Garrapata State Park has a wonderfully scenic stretch of coastal area that lures Big Sur travelers to stop and visit. Garrapata is only 7 miles south of Carmel Valley Road and 14 miles north of Andrew Molera State Park. Many visitors take time to linger a bit, enjoying the classic Big Sur shoreline here with its rugged rocks, waves surging and crashing, kelp beds

undulating, sea lions barking, gray whales migrating, seabirds diving and wildflowers thriving. However, many fewer visitors know about, nor take the time to hike, the marvelously rewarding trails of Garrapata State Park. There are two longer inland trails on the east side of Highway One and also an easy, 2-mile loop trail along the coastal bluffs.

Rocky Ridge Trail

A rustic, broken-down barn and large grove of old cypress signal the stop for the trailheads of Garrapata's inland trails. The northernmost one is the Rocky Ridge Trail, on which energetic hikers have options, including a 6 mile out-and-back outing, or a 4.6 mile loop which returns via Soberanes Canyon Trail. Hikers choosing to begin the loop via the Rocky Ridge Trail can start along the trail behind the barn, crossing willow-lined Soberanes Creek, then going a short ways to the Soberanes Canyon Trail junction (which turns right). At that point the Rocky Ridge Trail is to the left, heading north.

Those Rocky Ridge hikers choosing to hike in 3 miles will walk by coastal scrub up steep trails with spectacular vistas, at first of the shoreline and coastal Santa Lucias. In spring the grasses host lovely wildflowers. Rugged, lichen-coverered boulders and rock outcroppings stand out among the grasses. One overlook has a welcome bench to rest upon. When reaching about 1,600 feet in elevation, views of the whole Monterey Bay and coastline are possible on clear days.

Those hiking on to Doud Peak at the end of the trail may even view central coast peaks to the east.

It is debatable whether or not hiking up the Rocky Ridge Trail is the best direction to start, since hiking out on the loop via the Rocky Ridge Trail would give hikers a constant view of the coast while descending.

Soberanes Canyon Trail

Approaching the Soberanes Canyon Trail from the Rocky Ridge Trail brings the hiker's perspective from a broad, almost 360-degree view of the northern coastal Santa Lucia range, with hillsides folding and rolling toward the sea, to a narrower perspective as one drops into the watershed of a redwood-filled canyon. The steep trail quickly descends an elevation of 1,200 feet from the Rocky Ridge Trail to the canyon of majestic Sequoia sempervirens. Along the way, admiring wildflowers that may be blooming or, once in the canyon, the variety of ferns, make for pleasant hiking breaks. The cool, bubbling creek under the redwoods, passes by large boulders, some of which may reveal to observant visitors, the grinding areas of indigenous people.

Hikers can expect a variety of creek crossings in following the trail among the coast redwoods, tanoak, California bay, madrone, buckeye, willows, berry bushes, and other native and non-native plants as the hikers trek toward the coast. Particularly noteworthy non-natives are the dense hillsides of prickly pear cactus. The cacti have taken on a life of their own starting from the days early settlers introduced them into this area. Hiking the last part of the 3-mile long Soberanes Canyon Trail has some other botanical surprises in the form of calla lilies that seemed to have spread from the historic old farm area which was once part of a Mexican land grant, and later part of property owned under names such as Post, Soberanes, and Doud. After pondering the building remains, fences, and indications of inhabitants of yesteryear, yet another marine trail and experiences await hikers across Highway One.

Soberanes Point (Whale Peak)
This distinctive headland, a gentle cone peaking out of the oceanscape with a mountain backdrop, gives on a comprehensive and dramatic look at Big Sur coastline. It's a short (1 mile) trail that winds around the peak. It goes through several coastal botanical and intertidal zones. It ends at a view point on top that gives one a heart-stopping view of the Big Sur coast.

Soberanes Point Trail begins 6.7 miles south of Carmel's Rio Road on Highway One. At this point, on the east side of the road, is the trail into the mouth of Soberanes Canyon.

Both trails traverse expanses of non-native plants. Two local groups, Chuck Haugen Conservation Fund and California Native Plant Society, along with California Department of Parks, have vigorously fought back the invasion of invasive species and the area is slowly returning to a native state.

Bird Notes by Jeff Davis and Don Roberson
Garrapata is home tgo the local breeding race of the White-crowned Sparrow ("Nuttall's" form). Lazule Bunting and Orange-crowned Warbler are present during summer, and Wrentit, Spotted Towhee, and Bewick's Wren are present year round.

This can also be a good place for viewing Brandt's Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, and Pigeon Guillemot. The trail inland along Soberanes Carek can be good for migrant vireos and warblers. Costa's Hummingbird, Rock Wren, MacGillivray'sWarbler, and Black-chinned Sparrow have bred withinSoberances Canyon.