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Año Nuevo

Año Nuevo is one of the few places in the world where you can see northern elephant seals and their pups during breeding and birthing season, mid-December to mid-March. Tens of thousands of people flock to here each year to see them; the giant males are quite a sight when they compete for females, rearing up and making...
Año Nuevo is one of the few places in the world where you can see northern elephant seals and their pups during breeding and birthing season, mid-December to mid-March. Tens of thousands of people flock to here each year to see them; the giant males are quite a sight when they compete for females, rearing up and making threatening sounds. Elephant seals sleep a lot, sometimes piling up together by the hundreds, and they grunt a lot, too. As many as 1,500 have been born here in a single year. But even when the seals are away, the 4,000-acre reserve is worth a visit.

During breeding season, all visitors must make advance reservations to tour the seals’ beach area with a park docent. These tours are not wheelchair accessible, so for those with limited mobility, the “Equal Access Tour” is offered twice a day on weekends. After you check in for the tour at the Marine Education Center, a docent will pick you up in the parking lot in an accessible van and drive you to the Equal Access Trail––you can’t drive there in your own vehicle. The van can accommodate several passengers and two wheelchairs. The nearly .25-mile boardwalk runs across dunes on the beach and affords up-close views of the mammoth animals. Because you must stay 25 feet from the seals, the boardwalk may be off-limits if any are dozing on or near it. Tours last two hours and are only offered during breeding season; however, arrangements can be made at other times.

Visitor center: The Marine Education Center (enter at the front; the rear entry has a very steep approach) is housed in a restored cow barn that was an operating dairy barn in the 19th century. There are exhibits about the dunes, tides, uplands, seals, and Ohlone Indians, as well as a live-feed video of the breeding grounds. The restored horse barn, behind the cow barn, serves as a classroom and theater where you can watch a film about elephant seals. It’s a good place to start your exploration of the park.

Trail/Pathway Details

Año Nuevo Point Trail

Trailhead: West of the Marine Education Center

Length: Under one mile total

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Gentle

Terrain: Firm

Description

On the ocean side of the visitor center, two dirt and gravel paths branch around a pond. Several hundred feet from the start you'll reach a signed junction where there is a 5-ton remnant of the hull of a wrecked Point Arena schooner that went down off this coast in 1913. Año Nuevo Point Trail, to the left, follows a nearly level course through coyote brush, coffeeberry, and blackberry brambles. The path to the right, Upper Pond Trail, is not accessible, though a ranger told me that there are plans to make it accessible, with construction starting in 2015. Following Año Nuevo Point Trail, from the junction you travel down a gentle slope; several sections here with water bars resembling speed bumps may be difficult for manual wheelchairs on the return uphill. After this point the trail is level the rest of way. There are partial views south to the ocean, and on a clear day you can see the remains of a lighthouse, fog signal, and keepers' dwellings on Año Nuevo Island. I could even hear seals barking in the distance. Binoculars are an asset here. After several hundred yards you come to an inaccessible viewing platform overlooking the pond; across from the platform, Cove Beach Trail drops steeply down to Cove Beach. A few feet past this point the trail becomes inaccessible, climbing steeply through a stand of Monterey pines.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Beach Wheelchair: Yes

Check with a ranger or call (650) 879-2025

Accessible Restroom: Yes

At the parking lot; an accessible porta-potty is at the beginning of the Equal Access Trail
Tables by the restroom are more accessible than the more scenic ones by the Marine Education Center, which require you to travel over rough terrain and are surrounded by fixed benches that prevent wheelchair riders from rolling up to the table.

Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, April 19, 2014

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Mural at Marine Education Center
Mural at Marine Education Center (Bonnie Lewkowicz)

Features icon key

  • Beach Wheelchairs Available
  • hiking
  • particularly good for families
  • picnic
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Website: www.parks.ca.gov
Managing Agency: CA State Parks
Address: 1 New Years Creek Rd.
Nearest City: Pescadero
Phone: (650) 879-2025
Reservations: Equal Access Trail, (650) 879-2033
Hours: Park: 8 am-sunset. Equal Access Trail: weekends, mid-Dec. through mid-March.
Fees: Entrance, elephant seal guided walk
Dogs: Not allowed
Service animals are not allowed on the Equal Access Trail or within the natural preserve where the elephant seals are.

Did You Know?

Male elephant seals can weigh as much as 2 ½ tons

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