Limekiln State Park

What fascinating and rewarding experiences this state park readily offers in the heart of Big Sur. Limekiln State Park is located 36 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, centered two miles south of Lucia and two miles north of the eastbound Nacimiento-Ferguson Road turnoff.

Visitors of almost all ages will delight in wandering the short, fairly easy trails, while being awed by the stately redwoods, free-flowing creeks, a royal waterfall, historic limekilns, and an enjoyable stone beach. Longtime lovers of natural and cultural history may find themselves enthralled with this park, and even the uninitiated might, too, getting their feet wet, perhaps literally with creek crossings.

Visitors with foresight may arrange to camp in one of the 33 campsites for an overnight or extended stay. Others with less time available can easily explore the four highlighted areas in a couple hours time, covering less the "less-than a few" total miles on the relatively level trails.

After driving down the short eastbound road from the south end of the Limekiln Bridge on Highway One, there is day-use parking available and also restrooms. Most visitors may prefer to head northeast up Limekiln Canyon, hiking out through the campgrounds to the three redwood-lined trails. Doing that, leaves the fourth destination, Limekiln Beach, for last.

Though children may imagine themselves to exploring uncharted redwood groves and creeks, they can be reminded that long, long ago, as difficult as it was to access these intimidating canyons and cliffs, indigenous people were able to inhabit or visit these formidable areas. By the 1800's, foreign explorers, hunters, hardy American pioneers and homesteaders managed to journey here by trails, too. Some were drawn by the natural resources, particularly the timber and the extracting of limestone to manufacture lime, used to make cement. In the late 1800's, the area near Limekiln Beach, Rockland Landing, was a vital hub of activity for materials and goods coming and going on schooners.

 Hare Creek Trail

Hare Creek trail visitors follow along the left side of Hare Creek while hiking to its "End of Trail" sign beside a fallen redwood log. The canyon walk follows along the charming Hare Creek and its pools which sometimes are home to steelhead. The redwoods host sorrel, ferns, and other delightful vegetation in their moist, fragrant, shadows.

At the end of the Hare Trail, by a rock wall, a cascade under a fallen redwood flows into a broad, fern-rimmed pool. It's a wonderful place to rest and appreciate Mother Nature before hiking back along the trails to the campground and out to Limekiln Beach.

 

 Limekiln Trail

At the end of the campground area, the trail leads to a wooden bridge which crosses Hare Creek. (Lou G. Hare, 1867-1921, was an early Monterey County Surveyor.) After crossing the bridge, one soon comes to signs designating the Hare Creek Trail going to the right along Hare Creek (0.3 miles), the limekilns (0.5 miles) and Limekiln Falls (0.4 miles).

Since this trail description is intended to lead to the kilns, one can stay to the left following Limekiln Creek's West Fork until reaching the junction where Limekiln Falls Trail and Limekiln Creek meet. Staying to the left on the trail to the kilns, one goes about a third of a mile until reaching a fenced-in area which reveals four towering brown steel limekilns, with their ovens and stonework at their bases. In the heyday of Rockland Lime and Lumber Company, cut redwoods went into the ovens to heat the fires, as limestone and firewood were put into the top. That purified the lime by a process known as slaking or calcining, by using slow, regulated burning to produce the lime. Then, the slaked lime was shipped in barrels to San Francisco or Monterey for cement-making, among other uses. The kilns are now roped-off for visitors' safe viewing.

Limekiln Falls Trail

Retracing the trail along the Limekiln Creek's West Fork brings hikers back to the junction with main stem of Limekiln Creek where a sign points the way to Limekiln Falls. Depending upon the water level, pant legs may need rolling up and water sandals may prove useful, since this next quarter mile or so will involve several creek crossings, including some with footbridges.

But the steps, crossings, and any wet shoes will be well worth the adventure, especially when the fall's roar comes into earshot and then the spectacular 100-foot waterfall spilling over the limestone cliff comes into view. Even the refreshing mist can be a bonus. Once rested and ready, the trail and creek crossings can be carefully retraced, returning to the sign at the third branch of these canyon hikes, "Hare Creek - .3 miles."

 Limekiln Beach

Limekiln Beach, located under the Highway One bridge, is accessed by hiking out the dirt road, just west of the campground and parking lot. One can stroll a long way following the curve of the beach on the sand and rounded stones, trying to imagine the busy shipping port of yesteryear, Rockland Landing, with its barrels of lime going out and commercial supplies coming in. Or, maybe one can just watch the ocean waves going out and coming in, as children on the shore are dreaming up their own stone structures and cementing them with sand.