Hunted to the brink of extinction at the turn of the 20th century, the northern elephant seal has made a strong comeback in the past 100 years, thanks in part to both government restrictions on hunting and their own secluded, deep-sea lifestyle.
For just a few months each year, these unique creatures come ashore, returning to various spots along the California coast to compete, mate, and give birth. It's a powerful ecological pageant that only plays out from mid-December through March/April.
Ano Nuevo State Reserve boasts the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal, and offers guided walks -- rain or shine -- to see the animals.
The only way to access the seals during the breeding season, these popular three-mile walks over rolling sand dunes last about 2.5 hours and are considered moderately strenuous. Visitors should prepare for an outdoor hiking adventure that may include high winds, heavy rains, and cold temperatures. Food and beverages are not sold at the reserve, but picnic tables are available for use before or after guided walks. Special access tours for guests with disabilities are available.
This walk is extremely popular, and visitors often have to book their tickets months in advance to secure a spot on a tour. However, a limited number of tickets are held exclusively for guests of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel in nearby Pescadero. These tickets are available for Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Ask how you can reserve tickets to this sought-after tour when you book your hostel stay. Please note that groups of 10 or more can’t reserve tickets through the hostel and must reserve their tickets online through the State Park.
Ano Nuevo State Reserve
Parking fees apply ($7 / $6 for seniors 62 and over).
Stay overnight at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, 7 miles from Ano Nuevo.