Hiking Ano Nuevo State Reserve, Pescadero:
Where the Wild Things Are Wet, Wonderful
By Kathy Chin Leong
"Elephant seals can grow as big as 5,000 pounds and 17 feet long," says docent naturalist Dave Ellison, pointing to one of these blubbery creatures on the beach breeding grounds. To put it into perspective, that’s as long as a soccer mom’s minivan. Here at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, curious onlookers come to witness one of nature’s most spectacular mammals during mating and molting season.
During the peak times in December through March, as many as 5,000 galumphing bodies are huddling up with their partners or fighting for territorial mating rights. Then in April onward, the seals go into lounge mode, shedding skin, fasting food and water for six weeks at a time. In the fall, the majority hit the waters to load up on their calories.While number of remaining seals still molting shrink down to 200 or 300, they are still fascinating to watch.
The three-mile round trip Ano Nuevo Point Trail is an easy, flat walk, except for the hilly sand dune near the end. Views of the Pacific Ocean greet hikers on one side, dunes on the other. The path is lined with low-to-waist-high bushy perennails such as heather, lupine and coyote bush.
Along the well-manicured trail are benches, several interpretive markers explaining local history, bird, and animal life. Night animals include oppossums, mountain lions, coyote, bobcat and deer. Droppings are often seen on the trail. Because there is a protected sanctuary, much of the path is corded off, keeping hikers within boundaries.
Of special interest are two redwood houses on Ano Nuevo Island, once lightkeeper homes in the late 1800s. No one is allowed on the island today, and the only ones living there are the birds and mammals. Another historic building on the premises is the Dickerman Barn Visitor Center, which houses the park bookstore and museum. It is open daily.
From the South Bay, take 280N to Hwy 92 towards Half Moon Bay. Drive south on Hwy 1. Ano Nuevo is on your right. Call 650/879-2025. Hours: 8 a.m. until sunset. Wildife Protection Area hours (in the fall): 8:30 until 3 p.m. Parking $6. Get there early to obtain free permit for wildlife viewing. No dogs allowed. No strollers are allowed, so carry your kid or wear a baby backpack.
Take note that the main trail, Ano Nuevo Point is just 1.5 miles. Shorter walks still are the Pond Loop .06 miles, and Cove Beach .4 miles. To see lots of critters other than the big guys, take the Wildlife Trailhead .9 miles. I would say that the level of difficulty is very easy. Yes, you can bring grandma with you. Be sure to wear sunglasses and hat, for there is little to no shade.
The most difficult spot is that one hilly sand dune to hike up Ano Nuevo Point, flat, rocky dirt path lined with low foliage and some flowers. Poison oak lies around, so be careful. To sum up, here are the park’s special features: elephant seals, interesting birds such as barn and great horned owls, red-shouldered hawks, northern harriers, ospreys; abandoned lighthouse on Ano Nuevo Island, Dickerson Barn Visitors Center with museum and bookstore, bottled water sold.
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