Know Before You Go – Prior to leaving home, check the status of the park unit you want to visit to find out what restrictions and guidelines are in place. Have a back-up plan in case your destination is crowded. Bring water, sunblock, snacks and, most often, wear layers.
Play It Safe – Find out what precautions you should take when exploring the outdoors, especially if this is your first time visiting the State Park System. Learn more at www.parks.ca.gov/SafetyTips
Leave No Trace – Leave areas better than how you found them by staying on designated trails and packing out all trash. Do not disturb wildlife or plants.
Monterey County Recreational Trail
Just outside our front entrance lies 18 miles of smooth paved trail directly on the Monterey Bay coastline – the trail stretches up to Marina to the North and Pacific Grove to the South. The Monterey Recreational Trail is truly immersed in its seaside environment, providing access to sandy beaches, fishing piers and marinas bustling with small boats. Don’t be surprised to see whales splashing in the distance or sea lions basking on the rocky shoreline. The easy two-mile walk (one-way) from Fisherman’s Wharf to
Lover’s Point is particularly enjoyable.
Pro tips: beware of cyclists and bring a jacket most months as it can get damp along the way.
Jacks Peak County Park (Monterey)
Just a five-minute drive from the hotel, Jacks Peak offers almost 8.5 miles of hiking trails that wind through cathedral-like forests and to breathtaking ridge top vistas of the Monterey Bay. The Skyline Self-Guided Nature Trail (0.8-mile round-trip and easy) traverses the summit of Jacks Peak and features
fossils from the Miocene epoch.
Pro tip: this is where the locals go when the town is busy – so almost any weekend or when there is an event or holiday.
Garland Park (Carmel Valley)
Trails ascend at elevations from 200 to 2,000 feet – enjoy walking through dense forests, open meadows and traversing the Carmel River. Useful loaner trail maps are located just outside the visitor center and highly recommended for newbies. The Garland Ranch Waterfall and Siesta Point are accessible via the Lupine Loop Trail (2.0-mile one-way and moderate).
Pro tips: bring a camera, water and sunscreen; come during colder coastal days as temperatures can get ten to fifteen degrees warmer in Carmel Valley on sunny days. This is also a dog friendly hiking park.
Point Lobos State Reserve (Carmel Highlands)
“The greatest meeting of land and water in the world,” the reserve offers several trails meandering along the coast. The Cypress Grove Trail (0.8-mile round-trip and easy) is a favorite among park visitors because it offers great views and a close look at the area’s famous Cypress trees, which naturally grow in only one other place in the world: Carmel Bay. Along the Point Lobos Loop Trail (6.7-mile round trip and moderate) visitors will encounter a variety of environments, flora, and fauna from lush Monterey pine and Cypress groves to coastal shrub-covered coastline with ocean views to tide pools along the rocky beaches. Expect to see sea lions, shorebirds, and all sorts of ocean wildlife. Highlights along this guided walk include Whalers Cove, Bluefish Cove, Sealion Cove, and China Cove.
Pro tips: the best time to come is September and October when the coast is less foggy. Arrive early – the parking lot is almost always full by 9am. If full, park along Highway 1 like the locals do.
Fort Ord Dunes State Park (Seaside)
A coastal gem with more than 86 miles of trails provides opportunities to hike through rolling hills, pockets of chaparral, and oak woodlands. You will see a huge diversity of plant life and animals in habitats that include stream side corridors, grasslands, maritime chaparral, oak woodlands and seasonal pools. The Guidotti, Skyline, Oil Well, and Toro Creek Loop (5.9-mile round trip and moderate) offers
stunning views of the Salinas Valley.
Pro tip: bring your binoculars.
Garrapata State Park
While technically still in Monterey County, this park is considered one of the best in the northern end of the Big Sur area. This park has two miles of beach front, with coastal hiking and a 50-foot climb to a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. The park offers diverse coastal vegetation with trails running from ocean beaches into dense redwood groves. The park also features outstanding coastal headlands at Soberanes Point. Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters frequent the coastal waters and California gray whales pass by close during their yearly migration. Point and Whale Peak Trail (1.8-mile round trip and easy) offers tremendous views of the Big Sur coastline. The Soberanes Canyon Trail (2.8-mile out and back and easy/moderate) works through redwoods to panoramic views of the coastline.
Pro tips: check out Calla Lily Valley; note that the park is only partially open as of September 2021 – for more information go here https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=579.
Andrew Molera State Park
A still relatively undeveloped park, this park offers miles of trails that wind through meadows, beaches and hilltops. Also located in the park is the Ventana Wildlife Society Discovery Center. The Beach and Creamery Meadow Trail (2-mile round-trip and easy) winds along the Big Sur River to the beach along the Big Sur coast. Follow the trail back and to the right to connect with the Creamery Meadow Trail. The Ridge Trail – Panorama Trail (8-mile round-trip and moderate) offers tremendous
views of the Big Sur coastline.
Pro tip: the footbridge to cross the Big Sur River along the Creamery Trail is only available between
June and October.
Julia Pfeffeir Burns State Park
Discover hidden coves, hike through lush forests, watch the crashing waves, and prepare to be speechless at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The Overlook Trail to McWay Falls Trail (0.6 mile round-trip and easy) leads to the beautiful McWay Falls, the 80-foot waterfall that drops into the ocean. The Partington Cove Trail (1.1 mile round-trip and moderate) crosses a bridge to Partington Cove, while a footpath heads straight to an isolated beach. The trail to the cove crosses the creek, turns right, and reaches a tunnel carved through a wall of rock. Walk through this 60-foot tunnel to the long cove on the other side. The tunnel was constructed in the 1880s for John Partington, who transported oak from the Tanbark forests in the mountains above to ships moored in the eponymous cove. One of the more interesting hikes is the Buzzard’s Roost Trail (2.6-mile and moderate). You’ll see everything from old-growth redwood forests to ocean views, traveling through several natural habitats in the space of an approximate 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.
Pro tip: take the 20-minute drive over to the secluded Pfeiffer Beach with its striking Keyhole Arch rock formation. UPDATE (June 22, 2022): Several trails east of Highway 1 (including Ewoldsen, Canyon, and Waters) remain closed until further notice due to damage from the Dolan Fire and debris flows caused by heavy rains. These areas contain numerous compromised trees and trail hazards.
Please adhere to closure notices.
Pinnacles National Park
Some 23 million years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form what would become Pinnacles National Park. What remains is a unique landscape. Travelers journey through chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms. Hikers enter rare talus caves and emerge to towering rock spires teeming with life: prairie and peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and the inspiring California condor. Pinnacles National Park has more than 30 miles of trails that showcase the beauty of the park up close and personal. Hikes range from flat stretches of grasslands to uphill climbs through talus caves onward to the rocky spires that Pinnacles is famous for. If you are new to the park, consult with a ranger at the Pinnacles Visitor Center, the Bear Gulch Nature Center, or the West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station.
The Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop (2.4-mile round trip and easy to moderate) crosses up and over the Balconies Cave, then descends back down to the Old Pinnacles trail, which leads back through the cave. Scramble through the talus passages of the Balconies Cave. Wading may be necessary in the winter when precipitation creates flooding. The Juniper Canyon Loop Trail (4.3-mile round trip and strenuous) climbs along switchbacks to the heart of the High Peaks. At the top, circle through the rock formations along the Steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks Trail and begin the descent
down on the Tunnel Trail.
Pro tips: avoid the months of July and August – and most recently even September – when the weather is unbearably hot. Flashlights are required in caves.