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Point Lobos Natural Reserve

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

I had a photo shoot for a client in lovely Fresno California which was only about an hour's worth of time for the photo portion but a total of 7 hours driving. With the low desire of the long drive back home and temps hovering around 102, I figured while I'm in central California why not make a weekend out of it and head to the coast to visit one of my favorite California State Parks, Point Lobos Natural Reserve.

Point Lobos is located on the California coast just north of Big Sur and at the southern tip of Carmel Bay. It officially became a state park in 1933 with over 2000 acres of protected land. Of those acres, 775 are submerged acres which were added around the state park in 1960 making it the first underwater preserve in the United States.

If you have about 3 hours and want to see all the park has to offer you can combine a few trails into a 6.7-mile loop that will take you around the radius of the Park. The Loop can pretty much be started from any of the parking lots, but I found the best starting place is

the Weston Beach Parking lot because if you need to cut your loop short you have two trails that cut across the center of the park that put you near the Weston Beach Lot.

From the Weston Beach, parking lot take the Shore Trail South which will lead you along the coast to the Bird Island Parking lot then take the trail with the stairs to the right towards China Cove and Bird Island.

China Cove and Bird Island are in the most southern portion of the park. This portion of the park is known for the great number of sea birds, but it is also a popular spot for Harbor Seals in the springtime because of the protection in the many coves and inlets to give birth to pups in April through May. Bird island is a little further down the trail and not hard to miss. There is no vegetation on the island and it is covered in many generations of bird poop. You will most likely see Osprey, Gulls, and Brown Pelicans year-round, but from April to July you will see large numbers of Cormorants nesting on the island.

The day I was there I got to add a bird to the list, due to the unfortunate death of a seal. There were large numbers of vultures picking at the carcass.

Once you've had your fill of sea birds. take the Bird Island trail back towards the parking lot and just after the bridge at the first split in the trail take the Plateau Trail to the right. This trail will take you through the forested section of the park and to the front gate, then on to Whalers Cove, Coal Chute Point, and Moss Cove in the northern portion of the park. On the Plateau Trail, you will have a chance to see Black-tail deer and some Osprey nests throughout the Cypress and Pine forest. When you reach the main entrance, cross the road and take the Carmelo Meadow Trail which will lead you to Whalers Cove. From here you will go right along the Granite Point Trail to Coal Chute Point and Moss Cove.

Whaler's Cove and Coal Chute Point are great spots for scenic photos and especially for Sunsets. The last park entry time is at 6:30 PM, so getting the once-in-a-lifetime sunset shots is best when the days are shorter in spring. Spring has fewer people roaming the trails and is also better to see more wildlife.

Anywhere you see kelp you have a good chance to see Sea Otters all along the Parks coastline, but Whalers Cove has been the best place to find them for me. This cove is large and full of kelp.

Now head west back to Whalers Cove and towards Bluefish Cove, Cypress Cove, Point Lobos, and Headland Cove via the Granite Point Trail. Once you reach the Whaler's museum you will take the road down to the Point Lobos trail which in turn leads to the South Shore Trail. This portion of the park is the more difficult portion with some steep stairs and hill climbing. Once you reach the top of Whaler's Knoll you will start to see the Monterey Cypress trees that cling to the cliffs and could very well be the same trees the Spanish saw when they land in the late 1500s.

Once you pass a large meadow you will come to a bathroom and parking lot, take the Sea Lion Point trail to Headland Cove where you will find large numbers of Sea Lions basking on the rocks. You will hear them long before you see them. This is how Point Lobos got its name from the Spanish. The Spanish originally called Sea Lions, Sea Wolves from the hoarse vocalizations that they make.

From Sea Lion Point you will head south to Sand Hill Trail and back to South Shore Trail which will lead you back to your car. This portion of the trail has a few beach access points that get you into tide pools and are also a great spot to view migrating Gray whales. The best time for viewing the Gray whales is December to January as they head south to Baja California and in March through May when they head north to Alaska.

NOTE: In the summer months from mid-June through early September the park can get overcrowded. When this happens the internal parking lots fill up and everyone starts parking on the outside on Hwy 1. Some people also park on Hwy 1 to avoid paying the entry fee. Be prepared to do some extra walking if this is where you end up parking.

WARNING: The park is covered in Poison Oak. To avoid it stay on the trails, and in some sections of trail in the northern part of the park the trails are narrow and the poison oak is on both sides.

The photographs contained in this website may not be reproduced without the express consent of Shutter Bison.

The photographs contained in this website may not be reproduced without the express consent of Shutter Bison.

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