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Soberanes Canyon

Garrapata State Park

Garrapata State Park Links:

September 5th, 1998

5.0 miles
2000 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:10

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

If you want to go: Take Highway 1 south toward Big Sur. Garrapata State Park is 10 miles south of Carmel. There's no big sign telling you you're there. There's a small sign behind a gate with a map of the park.

Signs at the start of the hike warned us that the Soberanes Canyon trail had been damaged due to El Nino. Therefore, we figured we would head up the Rocky Ridge Trail and head back down the same way.

Unfortunately, we somehow managed to miss the turn for the Rocky Ridge Trail and ended up on the Soberanes Canyon Trail instead. But I'm glad we did. The trail starts out unpromising -- slogging through sand under an unforgiving sun and little to look at. But slowly, the scenery changes.

We passed a group of hikers who were resting alongside the Soberanes Creek. We thought about turning around, since the trail was so sandy and by this time we'd realized we were probably on the wrong trail. But we never did turn around. Shortly after those hikers, the trail became more vegetated, following the creek, and soon we were hiking through a lush redwood stand. The next hour we hiked alongside this beautiful creek underneath ample shade, with lush ferns and redwoods surrounding us. The trail goes up and down, up and down, and has a few unmarked side trails which could lead hikers astray. There also was definite storm damage. We crossed the creek several times, and the trail was almost completely washed away in a few places. But we eventually made it to the switchbacked stairs which led us up out of the canyon.

Jean looking up at a big redwood tree in Soberanes Canyon

After leaving the canyon, we joined the Rocky Ridge Trail and hiked up, up, up, under the blazing sun amid golden fields. The trail is narrow most of the way, and we didn't encounter many people -- just a couple people coming the opposite direction. Some parts of the trail are also very steep -- over 20% grade. We eventually made it to the 1900 foot peak, where we were met with great views all around -- the Carmel Valley to the east, Soberanes Canyon to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Most striking was the great disparity of the environment -- on one side, the peak we were standing on and all the golden, dry hills. But through it runs the Soberanes Creek, and the canyon it lives in is full of rich vegetation.

The view from the top. Look at how green it is in the Soberanes Valley, and how barren it is elsewhere.

After enjoying the views we headed down the steep, dusty trail. We saw a few people resting on a bench overlooking the ocean, and passed one hiker coming up the hill. Near the bottom, we saw a couple jackrabbits. I saw one dart out in front of us on the trail, then disappear. We saw another duck into the bushes. We could see him, sitting there. When I realized how frightened he looked, we went on and left him alone.

Eventually we made it back to Highway 1 -- but a few dozen yards north of where we'd started the hike. No matter. We crossed the highway and enjoyed the coast before heading back to the car.

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