Part of the beauty of a getaway to Carmel is that while there’s plenty to keep you busy, it’s also easy to do a lot of nothing. Some shop, eat, and wine taste their way through town while others plant themselves on the beach refusing to leave before the sun goes down. But one of Carmel’s best activities is also one of its better kept secrets – hiking at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
With more than a dozen trails to choose from, there’s an option for every fitness level. The more time you have, the more ground you can cover, but even if you only have a half hour, it’s still worth pulling in. If you have questions once you arrive, docents are happy to help.
Carmelo Meadow Trail
It’s easy to jump onto this wheelchair-accessible, stroller friendly trail from the parking lot. Less than a 10 minute flat walk through the woods and the coast opens up with a view of Whalers Cove. If you’ve only got half an hour, this is your trail. It’s easily done in a short amount of time and you’ll leave wanting to come back another day.
Granite Point Trail & Cabin Trail
If you can keep going, hang a left and take the Granite Point Trail to Whalers Cabin and the Whaling Museum Station. They're close—you can see the buildings from Whalers Cove. Whalers Cabin and the Whaling Station Museum are open when docents are available. If the doors are open, go in. Point Lobos has served as a whaling station and abalone cannery. Check out the display spot, where you can look down below the cabin floor. Early builders used whale bones to create the cabin’s foundation. In the late 1800s a portion of Point Lobos was subdivided into residential lots (more on that foiled plan later).
North Shore Trail
You’ll leave the flats behind as you take North Shore Trail, but it’s still not what I’d describe as a strenuous hike. Linger quietly and longer around Blue Fish Cove. Snowy and Great Egrets like to fish here and aren’t shy about posing for photos. As you continue through East Grove toward Big Dome, you’ll lose sight of the coast for a stretch, but that’s ok—the deer will distract you.
Old Veteran Trail
Just before you hit Old Veteran Trail, you’ll most likely start to hear the sound of sea lions making a ruckus. You probably won’t be able to see any of them, but you’ll know they’re there. If you don’t park your car close to the main entrance, the area where Old Veteran Trail meets Cypress Grove Trail is another good spot to park and begin your hike. (There’s a $10 parking fee.) There will most likely be docents out and about, and there are restrooms.
Cypress Grove Trail
If you had to crown a king of all the trails in Point Lobos, Cypress Grove Trail might be it. It winds through one of just two native stands of Monterey Cypress trees left in the world. (The other grove is across Carmel Bay at Cypress Point.) The trail loops around Allan Memorial Grove. It honors Alexander M. Allan. A successful businessman, he put a stop to the plans of resort developers when he bought back lots that had previously been sold to preserve the area.
The trees on this trail also stand out due to a reddish-orange, velvety fur like coating. It’s actually a green algae; its orange color comes from carotene, the same pigment that occurs in carrots. The plant doesn’t hurt the trees.
Sea Lion Point and Sand Hill Trail
This is where patience pays off and you’ll most likely hit the sea lion jackpot. As you head out close to the tip, keep your eyes peeled for sea otters and Harbor Seals as well.