Between the Big Sur Marathon, the Sea Otter Classic and the Pacific Grove Triathlon, it is no secret that the Monterey Peninsula is an athletic area. Whether it’s hiking, biking or water sports, there are many ways to be involved in outdoor activities.
Almost anyone can hike, and in the county there are countless, accessible trails, beautiful and unique to the area. Just earlier this year, PinnaclesNational Monument became PinnaclesNational Park. Located roughly five miles east of Soledad, this hidden gem is home to tall rock formations, caves and a variety of animals, including the endangered California condor. Covering more than 26,000 acres, the park has over 30 miles of trails for hiking with hikes from beginning level to strenuous.
The Pinnacle’s unique rock formations, caused by plate tectonics some 23 million years ago, attract many rock climbers; however, most climbs are dangerous due to weak rock. So if you are a beginner, perhaps try climbing somewhere else first.
Another excellent local hiking hotspot is none other than Big Sur. Perhaps the most popular hike south of the highlands is the Soberanes Canyon Trail. This scenic trail, part of GarrapataState Park, begins in a shaded canyon with redwoods and a stream, but turns into steep, uphill terrain. The 360-degree ocean view at the summit is breathtaking…and not just because one hiked miles to get there.
Other classic, easy Big Sur hikes include McWay Waterfall Trail and Pfeiffer Falls Trails, both of which are in JuliaPfeifferState Park.
One of my favorite places to run and hike is none other than GarlandRanchRegionalPark in CarmelValley. Also a prime spot for mountain biking and horseback riding, Garland is an all-around great place. It has convenient parking, a range of trails and beautiful views. The Waterfall Trail is good for beginners, but I would recommend at least hiking up to the Mesa, which is basically a flat meadow about halfway up the mountain that overlooks the valley.
A more challenging but rewarding Garland hike is the Sky Trail. Appropriately named, this steep climb gains about 2,000 feet in elevation in about three miles, but the panoramic view at the top is stunning. For perspective, the summit is just under the abandoned fire watchtower that can be seen from the valley floor. One can either reach this summit by going up Sky or up Snively’s Ridge, but going down Sky Trail is the best. Allow three to four hours for this hike, unless you decide to run it.
For those who are more into the beach atmosphere, there is no shortage of activities on the waterfront, like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. While kayaking in Elkhorn Slough is serene and enjoyable, stand up paddleboarding is even more challenging and exciting.
SUP is just like it sounds: you stand on flat, surfboard-type apparatus and use a kayak paddle to steer. It takes balance and concentration; but just like riding a bike, once one gets the hang of it, it’s easy.
Monterey Bay Kayaks in Monterey and Moss Landing offers both kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals and classes. Their beachfront location by the wharf makes for great beginner conditions—flat surf and gentle tide. Once acquainted with basic paddle boarding technique, one can easily explore the wharf and even go down the coast towards the aquarium.
Mountain biking is another activity one can pursue in the area. The 18-mile Monterey Rec Trail that travels from Castroville to Pacific Grove offers a flat, scenic, paved path often used by bikers, joggers and pedestrians. This path is good for beginners, as it lacks hills and has good places to rest. Beware if you go on the weekends though: tourists clog up the path that can make biking difficult and awkward. ToroPark and Ford Ord are less crowded places for more advanced cyclists to go. The Marina side of Ford Ord is more flat, and the trails are kept in shape compared to the Laguna Seca side, which has more hills.
Lastly, if you want to do something outdoors and feel like a real-life treasure hunter, geocaching is for you. All you need is a GPS, geocaching.com membership and a sense of adventure.
Geocaching is a “real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache, or container, hidden at that location,” Geocaching.com says. “Caches” are generally boxes hidden on hiking trails or anywhere in nature, with small, Oriental Trading Company-type treasures inside.
The rules state that if one visits a geocache and takes something, one must leave a different trinket in return that is of equal or greater value. There are plenty of geocaches in GarlandPark and about 1.4 million worldwide, so there is no shortage of caches to find.