“It’s California, man. There’s good weather and good places to hike.”
And, as this laid-back motto of math teacher Mike Deckelmann demonstrates, Carmel’s Central Coast location is perfect for taking advantage of it all—near or far, inland or coastal, winter or summer.
Of course, we can’t talk California hiking without first mentioning the Sierra Nevada. From glacially carved Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney, the contiguous United States’ tallest peak, the Sierras contain a bounty of perennial favorites.
Music teacher Brian Handley, whose phone’s photo roll almost uniformly documents day hikes, is particularly passionate about Sequoia National Park, known for some of the world’s largest and oldest trees. Science teacher Mike Guardino is also no stranger to the area, having traversed the 210-mile John Muir Trail eight times. He also spent the summer of 2013 in the high Sierra as a volunteer backcountry ranger.
These spectacular national parks—Yosemite, Sequoia, and King’s Canyon—are well-worth the four-hour drive, but for those seeking destinations less crowded or closer to home, Monterey County and its surrounding area do more than suffice.
For hikers looking for a rich geological past, Pinnacles National Park—the nation’s newest—features miles of scrubland trails, California condors and rock formations from an eroded volcano that migrated there via tectonic plates.
English teacher Barbara Steinberg recommends a visit to the park’s caves, while science teacher Tom Dooner enjoys a strenuous 11-mile loop from the park’s west entrance to its east one, followed by In ‘n’ Out Burgers on the way home.
Pinnacles’ east entrance has a developed campground and can be reached from Hollister, but the park is also accessible from the west near Soledad. Both routes are little over an hour.
To the north, the Santa Cruz Mountains encompass a very different type of experience: Coast redwood canyons and rolling green hills abound with banana slugs and trickling, fern-shrouded creeks.
Big Basin, Butano and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Parks are only a few gateways to the enchanted groves. One particularly great hike is Big Basin’s Buzzard’s Roost, which rewards a two-mile uphill trek with expansive panoramas.
To the south, the Big Sur coastline offers truly breathtaking views and mile upon mile of trail, including Andrew Molera State Park’s mild Creamery Meadows Loop and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park’s Tanbark Trail, a favorite of strategies teacher Brenda Buran.
Rising dramatically from the coast, the Santa Lucia Mountains—protected in the Los Padres National Forest and the Ventana Wilderness—are a wonderful, more remote location. Popular backcountry destinations include Pine Valley and Sykes Hot Springs, which can be accessed via Carmel Valley Road and the Big Sur Ranger Station, respectively, as well as scenic day trips like Palo Colorado Road’s Mill Creek Redwood Preserve.
But perhaps Big Sur’s most well-loved hike is Garrapata State Park, also known as Sobranes. Whether one chooses a strenuous loop or a riparian stroll, Garrapata is “tried and true,” with the bonus of being a mere seven miles from town.
This Carmel classic hosts one route through a quiet redwood grove and another up a steep, sometimes eroded trail, both culminating in a windblown ridgeline and expansive views of the Pacific and Peninsula.
And for the hiker staying within a certain radius of their own home, Garland Ranch Regional Park and Point Lobos State Reserve just might be the undisputed kings.
Garland’s sunburnt chaparral contrasts well with Lobos’ windswept cypress, and they balance each other nicely. While Garland allows different levels of elevation training—the rewarding trek to Snively’s Ridge is a local favorite—Point Lobos’ beauty is unparalleled, with Whaler’s Cabin and China Cove taking the spotlight. In addition, as Steinberg notes, Point Lobos is both child and visitor-friendly.
Deckelmann runs in Lobos at least two times a week, and Handley hikes Garland’s Garzas Creek Trail, reached by Boronda Road, at least monthly, in order to watch the seasons change there.
And this list barely scratches the surface.
So in these last few weeks before summer, and during the vacation, use your freedom wisely, Padres. Maybe a hike or two before finals is for the better.
In the words of junior Zac File, who made the tough decision to spend April break backpacking with his dad instead of prepping for the ACT and AP tests, “It’s really good to stop thinking about school and all that kind of stuff for a week. I think it does wonders.”