Hike Point Lobos Natural Preserve

San Francisco Point Lobos State Reserve

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    4 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    400 Feet

Family Friendly

Point Lobos, just south of Monterey, offers smooth, well-maintained trails for easy hiking, trail running, and bike cruising. 

Point Lobos contains headlands, coves and rolling meadows, and its offshore area forms one of the richest underwater habitats in the world, popular with divers. Wildlife includes seals, sea lions, sea otters, migrating gray whales (from December to May), and thousands of seabirds, who also make the reserve their home.

Hiking trails follow the shoreline and lead to hidden coves. The area used to be the home of a turn-of -the-century whaling and abalone industry – a small cabin built by Chinese fishermen from that era still remains at Whalers Cove, and is now a cultural history museum.

You have the option of driving into the park (entrance fee of $10), or parking along Cabrillo Highway and walking into the park (signs suggest $1 donation per person). To get the full experience of this park, start your adventure right at the park entrance station. The entire trail map system is one big loop with little loops that shoot off here and there, making it very easy to get around.

A quick word of caution: this place is littered with poison oak – read the signs and stay on trail.

Head south on South Plateau Trail, walking along a sand and dirt mixed trail. The trail is very well groomed, making for an easy breezy stroll, and setting the tempo for the entire trip. You will pass Rat Hill and Vierra Knoll along your way to Gibson Beach, where you will have your first smashing view of the coastline. Take the stone stairway down if you would like to enjoy the beach.

Just south of Gibson Beach, along the Bird Island Trail, you will come across the aptly named Bird Island. Surrounded by beautiful beach alcoves and sheer cliffs, this island is home to nesting black-crowned night herons, Brandt's cormorants, western gulls and pigeon guillemots in May through July. This area is also home to China Cove – an absolute scenic gem, walled in on either side by bluffs, which serves as a seal rookery for part of the year.

From this point on, you will be jumping from trail to trail along the coast, in and out of bluffs, making your way around to the north side of the reserve, to Whalers Cove. Though your legs are doing all the walking, your arms may be tired from snapping so many photos – this area is riddled with gorgeous photo ops. It is also a very popular spot for artists to set up and paint the scenery.

Be sure not to miss the Whalers Museum at Whalers Cove, and check out the HUGE whale bones scattered around the property. Whalers Cove is also a very popular area for divers to explore the world underneath the water's surface.

This park is highly recommended for scenic walkers and hikers, artists, photographers, runners, divers, bird watchers, families – pretty much anyone that wants to put their spin on how to enjoy this phenomenal reserve.

Pack List

  • Water and snacks
  • Camera gear
  • Layers
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Overall rating: 

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Go in the afternoon for excellent lighting

8 months ago
8 months ago

Don't miss the Cypress Grove Trail (Allan Memorial Grove) which is the best of the several little loops in the Point Lobos Area (we did all of them). Also, I would suggest to go there in late spring when the vegetation is most beautiful.

11 months ago
11 months ago

This was a very chill hike. Not very challenging, but the views were beautiful. The waters are very clear and it was peaceful. I liked this hike, but as for my partner he wanted a more challenging hike. This was more like just taking a stroll and enjoying the scenery. But it definitely is for one to see!

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

I would love to go back again!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Being only 2 hours from SF, this is a perfect full day getaway. We did the loop backwards, parking at the last lot by Bird Island (got here at 9 am on a Sunday, we were the first in this lot). We did the Bird Island --> China Cove (saw dozens of pregnant and juvenile harbor seals!) --> South Plateau --> Carmelo Meadow --> Granite Point --> Cabin --> North Shore --> Old Veterans --> Cypress Grove (definitely do this small loop!) --> Sea Lion Point (saw tons of sea lions laying on rocks and playing in the cove!) --> Sand Hill --> South Shore all the way back to the car. Total mileage according to my Runkeeper GPS was 5.35 miles and took 4 hours (at a leisurely pace with plenty of stopping for photos, surveying the ocean for whales and sea otters, and a detour to the Whaler's Station Museum). This loop is pretty easy, with only moderate elevation gains -- perfect for a relaxing hike, or, if you're the running type, a trail run. There are a few other hikes in the interior of the park as well, though you must go to the ocean. Park maps are $2 at the entry station. You won't need one, but its actually a pretty nice map with trail and wildlife descriptions, so I'd say its worth it :) Can't wait to go back and do some diving here!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

My favorite place in all the land! I've been here over a hundred times and it never gets old. I always walk the perimeter, parking on 1, walking in, taking first right at information sign, walk to the ocean then left towards Whaler's cabin, walk down to the scuba parking lot, up the stairs, follow the ocean. Eventually there is a small beach to your right, during March/April, harbor seals are birthed here, it's amazing! For an added treat, hike up to Whaler's Knoll for a spectacular view, hardly anyone ever goes up there. Follow the trail to the parking lot and go through the cypress grove loop,, excellent whale watching, I saw 100's of orca whales once! Go back to the parking lot and continue to follow the perimeter all the way back to the beginning. Amazing in rain or shine! Love love love Pt. Lobos.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

The seals alone are worth the trip. But the stunning cliffs and mystical trees will make you want to stay. Bring water, snacks, a sweatshirt and hang out all day!

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago


over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

one of the most beautiful places in the world. Gets packed on weekends.

over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

This is a perfect place to watch the sunset and listen to the seals barking.

almost 3 years ago
almost 3 years ago

Nick TortExplorer

I love to share what I find along the way so that others may experience the same joys. Sometimes my words fall short, but a photo can tell the story for me.

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