On the Range with Point Reyes’s Population of Tule Elk

LUCKY FOR US here in Marin, Point Reyes National Seashore just happens to be the only U.S. national park where tule elk can be found. Within the park they can be spotted in two different locations: the northwest end of the park on the Tomales Point Trail in a 26,000-acre fenced reserve and on slopes between Limantour and Drakes beaches. The best time to view them is during rutting or breeding season, July–September. There’s a good chance of hearing a bugling male trying to round up his female harem or seeing the males spar.

WHAT YOU’LL SEE Numbering around 300, the Tomales Point herd is one of the largest in California. Although they are the smallest elk found in North America, they are still formidable, with males weighing in at 450–700 pounds and females tipping the scales at 375–425 pounds; both genders are about seven feet long. The coloring of their coats is light beige with a darker mane circling the neck and a white rump. The males have impressive antlers that are shed annually. On summer weekends, look for park docents at the Tomales Point and Windy Gap trailheads sporting binoculars to help you get a better view.

HISTORY Tule elk herds on the Point Reyes Peninsula disappeared by 1860 after they were hunted to extinction. More than 100 years later, the park reintroduced them in 1978.

WHERE TO PARK To access the park via the Tomales Point Trail, follow Pierce Point Road to the Pierce Point Ranch parking lot. If you want to catch elk between Drakes and Limantour beaches, follow Limantour Road to the parking lot at Limantour Beach.

TIPS Always keep your distance. For your own safety, use binoculars and spotting scopes. If an elk seems to be aware of your presence and begins to move away, you are too close. Do not feed the elk. Pets are not allowed in most areas where elk may be seen, including the Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve. And do not collect or remove elk antlers; they’re part of the ecosystem.


This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “On the Range.”