A short, quarter-mile walk from the Chimney Rock Trailhead is the Point Reyes Elephant Seal Overlook, which comes complete with viewing platform and a National Park Service docent standing by on weekends and holidays. Perched above Drake’s Bay, the overlook provides excellent viewing access to part-time residents in a breeding colony of northern elephant seals. The massive pinnepeds return to the beaches of Point Reyes semi-annually: once in the spring and summer for their annual molt, and once in winter for a longer breeding season. The Chimney Rock colony is thought to number close to 100 individuals.
Interestingly, the Point Reyes elephant seals have been absent from the area for nearly 150 years, due in no small part to detrimental hunting that nearly extirpated the population around the turn of the 19th century. It wasn’t until the 1970s that elephant seals were again spotted in the Point Reyes area, and within a few years a breeding pair was discovered near Chimney Rock. The colony has been growing rapidly ever since.
Winter (December through March) is the active breeding season for these cacophonous creatures, when adult males first arrive to exert their dominance over competing bulls for their chance at achieving a harem. Soon after, females arrive to give birth to young pups, along with juveniles. Before their departure in March, the alpha bulls mate with the females to begin the cycle again.
Parking for the Elephant Seal Overlook is shared with parking for the Chimney Rock Trail in a gravel lot that is well signed from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. You'll hear the distinctive trumpeting of the bull males, which can be easily heard from the road. Vault toilets are provided at the parking area.
The Chimney Rock and Elephant Seal Overlook area are a short drive away from the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, another must-see highlight of the area.