Meadow, Hill, Views
Palo Corona Regional Park
Neil Wiley

Here is another opportunity to go where few other people go. All you need is a permit, available by request from the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. Merely visit, and fill out a simple form. Only 13 permits per day are available for the Highway 1 entrance, but if you make your request a few days before you want to go, you have a good chance of enjoying some solitude in a beautiful place.

Is it worth it? You’ll have to drive about sixty miles through Monterey and Carmel just past Rio Road on Highway 1. Parking is unprotected next to the highway. You have to pass through a locked gate, sign in, and walk about 1.5 miles through an unshaded meadow, then up an 850-foot-elevation climb with a grade as much as 22.4 percent, with little shade and no switchbacks. To make it a little more difficult, the trail’s surface is rather unforgiving, slippery aggregate/gravel. Are you still with me?

It gets better up on the ridge. A short, easy walk takes you to the well-named Inspiration Point. Benches and picnic tables welcome you to an inviting rest stop. Depending on weather conditions, the view varies from pleasant to spectacular. You can see past ranch meadows below to lovely Carmel and see waves on Monterey Bay breaking at Carmel Beach. Many afternoons promise the cooling waves of clouds and fog over a wide panorama of open space and ocean. I think it is well worth the climb.

Although many of the park’s 4,350 acres are still unavailable to the public, there is more to Palo Corona than the view. For the adventuresome, you can walk along the cliff edge to Gregg’s Hill where you’ll find another picnic table and a comfortable spot for lunch.

You can walk deeper into the back country via the relatively flat and easy trail to Animas Pond. You pass through meadows where hawks, falcons, kites, and flickers dive for food. Turkey vultures soar above it all. Deer graze peacefully, perhaps unaware of the occasional mountain lion.

The pond is shallow but filled with colorful plants and noisy frogs. Red-winged blackbirds add bright dashes of color. The day I was there, a ranger told me he had just seen a golden eagle. California condors fly over the park. Birdwatchers may spot unusual birds such as mountain quail and horned larks.

The park is a critical link in a seventy-mile-long wildlife corridor from the Carmel River to the Hearst Ranch in San Luis Obispo County. It is home to more than 500 species of plants, and rare endangered animals, such as the black bear, spotted owl, California red-legged frog, tiger salamander, and the federally protected endangered Smith’s blue butterfly. And even if you don’t see any of these special creatures, the park offers much natural beauty and quiet solitude.

Thanks to hard-working rangers and the limited number of visitors, the park is clean. The trails are well-maintained, the signage is excellent, and there are more benches than I’ve seen in parks double the size. If you are looking for a semi-private experience, some great vistas, and aren’t afraid of a little hill, I think you’ll like Palo Corona Regional Park. Enjoy.