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Pescadero, California, United States

Año Nuevo

Elephant seal watching at Año Nuevo State Reserve; learn about fascinating sex lives of gigantic marine mammals

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 (15 votes, 15 reviews)
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 4.5 miles / 7.2 km
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly
 
Overview: The elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve are not pretty, but they live pretty well. In fact, they're living out one of the world's greatest escapes from extinction.

Things have been getting better for the elephant seals of the Pacific Coast in the century since humans stopped slaughtering them: Their population has recovered from hundreds to over a hundred thousand.

Now thousands of northern elephant seals come to Año Nuevo and a few other beaches in California and Mexico to breed. Watching their reproductive antics is one of the best wildlife experiences available in California -- the closest you're likely to come to any large mammals as they go about their business of making babies.

You'll be amazed at how many of elephant seals fill Año Nuevo at the height of the season. It'll look like a seal civilization, and you can learn all their laws on the guided tours.


Tips: Elephant seals are immense, dangerous wild animals (an adult male weighs as much as your car). Never approach and always give them lots of space.

Sand walking can wear you out if you're not used to it. The beach walking makes a four-mile hike feel like a six-miler.

Watch for poison oak along narrow sections of trail.

Park hours:
April 1-Aug. 31: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sept. 1-Nov 30: 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Dec. 1-14: Seal area closed

What to bring:
Windbreaker and layers -- it can be quite cold at the beach, especially in winter.
Shoes suited to walking on sand
Drinking water
Binoculars and cameras
Cash for parking fee

Points of Interest

map

Breeding Season

The cycle starts around Dec. 1 with open warfare between bulls to determine who wins the right to reproduce (Año Nuevo's beaches are closed to the public for the first two weeks of December to keep people out of the crossfire).

After the bulls settle who's going to rule the beach for the next few months, the females show up in late December and gravitate to the alpha males, forming harems the dominant bulls will spend the next few months defending. Smaller bulls will hang around the edges of the harems, obliging the big guys to run them off -- watching two-ton beasts with no legs chase try to chase each other on land is one of nature's great comedy sketches.

The females arrive ashore pregnant from last season's amorous adventures and mate after giving birth to their pups, which, fortunately, are about a thousand times cuter than their nose-dangling fathers.

By the end of March most of the elephant seals have returned to sea, fattening themselves up to do it all again next winter.

(Weather note: veteran elephant seal watchers advise that cool, cloudy days promise the best seal action -- they try to preserve energy on hot days but they're much more mobile on chilly ones).
map

Molting Season

In the summertime, elephant seals show up (in much smaller numbers) to shed their tough hide. You can find little bits of it along the sandy paths to the main viewing areas along the beach.

Summer can be a much more pleasant time to visit Año Nuevo: no reservations required, no schedules to keep, warmer weather (providing the coast is not fogged in). The seals are much fewer in number but if you have binoculars or a camera with a good zoom lens, you can see them in isolation rather than in a massive colony. Most of the action is young males rehearsing for adult battles (think high school for behemoths).
Pictures in this guide taken by: tommangan, tclifton, wooac
Reviews
ricerubberpolisher
Really Nice space expensive it
Visited on Apr 03, 2010

by ricerubberpolisher 4 days ago
LostloveBackSolution
reat info i like this place
Visited on May 05, 2010

by LostloveBackSolution on Apr 11, 2014
LoveMarriageSolution
anu nuevo is heavenly
Visited on May 04, 2010

by LoveMarriageSolution on Apr 11, 2014
ricerubberroll
great weather very nice place
Visited on Apr 06, 2007

by ricerubberroll on Mar 13, 2014
ricerubberrolls
this is the park hub
Visited on Apr 03, 2012

by ricerubberrolls on Mar 10, 2014
bestindianastrologer
Año Nuevo is great i love this place
Visited on Apr 04, 2010

by bestindianastrologer on Mar 07, 2014
paddydehusker
THis place is just brings me to life
Visited on Apr 05, 2010

by paddydehusker on Mar 06, 2014
lovemarriagespecialist
had great time would like to go again
Visited on Apr 05, 2007

by lovemarriagespecialist on Mar 05, 2014
LoveVashikaranmantra
visit ano nuevo in spring
Visited on Apr 05, 2010

by LoveVashikaranmantra on Mar 04, 2014
astroman999
once you go here you dont want to come back
Visited on Jun 04, 2010

by astroman999 on Feb 24, 2014
ankitkhanna
great place. i have been there
Visited on Apr 04, 2013

by ankitkhanna on Jan 27, 2014
harinderinizz
good place fantastic experience
Visited on Jun 07, 1999

by harinderinizz on Nov 22, 2013
harinderiniz
Loved my trip to anu nuevo
Visited on Jun 04, 2011

by harinderiniz on Oct 30, 2013
harinderseo
elephant seals are like house flies at nuevo ano
Visited on May 05, 2007

by harinderseo on Oct 29, 2013
qwwq
In the summertime, elephant seals show up (in much smaller numbers) to shed their tough hide. You can find little bits of it along the sandy paths to the main viewing areas along the beach.

Summer can be a much more pleasant time to visit Año Nuevo: no reservations required, no schedules to keep, warmer weather (providing the coast is not fogged in). The seals are much fewer in number but if you have binoculars or a camera with a good zoom lens, you can see them in isolation rather than in a massive colony. Most of the action is young males rehearsing for adult battles (think high school for behemoths).


by qwwq on Feb 24, 2010

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About the Author

tommangan
tommangan
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Keeper of Two Heel Drive, A Hiking Blog at http://tommangan.net/twoheeldrive |

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