Top Ten Day Hikes
1. Jacks Peak County Park: If you're new to hiking, there's no better place to start than Jacks Peak County Park. One parking area is located very close to the aforementioned peak, allowing you to see breathtaking views without getting out of breath!
For your first hike, take a right once you pass by the park gatehouse. Follow this road to the parking lot at the end. Grab a flyer for the Skyline Nature Trail from the information board near the picnic tables. To the left of the information board is the start of the Skyline Nature Trail. As you walk along the trail, you will find it is very well marked, with signs pointing you in the right direction. Within about 2/10 of a mile, you'll see sweeping views of Monterey Bay, and about 2/10 of a mile after that, you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of Carmel Valley and Point Lobos. Once you've completed the trail (about 8/10 of a mile), you can take a left on the Iris Trail and head back to the parking lot.
If you're feeling energetic, take a right on the Iris Trail, follow it to the Rhus Trail, and take a left to return to the parking lot. This will add roughly another 1.8 miles of beautiful views to your hike. See the Monterey County Parks map of Jacks Peak County Park trails for more information.
2. Point Lobos State Reserve: This beautiful promontory has been called "the crown jewel of the State Park system." It's also an inviting hiking spot, with convenient trails that allow hikers to go for short scenic walks or long traipses.
Once you enter the reserve, take a right and head to the parking lot at Whalers Cove, where you'll begin your hike. From the parking lot, you'll see a staircase going straight up the steep hill. That's the beginning of the North Shore Trail. Take that staircase, and, when you get to the top, take a break by admiring the view. You'll continue to see these stunning views throughout your hike — a perfect excuse to stop and catch your breath! From many of the cliffs, you'll have great views of the Carmel coastline and Pebble Beach. This trail runs 1.4 miles to the Sea Lion Point parking area. If that's enough for you, just follow the paved road back to the Whalers Cove parking lot.
If you're looking for more, take the Cypress Grove loop, which leads through a natural cypress grove and along spectacular seaside cliffs for 8/10 of a mile. You can then continue along the Sea Lion Point Trail for 6/10 of a mile (with views of — you guessed it — sea lions, as well as fascinating rock formations), and follow another mile along the coast along the South Shore Trail. Complete your loop of Point Lobos by taking the Bird Island Trail around China Cove and Gibson Beach, with great views of a Brandt's cormorant nesting area. Backtrack to the Mound Meadow Trail, which will take you across a wooded area and back to the road to the Whalers Cove parking lot. For more information, see the Point Lobos State Reserve online trail map.
3. Andrew Molera State Park: With over 20 miles of trails through incredibly diverse environments, any hiker is bound to find a fun day out. A good hike for beginners is a roughly two mile loop via the Beach and Creamery Meadow Trail. From the Andrew Molera State Park parking lot, cross the footbridge and bear right onto the Beach Trail. This trail wends along the Big Sur River to (as you may have guessed right now) the beach along the Big Sur coast. Follow the trail back and to the right to connect with the Creamery Meadow Trail.
Need something more strenuous? When you near the end of the Beach Trail, take a left onto the Bluff Trail. This leads along the bluffs, giving great views of the ocean, and connects to the Panorama Trail, whose strenuous elevation gain gives hikers panoramic vistas of the coastline amidst beautiful wooded areas. You'll then connect to the Ridge Trail, which allows you to observe the Big Sur Valley, to take a 2.6 mile journey back to the Creamery Meadow Trail and the parking lot. The entire loop is roughly 8 miles.
See the online Andrew Molera State Park trails map at the California State Parks website for more information.
4. Toro Park: If you're looking for a strenuous climb with a great view, try Toro Park's Ollason Peak. It provides sweeping views of Monterey Bay and the Salinas Valley, and in the right season abounds with wildflowers. Make sure you've packed plenty of water and sunblock and worn comfortable boots; this very sunny nine mile hike has an 1800 foot elevation gain. Pick up a trail map at the park entrance, or refer to Monterey County Parks' online trail map for Toro Park.
Park in the Quail Meadow area, and look for the trail that runs by the creek; that's the beginning of Ollason Trail. This trail runs through grassy and wooded areas, through open meadows and forested canyons, and past a stone outcropping known as the Devil's Throne. Follow all the way up to the top of Ollason Peak, a good spot for a lunch break. Just past Ollason Peak, turn left on to the Coyote Spring Trail and follow it to the Cougar Ridge Trail, which will lead you back to the parking area.
5. Garland Ranch Regional Park: If you're looking for a dog friendly hike in the Monterey area, this is the spot for you! The favorite hiking spot in Carmel Valley, Garland Ranch Regional Park has some of the steepest trails in the area, as well as glorious views and great wildlife. See the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District page for an excellent PDF map of the trails. This hike will give you views of a beautiful waterfall, the Santa Lucia Mountains and Monterey Bay.
From the visitors center, follow the path that runs alongside the river to the Waterfall Trail. This trail will lead, unsurprisingly, to a beautiful waterfall. A steep climb through verdant ferns leads up to Mesa Trail. Follow, and bear left onto Garzas Canyon Trail. Enjoy the pond and the meadow as you pass by, and take some deep breaths, because you're about to embark on one crazy ascent. A right hand turn brings you onto insanely steep Snively's Ridge Trail, with grades that can hit 30%. As you climb, you'll probably think, "Why am I doing this?" When you reach the top, you'll know. The top of Snively's Ridge gives panoramic views from the oceans to the mountains; if your breath isn't taken away by the climb, it certainly will be by the majestic vistas. After you take a break (and possibly eat lunch), follow Sky Trail back down the ridge. Turn left onto Sage Trail, then right onto Fern Trail for another steep downward slope. Once you get to the bottom, the Mesa Trail will lead you to the Lupine Loop and back to the parking area.
6. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: This is the easiest hike on the list at just under a mile, and may be the most beautiful as well. From the parking lot, follow the shady Waterfall Trail along McWay Creek and through a tunnel under Highway One. Stepping through the tunnel is like going through a portal to a different world. The sun is bright and glints off the ocean. From the overlook you can see the beautiful McWay Falls tumble down to McWay Cove. Head to your right to follow along the coastline. See the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park online trail map at the California State Parks website for more information.
7. Garrapata State Park: Just south of Carmel Highlands and Point Lobos Natural Reserve, from the highway Garrapata State Park can seem like just a blip. Those who drive past on their way somewhere else are missing beautiful redwood-filled canyons and some of the most spectacular coastline Big Sur has to offer. This seven-mile hike demands shoes with great traction, so make sure you're prepared before you head out.
Keep an eye out for the Garrapata State Park sign, and then look for a large pullout (probably with several cars parked in it) under a row of cypresses. You'll see a dirt road, and beyond it a tin barn. This is the trailhead for the Rocky Ridge and Soberanes Canyon trails, a loop that's seven miles long with an 1850 foot elevation gain. Gird yourself for some steep ascents as you follow the Rocky Ridge Trail up the ridge, past a conveniently placed bench, and up to some panoramic views.
Once you've managed this uphill climb, it's time for the steep descent into redwood-filled Soberanes Canyon. Admire the views, but watch your footing. Soberanes Trail leads through beautiful redwood forests (some of which are old-growth) on its way back to Highway One. See the Garrapata State Park online trail map for more information.
8. Pinnacles National Monument: For fantastic rock formations and intriguing caves, Pinnacles National Monument can't be beat. If you're interested in introducing children to hiking, the best option is the Moses Spring Trail, which is short, easy, fascinating and educational.
Stop by the East Visitors Center at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area to pick up the interpretive pamphlet for the Moses Spring Trail; the trail starts right by the Visitors Center. The beginning of the wide dirt trail is nicely shaded by trees. This trail runs through a short stone tunnel that children are likely to find very entertaining. Depending on the season (and if you brought a flashlight), you may be able to take the Bear Gulch Cave Trail through Bear Gulch Cave. If Bear Gulch Cave isn't open, or if it's too dark and scary for the young ones, Moses Spring Trail continues upwards through fascinating small caves and beneath a giant boulder permanently wedged about 10 feet above the ground between two stone walls. A set of stairs will bring you up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. To return to the parking lot, follow the Rim Trail back. The entire loop is 2.2 miles.
See the National Park Service Pinnacles National Monument website for extensive online trail maps, as well as a detailed list of other hike options in the area.
9. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: The most popular hike at this park is the beautiful Pfeiffer Falls Trail because of its spectacular waterfall views. A more interesting trail, however, is the Buzzard's Roost Trail. You'll see everything from old-growth redwood forests to ocean views, traveling through several natural habitats in the space of a three-mile loop. The flora quickly changes from towering redwoods to low chaparral, as if you are crossing the border between one land and another. See the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park online trail map at the California State Parks website for more information.
10. Limekiln State Park: Recently reopened, Limekiln State Park may be Big Sur's best-kept secret. The park, located two miles south of Lucia, is in the steepest coastal canyon in the continental United States and holds some of Monterey County's oldest redwood groves.
To see the abandoned historic lime kilns for which the park is named, follow Limekiln Creek to the Limekiln trailhead. Walk across a bridge over the creek and take the left-hand fork. Follow Limekiln Creek upstream and take another footbridge across the creek. After that footbridge, the trail forks again; stay to your left. You'll soon find yourself standing amidst the gigantic stone and steel kilns that were used to convert limestone into lime.
To explore the area further and get a sense of the redwood lifecycle, return to the first fork and take the right-hand path. This will lead you up Hare Creek. You'll first pass through a grove of young redwoods (only a little over 100 years old) before reaching another grove of ancient redwoods at the end of the trail.