Note: This trail on the east side of Hwy 1 in currently closed due to the 2016 Soberanes fire. The trails and the beach on the west side of Hwy 1 are open. Please check here for the latest information on all of the parks in the Big Sur area.
This is the third time I’ve written about Garrapata State Park.
Like so many of the parks along Highway 1, there’s the rocky beach side of the road and then there’s the hiking-through-the-woods side of the road. Garrapata is no different.
Each trip past Garrapata I see a couple dozen cars parked under the big cypress trees on the uphill side of the road and wonder what the hiking might be like. I decided to find out.
There are a couple of trails into the hills over there, including a loop trail, but I opted to stay out of the woods and go up and back on the Rocky Ridge Trail. This trail is rated ‘difficult’ by most websites, and that’s pretty accurate from my point of view, which was taking more than a few breaks to suck up some of that fresh Pacific air.
There are stretches of the trail with a pretty steep grade, with some parts just outright slippery, with loose gravel on a steep rocky bed. Most of time I stepped aside and made for a little bit of traction on the weeds lining the trail, just to keep from doing a knee or face plant.
After about an hour of winded uphill hiking, being passed by people who smartly wore lightweight running shoes and just had a fanny pack with a couple of bottles of water strapped to their hips, I made it to the first peak.
Here’s what I saw:
While the view is pretty spectacular, I was also rewarded with a couple of epiphanies:
First, I’m not in as good as shape as I thought I was. Although life on the ranch means we’re outside a lot, walking up and down hills and throwing hay bales around, it’s really not a fitness regimen. I also spend a lot of time in the car (it is California, after all) and even more time sitting on my butt pushing pixels around an iMac. But when all kinds of people are passing me on the hike uphill, and I pause to ‘take a picture’ when what I’m really doing is stopping so I can suck in more gobs of air, it’s time to dial up the fitness meter. I’d like to think it was the altitude, but not this time, Sully.
There are bigger and better hikes I want to take, and I won’t be able to enjoy it unless I get in a lot better shape.
My second epiphany was that I need to take just plain ole’ hiking a little more seriously. There’s a reason people have liners in their boots. Why they carry twice as much fluids as they think they’ll need. Why they wear sunscreen and big hats. And hiking sticks. Because when you start getting blisters, start getting thirsty, start getting a sunburn and start to slip on the trail, those nurdy items (socks, water, sunscreen and sticks) will salvage your experience. Your experience won’t be skewed by the blisters and thirst, it will be about the effort it took to get that amazing view of the California coast from 1600 feet up the mountain.
If you’ve still got the energy, be sure to take a few minutes or more and hike along the Soberanes Point Trail just across Highway 1. It starts with this view and gives you access to some classic California coastal scenics.
Kid factor: (+) Great outdoor experience, but fairly serious hiking with great views. (-) When you get to the top, be mindful of the ledge. A couple of hundred feet straight down. Bring fluids, sunscreen. There’s also some great trails with ocean views (and some sketchy beach access) across Hwy 1.
Fitness factor: If 2 flights of stairs gives you trouble, or your knees are a little wobbly, you better pass on this one. When I go back, I’ll probably skip the hiking boots and go with something more flexible (read: traction) and lighter. Trail runners? And if you’ve got hiking sticks, bring them. And fluids. And sunscreen. Do it, stupid.
Photo factor: Pretty amazing vistas from 1600 feet above Highway 1. I should have gotten up there a little earlier, or stayed later for the light, but it was a really clear, blue day. If there’s fog, and you really want that up in the air picture, you might want to try another day. Although the fog timelapse might be cool.