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  • Writer's pictureAmy Leggett

The Best Place to Hike if You Are Visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

You don't have to go to London to see a crown jewel (and you can get in a hike at the same time)! Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has often been referred to as the Crown Jewel of the California State Park System and it is just as gorgeous as the Queen's Crown Jewels. This beautiful area is only minutes from nearby towns Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea and has a network of well-maintained trails that provide the perfect opportunity to get moving and enjoy the scenery!

About Point Lobos Natural Reserve


Point Lobos got its name from offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos ("Point of the Sea Wolves") where the sound of sea lions carries inland. Part of the California Park System, Point Lobos is actually designated as a natural reserve. This designation affords it the highest level of protection in order to forever preserve the area's unique beauty and ecological significance. This makes Point Lobos an especially great destination for nature lovers and conservationists. There are numerous hikes in the Natural Reserve that can take you along the coastline, through headlands, coves and rolling meadows.

As a natural reserve, there is always plenty to observe no matter what time of year you visit. There are rare plant communities, endangered archeological sites, unique geological formations, and rich flora and fauna of both land and sea. You may also catch glimpses of many different forms of wildlife such as seals, sea lions, sea otters and migrating gray whales (December - May). You will most definitely observe many different seabirds, including pelicans. It is amazing to watch these birds soar across the sky and then dip down and skim along the ocean for their food.


The Nitty Gritty Details About Visiting Point Lobos Natural Reserve


Getting there:

Point Lobos Natural Reserve is located right off of Highway 1 about three miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea. You will see signs for the Reserve entrance from Highway 1.


Hours:

The Reserve opens at 8:00 am and currently closes at 7:00 pm (with last visitor entry allowed at 6:30 pm). All guests, including walk-in guests must exit the Reserve by the posted closing time.


Cost:

You must purchase a day pass if you drive in to the Reserve. A general day pass for most vehicles is $10.00, but it drops to $9.00 if you have a senior citizen in the car. There are additional charges for vans and small coaches or buses.


Parking:

There is parking available at the Reserve, but there is only enough parking for 75 vehicles. Once that fills up, visitors must park on the shoulder of Highway 1 (which can add 1/2 of a mile to a mile extra distance to your hike before you even get to the scenery!). Point Lobos is a very popular destination during the summer months or on holiday weekends. Therefore, if you want to secure one of the 75 parking spots, you should plan to arrive before 9:30 am or after 3:00 pm.


Temperature:

Even though you are in California, don't expect the temperatures to be extremely warm at Point Lobos. Due to the geographical location, the temperatures in this area remain fairly cool. Temperatures generally range from 57-65 degrees. In the summer months, mornings often have a foggy marine layer blanketing the coastline which burns off by afternoon. You can experience slightly warmer temperatures if you postpone your visit until September. In any event, it is usually breezy by the coastline, so always make sure to dress in layers so you can remain comfortable whenever you visit.


Where to Hike:

As noted above, Point Lobos has a network of well-maintained hiking trails. There are many different hikes to take depending on the time you have, the ability levels of the people you are traveling with and what you want to see. There are also specific options for those visitors with disabilities. You can start with the Point Lobos website to get a feel for the different options at www.pointlobos.org/plan-your-visit/suggestions. Additionally, you can find many different hiking options at alltrails.com/parks/us/California/point-lobos-natural-reserve.


We chose to do the Point Lobos Loop Trail which is 6.7 miles in length and listed as "moderate" in difficulty. I would say that the Loop Trail is generally pretty easy, but the moderate rating probably comes from a few locations where there is an increase in elevation to get to vistas for great views. If you have time, I would highly recommend the Loop Trail because you really get to see it all. We saw stunning rocky coastlines, beautiful inland forests of Monterey Pines and Cypress groves, tide pools, serene meadows filled with wildflowers (it was still spring) and a variety of wildlife habitats. Because we kept stopping to observe things or take pictures, it probably took us a good 3-4 hours to do the complete loop, but it was totally worth it! Look at these shots:



A few things we missed on our visit to Point Lobos:

  • There are free docent-led public walks daily. This allows visitors to see the Reserve through experienced eyes and gain insight that you would miss going it alone. These docent-led hikes are usually less than a mile in length so you could take advantage of this opportunity and still have time to explore on your own (with some additional knowledge under your belt!).

  • There is a mobile phone tour and app that you can use on your hike. You can find it at pointlobos.org/media/cell-phone-tour. I wasn't aware of this when we visited, but I probably would have enjoyed getting a little more background and information on the sights we were seeing! I am pointing this out so you won't have to miss this wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Reserve! If you go and try it out, let me know how it is!

  • We did not dive while we were there (primarily due to the fact that I do not dive), but did see a group of divers, probably from the California State Parks or CSU Monterey Bay, doing some research in the area. The Reserve is one of the richest marine habitats in California so there is a lot of research of the marine ecosystem in order to support a healthy coast and ocean and sustain the California Marine Protected Areas. Visitor diving is only allowed at Whalers and Bluefish Coves. Proof of certification is required. If you wish to dive in this amazing ecosystem, you will get permission upon entering the Reserve. Reservations are recommended and a must for weekends and holidays.

If you are looking to get active during your visit to the Monterey/Carmel area, look no further then the Point Lobos Natural Reserve. You can go for an hour or the day, you can jog or you can hike, you can take selfies with incredible backdrops or paint pictures of the scenery, you can picnic or you can dive. The choices are endless and the experience is priceless!

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