Seal Viewing Seasons
The Año Nuevo Coast Preserve: California Wildlife at its Best!
The Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve is designated at Año Nuevo Point to provide wildlife viewing opportunities and minimize disturbance to the animals in their natural habitat. Visitor entry into this area of the park is restricted year-round. AcceSs is by park issued permit or guided walk.
Año Nuevo State Park is breathtaking in every season as the elephant seals can be viewed year-round. Pups are born between December and February during the “Breeding Season.” During the spring and summer months, elephant seals come ashore to shed their fur during the “Molting Season.” Each fall, yearling seals “hang out” on the beaches during the “Fall Haul Out Season.”
April 1 to August 31 - Elephant Seal Molting Season: OPEN Thursday-Monday; CLOSED Tuesday-Wednesday
Northern elephant seals come ashore during the spring and summer months to shed their outer layer of skin and fur. This “molting” process takes from four to six weeks per animal as they rest along the beaches. Female and juvenile seals molt from May through June and older males from July through August.
During the “Molting Season,” the Wildlife Viewing Area within the Natural Preserve is open for self-guided hiking by Visitor Permit only. Self-guided walks to view elephant seals are available Thursday through Monday. The seal viewing area is closed Tuesday-Wednesday. Free permits are required to visit the preserve. Obtain your free Visitor Permit daily from the entrance station, between 8:30 am and 3:30 p.m. No reservations are required and no Guided Walks are offered. Visitors must exit the Natural Preserve by 5 p.m., which is earlier than the general park's closing hour of sunset. Please plan to arrive early enough to obtain a permit and make the three to four mile hike before 5 p.m. Most groups require about two and a half to three hours to make the round-trip hike.
September 1 to November 30 - Fall Juvenile Haul Out: OPEN Thursday-Monday; CLOSED Tuesday-Wednesday
By summer’s end, most elephant seals have returned to sea to feed. Small numbers of one to three year old juveniles haul out on remote beaches as part of their early development.
During the “Fall Haul Out” the Wildlilfe Viewing Area of the Natural Preserve is open for self-guided hiking by Visitor Permit only. Obtain your free permit from the entrance station, between 8:30 am and 3:30 p.m. only, Thursday-Monday. No reservations are required and no Guided Walks are offered. Visitors must exit the Natural Preserve by 5 p.m., which is earlier than the general park's closing hour of sunset. Please plan to arrive early enough to obtain a permit and make the four to five mile hike before 5 p.m. Most groups require about three hours to make the round-trip hike.
December 1 to 14 - Natural Preserve Closed
Pregnant females and adult males begin to arrive on the beaches and form harems. Visitor access is closed during this period.
December 15 to March 31 - Elephant Seal Breeding Season
Northern elephant seals come ashore to give birth and mate from early December through March. Bull seals engage in battles for breeding access to the females from early December through January. Pregnant females come ashore to pup from late December to early February, and mothers nurse their pups for about a month before mating and returning to the sea. By early March, most of the adults have returned to the sea. Pups remain behind through March, basking in the sun and learning to swim in the intertidal zones.
Año Nuevo State Park offers docent-guided walks between December 15 and March 31, which feature the elephant seals in their natural habitat. To view the elephant seals during this season, you must be on a guided walk. Elephant seal viewing requires a 3-4 mile moderate hike over varied terrain, including sand dunes. The walks last about two and a half hours. They operate daily from early morning to mid afternoon.
For more information see related link: Elephant Seal Guided Walks