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ANDREW MOLERA State Park: (June 2019) CLOSED TRAILS: River, Twin Cottonwoods, Hidden and Trail Camp/Headlands. OPEN TRAILS: Creamery Meadow, Ridge, Bluffs, Panorama, Spring, East Molera, Bobcat and Coyote Flat trails. NOTE: On October 31, 2018 the seasonal footbridge crossing the Big Sur River was removed for the season. Hikers wishing to access the beach, Creamery Meadow, Ridge, Bluffs, Panorama and Spring trails must wade across the Big Sur River. The footbridge is expected to be back in place by mid-June, 2019. Check here for the latest information on all Big Sur parks.

This is my third visit to Andrew Molera State Park.

I was determined to do three things. Hike a nice, big, loop trail, try out a new set of hiking sticks and use my new iPhone6+ for all of the photo and video shots. The last two parts (hiking sticks and iPhone) kinda go hand-in-hand, pun intended. More later.

The opening trip to Molera was on my first visit to Big Sur. Susie and I walked out to Molera Point to see the beach and where the Big Sur river empties into the Pacific. The shoreline here is a big sweeping arc of white sand that is tucked behind the point and therefore offers some protection from direct ocean swells.

You can get to this beach on two trails that run along the river. Keep in mind that you might have to get your feet wet as you cross the Big Sur River. There is a seasonal footbridge that usually is in place by June.

On the second trip a couple of weeks ago we hiked out the Creamery Meadow and Bluff Trails for about 3 miles to the Spring Trail, which leads you to a beautiful, quiet stretch of classic California beach.

We got out there a little late, so we back-tracked to the parking lot without exploring any more of the trail system.  I made a note to come back earlier in the day so I could cover more ground.

So this time I pulled into the parking lot at 8:15, paid my $10 and set out. I replaced the dead weight of the DSLR bodies and lenses in my backpack with Gatorade, some snacks and the iPhone and set off on my modest quest.

(For the record, all pix and video from here in this post are shot with the iPhone6+)(I know, it’s a little nerdy, but I’m astonished at some of the imagery I get out of a cel phone).

I crossed the Big Sur river next to the parking lot and set off on the River Trail, with dry feet. (The ‘seasonal’ bridge was in place).

I then took the Hidden Trail which climbed up about 600 feet to the Ridge Trail.

The Hidden Trail is a bit of a challenge, being narrow, steep and slippery in places and I managed to put the hiking sticks into very good use. Now I get it. The added stability and moving a little bit of stress off the knees and onto the arms makes a really, really big difference when navigating this type of terrain.

I originally bought the sticks because they came with a mount for the iPhone on the top of one handle. Built-in monopod. Makes sense. But as it turns out, these lightweight twigs of aluminum were good for photography, but even better for hiking. I won’t go out without them again.

The Hidden Trail connects to the Ridge Trail, which is wide with a gentle grade. I saw a couple of people on bikes and made a note to drag the MTBs on the next trip here. I’ll have to carry the bike uphill on the Ridge Trail, but it’s wide and runs up about 1,000 feet, so it’ll be a fun ride back down.

The Ridge Trail runs along the crest of hills that parallel the ocean on the right and the Big Sur coastal ranges on the left, with photo-worthy views on each side. The trail took me through a small grove of redwoods, which then opened into the highest reaches of the park, where the wind started to pick up and the fog started to obscure the views.

After some time at about 1200 feet, I headed back down the aptly-named Panorama Trail. Beautiful views, fresh ocean air, and… narrow footing.  Someone had suggested on All Trails (www.alltrails.com) that this loop is better going clockwise and I heeded that advice. It certainly was easier going downhill in this direction than climbing up would have been. Once again, the hiking sticks made a big difference.

The balance of the loop has some some slippery downhill sections, the occasional pass through chest-high brush and some outstanding Big Sur vistas. Take the time to spur down the Spring Trail to the quiet beach, before returning to the Bluffs Trail, which gradually flattens out on the ridge above the ocean.

I missed the Creamery Meadow trail and went straight to the Beach Trail, which might have added 10 minutes to the journey, but not much more. My round trip took about 4 hours, with plenty of stops for pictures.

The wildflowers seemed to like this side of the park as well. It was June, and there was a nice selection of colors and sizes all along the trail that runs along the ridge above the beach.

So the Ridge-Panorama-Bluff Trail loop (again, recommend that order) gives you a little bit of everything:  Flat meadows, a reasonable climb that puts you in cooler temps and fog, excellent mountain vistas and quiet beaches.

It took three tries, but my persistance was rewarded with a 4 hour pocket tour of coastal California landscapes with enough of a workout to make you feel like accomplished something.

Kid factor: (+) Plenty for kids to do and see, from the beaches to the trails.  (-) Know what poison oak looks like and keep away from the pretty red leaves. Please take the ocean around here seriously. Like the park brochure says; don’t turn your back to the waves. It can be just beautiful and gentle for an hour, then a single set will come in too big and sweep you out to sea.  This happens all the time, all up and down the coast. Check for ticks when you get back to the car.  I usually spray my shoes and legs with repellant before I set out. I wear lightweight long pants out here. Your call.

Fitness factor:  Twice I’ve come out here and twice I didn’t bring enough to drink. That made for a miserable trip back down to the parking lot. Bring what you think you’ll need to drink, then double it.

The route I took requires decent knees (hiking sticks are my new best friend) and I would say a 4-flight rule is in effect: If you can do 4 flights of stairs without looking for the elevator, then your probably OK for the loop I took. Otherwise, enjoy the hiking along the beach, Creamery Meadow and Bluffs Trails where it’s much flatter.

Bring the mountain bikes; lots of official bike trails, even if you have to walk the thing to the top… the ride back down will be fun. There used to be horses on these trails, but they’re no longer allowed.

Photo factor:  Classic Big Sur shots in every direction. Almost all of these images (and video) were shot with my iPhone 6+. I’ll let the images speak for themselves. A little touch up in Lightroom CC and I’m done. Did I occasionally want the macro lens? Sure, but not enough to lug it all around. And the video has image stabilization built in. I got back to the desk and cranked up Premiere and was like ‘are you kidding me? I know I’m not that steady’

The hiking-sticks-plus-monopod set up is helpful, too. And while you’re not using it as a camera, your phone is also logging your GPS tracks. OK, a little nerdy but it’s just way too much fun.