What’s one of the best things to do on the California coast during winter months? Whale watching! Especially, migrating gray whales. And San Mateo County’s Año Nuevo State Park puts you in the perfect position to see them, via a 3-mile (round-trip) hike that includes a stretch of beach that can be visited by another big attraction: Año Nuevo is home to one of the largest elephant seal colonies in the world.
Up to 10,000 breeding adults cover the dunes and beaches of the park from December through April. To start your hike, park in the pull-off located on Highway 1, then walk along Cascade Creek Trail to the Atkinson Bluff Trail (which starts near the two cypress trees). Take advantage of the elevated viewing point to scan the Pacific for whales before reaching a small trail leading down to the beach, which starts the return portion of your hike. Traversing the beach you might spot sleeping elephant seals as well as a multitude of other sea animals and birds. For everyone’s sake and safety, be sure to maintain the recommended distance of 25 feet from elephant seals.
The two cypress trees on the bluff mark your return back to the Cascade Creek Trail. Pass them to reach a small trail near the creek that brings you back to your elevated vantage point, a last chance to take another look for whales. Happy viewings!
ELEPHANT SEAL GUIDED HIKE: Want guaranteed viewings of the elephant seal colony between now and March 31? Reserve a guided walk that starts at the nature center.