OldWestNewWest.com: History & Travel Magazine

Thursday
Feb 22nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home National & State Parks California Elephant Seal Guided Walks Available at California’s Año Nuevo State Park

Elephant Seal Guided Walks Available at California’s Año Nuevo State Park

Hits smaller text tool iconmedium text tool iconlarger text tool icon
Each winter a very special ritual occurs on a small section of California's rugged, lonely northern coastline, roughly 55 miles south of San Francisco: the migration of the largest mainland breeding colony in the world of northern elephant seals, who come to rest, mate and renew the cycle of life.

elephant_sealfamily
The place where the elephant seals come is Año Nuevo State Park in San Mateo County, and guided walks led by experts in elephant seal behavior and history have attracted increasing interest every winter for more than 30 years.

Adult seals begin arriving on the beaches by mid-December. Bulls weighing up to 5,000 pounds engage in battles for breeding access to the females. Pregnant females come ashore to have pups beginning in mid-December, with births reaching a peak by late January.

Mothers nurse their pups for about a month before weaning their pup, mating, and departing back to sea. Birthing and mating activity peak by mid-February. By early March, most adult seals have returned to the sea. During March, hundreds of weaned pups remain behind to rest in the dunes and learn to swim in the tide pools.

For everyone's protection, people who hope to see the seals during the winter breeding season - Dec. 15 through March 31 - can only access the breeding area while on a guided walk. Park rangers advise people who hope to see the seals during the winter breeding season to get their reservations early.

As of Oct. 17, school groups can start reserving their School Group Walk offered Monday through Friday mornings for 1st through 12th grade classes. A school group consists of 20 students with two adult chaperones. One chaperone is required for every 10 youths 17 years or under. Reservations are highly recommended and available by calling ReserveAmerica (800) 444-4445. Agents are available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends-except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Callers are limited to ordering four School Group Walks per call. Cost: $21 per group, school bus parking is free.

On Oct. 20, individuals, families and other groups can start making their reservations for the Public Seal Walk, for any dates up to 56 days in advance and as late as one day prior to their walk. For example: To take your walk for Saturday, Jan 2, 2010 the earliest you could make your reservation would be Saturday, Nov. 7-the latest would be Dec. 31, 2009. Reservations are recommended, but not required. For youth groups, one chaperone is required for every 10 youths 17 years or under. Reservations are available by calling ReserveAmerica (800) 444-4445. Agents are available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends-except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Online reservations are also available at
http://anonuevo.reserveamerica.com. Cost: $7 per person. Children 3 and under are free. Parking is $10 per vehicle, paid at the Park entrance.

Beginning Dec. 2, 2009 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., disabled individuals can make reservations for the exclusive Equal Access Guided Walks. These walks are available on weekends only, Jan. 2 through March 28, 2010. Reservations are required and available by calling the park at (650) 879-2033. Cost: $7 per person. Parking is $10 per vehicle, paid at the park entrance.

bullinharem
These popular three-mile walks over rolling sand dunes and sloping terrain last about two and a half hours and are considered moderately strenuous. The first guided walk of every day will begin at 9 a.m., other walks will be held throughout the day. Visitors who are late will forfeit their reservations. Specific times will be offered when reservations are made.

Guided walks are conducted rain or shine. Visitors should prepare for an outdoor hiking adventure that may include high winds, heavy rains, and cold temperatures. Recommended clothing includes hooded rain gear, layered clothing, and sturdy walking shoes. For safety, use of umbrellas and baby strollers are not permitted on the walks. Bring your own food and beverages, as they are not sold at the park. Picnic tables are available for use before and after guided walks. It is advisable to bring bottled drinking water on the walk.

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.

The park is near the southern tip of San Mateo County, west of Highway 1, between the cities of Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, approximately one and a half hour drive south from San Francisco. Reservations are recommended for these popular guided walks.

Limiting visits to the breeding area since 1975 has allowed for the natural, undisturbed development of the elephant seal herd from 35 males to more than 5,400 animals, including the birth of more than 1,700 pups.

Volunteer naturalists from the surrounding community take an intensive two and a half month (65-hour) training course given by California State Parks, prior to the breeding season. During the guided walks, they and park staff will lead visitors among the huge marine mammals and explain both the story of the elephant seals and the other natural and cultural history of the area.

For more information on the elephant seals, the guided walk programs, and other features of Año Nuevo State Park, call (650) 879-2025 or (650) 879-0227 (recording), or visit the Web site at
www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=523


 
National & State Parks
Banner
Banner
Banner