The Bay Area is home to some of the world’s most beautiful scenery and a place people come from all over the world to see. Having all this beauty in our “backyard” I’m a little embarrassed to admit we don’t always appreciate or take advantage of it the way we should. There are still so many places we’ve yet to explore.
One of those places was the Año Nuevo State Reserve, home to a large colony of Northern Elephant Seals and located about 90 minutes south of San Francisco. The Reserve offers docent led nature walks enabling you to get within 25 feet of these incredible animals in their natural habitat.
Weighing up to 5000 pounds these enormous creatures look like they would be slow and clumsy, but it’s just the opposite! 25 feet sounds like a decent margin of space until you learn they can easily move that distance in a matter of seconds.
We’d only gone a short distance along the trail before we started hearing the unique guttural sounds of the seals. The way the sound traveled on the wind and across the dunes made it difficult to pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. There is limited visibility when walking among the dunes so there are ranger lookouts posted along the walk letting the volunteer guides know which pathways are safe and which should be avoided.
Early on in our visit our lookout called out to the guide, an alpha male was defending his territory, we’d better get moving! One moment the alpha was resting in the sand and the next our guide was telling us to move out of the way. The alpha male arched up and bellowed before charging down the side of the dune toward the offending male and our group! Exciting and a bit scary too!
Not only is it mating season, but there are also seal pups being born as well. We were able to see some pups nursing during the visit. We were surprised to find out that the babies only stay with their mothers for the first 28 days of their lives.
Reservations And Other Need To Know Information
Although the Elephant Seals are in residence all year long the most popular time to see them is mating season which takes place between December 15 and March 31. Keep in mind Reservations are required for the guided walks and the number of attendees is limited. Self-guided walks are prohibited during mating season.
The tours take place rain or shine and umbrellas are not permitted. It rained quite heavily during most of our visit and while it would have been nice to stay dry the plus side was that the Seals love a rainy day and were pretty active while we were there.
You’ll be walking three miles roundtrip and the terrain is a mix of gravel, dirt and sand, but overall it wasn’t a terribly difficult walk. Our group ranged in age from seven to seventy-three and although none of us had any trouble physically my seven year old lost interest during the lengthy nature talk. The scenery was really lovely and as usual I had a difficult time choosing which photos to include!