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Año Nuevo Natural Preserve

Año Nuevo Natural Preserve

California State Parks
Año Nuevo State Park is breathtaking in every season as the elephant seals can be viewed year-round. 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 Natural Preserve 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 Natural Preserve is restricted year-round.

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.

During the “Molting Season,” the Natural Preserve is open for self-guided hiking by Visitor Permit only. Obtain your free Visitor Permit daily from the entrance station, between 8:30 am and 3:30 p.m. No reservations are required and no Guided Walks are offered. Visitors must exit the Natural Preserve by 5 p.m., which is earlier than the general parks closing hour of sunset. Please plan to arrive early enough to obtain a permit and make the three to four mile hike before 5 p.m. Most groups require about two and a half to three hours to make the round-trip hike.

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.

During the “Fall Haul Out” the Natural Preserve is open for self-guided hiking by Visitor Permit only. Obtain your free permit daily from the entrance station, between 8:30 am and 3:30 p.m. only. No reservations are required and no Guided Walks are offered. Visitors must exit the Natural Preserve by 5 p.m., which is earlier than the general parks closing hour of sunset. Please plan to arrive early enough to obtain a permit and make the four to five mile hike before 5 p.m. Most groups require about three hours to make the round-trip hike.

Natural Preserve Closed: 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 and Walks: 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 in the intertidal zones.

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.

For more information see related link: Elephant Seal Guided Walks