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Andrew Molera State Park

Beach, Headlands Trails

3 miles round trip

Mountains, meadows and the mouth of Big Sur River are some of the highlights of a walk through Andrew Molera State Park, largest state park along the Big Sur coast. More than 20 miles of trail weave through the park, which has a diversity of ecosystems. You can hike along the bluffs overlooking three miles of beach, and climb through meadows and oak woodland. At the river mouth are a shallow lagoon and beautiful sandy beach.

In 1855, Yankee fur trader Juan Bautista Roger Cooper acquired this land, formerly part of the Mexican land grant Rancho El Sur. Grandson Andrew Molera, who inherited the ranch, had a successful dairy operation. His Monterey Jack cheese was particularly prized.

A good leg-stretcher walk is to take Beach Trail to the beach at the mouth of the Big Sur River, then return via Creamery Meadow Trail. Beach Trail and a number of other park roads are old dirt roads, which allow side-by-side walking, thus appealing to sociable hikers. A longer tour of the park can be made via the Bluff, Panorama and Ridge trails. The coastal views from these trails are magnificent.

You may hear a number of foreign languages en route. The state park’s walk-in campground is very popular with European visitors.

Note that the round trip loop described below relies on wading across the mouth of the Big Sur River. At times of high water, you’ll have to make this trip an out-and-back or get your feet (and possibly much more) wet by crossing the river.

Directions to trailhead: Andrew Molera State Park is just off Highway 1, some 21 miles south of Carmel.

The hike: From the parking lot, cross the Big Sur River on the seasonal footbridge. Walk 100 yards of so along a broad path that soon splits. Bear right onto Beach Trail. (The left fork joins Creamery Meadow Trail, an ideal return route for those who like loop trails.) The trail stays near the river, whose banks are crowded with thimbleberry and blackberry, honeysuckle vines, willow and bay laurel.

At 0.3 mile, you pass through the park’s campground. A side trail leads to Cooper Cabin, an 1861 redwood structure that’s the oldest building on Big Sur’s coast.

At the river mouth is a small beach and shallow lagoon, frequented by sanderlings, willets and many more shorebirds. A short path (Headlands Trail) leads above the beach to Molera Point, where you can watch for whales (January through April) or passing ships. The beach to the south is walkable at low tide.

Loop around the point and then either return the same way or via Creamery Meadow Trail on the south side of the Big Sur River.

© 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