Point Lobos - Carmel
Travel Update Summer 2020: Most destinations, sites and parks reopened with limitations. Check the official websites and read our crucial ‘BEST TIME TO GO' and ‘AVOIDING THE CROWDS’ tips:
The park opens throughout the year at 8 a.m. but closes before sunset to protect the wildlife and to avoid disturbance (like deer, foxes, bobcats, and owls). Camping is not permitted. Clearer skies, warmest average temps and the best moths without fog are September and October followed by April and May during the harbor seal pupping season.
Crowds in Summer
This magnificent and popular State Reserve is located close to Carmel on HW 1. Point Lobos is a year-round destination and super busy during summer and especially at weekends. Limited parking within the reserve; 150 cars only. At weekends and especially Sundays during summer it’s advisable to arrive before 9 a.m. or later in the afternoon. Otherwise, you have to line up or park your car outside on the shoulder and walk in.
If possible visit the reserve mid-week. However, Point Lobos is also much loved by school classes due to the many opportunities to experience and learn about nature and wildlife. The foundation supports schools with transportation and offers adventure programmes for 8 to 12 years old youth in summer which fills up soon.
It’s a moderate cool coastal climate. The average temperature ranges from about 55 to 65°F / 13-18 °C year-round. Spring is sunny and cool before the foggy summer season starts with fog until the afternoon. Fog banks emerge from the cold water (around 50 °F / 10°C) and the warm coastal air to condense into fog. Fall (September to November) is the sunniest time of the year although evenings are more chilly. During the winter mist and showers occur between November to March.
- Harbor Seal Pupping Season
From March until June you may spot harbor seals giving birth to a puppy at China Cove. It’s amazing that the new-borns start to swim just 20 minutes later. The best months to witness this spectacle are April and May.
- Southern Sea Otters
They may be spotted offshore in the kelp beds during calm days. On windy days they are more often found in protected coves. They are living in waters with a temp between 35°F and 60°F / 1,5°C up to 15,5°C. This is important for their constant body temp of almost 100 °F / 37°C. They mate and give birth in the sea throughout the year with a peak of pupping from January to March, fewer from August to October.
- They can be spotted throughout the year. Perfect spots to observe whales are South Point and Sea Lion Point.
Grey whales are most commonly seen from late December to January and again from March until early May.
Humpbacks are frequently seen from March until December.
- Minke whales are sometimes spotted from January until April. They migrate in larger numbers but due to their smaller seize often missed.
- Blue whales are sometimes spotted in summer.
- Orcas; three different species of orcas can be found. The transient orcas feed on mammals, therefore, frequently seen when gray whales migrate with their calves their preferred prey. They can also be spotted at other times of the year hunting seals, porpoise, and dolphins. The resident orcas feed on fish especially salmon and always stay in the same area. Nowadays resident orcas from Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca can be found around Monterey. The offshore orcas are mostly seen during winter feeding on squid, fish and even sharks.
- Sea Lions
The sea lion population is much smaller in late spring and summer due to migration to the south for mating.
Spring and summer is the nesting season. The bird island trail is great to spot lots of birds in the morning or late afternoon. Two cormorant species can be found year-round; nesting on rocks offshore from March to August. We spotted several birds like the scrub jay and dark-eyed junco.
The wildflower season in spring; California Poppies, Douglas Iris, lilac Ceanothus and many more
A permit is required, and reservations can be made up two months in advance. 15 diving teams always two divers are allowed to dive at Whalers Cove and Bluefish Cove each day. Some caves are accessible in calm seas. Diving map of Point Lobos State Reserve
Where to Stay (bookmark the links)
Unfortunately, there isn't any campground or accommodation offered inside the reserve. The best-located hotel is the Hyatt Carmel Highlands with spectacular views. Nearby is the popular town of Carmel with a vast variety of hotels and lodges. An alternative and half an hour drive is Salinas. We'd chosen the Super 8 Salinas where breakfast is included.
Point Lobos is a jewel among the State Parks for the whole family with four accessible wheelchair trails. It offers stunning landscape, pristine beaches, pine forest and Monterey cypress grove full of lichen and algae, birds, wildlife, marine life, several well-marked hiking trails, is a great diving spot and is rich in history. The outstanding work of the foundation and their volunteers make this State Reserve even more popular. We got provided with lots of information and tips from the volunteers even where to spot a whale during our visit. It is very rare to experience such attentive and kind volunteers as we did at Point Lobos. It's a place which should not be missed on your visit along HW 1.
Where Does the Name Come From?
Spanish is widely spoken in the Bay Area and Point Lobos means; “Punta de Los Lobos Marinos” – Point of the Sea Wolves. The early Spanish Seafarers got reminded of wolves due to the barking noise of the sea lions.
The Whaling Station Museum is rich in history with an exhibition about the different occupants in the last centuries. First of all were the indigenous people, followed by Chinese fishermen and Japanese Abalone Fishermen and for a short time, the Portuguese Whalers came here. You may even get the impression that you’ve seen the house or area before because it is famous for 50 movies like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Blind Date with Bruce Willis or Turner and Hooch with Tom Hanks.
The museum is one of the Chinese fishermen houses built in the 1850s. Portuguese whalers were attracted by the annual grey whale migration in 1862, but already in 1880, the oil of the whales was substituted by the cheaper kerosene. The abalone fishery began in 1898. During WW II the area was the headquarter of the US Army. In 1960 the waters at Point Lobos were declared as a marine reserve. In 2007 Point Lobos became utterly protected.
What to Bring
- Water to drink
- Bring your own food; there isn’t any café or restaurant inside the park just two picnic areas; one at Whalers Cove parking area and one at bird island parking area
- Windproof jacket and fleece pullover also during summer; the breeze is chilly and the fog persistent
The highest point in the park is Big Dome at 260 feet / almost 80 meters. The hiking trails are relatively easy and well-marked. To get an idea of the whole park; hike the almost 5 miles loop which starts at Whalers Cove and leads along the rugged coastline until China Cove and heading back inland. Point Lobos Reserve and hiking map
Entrance Fee Tip
The entrance fee is 10 $ (2017) for each car. If you already camp in one of the other State Parks nearby the entrance is for free.
- Poison oak is found throughout the park often a groundcover and thick bush, therefore, stay on the trails. The oily substance on the leaves, stems, and roots is irritating to the skin which gets itchy for days.
- Watch for ticks.
- Dogs are not permitted to protect the wildlife.