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 (Jan-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: January through March

Grades: 4th - 12th

Cost: $21.00 per groups of 22

Reservations begin 8am on November 6.

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. 

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. 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.

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 November 6 at 8am. 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 4 days 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. Face masks are required on the tour.

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: 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.

Spring Guided School Walks

Available: April through May

Grades: K - 12th

Cost: Free

Reservations Taken: On the 1st Wednesday of August. Last day to register March 1st.

K through 12th grade 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 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.

Spring Reservations

To reserve a docent for your school group, please fill out this form: Guided Walk Spring School Request Form . The park will respond shortly after with a confirmation email. 

Your Visit

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? Ano Nuevo State Park offers a free virtual program Wednesdays and Fridays January-March.

Find out more and sign up here:


California State Parks also 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.