Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Hike
As part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is home to a large assortment of marine creatures. The easy 1.5-mile Fitzgerald Marine Reserve hike in Moss Beach is best done at low tide when you can walk along the tide pools. The protected coastline nurtures life, and as a result the marine animals are extremely active on this gorgeous stretch of coast.
Harbor Seals (and the occasional otter) frolic in the waves, while Pelicans and other shore birds skim the surface of the water. And hidden under the crashing waves the sea is alive with sea stars, crabs, and sea anemones. In fact, most people flock to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve during low tide to gaze at the life below the surface in their healthy tide pools. The marine life here is so diverse that scientists have discovered over 25 new species in these waters since the reserve opened in 1969.
You can check the tide schedule to plan the best time to visit. The small parking lot can get crowded at low tide, so you might want to come a few minutes early and enjoy the trails or the beach until the tide goes out. It is also important to note that while the tide pools are great for older children, the slippery rocks and crashing waves can be dangerous for young children.
Visiting During Pupping Season:
In addition to the amazing tide pools, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve has plenty of pristine, white sandy beaches to enjoy. Just how much beach is available for exploring depends on the tide and the season. Many Harbor Seals make their home here and during pupping season parts of the beach are closed to protect the seals. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of great views and seal-watching to be had. The Bluff Trail overlook is the best place to watch the seals.
During pupping season the female seals return to established safe zones (like Fitzgerald Marine Reserve) to give birth, recuperate, and nurse the baby seals. It is important to respect all boundaries and give the seals plenty of space during this special time. Even though seals can seem playful, they really are shy creatures and being on land during pupping season makes them vulnerable to human interaction. If a mother seal is spooked because a person is too loud or gets too close to her and her baby there is a risk that she will abandon the baby on the shore because she no longer thinks that the area is safe. It is extremely important to stay at least 300 feet away from the seals when they are on the beach.
To get to the established trails, head into the neighborhood and take the pedestrian bridge near the intersection of California Street and North Lake Street.
Time your hike so that you can check out the tide pools during low tide. Depending on your timing you can start or end your day exploring the tide pools. To start your hike, take the pedestrian bridge and head to the left to follow the Dardenelle Trail. The Dardenelle Trail is part of the California Coastal Trail, follow the trail for about .25 miles until you see the trail marker directing you to the Seal Cove Staircase. The connector trail will lead you through a part of the Cypress grove before meeting up with the Bluff Trail. Make a left onto the Bluff Trail and follow it for a short distance to the Seal Cove Staircase. Take the stairs and enjoy a leisurely walk on the beach before heading back up the stairs and returning to the Bluff Trail.
At the top of the staircase, make a right and follow Ocean Blvd. There is a small trail next to the road that leads to a viewing area with some benches. If I have the time, I follow the road to the Moss Beach Distillery (just down the drive from the benches) and enjoy a drink and a snack while soaking up rays on the Distillery’s patio (and warming up next to the fire pits on a cold, foggy day!) As you wind down your day, head back the way you came, but once you return to the trails, stay to the left and take the coastal Bluff Trail back to the pedestrian bridge.
- Parking: Parking lot
- Fee: No fee
- Restroom: Restrooms available at the parking area
- Special Events: The Reserve offers private tours for large groups and educational programs for schools. You can learn more about the special programs and events on the park website.
Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.
Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.
Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!
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