Two beautiful trails you have never walked
Garrapata State Park

Neil Wiley

My guess is that you have never walked these trails. And that’s a shame because they offer a uniquely beautiful experience. But why stop? How do you even pronounce “garrapata?” And if you know Spanish, why would you consider hiking at a place named “tick?”

Anyway, chances are that you were looking ahead. After all, when driving down to Big Sur, you were anticipating the many special places along the road. You were watching for the lighthouse at Point Sur, the forests of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the “Ambrosia Burgers” of Nepenthe, the cute (but often mean) little otters of the California Sea Otter Game Preserve, the pleasures of Esalen Hot Springs, or the waterfalls of Lime Kiln State Park. Every curve brought a scenic surprise.

Perhaps not wanting to drive so far, you were quite content to stop at the beautiful Point Lobos State Reserve, or visit the multi-faceted Andrew Molera State Park. Yet, between Point Lobos and Andrew Molera is the virtually invisible Garrapata State Park. Its tiny sign is easy to miss. Although there are 19 turnouts on the ocean side of the road, they are unmarked. Even with a map and directions in hand, I would have missed the turnout except for one subtle clue. A hundred yards inland is an old, decrepit barn. Across the road on the ocean side is unmarked turnout 8. Park here to start your adventure. Then choose from one of two hikes: an easy seaside stroll along the cliffs, or cross the road to a more challenging hike through deep canyons or up a steep mountain.

Walking to Soberanes Point and up Whale Peak

I think one of the best walks in nature is a cool morning stroll along the ocean, so step through the gap in the fence, turn left, and follow a one-track trail through a large field of coyote brush, sagebrush, and colorful poison oak. Enter the deep shade provided from a grove of Monterey cypress that frames the ocean below. Continue across a field of colorful ice plant and other low vegetation. Ignoring a small signpost with an arrow to the left, turn right toward the sea. As the trail takes you around a large hill, look past coffeeberry and blackberry to see crashing waves and giant rocks. Off shore, see two small, guano-covered islands. H ear the barks of sea lions, the cries of seagulls, and the rhythmic pulse of the surf. At your feet, you may enjoy a beautiful assortment of wildflowers, but even at the end of summer, low brushy plants offer blankets of red, yellow, and blue.

Walking out to Soberanes point, you may see a flight of pelicans. They look so business-like, as if they are commuting to work. Fortunately, you are not working but sitting on a rock, and thinking this is a good place to be.

There is no hurry, but when ready, continue on your loop around the point. The trail slowly rounds the eastern side of Whale Peak. You’ll find a trail heading up to a saddle junction between the two hills. It’s steep but you can reach the top in a few minutes. When you reach the ridge, turn right and walk about 100 yards to a wonderful view site, complete with a comfortable bench. The 360-degree view is even better than below. You may want to stay here for a while before returning to the main trail, turning left and completing the loop back to your car.

The walk is less than two miles, but if you walk slowly enough, take many pictures, and enjoy a few snacks, it can last most of the morning. Except for the short climb up Whale Peak, the trail is relatively flat and easy. Some of the trails are close to the edge of unfenced high cliffs, so I wouldn’t recommend the trail for younger children.

The Mystical Soberanes Canyon

If your seaside hike is so invigorating that you decide to hike some more, cross Highway 1 and walk inland to the old barn. Just past the barn, turn right. You are on Soberanes Canyon Trail. (Staying to the left, you’ll climb the aptly named Rocky Ridge Trail several miles up on an unshaded route to 1977-foot Doud Peak.)

It’s better to stay down in the canyon. Every trail is different, and every hike has its own rewards, but Soberanes Canyon Trail is special. It offers an amazing range of experiences, with diverse terrain, plant communities, and animal species. Vegetation includes areas of scrub, chaparral, grassland, coniferous forest, mixed evergreen forest, and stream-bank woodlands. These riparian woodlands alone are home to 60 mammal species and 110 bird species.

Start your hike along a narrow path through a canyon formed of rounded green hills. Walk by hundreds of different plants and wildflowers, including bush lupine, California poppies, paintbrush, and morning glory. Lizards scurry across your path. Then you encounter a surprise. Rounding a bend you discover several hillsides covered with mission cactus. They may not be native, but beautiful in their own way, they have earned the right to be naturalized citizens.

A few more bends in the trail take you closer to the stream and a riparian corridor of water-seeking plants. Then another surprise. You enter a forest of coast redwoods, complete with their associated bays, ferns, sorrels, and berries. The coolness is pleasant on a summer afternoon, and you find a comfortable lair of big rocks, little waterfalls, and green ferns. This is a good place to turn around and retrace your steps for an up-and-back hike of three miles.

If you continue on, the climb becomes steeper and more difficult, but it’s made a little easier by rough-cut log steps. Higher above the stream, you look down on big redwoods and firs. It takes many ups and downs, but in time you reach the North Fork and Rocky Ridge trails. Head north until you reach another T. The right branch takes you up to Doud Peak. The left branch brings you down steep and treeless Rocky Ridge Trail to complete the loop. It’s only 4.5 miles around, but Rocky Point looks daunting, especially on a summer afternoon. I plan to hike the entire loop when I’m younger.

Another alternative might be to go up Rocky Point Trail early in the morning, and down on the shady canyon trail in the heat of the day. It will still be a challenge.

Whether you opt for a seaside stroll or a deep-canyon tramp, Garrapata State Park offers good hiking. Enjoy.



Get Garrapata State Park information and map at, call 831-649-2836, or write Garrapata State Park, Monterey District, 2211 Garden Road, Monterey, CA 93940. Bring your own water. Dogs are only allowed on Garrapata Beach. Bicycles are permitted only on the steep Rocky Ridge Trail. A toilet is located near the old barn on the east side of Highway 1. Walking sticks and boots can make canyon stream crossings more comfortable, especially in winter.


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