Fifty-five miles south of San Francisco and the Golden Gate, a low, rocky, windswept point juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish maritime explorer Sebastian Vizcaino sailed by the point on January 3, 1603. His diarist and chaplain of the expedition, Father Antonio de la Ascension, named it Punta de Año Nuevo (New Year's Point) for the day on which they sighted it in 1603. Today, the point remains much as Vizcaino saw it from his passing ship - lonely, undeveloped, and wild. Elephant seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals come ashore to rest, mate, and give birth in the sand dunes or on the beaches and offshore islands. It is a unique and unforgettable natural spectacle that hundreds of thousands of people come to witness each year. Año Nuevo State Park is the site of the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal, and the interpretive program has attracted increasing interest every winter for the past 19 years. People who hope to see the seals during the winter breeding season are urged to get their reservations early. The males battle for mates on the beaches and the females give birth to their pups on the dunes. During the breeding season, December through March, daily access to the park is available via guided walks only. Most of the adult seals are gone by early March, leaving behind the weaned pups who remain through April. The elephant seals return to Año Nuevo's beaches during the spring and summer months to molt and can be observed during this time through a permit system. Año Nuevo State Reserve is fascinating in every season. Elephant seal pups are born between December and February during the "Breeding Season." During the spring and summer months, elephant seals come ashore to shed their fur during the "Molting Season." Each fall, yearling seals "hang out" on the beaches during the "Fall Haul Out Season." A Wildlife Protection Area is designated at Año Nuevo Point to provide wildlife viewing opportunities and minimize disturbance to the animals in their natural habitat. Visitor entry into the Wildlife Protection Area is restricted year-round. Plan your visit by checking out the "seasons" of the Wildlife Protection Area: Pre-Season: December 1-14 Pregnant females and adult males begin to arrive on the beaches and form harems. Visitor access is closed during this period. Breeding Season: December 15 - March 31 Northern elephant seals come ashore to give birth and mate from early December through March. Bull seals engage in battles for breeding access to the females from early December through January. Pregnant females come ashore to pup from late December to early February, and mothers nurse their pups for about a month before mating and returning to the sea. By early March, most of the adults have returned to the sea. Pups remain behind through March basking in the sun and learning to swim. The reserve offers naturalist-guided walks between December 15 and March 31, which feature the seals in their natural habitat. To view the seals during this season, you must be on a guided walk. These popular three-mile walks over rolling sand dunes last about two and a half hours and are considered moderately strenuous. They operate daily from early morning. Molting Season: April 1 - August 31 Northern elephant seals come ashore during the spring and summer months to shed their outer layer of skin and fur. This "molting" process takes from four to six weeks per animal as they rest along the beaches. Female and juvenile seals molt from May through June and older males from July through August. Fall Haul Out Season: September 1 - November 30 By summer's end, most elephant seals have returned to sea to feed. Small numbers of one to three year old juveniles haul out on remote beaches as part of their early development. uring the "Fall Haul Out" the Wildlife Protection Area is open for self-guided hiking by Visitor Permit only. Obtain your free permit daily from the entrance station, between 8:30am and 3pm only. No reservations are required and no Guided Walks are offered. Visitors must exit the Wildlife Protection Area by 4pm, which is earlier than the general Reserve's closing hour of sunset. Please plan to arrive early enough to obtain a permit and make the four to five mile hike before 4pm. Most groups require about three hours to make the round-trip hike.
Was lucky enough to be here on New Years Day. It was surprisingly deserted as I arrived just at sunset. Beautiful walk. You can hear the sea lions as you near the cliffs. Definitely not strenuous. Potential to see wildlife (I had a few snakes slither out of my path)