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Point Lobos State Natural Reserve Guide: Best Hikes and Views

China Cove Big Sur

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a beautiful reserve with nice hiking trails, beautiful coves, relaxing beaches, and diverse plant and animal species. There are over 300 plant and 250 different animal species found in this reserve. Some of the animals you can find in Point Lobos are sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, California great whales and many different sea birds. You can see the highlights of Point Lobos by combining multiple hiking trails and creating a loop through the reserve. Follow this Point Lobos State Natural Reserve guide for the best hikes and views in Point Lobos.

How to Get to Point Lobos

Point Lobos is located 10 minutes south of Carmel-by-the-Sea and 20 minutes south of Monterrey. The closest airport with commercial flights is San Jose (SJC), about an hour and a half away. The parking in Point Lobos costs $10 and gets full early. Once full, cars are only allowed into the reserve once cars exit. Instead of waiting in a line of people and spending $10 to park in the reserve, I recommend finding parking nearby along the street and walking in. 

How Much Time to Spend in Point Lobos

I recommend spending at least half a day in Point Lobos in order to see the highlights. If you have more time you can spend it relaxing on the beach or hiking more trails. This Point Lobos State Natural Reserve guide are all things you can do in under 3 hours, with time to enjoy the views and take pictures. Point Lobos offers a great day trip from San Francisco or Los Angeles and can be combined into a weekend trip with Big Sur, Monterrey, and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

What to Bring to Point Lobos

  • Daypack: Bring a backpack to carry all your belongings for the day.
  • Sneakers: I recommend wearing sneakers especially if you are planning to do the full 4.4 mile recommended hiking loop.
  • Jacket: The temperature in Point Lobos typically ranges between 57 and 65 degrees, so make sure to bring a jacket especially for when it gets windy.
  • Binoculars: Bring binoculars so you can better spot the animals
  • Camera: Don’t forget your camera to capture the incredible coves, animals, and views.
  • Snacks: There is no food for purchase at Point Lobos, so make sure to bring snacks with you.
  • Water Bottle: Bring a reusable water bottle that you can refill at the water faucets in the reserve.
  • Sunglasses: It can get very bright here so don’t forget your sunglasses.
  • Sunscreen: Because getting burnt isn’t fun.
  • Bathing suit: If it is warm enough when you are in Point Lobos don’t forget your bathing suit.
  • Towel: Bring a towel to sit on when you arrive to the nice sandy beaches in Point Lobos. This quick dry towel is perfect for traveling.

Plants and Animals in Point Lobos

Sea Lions in Point Lobos
Sea Lions in Point Lobos

With over 300 plant and 250 different animal species in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, you will have the chance to see a lot of different animals and plants. A common animal that you will see are the California Sea Lions, who are often resting in Sea Lion Cove and China Cove. If you are lucky, you can see California Gray Whales in December-January and March-May as they migrate to and from Alaska. A unique plant species in Point Lobos is the Monterey Cypress, as the only native trees are found on the Monterey Peninsula. Over 150 different bird species have been seen in Point Lobos. Take out your binoculars and look out for the different birds including the brown pelican, great blue heron, western gull, and more.

Tips for Visiting Point Lobos

  • Unfortunately Point Lobos is full of Poison Oak. If you rub against the Poison Oak the oils can irritate your skin and cause an awful rash and itching which can last for weeks. Watch out for the Poison Oak (reference the picture so you know what it looks like) as there is often overgrown Poison Oak on the trails. I highly recommend wearing long pants because of all the Poison Oak (I didn’t, but I wish I had).
  • Arrive early to get ahead of the crowds.
  • Don’t rush! This is a beautiful reserve that is worth your time.
  • The reserve is open 8 am to 5 pm daily, and all visitors must be out of the reserve by 5 pm.
Poison Oak Point Lobos
Be careful of Poison Oak! Remember what these three leaves look like.

Point Lobos Highlights Hike

I recommend combining multiple trails in Point Lobos in order to create a loop and see the highlights of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in one day. In total this recommended hiking trail will add up to 4.4 miles. Start the hike with Lace Lichen Trail at the entrance of the reserve, which will take you 0.5 miles through the middle of Point Lobos surrounded by trees.

Cypress Grove Trail

Cypress Cove
Cypress Cove
Pinnacle Cove Point Lobos
Pinnacle Cove
Headland Cove Point Lobos
Headland Cove

The Lace Lichen Trail will end in a parking lot where you can find bathrooms and water. From this parking lot you will start the Cypress Grove Trail which is 0.8 miles and most of it is a loop. This trail will take you to see views of many of the coves in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve including Cypress Cove, Pinnacle Cove, and Headland Cove.

Sand Hill Trail

Sea Lion Cove in Point Lobos
Sea Lion Cove

After you finish Cypress Grove Trail you will get back to the parking lot and take a right to continue to Sand Hill Trail, a 0.6 mile trail where you will see Sea Lion Cove. Sea Lion Cove is where you will most likely see the most sea lions in Point Lobos. You can usually hear and smell the sea lions first before you can see them.

South Shore Trail

South Shore Trail View in Point Lobos
South Shore Trail View
Weston Beach Tide Pools
Weston Beach Tide Pools
Hidden Beach in Point Lobos
Hidden Beach

Continue to South Shore Trail by following stairs down from Sand Hill Trail. This 1 mile South Shore  Trail is one of the best things to do in Point Lobos. The trail take you along the coast with incredible views of the ocean and areas where you can explore tide pools. Weston Beach Tide Pools is an amazing place see different species including hermit crab, ochre sea star, purple shore crab, black turban snail, different kind of algae, and more. 

Along South Shore Trail you can also spot many sea birds, sea lions, and harbor seals. Next you will pass by Hidden Beach which you can access and spend time relaxing on the small beach. If you are unable to walk far and you drove into Point Lobos with a car, there are several spots where you can park along this trail and do a short walk to see great views.

Bird Island Trail

China Cove in Point Lobos
China Cove
Gibson Beach at Point Lobos Natural Reserve
Gibson Beach
Bird Island Point Lobos
Bird Island

After Hidden Beach you should continue to Bird Island Trail (0.8 miles) where you will first see China Cove, a beautiful beach with bright blue water. You can’t get down to the beach at China Cove, but you can enjoy the view and see harbor seals and sea lions swimming and resting below. As you continue walking you will see a view of Gibson Beach, a beautiful white sand beach that you can access. The Bird Island Trial will then take you to see a view of Bird Island where you can see many sea birds and it becomes a large sea bird colony during the spring and summer months. You can typically spot sea otters and harbor seals below.

South Plateau Trail

Return back to the entrance of Point Lobos by following South Plateau Trail (0.7 miles) through a forest of pines and oaks. On this trail you can see a lot of different plant species including wild blackberry, lace lichen, sticky monkey flower, and Monterey pines. Unfortunately there is also a lot of Poison Oak on this trail so be careful and make sure not to touch it.

If You Have Limited Time

Gibson Beach Point Lobos
Gibson Beach

If you have limited time at Point Lobos I would recommend arriving early so you can enter the reserve with your vehicle. Instead of hiking you could drive to some of the viewpoints that you can get to with your vehicle and do short walks. The top things to see and do in Point Lobos are the Cypress Grove Trail, China Cove, and Gibson Beach so make sure that you don’t miss these.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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