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Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos Essential Info

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 4.7 mi loop around the reserve
Time: 3 hours
Cost: Free along Highway 1, $10 per vehicle inside
Dogs: no
Bikes: no
Hours: 8am – 5pm

Coastal Views

Getting There

Getting to Point Lobos

The entrance to Point Lobos is off of Highway 1, south of Monterey. To get there from the Bay Area:

  • Take 101 South towards Los Angeles
  • About 16 miles past Gilroy, take 156 West.
  • Take 1 South
  • After Carmel River State Beach, look for cars densely parked in parallel along the highway.
  • The entrance to Point Lobos will be on the right hand side.


Point Lobos is all about the shoreline and the best hike is to start on the north side near Whaler’s Cove (which has limited parking) on the North Shore trail. The trail transforms into different ones, following the coastline to the end of the park’s southern border. From there, you can return to Whaler’s Cove by way of the Southern Plateau trail.

If parking at Whaler’s Cove is full, don’t fret. The trail roughly follows the interior road and the parking lots. Just find an open parking spot and begin your hike along the closest coastal trail.

If you are walking into the park from Highway 1, take the Carmelo Meadow trail after the entry booth to get to Whaler’s Cove.

North Shore and Cypress Grove Trails

The northern side of Point Lobos offers views of craggy shoreline, waves pounding into rocks.

In stark contrast, the coves offer protection from the open ocean. Sea otters and seals can often be found resting in these areas or foraging for food.

South Shore Trail

Carmelo Formation
Carmelo Formation: Mudstone (grey) Sandstone (sand) mix with ironstone nodules (orange)

The southwestern side of the reserve flattens out and the trail descends to the beach. Massive colonies of sea lions roost on the offshore rocks lending a unique odor to the experience.

The beaches offer opportunities for tide pooling. Look for anemones, limpets, snails, crabs, sea urchins, and even small fish in the pools left over by the low tide.

Following the south shore trail offers an unexpected geologic exposé in the form of the Carmelo Formation. See an in depth description of the rocks of Point Lobos here.

Bird Island Trail

At the bottom end of the reserve are China Cove and Bird Island. Descending to the beach at China Cove is prohibited whenever harbor seals are nursing their pups there. Bird Island is home to nesting cormorants and other sea birds.



Related Parks and Places

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Escaping the East Bay Heat

We escaped the heat the weekend by visiting the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve located north of Half Moon Bay. This is an excellent place for tide pooling. Check the tide tables and get there on time!

The reserve entrance is located in the middle of a residential community only a minute off of Highway 1. From there, it’s a minimal hike down to the beach.

Right at the entrance, we stumbled across a red-tailed hawk soaking its feet in the San Vicente Creek.

Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk soaking in the San Vicente Creek

Red Tail
Afterwards, showing off it’s eponymous red tail.

Down on the beach, we scrambled across the rocks, trying to beat the incoming tide.

Harbor Seal
Harbor seals resting on the rocks

Sea Anemone
Sea anemone still covered by water

Hermit Crab
Hermit crabs in their borrowed shells

Chiton crawling across the rocks

A small crab, bravely sits out in the open

Bluff Trail

You can also take the Bluff Trail south towards Seal Cove. Take the fork that rides the coast through century year old Monterey cypresses. From there, descend down to the beach along the Seal Cove trail. Located on the north end of the beach are additional rocky outcrops for tide-pooling ; we had these all to ourselves during Saturday morning.

Heron wades through the tide pools searching for a meal