School Group Walks


View all Santa Cruz area State Parks school programs at a glance here!


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 Guided School Walks (April-Nov) showcase the spring molting to K-12 grades. This time of year provides the best time for younger grades to visit the seals.

Winter Season Guided Elephant Seal School Walks

Available: December 15 through March 31

Grades: 4th - 12th

Cost: $21.00 per groups of 22

Reservations begin 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 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. 

The Hike

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.

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.

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

Your Visit

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.

Winter Season Reservations

Tickets for all school group walks go on sale the first Saturday in October at 9am. Teachers are advised to book early since School Group Walk reservations fill up fast by late morning on the first day of sales. Reservations must be made a least 10 out from desired day

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. 

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. Online reservations are not available. 

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

Here are a few important things to know about the reservation process:

  • 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.

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. Visit for more information.