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Garrapata State Park
Garrapata State Park was an unexpected find during our trip and it turned out to be one of the most relaxing areas we have visited. The trail we hiked was close to our 'dream hike' (minus the elevation) – it has canyons, stream crossings, giant red wood forests, steep climbs, wild flower patches, mountain peak forays and ocean views… only if it’s colder with ice and snow then it’s perfect.
During our visit to the Big Sur area, we learned that due to the extensive fire damages from the previous year, a lot of trails were closed. Actually, nearly all trails we had originally planned were closed including Cone Peak off the nearby National Forest. After talking with a local, we learned about the Soberanes Canyon Loop trail off the highway at Garrapata State Park. The trailhead is approximately 16-17 miles from Glen Oaks Motel (at gate #“8”). It’s not difficult to miss the trailhead since you will encounter a lot of cars around the hairpin so arrive early! Across from the trailhead there are ‘trails’ that will lead you to the bluffs above the ocean; the view was absolutely spectacular especially around sunset so bring lots of memory chips!.
At about 100 feet from the trailhead, we encountered a tin-roofed barn/shack. From here we veered toward the right (east) and into the canyon. The loop can be accomplished by going to the left but we chose the right based on recommendation from a jogger. Going to the right allowed us to have a better view on the way down! The 1st section of the hike was a relaxing stroll through the canyon floor along with quite a few stream crossings (I counted about 7 in total). The trail was fairly level until we reached the redwood forest, it then steepened significantly. Having proper gear (tracking poles and hiking shoes) is a must during the climb since the trail has been worn from traffic. By adding a bit of water such as a swift rain shower the hike may turn difficult if not impossible. As we climbed the ocean toward the West slowly emerged from the canyon and patches of wildflowers started to appear. We later learned during certain times of the year the entire mountain turns pink! The ocean breeze also picks up significantly as we headed toward the summit.
By the time we have reached a three way intersection on the mountain top, we headed toward the right via a lightly worn trail. Heading toward right will take you to private land but will allow you to reach the highest point in the park. The view extends in all directions but it’s not as spectacular since it's more inland. Going straight (slightly right) at the intersection will allow you circle below the mountain top but this only allows a partial view of the ocean. We chose to head straight ahead (stick to the left). As we descended, we saw one of the hikers head pop into view here and there but he was always few hundred feet below us on our right. From the mountain top, we took our time and enjoy the 270 degree views of the lush green mountains and outstanding ocean views. We could’ve sat there for hours…
Tips: after the hikes, head to G 18 or 19, there is access to a section of secluded beach. It is tucked away and not visible from the highway.
Distance: ~ 7.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation: ~100 feet
Gain/Loss: ~1300 feet
Rating: 9 out of 10 (10 out of 10 if there was a snow storm)
Pacific Bluff Valley (Big Sur area) - The trailhead is easy to miss since the area is fenced-in. Park along the highway across from the Pacific Valley Ranger Station (about 4.5 miles North of Gorda), look for a narrow wooden steps that allows you to cross the fence. This trail (~ 1 mile roundtrip) basically ends at the cliff above the ocean. After hiking across the large grass field, we took some pictures above the cliffs and headed South (left) and went as far as we could without having to succumb to large patches of poison ivy.
As with other parts of Big Sur’s coastline, the cliff can be dangerous for kids and animals. Do not get too close since a sudden shift of wind can translate to an unexpected lesson in extreme cliff diving. :)
Sand Dollar Beach Trail (Big Sur area) - The trailhead is well marked with a large parking lot at about 3.8 miles North of Gorda. This short trail (~ 1 mile) starts at the northern end of the parking lot with a couple of options. You can go south and take a loop hike above the cliffs that allows you to look at the beach from a distance or you take a more popular (and busier) route headed West straight down to the beach.
We went straight down toward the beach but hiked southward along the beach; we went as far as we could until we were stopped by the advancing tides. A word of caution: watch your steps when you are stepping over the boulders; they can be slippery & you won’t want to jam your foot in the rocks as the tide is approaching!
McWay Waterfall Trail - this waterfall arguably is the most famous landmark in the Big Sur area. The fall represents the Big Sur as a whole and its picture is seen around the world. However, in our opinion, the fall is a bit over-rated since it does not allow you to get down to the fall. The short trail is perched above the cove and what you see on the web/magazine is exactly what you see when you get there…The fall is located at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on Hwy 1 & takes 30mins to visit.