(This is the first of several hike reports and a trip report that I can finally write now that I’ve finished going through and editing the photos I took!).
En route to a 3-day weekend in Big Sur for my birthday, we stopped off at Point Lobos State Reserve, just south of Carmel, for some hiking and nature viewing. Point Lobos is one of my very favorite places anywhere; its combination of spectacular coastline, wildlife galore, and often, wildflowers, is hard to beat!
Since our last visit in February was a quick walk on the South Shore, we decided to hike around on the North Shore this time. There was no parking at the (tiny) Whaler’s Cove parking lot, so we had to park at the main lot near Sea Lion Point. Fog hung heavily over everything, giving a mystical quality to the air, but almost completely obscuring any views.
We set out northward, passing the loop trail to Allan’s Memoral Grove, and walking on the North Shore Trail along the bluffs. Fremont’s Death Camas was blooming near the parking lot, and a White-crowned Sparrow sang from a signpost. We soon came to a short spur trail, ending at an overlook of Cypress Cove, with a lovely Monterey Cypress across from us. I’d brought my spotting scope, and fortunately we saw a half dozen sea otters in the cove! There was a pair twisted up in kelp, just floating about half-awake, another pair farther out, but most exciting were a mother and baby swimming around. We got excellent looks at them through the scope, although they were too distant to get good photographs of them, and it was too dark out to have much luck digiscoping them. The young otters are very cute – they look like little brown puff balls!
Several people came by while we were watching the otters, and I was happy to share the scope with them so they could get good views of these adorable little critters. A Dark-eyed Junco flitted about nearby, a Western Scrub-Jay screeched, and some treetop birds sang, unseen, but there weren’t otherwise a lot of birds afoot.
Continuing northward on the North Shore Trail, we took the spur trail to an overlook of Guillemot Island. Although the namesake bird was nowhere to be seen, we were very happy to see several dozen Brandt’s Cormorants gathering material for their pre-nests and displaying!
Brandt’s Cormorants of both sexes have a bright blue gullet during breeding season, but only the male displays. He first gathers twigs and seaweed to form a sort of proto-nest, and then flips his head and tail straight up, beating his wings as he does so. Once mated, the male finishes the nests and stops displaying, so you can bet that any Brandt’s Cormorant that is displaying is 1) a male, and 2) has not yet mated. They’re really very interesting to watch, and again we were happy to share our optics with passersby.
We continued partway around Bluefish Cove, then turned right on the Whaler’s Knoll Trail, as continuing would have meant a pretty long hike if we wanted to make a loop of it, which we did. Douglas Iris was blooming on the hillside, along with abundant Bermuda Buttercup, scattered Paintbrush, and clumps of California Manroot interspersed among the extremely successful thickets of Poison Oak.
This section of trail, although view-less, is pleasant, and unlike the shore trails, not often hiked by the many visitors to this reserve. The patchy forest seemed a great habitat for Owls, but we didn’t see any evidence of them, so perhaps not! A group of 4 White-tailed Deer startled us (and vice versa) as they grazed just a few feet off of the trail. After their initial start, they returned to their gnawing as if we weren’t there. They were actually too close to photograph with my long lens, a problem I only very rarely have!
The trail took us to the main entrance road just a few hundred yards above the Sea Lion Point parking lot, so we walked down the road back to the car, admiring the blooming Miner’s Lettuce, Sticky Monkeyflower, Ceanothus, and California Hedgenettle.
Back at the car, we shed some layers, and decided we weren’t quite ready to leave just yet, so we walked back the way we’d originally started, but turned left on the Allen’s Memorial Grove trail, which traces the western-most parts of Point Lobos, through a lovely Monterey Cypress grove.
More Fremont’s Death Camas bloomed alongside us, and the fog persisted – if anything, it thickened, blocking nearly all views of the otter- and seal-studded coves below us. We reached the apex of the point, a dramatic rough point of rocks ending in the Pacific Ocean, then headed east back toward the trailhead.
As we were driving out of the preserve, we decided on one last stop, for a short walk to Bird Island and China Cove, my two favorite parts of Point Lobos. The fog was very heavy here, obscuring views for the most part, so we opted not to walk down the many stairs to China Beach, instead circling around Bird Island.
Bird Island was fairly quiet, save for a couple dozen more displaying Brandt’s Cormorants and Western Gulls, but we did see Scarlet Pimpernel (an invasive non-native flower), Redstem Filaree, and Common Yarrow, as well as a Golden-crowned Sparrow and a pair of Black Phoebe.
We’d dallied enough by this point, so we got back into the car and continued our long drive south into Big Sur.
If you’re ever in the general area, I cannot recommend Point Lobos highly enough, especially from March-June, when the wildflowers and wildlife are at their peak.
Hike stats (North Shore hike only):
– 2.25 miles
– 1h 3m moving
– 1h 24m stopped and admiring the otters 🙂
– 321′ elevation gain
See also my photo gallery from all of my visits to this wonderful place.
– American Crow
– Black Oystercatcher
– Black Phoebe
+ Brandt’s Cormorant
– Dark-eyed Junco
– Double-crested Cormorant
– Golden-crowned Sparrow
– Pelagic Cormorant
– Rock Pigeon
– Western Gull
– Western Scrub-Jay
– White-crowned Sparrow
* = life bird, + = year bird
– Achillea millefolium (Common Yarrow)
– Anagallis arvensis (Scarlet Pimpernel)
– Casilleja sp. (Paintbrush)
– Ceanothus sp. (Ceanothus)
– Claytonia perfoliata (Miner’s Lettuce)
– Erodium cicutarium (Redstem Filaree)
– Eschscholzia californica (California Poppy)
– Erigeron glaucus (Seaside Daisy)
– Iris douglasii (Douglas’ Iris)
– Marah fabaceus (California Manroot)
– Mimulus aurantiacus (Sticky Monkeyflower)
– Oxalis pes-caprae (Bermuda Buttercup)
– Stachys bullata (California Hedgenettle)
– Zigadenus fremontii (Fremont’s Death Camas)