Science & Nature
The southern part of the park near Palmer’s Point is an excellent place to explore some of the richest and most diverse tide pools in the world. The area has no winter ice, so the mild climate allows an upwelling of nutrient-rich water from deep in the ocean. This and abundant coastal fog keeps the pools cool in the summer. Even so, these tide pools are harsh habitats, with ever-changing weather conditions. Tide pool plants and animals have adapted to be able to live in fresh water (in the form of rain), in addition to salt water.
A few of the creatures you might see are purple shore crabs, limpets, ochre stars, and orange cup coral (in the high and mid-intertidal zones) and wine plum dorid, northern red anemone, and sea clown nudibranch (in the low intertidal zone, which is rarely exposed). Ask at the visitor center for a copy of the park’s “Get in the Zone! Life in the Intertidal Zones of Sue-meg State Park” brochure to help with identification. Remember, examine, but please do not pick up or disturb these animals! Even moving a rock can kill or seriously injure a tide pool resident.
Though the park is in the heart of California’s coast redwood country, there are very few redwoods at Sue-meg. The principal trees are Sitka spruce, red alder, Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and shore pine (also known as “lodgepole pine”). Spring and summer wildflowers include salal, Douglas iris, fairy bells, trillium, skunk cabbage, and rhododendron. Thimbleberries, salmonberries, and huckleberries grow along meadow edges. Fall and early winter bring out a wide variety of mushrooms, but please don’t pick them—as they provide habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife.
From the 1870s to the 1920s, the forest was cleared and burned to plant apple orchards and hay and potato crops. Sheep and cattle grazed here.
Now the meadows in the park closely resemble the land prior to its acquisition as a state park in 1929. Maintained by mowing and removal of sprouting trees, they have a variety of herbs, grasses, and shrubs. They produce colorful wildflower displays and provide scenic views of the shoreline and rock outcrops.
For more information about plants at Sue-meg, visit the native plant garden. It’s a quarter mile walk from the visitor center.
The annual spring and fall migration of gray whales along the west coast of North America is one of the world’s outstanding wildlife spectacles. In this park, Wedding Rock, Sue-meg, and Palmer’s Point are good places to get a glimpse of the procession.
Up to 50 feet long and 45 tons each, gray whales migrate up to 12,000 miles each year, from Alaska to Baja California and back—the longest known annual migration of any mammal. They travel in small groups, 70 to 80 miles a day. They stay close to the shoreline for protection from predators such as killer whales. Spouts of vaporized water up to 12 feet high can be seen as the whales surface every three to five minutes to breathe. Spring and fall are the best times to see them, but a few whales summer near Sue-meg as well. Sue-meg is also a popular spot for viewing seals and sea lions.
Black bears roam in the woods, so keep food and scented items well wrapped and safely locked up in your vehicle. As to birds, binoculars will help you spy red crossbills and winter wrens in the forest and common murres on the sea rocks, among many other species. Common murres are diving birds that winter at sea and breed in large colonies on tall rocks offshore
Winter Wren at Sue-meg
Agate Beach is a gently curving strip of sand that can be reached by a short, steep trail from the Agate Beach parking lot. Semi-precious agates, for which the beach is named, are polished by the constant movement of sand and water. Made of silica, agates are generally formed inside cavities caused by bubbles in volcanic rock. When the volcanic rock erodes, agates pop into streams and are eventually washed into the ocean and onto beaches.
Collecting stones at Agate Beach is allowed, but no more than one armload is permitted per person.
Research in the Park
North Coast state parks, including Sue-meg, are part of a study of the mysterious white-footed vole (Arborimus albipes). In 2014, researchers roamed the park with scent dogs trained to recognize the vole’s scat. The species lives in old-growth forests, but little is known about its range, population, and characteristics. “It’s so weird that there is a species in the United States that we know nothing about,” one researcher told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Save the Redwoods League provides funding for this vole study and many other research projects in redwood forests.