Año Nuevo Point Trail - Hiking

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Summary

The Año Nuevo Point trail is a South Peninsula gem, traversing bluffs and dunes while overlooking the kelp beds and ultramarine waters of Año Nuevo Bay. The trail’s highlight comes at the point, where you can observe a thriving and noisy population of elephant seals.

Written by

Charlotte Dohrn

Distance

3.5 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

46.1 miles

Difficulty

1 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

2 hours

Seasonality

All Seasons

The park is open year round, but see the California State Parks website for specific information about elephant seal viewing seasons and accompanying regulations.

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Fees Permits

Yes

General Park Access is $10 per vehicle for the parking lot.

Review

Intro

South of Pescadero on California’s famous Highway 1, the trails of Año Nuevo State Park and Preserve boast beach access, stunning coastal views and close encounters with massive marine mammals.  The Año Nuevo Point trail carries you from the visitor’s center to the elephant seal viewing area with breathtaking views over Año Nuevo Bay along the way.  A gentle 3.5 miles out and back, the trail traverses vegetated dunes and coastal bluffs.  Treat your ears to the soothing sounds of wind rustling through tall grasses and waves crashing on the shore…and of course, the cacophonous braying, barking, snorting and trumpeting of hundreds, if not thousands, of seals and sea lions. 

What Makes It Great

The Año Nuevo Point trail provides an unparalleled opportunity to get up close and personal with the mammalian behemoths of the sea.  Año Nuevo’s northern elephant seal population is one of the largest mainland colonies in the world and represents a remarkable recovery story.  The animals were hunted to the brink of extinction by the late 19th Century. Today, over 10,000 elephant seals return each year to breed, give birth and molt on Año Nuevo’s beaches.  The scenery is classic of the California coast, and just out of the Bay Area’s fog.  Varied and gentle, with wildflowers, a freshwater pond ecosystem and beach access, the Año Nuevo Point trail provides a beautiful and relaxed hiking option south of San Francisco.

Start at the visitor’s center south of the parking area.  Obtain a permit for the elephant seal viewing area.  From the visitor’s center, follow the Año Nuevo Point trail to the fork.  Stay right to take the Upper Pond trail, skirting a bucolic pond created by an old earthen dam that now provides habitat for migratory birds, endangered San Francisco Garter Snakes and rare Red-legged Frogs.  Native shrubs and trees such as Toyon, Monterey Pine and Douglas Fir are re-vegetating the area.  From the Pond Trail, overlook the sparkling, productive waters of the Bay, teeming with cormorants, pelicans and marine life.  Offshore, Año Nuevo Island shelters the Bay and upwelling of nutrient-rich water supports the diverse and productive ecosystem.

Continue along the Pond Trail until it joins the Point Trail.  You will reach a stand of Monterey Pines that shades the visitor’s staging area.  To the left, find a lookout and perfectly placed bench to rest and enjoy the view. 

From here, how you proceed depends on the timing of your visit (see below for detailed access information).  Continue along the Point Trail, traversing dunes covered by a variety of plant life, including vibrant and fragrant yellow bush lupine.  From the boardwalk, you can observe the elephant seals in all of their smelly glory as they form harems, mate, give birth or molt, depending on the time of year.  Use the scopes on the viewing platform to look out to Año Nuevo Island, where the abandoned lighthouse keeper’s house has been overrun by pinnipeds including barking California sea lions and their larger relatives, the Steller sea lion.  Side trails crisscross the dunes to access other viewing areas.

Though one could spend hours observing the antics of the seals, the trail back has a few undiscovered gems.  Return on the Point Trail, staying right to walk along the bluffs.  From here, you can take a short side trail down to Cove Beach, a pristine stretch of yellow sand sheltered by mudstone cliffs that is popular with local surfers. As you descend, observe the kelp beds in the bay, productive nurseries for fish. 

Linger on the beach for a picnic, or take in the view and continue on.  Follow the Point Trail along the bluffs, enjoying sweeping ocean views.  Reach the junction with the New Years Creek Trail, and bear left to return to the trailhead, basking in the experience of the coastal California ecosystem restored to its original state.

Who is Going to Love It

Families with kids looking for a short but exciting hike.  Marine mammal and bird enthusiasts.  Roadtrippers on Highway 1 looking to get out of the car and stretch their legs. 

The trails are currently under construction to become ADA accessible by fall of 2016.  The viewing boardwalk is currently ADA accessible, contact the park for information.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Get directions to the park here.

From April 1st-November 30th, the preserve beyond the staging area is open to visitors with permits from 8am-5pm, though they do not issue permits after 3:30pm (permits are free from the Visitor’s Center, no reservations required).  During the summer, elephant seals come ashore to molt.  Mature males, females and some juveniles can be seen during this time.  In the fall, only a few juveniles remain on the beaches.  The portion of the trail within the preserve is closed to visitors during the first two weeks of December for the arrival of pregnant females and adult males. 

From December 15th through March 31st, the preserve is accessible only on naturalist-guided walks, which require reservations in advance and cost $7 per adult. 

There are trailheads with limited parking along Highway 1 both north and south of the main park entrance.  These trails access the bluffs, hidden beaches and tide pools.  

Location

Ano Nuevo Point Trail

Pescadero, CA, 94060
37.116378, -122.305033

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