I must say hiking at Año Nuevo State Park, has been my favorite hike so far this year! Over Father's Day weekend, I wanted to take my husband to a spectacular hike, as part of his celebration of being a great dad and this was the perfect one. The California Coast, island ruins, sand dunes, the Pacific Ocean, and did I mention the wonderful elephant seals?! This whole hike was four miles with spectacular views.
This is very kid/toddler friendly hike with hardly any elevation change. Portions of the trail are in the sand dunes, so we kicked off our hiking boots and experienced our first time barefoot hiking for a couple of miles, which was quite fun.
If you are coming from the immediate SF Bay Area, you have two choices to get to Año Nuevo in Pescadero. Highway 92 to Pacific Coast Highway 1 through San Mateo/Half Moon Bay or the Southern Route through Highway 17 to Santa Cruz to Pacific Coast Highway 1. On this occasion we took the southern route and encountered lots of traffic but on the return trip we took the northern route with no traffic at all.
Guided Seal Walks and Wilderness Permit
From December 15 - March 31, hikers can only enter into the Wilderness Protection Area with a park guide (docent) and by reservation only. For more information about making reservations and fees during this please visit
.Since we arrived in the "off-season" reservations were not required, there were no extra California State Park fees other than regular park fees (approx. $10) and a docent was not required to hike. We did have to check into the Visitor's Center (Marine Education Center) to acquire our Wilderness Permit, which was free. We didn't have a chance to fully check out the Visitor Center but it did have an impressive interactive information area.
I tried not to get my hopes up about seeing elephant seals just in case they were not there but when we arrived the park rangers informed us that were lots of elephant seals out at North Point. I finally told our toddlers that we were going to see the elephant seals and boy were they excited, as well as I! Even a month and a half later my kids are talking about seeing the elephant seals.
Beginning of the trek, views of Año Nuevo Island Ruins
We took the Año Nuevo Point Trail all the way to North Point Trail, approximately two miles (one way), four miles round trip. The hike from the Visitors Center to the Staging Area (which is the at the border of the Wilderness Protection Area), is a little under one mile, partially paved and hard packed dirt trail. There is a pond near Cove Beach but it could hardly been seen through the tall plants. My toddlers usually love being near water sources but since they could not see the pond we just skipped hanging out there.
Entrance to the protected area
Our little adventure began after we entered the protected area! Not only did we have better views of the ruins on Año Nuevo Island but the trail opened up and there were lots of low bridges on the trail, which is always a great hiking motivation for my kids. Soon after we entered the protected area there were also large sand dunes and lots of them!
I will let the following speak for itself.....
As well as.....
If that's not fun then I don't know what is! The only thing that got my kids hiking again is the fact that we still hadn't seen the elephant seals. We could actually hear them near by as well and see them from the island. The sand dunes started near South Point trail head but we continued on and headed towards North Point. As you can see above we kicked off our boots and started our first time barefoot hiking and I don't know about you but I love the feel walking in sand!
The trail after the sand dunes near South Point was a mixture of sand, grass and twigs but there were portions of it near Bight Beach and North Point that were all sand, so we continued hiking barefoot. With each step we could hear the Elephant Seals barking louder and louder and we eventually saw them at a vista point near North Point. Of course we wanted to get as close as we could safely get so we continued onto North Point and encountered more sand dunes for my children to roll in!
North Point view from trail
After hearing the elephant seals barking for a while now, we finally made it to North Point! My kids were so ecstatic to see them...the elephant seals were swimming, sleeping, barking and even fighting. Even though it was not required to hike out with a docent at this time of year, the docents were still on the trails talking to hikers. The docent explained to us that the elephant seals were all young males with a few babies still lurking around and even let us touch a piece of their molten fur. He explained the larger males come back in a few months, so the ones we saw were "teenager" elephant seals.
I could have stayed there all day watching the elephant seals but we had to get out of the protected area by 5 p.m. At our 1 mph hiking rate, we didn't want to risk it so we stayed at North Point for half an hour and started back through all the sand dunes. I truly never seen my kids so happy on a hike, so I will be adding sand dunes to "kid-friendly" hikes. Our return trip was the same except we decided to take the Upper Pond Trail near the pond which was quite nicely covered with wildflowers and even some wild strawberries.
I truly loved this hike and it reminded me of how great California is! When we want mountains we head to the east for a couple of hours, if we want spectacular view of the Bay Area we just head up on our local East Bay hills and if we want to see the beautiful Pacific Ocean and California coast we head out west for an hour and find this great California State Park!
So here's to this happy California family enjoying one of its great State Parks, Año Nuevo State Park in Pescadero!