Año Nuevo – Elephant Seal Haven
Año Nuevo state park is famous for their elephant seals. During this time of the year, the first young males haul themselves onto the beach in preparation for the return of the females during winter. Shortly after their arrival, the females will give birth, ween their pups, and then mate to repeat the cycle for next season.
Elephant seals were once hunted to the brink of extinction. These amazing aquatic mammals spend their lives foraging far off the west coast of America, from California up to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They can dive to a depth of 5,000 feet, feeding off the ocean floor bottom and gaining a mass of over 4,500 lbs (males). Read more at the Marine Mammal Center site.
Entry to the state park costs $10 per vehicle. Ask for a trail permit (free) at the entry gate in order to hike down to the elephant seals. It takes about 3-4 hours round trip to see the elephant seals so plan accordingly.
Total climbing: 318 ft
Marine Education Center
Start off your visit at the Marine Education center which offers information panels about the general life cycle of the elephant seal. From there, the trail begins through marshy grasslands on the way to Cove Beach.
A half mile past Cove Beach, the terrain changes into sand dunes, making the hiking a bit more difficult.
Bight Beach and North Point
After trudging up and down the sand dunes, you’ll begin to get your first glimpse of elephant seals at the Bight Beach overlook. Just 800ft further down from Bight Beach is the North Point overlook which offers the best viewing during the Sept-Oct months; During this time, the first juvenile males are beginning to haul out.
On the way back, stop by the boardwalk overlook along the south end of Bight Beach. There aren’t any elephant seals there at this time of year, but you’ll get some nice ocean views of Año Nuevo island. This island, now abandoned, once maintained a lighthouse with living quarters.
Winter is coming
Early October just offers a sneak peak: The hoard of elephant seals and birthing of pups will arrive during winter.