San Mateo Section 10
Año Nuevo State Reserve to Waddell Creek
Año Nuevo State Reserve, one of the most fascinating and popular wildlife areas on the California coast, is home to a large and very active colony of northern elephant seals. From December through March, you can only visit the breeding area on a guided tour. From April through November, you must get a permit available at the park. The walk out to the point and a visit to Cove Beach are worth the effort, one of the great side trips on the California Coastal Trail. See the feature article for more information.
From the visitor center, head south on the New Years Creek Trail. Pass the handsome old farmhouse and descend stairs around ¼ mile. At the bottom of the stairs, the trail turns right and descends to Cove Beach. If you don't want to visit the beach, head straight for an old bridge over Año Nuevo Creek just ahead. Cross the bridge and follow the old roadbed of Highway 1 past a stand of Monterey pines to reach the current Highway 1 at ½ mile.
Walk the shoulder south, reaching the Santa Cruz County line at 1¼ miles. Soon the highway follows right along the shoreline at the base of the steep eroding Waddell Cliffs. Riprap has been dumped on the beach to protect the highway from the strong surf, but the riprap has nearly destroyed the beach. In summer and at low tides, you may be able to follow the beach if you can get down to it. Watch for a safe place to get on the beach if it looks passable. Whether on the beach or the highway, the section ends at the big dirt parking lot on the west side of the highway overlooking Waddell Beach and the mouth of Waddell Creek at 2½ miles.
SUGGESTED ROUND TRIPS & LOOPS: Of course the first suggestion is to take the guided tour out to Año Nuevo Point during elephant seal breeding season, a trip unlike any other along the California Coastal Trail. From April through November it's still a great hike. You'll have more freedom to roam but less elephant seal action. If you've done all that, consider taking the easy Waddell Creek Trail east up the creek into the southwest corner of Big Basin State Park, up to 9 miles round trip.
Distance: 2½ miles for CCT plus 3 or more miles round trip at Año Nuevo (4.0 + 4.8 kilometers).
Open to: Hikers. Bicyclists on road.
Surface: Trail, highway shoulder.
Access point: Año Nuevo State Reserve Visitor Center.
How to get there: Turn west off Highway 19 miles north of Santa Cruz or 30 miles south of Half Moon Bay into Año Nuevo State Reserve.
Other access: Along highway portion.
Elevation gain/loss: 50 feet+/130 feet-.
Cautions: Año Nuevo State Reserve has restricted access. During elephant seal breeding season from December 15 to March 31 access is by reservation only.
Further information: Año Nuevo State Reserve (650)879-2025.
Facilities: Water, restrooms, picnic tables and visitor center at Año Nuevo. Chemical toilets at Waddell Beach.
Campgrounds: Butano State Park east of Pigeon Point has camping.
Lodging: Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel (650)879-0633 is 8 miles north. Davenport and Santa Cruz to the south have lodging.
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