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Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel

The beautiful Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of the most scenic short hikes you can do at the northern end of the Big Sur Coast. The park is located just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

One of our favorite hikes in Point Lobos, Sea Lion Point Trail is among the most popular trails in the park. Families with young kids, photographers, and wildlife lovers will particularly enjoy this trail. Expect to share the trail with other hikers during the day.

View of Sea Lion Rocks in Point Lobos, California

Planning to walk Sea Lion Point Trail? Discover what to expect, plus things to know before you go!

TABLE OF CONTENTS
What can you expect on Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos State Park?
Essential facts about Sea Lion Point Trail at Point Lobos
How to get to the trailhead for Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos
How long does it take to hike Sea Lion Point Trail?
What to bring on the Sea Lion Point hike
Tips for hiking Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos State Reserve

What can you expect on Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos State Park?

The highlight of the trail is Sea Lion Point, where you can see (and hear!) the sea lions. They huddle in masses on rocky islets off the shore, and their loud barking is audible long before you reach the viewpoint.

Sea lions on the Sea Lion Rocks in Point Lobos, California

Although sea lions are definitely the star on this trail, keep your eyes peeled as you walk from the parking area through the beautiful cypresses and past a variety of coastal flora.

Headland Cove

You may see squirrels scamper across the trail and song birds in the vegetation. Raptors can often be seen soaring in the sky overhead. In season, a variety of wildflowers offer color, along with the gray of aromatic coast sagebrush, bush lupine in different colors, and California everlasting.

Headland Cove on the Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos, Carmel, CA

Headland Cove comes up to your right almost as soon as you walk past the cypresses. On a bright sunny day, the views of the water and the rocky coastline are breathtaking. Look for harbor seals in the rocks by the water’s edge, and sea otters in the kelp.

Sea Lion Cove

Around the bend is Sea Lion Cove, and here’s where you will see lots and lots of sea lions on the rocks out in the water. Binoculars or a zoom lens are needed to see them clearly, but you can hear them bark!

A docent with a spotting scope was at the point when we visited, and he answered questions and allowed us to get a really good view of the creatures through the scope. He also showed us where to look for harbor seals in the cove below.

The water between the viewpoint and the sea lion rocks is called the Devil’s Cauldron, and is noted for its powerful churn. The rock formations here are gorgeous as well. The views in both directions are superb.

Rock formation at Sea Lion Point in Point Lobos California

If you are able, walk down the steps to your right for more views in either direction. There is a staircase here that leads down to a beach, but it’s always been closed when we’ve visited, reportedly due to rough surf. If it is open and you do wish to go down, keep your eyes on the waves.

Sand Hill Cove

At the fork, if you take the right fork onto Sand Hill Trail, you will loop around Sand Hill and get more views to the south of the park, and see more colorful bush lupine and wildflowers in season. The bush lupine generally peaks in May: we saw yellow, purple, and a red and yellow blend.

Bush lupine on the Sand Hill Trail in Point Lobos State Park, Carmel

Sand Hill Cove is to your right, and you will also see a fork for the South Shore Trail, which is another of the top hikes in Point Lobos. Keep going on Sand Hill Trail to return to the parking area.

Essential facts about Sea Lion Point Trail at Point Lobos

Sea Lion Point Trail is a loop, 0.6 mile long. It is a wide, well-maintained, easy trail, packed dirt, with less than 20 feet of elevation change. The trail is suitable for most visitors to Point Lobos State Reserve, and one of the best short hikes in Big Sur.

While you can do Sea Lion Point Trail on its own, it is easy to combine it with the short Sand Hill Trail and walk around the hill back to the parking lot.

Sand Hill Trail in Point Lobos, California

Except for the staircases and the lower trail and beach, Sea Lion Point Trail and Sand Hill Trail are fully accessible for strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs.

The trail can be hiked year round, although the staircases and lower trail may be closed in inclement weather or when the waves are high. Bikes and pets are not allowed on the trail.

A view of the Sea Lion Point and Sand Hill Loop Trail in Point Lobos, California

How to get to the trailhead for Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos

The trailhead for Sea Lion Point Trail is located by the Cypress Grove/Sea Lion Point parking lot. From the information booth, keep straight on the park road: it is the very first parking lot you see. From the parking lot, take the trail towards the cypress trees. Here is a map.

Start of the Sea Lion Point Trail at Point Lobos in Carmel, CA

Note that there is a fee to park your vehicle inside the park. The general fee is USD10.00 per vehicle at the time of writing. If you walk in, there is no fee.

Parking lots at Point Lobos State Reserve fill up quickly, especially on weekends, so arrive early in the day or later in the afternoon. On our recent visit, we arrived at about 2 p.m. in the afternoon on a gorgeous spring day and easily found parking at the Sea Lion Parking Lot.

If the Cypress Grove parking lot is full, try for a spot at the South Shore Trail Parking Lot a little further south. Walk the short stretch of South Shore Trail to Sand Hill Trail, and do the loop in reverse.

Wildflowers along the Sea Lion and Sand Hill Loop in Point Lobos in May

Visitors also park on the shoulder of Highway One, if the parking lots inside the park are full, but it’s quite a walk to the start point of the Sea Lion Point Trail, part of it along the park road and part on Lace Lichen Trail.

Note that Highway 1 is narrow, and we’ve seen people get cited for parking improperly along the shoulder. Park in designated dirt parking areas, with your vehicle fully off the pavement, and be mindful of traffic as you walk along the highway to the entrance.

Water views from the Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos State Reserve California

How long does it take to hike Sea Lion Point Trail?

You can walk the trail in about 20 minutes, but we suggest allowing at least one hour, so you can stop to enjoy the views, observe marine life and birds, and snap lots of photos.

The sea lion viewpoint is the perfect spot for a smartphone video, to capture the sound of the waves and the barking of the sea lions. There is a perfectly-placed bench at the viewpoint, where you can even sit for a bit and enjoy a snack while you take in the views.

A view of the Sea Lion rocks from the viewpoint on the trail in Point Lobos California

What to bring on the Sea Lion Point hike

Water

You will find water fountains by the Cypress Grove/Sea Lion Point parking lot, so bring your refillable water bottle. You cannot purchase bottled water inside the park.

Food and Snacks

Sea Lion Point Trail is a short loop, so you don’t really need food, but if you plan to spend the day in Point Lobos State Reserve, bring a picnic lunch and snacks, because there is no food available for purchase in the park.

Sand Hill Trail in Point Lobos California

Digital camera with Zoom Lens

If you want to take photos of the sea lions, bring a camera with a good zoom lens. They are too far out in the water for smartphone photos.

We generally bring our Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70 with us on hikes. It is a pocket-sized camera, but features a 30X zoom, and we get good photos of birds and wildlife with it. On a recent visit, though, we also carried our heavier camera with a full-sized zoom lens.

Masses of sea lions huddled on Sea Lion Rocks at Point Lobos, California

Binoculars

Definitely bring your binoculars along on the Sea Lion Point hike. We love our Celestron Trailseeker compact binoculars, which are waterproof and work well in low light.

You can borrow binoculars from the visitor center at the park if you didn’t bring yours. You may be lucky and find a park docent with a spotting scope at the viewpoint: the scope is really powerful and gets you up close to the creatures.

Sun Protection and Bug Spray

The trail is exposed for the greater part, so remember your sunscreen, sun hat, and sunglasses. Also bring bug spray if you are sensitive to bites.

Tips for Hiking Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos State Reserve

Visit in the spring

You can hike Sea Lion Point Trail any time of year, but if you visit in the spring, you will likely see lots of wildflowers along the trail. The flowers and flowering bushes were a highlight when we did this trail in mid May.

Spring also has bright clear days, with stunning water views.

Stunning water views from the Sea Lion Point Trail in Point Lobos in the spring

Arrive Early or late to find parking

Point Lobos State Reserve is an extremely popular park, especially on holidays and weekends. Arrive early in the day or late in the afternoon if you want to get a parking spot near the trailhead.

Early and late in the day are also times when you will see fewer people along the popular trail.

Arrive later in the day in Summer

The northern and central California coast is known for the marine layer, which is particularly prevalent in the mornings in summer. It generally tends to burn off by noon, so arrive later in the day for great water views.

A view of Sand Hill Cove in Point Lobos State Park, California

Allow more time than you think you will need

Sea Lion Point Trail is beautiful, and you will definitely want to linger if you visit on a good weather day. Allow more time than you think you will need, not only for this trail, but for your visit to Point Lobos in general.

Bring layers

The Big Sur Coast can be breezy and cool year round, especially early and late in the day. Definitely bring a light jacket or windcheater to stay snug as you hike.

Sand Hill Trail in Point Lobos Park winds past coastal scrub.

Dress for Hiking

Wear closed-toed walking shoes with good grip, especially if you plan on doing the lower trail. Long pants and long-sleeved tops are a good idea to protect your skin from poison oak, which you will see along every trail in the park. The trail has looked impeccable every time we’ve visited, so stay in the middle of the trail to avoid the “leaves of three.”

Wildflowers on the cliffs at Sea Lion Point in Point Lobos, California

Enjoy hiking scenic trails? Check out these other articles on California hiking trails!

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What you will see along the Sea Lion Point Trail and Sand Hill Loop Trail in Point Lobos State Reserve in California. Plus tips for hiking this scenic trail!

Dhara

Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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