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California, United States

Wonders of Wildlife at Point Lobos State Reserve

Sea lions, shore birds and more share this gorgeous chunk of Pacific Coast south of Carmel, California

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Duration: Half day
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Overview: You can cram all the charms of California's amazing coastline into one stop at Point Lobos State Reserve, about 100 miles south of San Francisco.

It's all there at Point Lobos: crashing waves, barking sea lions, chattering shorebirds, sun-bathing sea otters, remarkable rock formations. Granted, you get a few nibbles of this anywhere along California Highway 1, but why not save your appetite for the whole feast?

Point Lobos has a network of well-maintained trails, but it's not really a hiking destination. Better to just find a place to park, find a trail, walk toward the sound of the ocean and enjoy the scenery.

Best time to go: September, when the summer heat is easing and the coast is less foggy. The rest of the year will do, however. Park authorities limit the number of cars allowed in Point Lobos, so you might have to leave the car outside the park on Highway 1 and walk in. This'll add about two miles of walking to your outing.


Tips: Entrance fees (summer 2010): Passenger cars: $10; vehicle with a senior citizen: $9; disabled discount: $6.

If you see a volunteer guide, ask if any migrating whales have been spotted lately. If so, it might be worth your while to park yourself on a patch of dirt and watch for their spouts.

Go on a weekday to avoid crowds and park closest to the coastline.

Give yourself two and half to three hours if you're driving south from San Francisco. Best way to get there is to take Highway 1 south from Pacifica. From Silicon Valley, take Route 17 south from San Jose and pick up Highway 1 south in Santa Cruz.

Watch for poison oak on narrow trails.

What to bring:
Clothing in layers and a wind-breaker - the breeze coming in off the Pacific is generally strong and cold.
Water and snacks (a picnic lunch is even better).
Camera
Binoculars

Points of Interest

Information
map

Point Lobos entrance

On busy days you might have to park along Highway 1 and walk into the park. Stop by the entrance kiosk to pick up a map and make a donation. Don't worry, you'll get your money's worth.
Animals/Wildlife
map

China Cove

From a small parking area, Bird Island Trail climbs to a ridge overlooking China Cove and Bird Island. It's about four-tenths of a mile one way.

Shorebirds are abundant and you might see the occasional sea lion. Views of the coast heading south into Big Sur are excellent, especially in late morning or early afternoon as the fog burns off.

It's OK to swim or wade on the beach, just bear in mind the water will be bone-chilling cold.
map

Tide Pools

With a parking lot nearby, this is a nice centralized location for checking out the western half of the park. It's always amusing to watch the seagulls' squabbling for mooching rights (don't feed them, it just encourages their bad habits).

South Shore Trail runs a for a mile north and south just above the water's edge. You can walk down to the shore, just watch your footing and don't damage the sensitive plant life.
map

Sea Lion Point

Your best chance to watch sea lions is at this point, accessible via a .6-mile out-and-back hike from the nearby parking area.

Exploding waves and unusual formations of conglomerate rock (think nature's concrete) make this one of the essential stops on any Point Lobos outing. Use extreme caution near the water's edge: it's far more dangerous than it looks.
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Cypress Grove Trail

This is the Number One must-see section of Point Lobos. Cypress Grove Trail is a .8-mile out-and-back loop past a grove of the rare Monterey cypress -- this is just one of two naturally occurring stands of the tree.

Pelicans often fly in formation at just above eye-level, and keen-eyed visitors may spot sea otters lounging in the kelp near the base of the rocks.
map

Whaler's Knoll Trail

This half-mile trail to a scenic ocean overlook is the only significant climb at Point Lobos: about 180 feet.

The highest point looks far over the Pacific, where lookouts were once posted to announce the spouts of migrating whales.

If you've not seeing a glorious panorama from the heights, it means you've strayed onto the bypass trail.
map

Whaler's Cove

Popular with scuba divers, this section of the park also includes a a small whaling museum that offers a fascinating (and appalling) glimpse into the era when whales were hunted to the brink of extinction.

From the Whaler's Cabin, take the Cabin Trail up to North Shore Trail for a fine view overlooking the cliffs. North Shore Trail is 1.4 miles in all; hike as much as you feel like and head back.
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Granite Point

Easy 1.3 mile hike out to a rocky overlook, with more chances to spot sea otters and sea lions.

Watch for poison oak near the trail.

Wonders of Wildlife at Point Lobos State Reserve Trail Map


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tommangan
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