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Garrapata State Park

Rocky Ridge, Soberanes Canyon Trails
7 miles round trip with 1,200-foot elevation gain

Undeveloped and usually overlooked, Garrapata State Park offers a lot of Big Sur in a compact area. The park features two miles (probably closer to four miles counting the twists and turns) of spectacular coastline and a steep sampling of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Rocky Ridge Trail quickly leaves Highway 1 behind and offers far-reaching views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the sea. A grand loop of the state park can be made by returning to the trailhead via redwood-lined Soberanes Canyon.

The name Soberanes is linked with the early Spanish exploration of California. Soldier José María Soberanes marched up the coast to Monterey with the Gaspar de Portolá expedition of 1769. Seven years later, Soberanes served as a guide for Juan Bautista De Anza, whose party pushed north to San Francisco Bay. Grandson José Antonio Ezequiel Soberanes acquired the coastal bluff and magnificent backcountry that became known as the Soberanes Ranch.

Rocky Ridge Trail will be more enjoyable for the gung-ho hiker than the novice. The trail ascends very steeply as it climbs Rocky Ridge. Then, after gaining the ridge, hikers must descend an extremely steep mile (we’re talking about a 20 to 30 percent grade here) to connect to Soberanes Canyon Trail.

The leg-weary, or those simply looking for an easier walk, will simply stroll through the redwoods of Soberanes Canyon and not attempt Rocky Ridge Trail.

Directions to trailhead: Garrapata State Park is seven miles south of Carmel Valley Road, off Highway 1 in Carmel. There’s a highway turnout at mileage marker 65.8.

The hike: From the gate on the east side of Highway 1, walk inland over a dirt road to a nearby barn, then a wee bit farther to cross Soberanes Creek and reach a trail junction. Soberanes Canyon heads east along the creek, but Rocky Ridge-bound hikers will keep with the closed road, heading north and dipping in and out of a gully.

Hikers rapidly leave the highway behind as the path climbs the rugged slopes, which are dotted with black sage, golden yarrow and bush lupine. The route uses few switchbacks as it ascends 1,435-foot Rocky Ridge. From atop the ridge are good views to the east of Soberanes Creek watershed, to the west of Soberanes Point, and to the north of Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula.

The route contours eastward around the ridge. To the north is the steep canyon cut by Malpaso Creek. After leveling out for a time, the grassy path reaches a small cow pond, then descends over steep but pastoral terrain.

The trail is cut by cattle paths, a reminder of a century of grazing. The route plunges very steeply down the bald north wall of  Soberanes Canyon. The mile-long killer descent finally ends when you intersect Soberanes Canyon Trail and begin descending, much more gently, to the west.

Soberanes Canyon Trail stays close to the creek and enters the redwoods. Western sword fern, redwood sorrel, blackberry bushes and Douglas iris decorate the path.

Near the mouth of the canyon, the trail becomes gentler. Willow, watercress and horsetail line the lower reaches of Soberanes Creek. Soon after passing some out-of-place mission cactus, brought north from Mexico by Spanish missionaries, hikers return to the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at