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Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

This rocky, forested headland was named Point Lobos in the late 18th century, for the sea lions (lobos marinos, “sea wolves”) whom Spanish settlers heard barking on offshore rocks. Hundreds of them live here almost year-round, between August and June. Also look for harbor seals hauled out on the rocky shorelines of the Point’s many coves, for otters in the kelp beds offshore, and for wrentits and white-crowned sparrows nesting in coastal scrub vegetation. All are protected within this state reserve, as are the Monterey cypress trees, rare native stands of Monterey pine, other rare plant communities, and some archaeological sites. Gray whales pass by on their migration from December through April. A limited number of cars are allowed, so arrive early to avoid waiting in line. No reservations.

Visitor center: A small outdoor area at Cypress Grove has exhibits on the history and natural features of the park. When staffed, docents display artifacts and answer questions.

State Parks Advisory: Many of California's state parks are reducing hours of operation and limiting access to facilities because of budget cuts. We recommend that you consult State Parks' website and contact the park directly before planning a visit.

Trail/Pathway Details

Sand Hill/Sea Lion Point Trail

Trailhead: 200 feet beyond the Sea Lion Point lot

Length: Under one mile total

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Firm

Obstacles: During our visit in April, poison oak lining the trail slowed me down.


As you follow this short trail along a blufftop through chaparral, you can see waves crashing on the rocks 50 feet below. A wood railing that runs along Sand Hill Trail may obscure views for some wheelchair riders. During our visit in springtime, two sea lions were cavorting in the waves that washed up on a little beach, and an otter floating below devoured a sea star. Many wildflowers were blooming. Benches are at frequent intervals. In about .25 mile, the trail ends at a junction with the Sea Lion Point Trail; turn right to loop back to the parking lot.

Cypress Grove

Trailhead: Cypress Grove lot

Length: Under one mile total

Typical Width: less than 30 in.

Both sides of the loop are less than three feet wide and have short slopes exacerbated by drainage bars as much as three inches high. Some stretches have cross-slopes.

Typical Grade: Gentle

Terrain: Firm

Obstacles: About halfway from the start of the loop, stairs prevent wheelchair riders from completing the circuit.


Carmel Bay and the Monterey peninsula are visible from this .75-mile loop trail, which skirts the perimeter of Point Lobos’ windswept northernmost peninsula. The entire trail winds through Monterey cypress forest—one of only two naturally growing stands remaining in the world. The trail starts out wide and mostly level, then splits after about .25 mile to encircle Allan Memorial Grove, named for A.M. Allan, who saved Point Lobos from development by buying it in 1898 and selling it to the State 35 years later. Most wheelchair riders will only be able to continue a few hundred yards on either side of the loop; on both sides, the trail narrows to less than three feet and has slopes. In my power wheelchair and with some assistance, I completed each side of the loop, and was rewarded with spectacular views of surf on rocks, nearby crags overgrown with chaparral, wildflowers, and weathered cypress. Since a stairway bisects the loop, each time I had to backtrack. Benches are provided.

Bird Island Trail

Trailhead: Southernmost parking lot

Length: Under one mile total

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Gentle

Terrain: Firm


Bird Island Trail climbs gently through coastal scrub on a cliff between woods and sea, with continuous stunning vistas. From the parking lot a set of stairs ascends to the trail, but to the right of the stairs is an accessible, gently switchbacked incline. Shortly after the crest, just after you round the bend, the sparkling jade-green waters and small white-sand beach of China Cove come into view. Here you’ll likely see sea otters resting in kelp and harbor seals hauled out on rocks. We could even see seals swimming in the shallow, clear waters; caves in the rock were also visible. An abundance of wildflowers blanketed the cliffs on our early June visit, including monkeyflower, lupines, yellow bracts, and many others I didn’t know. Poison oak was also prolific.

The trail briefly turns inland before you reach Gibson Beach (both it and China Cove are accessed via long staircases). You cross a bridge that's about three feet above an eroded area ––be sure to admire the views of the beach and the impressive homes built into the hillsides. After the bridge are several places with steep drop-offs and no protective edge along the trail, but these stretches are fairly level and it wasn’t too unnerving. After less than a quarter of a mile the trail ends at a short loop trail that affords close-up views of hundreds of Brandt's cormorants nesting on the aptly named Bird Island. Be advised that the guano can be very pungent.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Visitor Center: Accessible

Accessible Parking: Yes

At Bird Island Trail, Sand Hill Trail and Piney Woods picnic area. A small lot at Whalers Cove has a designated accessible space that is not striped. When the lot is full, which is often, it may be difficult to lower a lift.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

At Piney Woods, Sand Hill, Whaler's Cove and Bird Island Trail

Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes

At Piney Woods and Whalers Cove. Piney Woods picnic area is somewhat sheltered from the wind but has no ocean views.

Other Things of Interest

Close to the water and just a few feet above sea level, the picnic area at sheltered Whalers Cove is a great place to watch seals and otters and to listen to waves slosh ashore.

Sand Hill Trail
Sand Hill Trail (Dan Hill)

Features icon key

  • hiking
  • picnic
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Managing Agency: California State Parks
Address: Route 1, Box 62, Carmel
Nearest City: Carmel
Phone: (831) 624-4909
Hours: 8 am to a half-hour after sunset
Visitor center: Daily, 9 am-5 pm, as staffing permits
Fees: Entrance
Dogs: Not allowed
Not allowed in reserve, and may not be left in car

Did You Know?

Point Lobos is one of only two locations where Monterey cypress still grows in its native habitat, though the trees are widely planted throughout coastal northern California.

Reviewed by Ann Sieck, April 7, 2008
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

Accessible Restrooms Icon looks like a women and men restroom signBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
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