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School Group Walks


Notice for 2018 Guided School Walks 

Due to the extended length of the trail as well as safety concerns, elephant seal guided walks will no longer be available to grades K-3 from Dec 15 to March 31.

A new program for K-3 will be available to schools in April and May that will provide an improved educational experience.

See Section on K-3 Grade Elephant Seal Guided Walks for more information. 

An Amazing Education Experience for Students

Año Nuevo State Park offers guided walks for schools to see the northern elephant seals in their natural habitat. These walks are led by State Park docent naturalists who are well versed in the natural and cultural aspects of the park. Students will get a chance to learn about this unique marine mammal as well as the other inhabitants of the park including shorebirds, land mammals, and past human inhabitants such as the native Ohlone and historic light keepers. 

There are seperate guided walk programs depending on the time of year for school groups.

The Winter Elephant Seal Guided School Walks (Dec-March) focus on the northern elephant seal breeding season and are reserved for 4-12 grades.

The Spring, Summer, Fall Guided School Walks (April-Nov) showcase the spring and summer molting as well as the fall juvenile haul-out to K-12 grades. 

The K-3rd Grade Guided School Walks (April-May) provide the best time for younger grades to visit the seals.


Winter Elephant Seal Guided School Walks

Available: December 15 through March 31

Grades: 4th - 12th

Cost: $21.00 per groups of 22

Reservations Taken: 9am on the 1st Saturday in October

School group docent walks are available on weekday mornings Monday through Friday beginning December 15 through mid-March for 4th through 12th grade classes. Docent naturalists meet groups at the staging area outside the coastal preserve and then take the students on a 1 1/2 hour walk to learn about the park and see the seals. 

*Due to the the long duration of the walk and safety concerns, K-3 grades are not accepted during this time of year. 

To view the seals during this period, you must be on a guided walk. 

Año Nuevo Teachers Guide - Breeding Season. This guide is designed for school groups planning on visiting the park during winter breeding season.

The Hike

These popular three-to-four mile walks over rolling sand dunes last about two and a half to three hours and are considered moderately strenuous. Students should be prepared to hike on dirt trails and in deep sand.

Due to the length of the walk and remote location of the natural preserve, school groups of grades 3 and younger are not recommended.

Students who require mobility assistance to see the seals can do so through the Equal Access Walk program. This is a separate walk but it can be organized concurrently with the regular school tour.

Adult Chaperones

At least two chaperones are required to accompany the school group on each walk. School groups without the required number of adult chaperones will not be admitted on the walk. Chaperones are expected to support the docent tour and assist the docent in managing the students

What Should I Bring on the Tour? 

Elephant Seal Walks are conducted rain or shine. Winter weather can be very cold and windy, even on sunny days. Rain is frequent and the trail may be muddy with small puddles. More information can be found in the Teachers Guide.

No food is allowed on the tour, but you may picnic in designated areas before or after the guided walk. See Facilities for more information.

Your Visit

Please allow extra time when traveling to the park. Due to the remote location on the coast, heavy traffic can cause delays and prompt schools to be late for their walks. Arriving early provides time to check in and use the restrooms.

Parking fees are waived for school groups grades 4 through 12.

Pets are not allowed in the park and cannot be left inside parked vehicles in the parking lot.

If you are unable to attend a reserved school walk, please contact the park at 650-879-2025 as soon as possible. This information is helpful for the guided walk operation.

School Group Winter Reservations

Tickets for all school group walks go on sale the first Saturday in October. Teachers are advised to book early, since School Group Walk reservations normally sell out by late morning on the first day of sales.

School group walk tickets must be reserved by telephone. Each caller may purchase up to four group tickets.To reserve a school group guided walk contact ReserveCalifornia at 1-800-444-4445. 

Price per school group ticket: $21.00. Each ticket allows entry for up to 20 students plus two required adult chaperones, for a total group size of 22. Extra chaperones will not be permitted over the group size of 22.

Information on reservations can be found at:

Call Center Hours:
*1st Saturday in October 9am - 6pm
Regular Hours Daily 8am - 6pm

ReserveCalifornia is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. All times are Pacific Standard Time.

School Group Guided Walks operate rain or shine. Refunds are issued only when the park staff must cancel a walk. There are no ticket refunds or exchanges for inclement weather, cancellations, no shows, or late arrivals.

Spring/Summer/Fall Guided School Walks

Available: April 1st to November 30th

Grades: 4th - 12th

Cost: Free

4th-12th school and youth groups may request a guided walk by docent naturalists at no charge. They are available every day beginning April 1st through the end of November.  Docents meet groups at the Marine Education Center and then take the students on a 2 1/2 hour walk to learn about the park and to see the seals. 

Visits to the park during this time of year provide groups the chance to explore the elephant seals at a unique time. In April, female elephant seals return to the park to rest and molt, a method to grow new fur on their skin. Also lingering are weaners, newborn seals that are few months old and are now on their own from their mothers. Mixed in with this group are often lazy adult males getting ready for their spring migration to the Pacific coastline as well as young juveniles seals. Spring also offers groups the chance to hike the trails as a leisurely pace, without the constraints of the busy winter guided walks. Spring wildflowers and wildlife are also abundant.

To reserve a docent contact the Año Nuevo Program Coordinator at 650-879-2032 or email Requests for docents must be made at last two weeks before the planned visit.

Año Nuevo Teachers Guide - Molting Season This guide is designed for school groups planning on visiting the park during Spring/Summer/Fall (April 1 - Nov 30th).

Guided walks are not required to view the elephant seals during this time. Groups may access the coastal preserve and view the elephant seals on a self-guided basis.

K-3 Grade Elephant Seal Guided Walks

Available: April 1st to May 31

Grades: K - 3rd

Cost: Free

Reservations Taken: Oct 1 through May 1

The spring season (April through May) offers the best time for Kindergarten through 3rd grade school groups to explore Año Nuevo State Park and its northern elephant seals. Although not given during the height of the elephant seal season, these guided walks provide more time for younger grades to hike out to see the seals (it's long way to go), more time to view seals, additional docent support, and often better weather.

Guided walks for K-3 will visit the South Point Viewing Area with their docent naturalist with an optional trip to Bight Beach Viewing Area. The South Point Viewing Area is the easist viewing area to reach and is often teaming with elephant seals including young seals just born, returning females, and lazy adult males that have yet to leave on their migration. Wildflowers and lupine bushes bloom along the trails. Lucky students might spot a San Francisco Garter Snake, one of the parks highlighted endangered species as they emerge from their winter burrows. 

To reserve a docent contact the Año Nuevo Program Coordinator at 650-879-2032 or email between October 1 and May 1. Requests for docents must be made at last two weeks before the planned visit.

*Due to the long duration of the walk and safety concerns, K-3 grades are not allowed on the December through March winter guided school walks. 

Bring the Elephant Seals to Your School

Looking to provide information about elephant seals before your visit to the park? California State Parks offers a free distance learning program that uses live video conferencing with a park interpreter to help schools teach academic content standards. 

PORTS program flyer