San Francisco, CA: Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve - Backpacker

San Francisco, CA: Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve

See sunbathing elephant seals and trotting coyotes on an easy 3-miler in Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve.
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Venture across the picturesque beaches of Northern California's Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve to encounter the world's largest colony of northern elephant seals. Inhabitants of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, these seals migrate from Alaska to as far south as Baja, California, but return each winter to the rocky shores of Año Nuevo to mate. You'll need a reservation for a guided walk during the winter season (December 15 to March 31), but can explore on your own any time between April and November.
Starting from the visitor center, wind through thick deerbrush on the Año Nuevo Point Trail before hanging a left onto the Pond Loop Trail. Keep your eyes open for the abundance of birdlife near the pond as you head toward the Año Nuevo Exhibit Building (featuring a real-time census count of the male, female and pup seals in Ano Nuevo) and the entry-point to the Sand Dunes section of the park.
In the Sand Dunes area, walk amongst the hundreds of elephant seals lounging, playing, feeding and mating on the postcard-like beach. Don't expect privacy on the shore, though: Along with hordes of 14-foot, 2-ton elephant seals, you'll likely run into coyotes on the prowl. Winter is the best time to see the adult seals, though weaned pups will remain at the beach through April.
Guided tours cost $7. Reservations can be made by calling (650-879-2025) or visiting Reserve America.
-Mapped by Dave Miller

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 5.2



Location: 37.1189728, -122.3072586

From the visitor center, head west on the gravely Ano Nuevo Point Trail. Hiking permits are required year-round and can be obtained at the visitor center.


Location: 37.1195526, -122.307579

Turn left at the Y-junction to make a gradual descent on a well-packed sand and gravel trail flanked by thick deerbrush.


Location: 37.1195984, -122.3086624

At the Y-junction, hang a left onto the Pond Loop Trail. Keep your eyes open for pelicans and other waterbirds as you weave through tall coastal grasses toward a grove of cypress trees.


Location: 37.1187859, -122.3102722

Continue straight at the Y-junction.


Location: 37.1184578, -122.3124542

Hang a right at the Y-junction as you leave behind the pond and ascend through cypress trees.


Location: 37.1193047, -122.3157425

Turn left at the Y-junction to pick up the Ano Nuevo Point Trail again.


Location: 37.117466, -122.3192291

With the sounds of elephant seals and sea lions in the distance, reach the the Ano Nuevo Exhibit building. From here, the trail cuts close to the coastline and follows a boardwalk. During peak season, you'll need a guide to get past this point.


Location: 37.114933, -122.3255081

Leave the boardwalk behind as the trail cuts onto the beach.


Location: 37.1152573, -122.3264542

Enter the Sand Dunes section of the park to encounter colonies of elephant seals and sea lions literally blanketing the area's dunes and coastline. During peak season, your guide will direct you through the frenzy. During the rest of the year, explore the area on your own, adhering to park rules by keeping at least 25 feet away from the seals at all time. When done exploring, retrace your route back to the visitor center.

Mom and Baby

Location: 37.1147003, -122.3289871

Brown Pelican

Location: 37.1189346, -122.3117752

Coastal View

Location: 37.1170395, -122.3191166


Location: 37.1172705, -122.3192024


Location: 37.1149606, -122.3253608

Sandy Trail

Location: 37.1148579, -122.3256826

Coyote Feeding

Location: 37.1150551, -122.3292999

Coyote Closeup

Location: 37.1148186, -122.3295517

Wink and Wave

Location: 37.1143913, -122.3291626

Bulls on the Beach

Location: 37.1142731, -122.3297882

Weathered Bull

Location: 37.1138306, -122.3288193


Location: 37.113781, -122.329567

Crowded Beach

Location: 37.1131325, -122.3290939


Location: 37.1142235, -122.3288193

The Boss

Location: 37.1131724, -122.3278821

Sandy Females

Location: 37.1143265, -122.3266907

Bull Profile

Location: 37.1147499, -122.3276825


Location: 37.1141891, -122.3272705

Sand Sculpture

Location: 37.1139183, -122.3261337


Location: 37.1136772, -122.3263478

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