School Group Walks
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 (January-March) focus on the northern elephant seal breeding season and are reserved for 4-12 grades.
The Spring Guided School Walks (April-May) showcase the spring molting to K-12 grades. This time of year provides the best time for younger grades to visit the seals.
School Tours January-March Grades 4-7
Winter Season Guided Elephant Seal School Walks
Available: January through March
Grades: 4th - 12th
2023-2024 Año Nuevo Guided Seal Walk Reservations:
ReserveCalifornia will begin taking reservations on the following dates:
Saturday, October 14, 2023
8 a.m. - 6 p.m. PST
Call toll free: 1-800-444-4445
School group docent walks are available on weekday mornings Monday through Friday beginning in Janurary and running through 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 guided 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.
These popular three-to-four mile walks over rolling sand dunes last about 2 1/2 to 3 hours and are considered moderately strenuous. Students should be prepared to hike on dirt trails and in deep sand.
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.
Within the natural preserve, it is possible students may witness elephant seal mating. Students may also notice dead or dying seals as a result of natural causes.
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. Masks are required.
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.
Pets are not allowed in the park and cannot be left inside parked vehicles in the parking lot.
Año Nuevo Teachers Guide - Winter This teachers guide is designed for school groups planning on visiting the park during winter breeding season.
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.
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.
Spring Guided School Walks
Available: April through May, Registration opens September 1, 2023
Grades: K - 12
K through 12th grade school and youth groups may request a guided walk by docent naturalists or do a self-guided walk. Docents are available every day beginning April 1 through the end of May. Docents meet students at the the parking lot picnic tables and then take the students on an average 2 1/2 hour walk to learn about the park and to see the elephant 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 a 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 juvenile seals. Spring also offers groups the chance to hike the trails at a leisurely pace, without the constraints of the busy winter guided walks. Spring wildflowers and wildlife are also abundant.
For younger grades (K-3) the spring season offers the best time 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 a long way to go), more time to view seals, additional docent support, and often better weather.
Visit www.SantaCruzStateParks.as.me/AnoNuevoFieldTrips to register.
Spring School Walks This guide is designed for school groups planning on visiting the park during Spring (April - May).
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. Group size for self-guided walks are restricted to no more than 60 students split up into 3 groups.
Bring the Elephant Seals to Your School
Looking to provide information about elephant seals before your visit to the park? Año Nuevo State Park offers a free virtual program January through March. Visit www.SantaCruzStateParks.as.me/AnoNuevoVirtualTrips to register.
California State Parks also offers a free distance learning program about elephant seals that uses live video conferencing with a park interpreter to help schools teach academic content standards. Visit www.ports.parks.ca.gov for more information.
Number of Walk Attendees: The maximum number of individuals on a walk is 22 (20 students, 2 adults). We require a minimum adult:student ratio of 1:10. School groups are broken into groups of 20 students per tour and at least 2 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. We expect that all chaperones support the docent tour and assist in managing students. Please do not bring extra people. They will not be allowed on the walk.
Mobility Assistance: If you or your students require mobility assistance, please indicate so when scheduling your field trip. For more information on equal access tours for visitors with mobility restrictions, visit the Equal Access Walk page. This is a separate walk but it can be organized concurrently with the regular school tour.
Natural Environment Warning: Within the natural preserve, it is possible students may witness elephant seal mating. Students may also notice dead or dying seals as a result of natural causes.
Breeding Season Guided Walk (Grades 4-12) - Available January through March
Located along a main migration route for northern elephant seals, Año Nuevo State Park provides protected habitat for the seals. Every winter, the up-to-two ton animals descend on the beaches for their breeding season. Although mating intermittently occurs, it is often overshadowed by births, fights, sounds, and the sheer number of animals covering the beaches.
School group walks are available on weekday mornings Monday through Friday beginning in January and running through March for fourth through twelth grade classes. Docent naturalists meet groups at the staging area outside the coastal preserve and then take the students on a guided walk to learn about the park and view the seals. This unique field trip experience takes about 2.5 hours total and has a maximum of 20 students and 2 adults per group.
To Register for a Breeding Season Guided Walk, call Reserve California at 1-800-444-7275 (open daily from 8 am to 6 pm, except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day). Reservations open on Saturday, October 14 at 8 am. When calling to make a reservation, be prepared to share your contact information, number of students and chaperones, grade level, and any special needs for students. The cost is $21 per school group plus $7.99 reservation fee. There are no ticket refunds or exchanges for cancellations, no shows, weather, or late arrivals. Refunds are issued only when the park staff must cancel a walk. As much notice as possible will be given in the event of a cancellation.
Spring Guided School Walks (Grades K-12) - Available April Through May
Visits to the park during this time of year provide groups the chance to experience the elephant seals during a different phase of their lifecycle. In April, female elephant seals return to the park to rest and molt their old fur andn grow a new coat. Also lingering are weaned pups, seals that are a few months old and are now on their own preparing for their first migration. Mixed in with this group are often adult and juvenile males getting ready for their spring migration along the Pacific coastline. Spring wildflowers and wildlife are abundant too. Spring also offers groups the chance to hike the trails at a leisurely pace, without the constraints of the busy winter guided walks and often with better weather.
Kindergarten through twelth grade school and youth groups may request a guided walk by docent naturalists or do a self-guided walk. Docents are available every day from April 1 to May 31. Docents meet students at the the parking lot picnic tables and then take the students on an average 2.5 hour walk to learn about the park and to view the elephant seals.
Spring Season Self-Guided Walks (Grades K-12) - Available April Through May
During the spring molting season, guided walks are not required to view the elephant seals. Groups may access the coastal preserve and view the elephant seals on a self-guided basis. Group size for self-guided walks are restricted to no more than 60 students split up into 3 groups.
Register for a Spring Season Trip!
Elephant Seal Tour (Grades K-12) - January through March
This virtual field trip takes place in the Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve where we'll have the chance to discuss the behavior, lifecycle, and adaptations of the northern elephant seal. These unique animals spend the majority of their lives at sea where they forage for food to bulk up for time spent on land. Elephant seals visit Año Nuevo State Park twice a year to breed and molt. We look forward to the opportunity to connect with you and your students!