Top Scenic Hikes in Monterey County
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There's no better way to enjoy the beautiful scenery in Monterey, Carmel, Salinas, the Carmel and Salinas Valleys or anywhere else in Monterey County than by hiking through it. There are hikes in Monterey County for every level of hiker, from the novice in sneakers to the extreme hiker with the latest high-tech gear.
Jacks Peak County Park
If you're new to hiking, the best place to start is Jacks Peak. One parking area is located very close to the peak, allowing you to see breathtaking views without getting out of breath! For your first hike, take a right once you pass by the park gatehouse. As you walk along the Skyline Nature Trail, you will find it is very well marked, with signs pointing you in the right direction. You'll see sweeping views of Monterey Bay and soon after, you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of Carmel Valley and Point Lobos. See the Monterey County Parks map of Jacks Peak County Park trails for more information and additional trails.
Point Lobos State Reserve
This beautiful promontory has been called "the crown jewel of the State Park system." It's also an inviting hiking spot, with convenient trails that allow hikers to go for short scenic walks or long journeys. Once you enter the reserve, head to the parking lot at Whalers Cove, where you'll see a staircase going straight up the steep hill. This is the beginning of the North Shore Trail. You'll see stunning views throughout your hike, which is a perfect excuse to stop and catch your breath! From many of the cliffs, you'll have great views of the Carmel coastline and Pebble Beach. Alternatively, the Cypress Grove loop leads through a natural cypress grove and along spectacular seaside cliffs, continuing along the Sea Lion Point Trail with views of - you guessed it - sea lions, as well as fascinating rock formations. Follow the coast along the South Shore Trail to complete your loop of Point Lobos with the Bird Island Trail around China Cove and Gibson Beach, with great views of a Brandt's cormorant nesting area. Backtrack to the Mound Meadow Trail, which will take you across a wooded area and back to the road to the Whalers Cove parking lot.
If you're looking for a strenuous climb with a great view, try Toro Park's Ollason Peak. It provides sweeping views of Monterey Bay and the Salinas Valley, and in the right season abounds with wildflowers. Make sure you've packed plenty of water and sunblock, and wear comfortable boots. This very sunny nine mile hike has an 1,800-foot elevation gain! Pick up a trail map at the park entrance, or refer to Monterey County Parks' online trail map for Toro Park.
Garland Ranch Regional Park
If you're looking for a dog-friendly hike in the Monterey area, this is the spot for you! Garland Ranch Regional Park has some of the steepest trails in the area, as well as glorious views and great wildlife. This hike will give you views of a beautiful waterfall, the Santa Lucia Mountains and Monterey Bay. The Waterfall Trail will lead, unsurprisingly, to a beautiful waterfall with a steep climb through verdant ferns leading up to Mesa Trail. Onto Garzas Canyon Trail, enjoy the pond and the meadow, then take some deep breaths, because you're about to embark on one crazy ascent: the insanely steep Snively's Ridge Trail, with grades that can hit 30%. The top of Snively's Ridge gives panoramic views from the oceans to the mountains. If your breath isn't taken away by the climb, it certainly will be by the majestic vistas. See the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District page for an excellent PDF map of the trails.
Pinnacles National Park
For fantastic rock formations and intriguing caves, Pinnacles National Park can't be beat. If you're interested in introducing children to hiking, the best option is the Moses Spring Trail, which is short, easy, and educational. This trail runs through a short stone tunnel that children are likely to find very entertaining. Depending on the season (and if you brought a flashlight), you may be able to take the Bear Gulch Cave Trail. If Bear Gulch Cave isn't open, or if it's too dark and scary for the young ones, Moses Spring Trail continues upwards through fascinating small caves and beneath a giant boulder permanently wedged about 10 feet above the ground between two stone walls. A set of stairs will bring you up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. The entire loop is 2.2 miles. See the National Park Service Pinnacles National Park website for a detailed list of hike options in the area.
Don't forget that hikes can always be combined with a great overnight camping trip. For suggestions, visit Monterey County's top campsites.