Traveling the Pacific Coastline on highway 1 between San Simeon and Carmel through Big Sur is full of dramatic scenery, where the turquoise waters crash into the rugged cliffs and mountains which rise up right from the ocean. For over 60 miles the highway winds its way along the cliff walls providing breathtaking views around every turn. Along the way are pullouts providing some exceptional photographic opportunities, as well side roads to points of interest and State Parks with hiking trails.
Just North of San Simeon is Ragged Point overlook which showcases what lies ahead and for the brave at heart, a step trail down the cliff wall leads to the rocky shoreline. Just off the highway is Piedra Blancas Light Station, a historic park and wildlife sanctuary which is a reminder of our past in maritime navigation. Not only does the pullouts provide spectacular views of the shoreline, but Sea Lions call portions of this area home.
The Big Sur Highway is much more than just about where the mountains meet the Pacific Ocean, it portrays the beauty of the Santa Lucia Mountains, where the hiking trails takes one into the forest. The Limekiln State Park near the small community of Lucia has three trails, each being a half mile one way with only modest elevation changes. The well-groomed Hare Canyon Trail follows one of the creeks through some of the oldest Redwood Trees along the Big Sur Coast. At the end of the Limekilns trail are the kilns which were-built around the turn of the century. A little more challenging is the Falls Trail, where one has to cross the creek in four locations and the elevations are a little steeper, but worth the effort. The end of the trail displays a 100-foot fan-shaped waterfall into a small pool suitable for swimming.
One of the most iconic spots along the shoreline is Mc Way Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. A modest half-mile trail leads under the highway to an overlook on the cliff wall which provides an awe-inspiring view of the water fall which drops 80-feet on to a sand beach and at high tide right into the ocean. For some more short hikes the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is just the place. The.64-mile loop river path leads along the Big Sur river through the lush forest of Redwoods with plenty of places for a picnic, or the half-mile round trip to the Big Sur River Gorge, an undeveloped natural area.
Talk about bridges, the Big Sur highway has quite a few; however, the highway is home to one of the highest single span bridges in the world. The Bixby Creek Bridge opened in 1932 and spans across Rainbow Canyon and is surrounded by mountains and soars 260 feet above beautiful turquoise waters, providing a view which will not be soon forgotten.
On the Northern end of the Big Spur Coastline near Carmel is Point Lobos State Reserve. The reserve is like the Big Spur, except in a small package, which features coves, rolling meadows, and rocky shores where the stunning views of the ocean are endless. The great thing about Point Lobos are the abundance of trails, from the inland trails through forest of Cypress Trees to the outer perimeter trails. For the best experience, the just over eight miles of outer trails are a must, not only do they provide the beat ocean views, but they meander through parts of the forest as well. These trails range from flat well graded paths to steep elevation changes where roots, rocks, boulders, and man-made steps help with footing. In addition, two of the outer trails have narrow and steep trails which allows for one to access small sandy beach areas.
There’re not many places in the country with a privately owned road that charges a fee to drive upon, other than the 17-mile road located on the Monterey Peninsula. This short, but beautiful highway passes through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach through the Del Monte Forest of wind sculpted Cypress Trees before reaching the rocky coastline. The highway along the coast passes by scenic spots such as China Rock, Bird Rock, Lone Cypress, and the world known Pebble Beach Golf Course.
Trees play a large role in our survival and It’s truly amazing how large they can get. The Big Basin Redwoods State Park which is home to the largest continuous stand of Coast Redwoods South of San Francisco offers over 80-miles of back country hiking trails through a thick forest of Redwoods, Sequoia’s, and the smaller Tan Oaks. Some of the Sequoia’s and Redwoods here are over 300 feet tall and 50 feet in circumference and when one stands next to these trees, it gives a new meaning to the word massive. For visitors with only a half day to enjoy the park, the Sequoia, Skyline, and Redwood are the most popular trails. The Sequoia Trail starts at the ranger station along a dirt path with little elevation changes winding its way through massive Sequoia trees and after 1.7 miles a short side trail leads to Sempervirens Falls. Over the next 2 tenths of a mile the trail climbs 150 feet over open slick-rock before entering into a forest of Redwoods and Tan Oaks. The next mile has a steady decent over a narrow path along the cliff wall providing up close encounters with massive Redwoods as well as a view of the forested canyon. Upon reaching the Skyline Trail, its 1.5 miles back to the ranger station along a dirt path with little elevation changes. The Redwood Trail may only be 7 tenths of a mile loop over a wide and flat surface, but it’s the home of the two largest Redwoods in the park at 70 feet in circumference.
Hidden in the California’s back country is Pinnacles National Park’s unique landscape with oak woodlands, canyon bottoms, caves, chaparral’s, and towering rock spires. Pinnacles has more than 30 miles of hiking trails which allows for one to explore the beauty of this park up close from flat grassy trails to steep trails through caves and up to the rocky spires. The 2.2-mile loop Moses Spring Trail with an elevation change of 500 feet displays rock formations and passes through Bear Gulch Cave where the trail is narrow, low clearance, and dark with a stream running through it complete with a waterfall. The trail continues through another cave before climbing a steep cliff to a beautiful view of the Bear Gulch Reservoir. The more strenuous High Peaks Trial is 1.9 miles one way with an elevation change of 1,425 feet. The trail winds its way up two different cliff walls over a narrow and rocky trail into the high peaks of the Pinnacles. Upon reaching the peak the views of the Pinnacles, canyon and surrounding mountains are breath-taking.