If you’re gung-ho on getting to Big Sur for the weekend, you might whiz right past the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve sign on Highway 101. Do yourself a favor and pull over.
Located 8 miles south of the city of Monterey, this coastal gem has been called “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world” for its stunning rock coves, bay vistas and proximity to wildlife. If there’s a place to take in all of the beauty and diversity of the Monterey area, it’s here.
Hikers can start at the Whaler’s Cove parking lot at the south end of Carmel Bay for a day trip that wraps around Point Lobos and down to China Cove. Start on the North Shore Trail – a cleanly cut dirt path flanked by patches of wildflowers and oaks. The occasional staircase leads to a view of blue water as it crashes over scraggly coves, and as a colony of sea lions barks in the distance.
After about 3 miles, the trail comes to the actual point of Point Lobos, where painters and photographers can be found capturing the breathtaking ocean views. A ranger may be stationed there with a telescope to give hikers a peek at seals, sea lions and sea otters living nearby. Migrating gray whales can be spotted from December to May.
To head back, hikers can loop around on the Cypress Grove trail past Sea Lion Cove and a particularly nifty inlet called The Slot. On the way, dip down a steep flight of stairs to Pebble Beach, an excellent place for shedding your shoes.
As you near the trail’s end and head back inland, take a moment to rest at China Cove, where hundreds of pelicans and seagulls interact at the aptly named Bird Island. Use the Mound Meadow trail to get home.
Trail: North Shore to Cypress Grove to Sea Lion Point to South Shore to Mound Meadow
Length: About 7 miles, mostly flat
Difficulty: Easy (many parts wheelchair accessible)
Toilets: Located at parking lots