Your Visit & Tours
Año Nuevo State Reserve is fascinating in every season. Elephant seal 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 Wildlife Protection Area 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 Wildlife Protection Area is restricted year-round. Plan your visit by checking out the “seasons” of the Wildlife Protection Area:
Pre-Season: 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: 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.
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. See Related Links for: Public Seal Walks and School Group Walks.
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 Wildlife Protection Area 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 Wildlife Protection Area by 5 p.m., which is earlier than the general Reserve’s 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 Wildlife Protection Area is open for self-guided hiking by Visitor Permit only. Obtain your free permit daily from the entrance station, between 8:30 am and 3:00 p.m. only. No reservations are required and no Guided Walks are offered. Visitors must exit the Wildlife Protection Area by 4 p.m., which is earlier than the general Reserve’s closing hour of sunset. Please plan to arrive early enough to obtain a permit and make the four to five mile hike before 4 p.m. Most groups require about three hours to make the round-trip hike.
Año Nuevo SR Office
8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. PST
Not for Reservations!
Please read Año Nuevo Guided Walks for more information prior to calling 800-444-4445 for reservations.
Also see September 2012 News Release for “Elephant Seal Guided Walks at Ano Nuevo State Reserve".
Reservations open on October 20th for individuals and on the first Saturday of October for School Group Walks.
Accessible Visitor Reservations
Viewing Dates and Times
8 a.m. to Sunset
Special Hour Restrictions for Seal Viewing Area
(Wildlife Protection Area)
Dec 1 - 14
Elephant Seal Viewing Area closed to public access.
Dec 15 - Mar 31
Guided Walks Only (Reservations are required. See above for reservation information.)
Apr - Aug
8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
By Visitor Permit Only (Permits are issued at the Reserve.) Permit holders must exit Seal viewing area by 5 p.m.
Sep - Nov
8:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
By Visitor Permit Only (Permits are issued at the Reserve.) Permit holders must exit Seal viewing area by 4 p.m.
Año Nuevo Island
Closed to access.
No Pets are Allowed.
The entrance fee to the reserve is on a per vehicle basis and must be paid at the entrance station.