It’s worth the effort
Mill Creek Redwood Preserve
Neil Wiley

Your mini-vacation begins with a beautiful drive on Highway 1 along the ocean through Monterey and into Big Sur. When you pass Carmel, set your odometer for ten miles. Watch for a sign for the Rocky Point Restaurant, 36700 Highway 1. In just one-quarter mile, turn left on Palo Colorado Canyon Road.

The road is a bit narrow at first, perhaps to discourage casual tourists, but it widens after the first few miles. But be careful. The first narrow section requires slow, careful driving around many blind corners. Small (as in tiny) markers signal each mile.

As you climb to 1800-feet elevation, you feel a sense of remote wilderness. At 6.8 miles, a signpost for Mill Creek Redwood Preserve announces your starting point. It takes a little searching, but the almost invisible trail begins here. A short walk down the trail is a small stand that offers maps and a place to sign in.

The well-designed 2.76-mile trail offers good walking with relatively moderate changes in elevation. In the first 7/10 of a mile you slowly go up about eighty feet in elevation, then drop down about a hundred feet, and finally endure a relatively short climb up about two hundred feet to a magnificent vista point at 1986 feet.

The grades are so moderate that you hardly notice the climb. This out-and-back trail has no intersections, so if you stay on the trail, it’s almost impossible to get lost. Shade until the last half-mile to the vista point cools a summer hike. The first section offers good, soft footing on leaf litter. Higher sections are rockier.

The views of mountains and ocean make the vista point a worthy destination. On the way, several small waterfalls, wildflowers (especially wild iris), interesting rocks, and old, giant redwoods offer opportunities for photography and rest stops.

Perhaps the best value of the hike is solitude. With only eight permits allowed per day, you shouldn’t endure a noisy crowd. When I hiked on a sunny Sunday, other Big Sur parks, such as Molera, Point Lobos, and Garrapata, were jammed with tourists. When I signed out, I was alone in the Mill Creek Preserve.

Back in civilization, I had supper at the nearby Rocky Point Restaurant. I sat outdoors to enjoy views of mountains, ocean, Rocky Point Bridge, the Glass House, and at dusk, sunset over the ocean and the flashing light of the Big Sur Lighthouse.

To apply for a permit, visit Be sure to fill out an access permit application at least 48 hours before your hike.
You need to plan a little (at least two days ahead), and drive farther (about 70 miles one-way), but you will be rewarded with a semi-private walk on a well-designed hikers-only trail to a scenic vista point. It was good for me; I hope it will be good for you.