point Reyes has been recognized as an “Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society; in particular, the extensive saltmarsh and mudflats of Drake’s Estero provide habitat for many migrating and wintering waterbirds.

PRNS was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 and attracts 2.5 million visitors annually.  There are 147 miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, beaches, and a variety of recreational opportunities.


Watershed Today

Habitat Types



PRNS contains numerous habitat types including estuaries, mud flats, sandy shores, intertidal communities, and variety of upland habitats.  The primary vegetation communities within the watersheds are coastal scrub, riparian woodland, Douglas fir forest, bishop pine forest, and grasslands.

Fish and Wildlife



The Point Reyes Peninsula is home to numerous special-status plants and animals.  Mammals include the Point Reyes mountain beaver, which are endemic to the area and found nowhere else, Point Reyes jumping mouse, various bats, and whales.  Invertebrates include California freshwater shrimp, Myrtle’s silverspot, Point Reyes blue butterfly, and San Francisco forktail damselfly.  Steelhead trout have also been documented in Alamere Creek near the southern portion of the peninsula.

Other species of interest include tule elk, a subspecies of the North American elk that is found only in California.  Historically, large herds of elk thrived throughout the grasslands of central and coastal California, but they were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s.  Tule elk disappeared from the peninsula by the 1860s.  In 1978, a small herd (10 animals) was reintroduced to PRNS.  Today, there are nearly 500 in two separate herds.  The largest herd occurs on Tomales Point in a 2,600-acre fenced preserve.  Roughly 30 animals have been transplanted from Tomales Point to the Limantour wilderness area.  The Point Reyes population of tule elk is one of the largest populations in California.

Human Habitation, Land Use, and Resource Conservation

Land UseImperviousness

Land Use                                       Imperviousness

All of the land within PRNS is owned by the National Park Service.  Agricultural operations continue on the historical ranches, many of which are in long-term leases with former owners.  Drakes Bay Oyster Company farms oysters in Drakes Estero.

The Point Reyes Headlands has been identified as an Area of Special Biological Significance by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.  Livestock grazing near erodible cliffs on the Headlands may contribute to excessive sedimentation.  The Marin County Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program (MCSTOPPP) has applied for funding to reduce nonpoint source pollution into Duxbury Reef and Point Reyes Headlands.  The Point Reyes Headlands element of the proposal is to install fencing and a cattle guard, to make a minor headcut repair, and to replace the stairs made of pressure treated wood with untreated wood at the Sea Lion overlook.

For more information on PRNS, call visitor information at (415) 464-5100 or visit http://www.nps.gov/pore/.