Although many people prefer to snuggle indoors during the rainy season, there are some who know that inclement weather can bring some of the most exciting hiking days. If you wear good raingear and choose an appropriate trail, the rewards are many.
One hike that goes rain or shine in the Bay Area, is the 3-mile, 2-1/2 hour hike out to see the Northern Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park near Pescadero, CA. Although it might be more inviting to hike out to the beach on a sunny day to see these 1,200 – 4,000 pound behemoths, it’s guaranteed to be an amazing hike no matter the weather.
During the breeding season, December 15-March 31, guided tours are required. Depending on the time of year, you will see various activities. In mid-December males start arriving and battles between males over access to females occur; females start arriving to give birth (height of birthing takes place late January). In February females are nursing pups and mating. By early March, most adults have left. During most of March and into April, weaners (weaned pups) hang out for a while learning to swim in the surf and then take off.
The hike starts from the Año Nuevo Visitor Center, which is just off Highway 1, about 90 minutes south of San Francisco. If you are on the guided tour, you will check in, then hike out approximately one mile to meet your volunteer docent. With your escort, you will be led onto the sand dunes where you will see hundreds of elephant seals from a safe distance. The path taken varies according to where the elephants seals are each day because you would not want to cross paths with a 2-1/2 ton bull on the move.
During the breeding season, December 15-March 31, participants must be registered for a guided tour.
April 1-Nov. 30. Participants can check in at the visitor center for a permit to hike in the preserve on their own.
December 1 – 14 Elephant Seal viewing area closed to public access.
- Although occasionally you can secure a pass by stopping by, making reservations is highly recommended. Click here to reserve online or phone 800-444-4445. Reservations are $7 each (no service charge). Most weekend dates are taken, but there is still good availability for weekdays.
- Bring a lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables on the preserve. No food is allowed on the trails, but you can carry bottled water.
- No umbrellas allowed.
- No dogs allowed either on the trails or left in cars.
- During the breeding season, December 15-March 31, participants must be registered for a guided tour.
- Park info, but no reservations: 650-879-2025 (8:30 am to 4:30 p.m.); 650-0227 (recording).