Near San Simeon, California
Activity: Day Hike, Scenic View, Wildlife Viewing
4 miles, 82’ elevation change, enjoyment time 2 hours, rated Easy
If you are driving from Northern California to Southern California I would say this is a must do. This is a beautiful spot, and there is a cool lighthouse, and lighthouses are alway good, but the reason this is a must do is this is one of the best spots for wildlife viewing of the Northern Elephant Seal. Piedras Blancas State Marine Reserve and Marine Conservation Area is operated by the California Department of Fish and Game. They have done a great job of setting up an viewing area with a parking lot and extended wooden decking along with informational signage. There are volunteers, Friends of the Elephant Seal, clad in recognizable blue logo jackets that are on hand to answer questions regarding these wonderful creatures. The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is located 7 miles north of San Simeon on Cabrillo Highway 1, and about the same amount of mileage south of Ragged Point, the Gate Way to Big Sur. Big Sur is where I had spent the couple nights before backpacking.
This is one of the most robust rookeries of the Northern Elephant Seal in the world. The male Northern Elephant Seal can weigh up to as much as 5000 lbs and received his name from the rather pronounced schozolla, for lack of a more scientific term. You will see one large male making his way up the beach towards my camera in a video clip I nicknamed Darth Vader.
My hot ticket suggestion is this, certainly dive into all of this tourism excitement and have fun, but if you are interested in stretching your legs, experiencing this wonderful seaside locale a little more in depth, catching a closer view of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, seeing some elephant seals without standing shoulder to shoulder in a crowd with camera shutters going off in your ear, and would like to get down on the beach, then take the Boucher Trail hike.
Boucher Trail hike winds along the sea shore and has some additional uncrowded view points to catch the elephant seals doing their thing, horsing around with their friends on the beach and in the shallow water. More of the sun bathing goes on at the tourist spot. The shoreline then protrudes out to a rocky point which is Piedras Blanca and that is where the lighthouse is. Boucher Trail continues on straight and not toward the lighthouse, which is operated by the Bureau of Land Management and tours are available on selected days and times. Reservations need to be made in advance for lighthouse tours. The trail travels through a grassy area and ends up at another smaller parking lot roughly 2 miles from where you began. This is where you will find access to a broad beach. Being enchanted by the lighthouse, I headed along the beach to get a better view. It is possible that I may have went further along the beach than I was allowed to go, but what can I say I wanted to see the lighthouse.
The Piedras Blancas Lighthouse was built in 1875 and the tower was 100’ tall before an earthquake damaged part of it. With it’s special lens, the light could be seen by ships 25 miles out to sea. It is one of the oldest working lighthouses in California.
The sea, the elephant seals, the lighthouse, you just gotta’ luv’ this wonderful little hike, Boucher Trail.
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Happy Days, Happy Trails
Roger Jenkins, ’Pursuing Balance Through Adventure’