Outdoors: True solitude among the trees

By Adam BlauertFebruary 15, 2012 

Five-year-old Cole McLarney of Salt Lake City, Utah, walks on a huge fallen redwood tree on the Redwood Trail which features some of the tallest and oldest trees at Big Basin Redwoods, the oldest state park established in 1902. The park is home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods and composed of nearly 20,000 acres with 80 miles of trails. The park rangers there regularly lead free interpretive hikes. Find out more at www.bigbasin.org.

RANDY PENCH

Redwoods naturally grow along the Pacific Coast from southern Monterey County to a few miles above the Oregon state line. Despite extensive logging, a mix of old-growth and second-growth redwood forests still occupy 95 percent of their original range.

One of the least-known groves is located on a mountainside high above the Big Sur coast. The Mill Creek Preserve is a Monterey County park and access permits are only granted to a maximum of 40 people a day. While other groves have larger trees (Mill Creek is second-growth), Mill Creek has true solitude. The permit system was designed to provide a different kind of experience than is normally found in the more popular groves.

A 2.7-mile trail follows the curve of the mountainside from the parking area to a spectacular viewpoint that offers a sweeping 360-degree vista of the rugged coastline and steep mountains of the Santa Lucia Range.

Four benches are arranged to facilitate both conversation and enjoyment of the view. It's the perfect picnic spot for a sunny day. On windy days it doesn't provide much shelter, but on our recent visit it was warm, sunny and pleasant. The ocean sparkled before us and with binoculars we could pick out ships many miles out at sea. Hawks and vultures glided silently overhead on gentle air currents.

The trail has some gentle ups and downs, but no major climbs. The surface is mostly free of rocks. Several small creeks with short waterfalls and cascades -- especially nice after a rainstorm -- are crossed on bridges.

Permits can be obtained by visiting the park's website at www.mprpd.org or calling (831) 372-3196 between two and 30 days in advance. The trail is open from sunrise to sunset daily. A useful trail map is available both on the website and in a small kiosk near the start of the trail. Because Sudden Oak Death is present in the area, a wash station is provided for disinfecting your shoes after your hike.

Because of its proximity to Point Lobos, this hike could easily be combined with the trails I described two weeks ago or with a visit to any of the state parks along the northern Big Sur Coast -- Andrew Molera, Garrapata and Point Sur.

To find the preserve, head south on Highway 1 from Monterey Bay. Start watching your odometer at the intersection of River Road in Carmel. Ten miles south of River Road, turn left on Palo Colorado Road and follow this narrow paved road for 6.8 miles to the trail parking. Drive carefully and watch for oncoming traffic around the blind curves. The drive is almost as exciting as the hike. The Forest Service's Bottchers Gap Campground is located a mile further up the road. Open year-round, its sites are only $12 a night.

No water or trash service is provided at the preserve, so you must pack in whatever you need and pack it back out when you are finished. No restroom is available, but you can find a clean one and plenty of information about Big Sur at Big Sur Station, 12 miles south of Palo Colorado Road along Highway 1.

Adam Blauert can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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