The rugged slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains form the rugged Big Sur coastline. It stretches 90 miles from Ragged Point near San Simeon to Carmel in the north. Located at the very northern tip of the range is Garland Ranch Regional Park, a great place to hike year-round.
This Monterey County park offers 3,464 acres of both gentle and steep terrain that overlooks the Carmel Valley. The landscapes include the tree-lined banks and meadow-like floodplains of the Carmel River, dense chaparral and oak woodland, exposed ridges, and even a small redwood grove tucked into a canyon. It's a park with a rich human history that includes Rumsen Indians, homesteaders, ranching, farming, logging, and current usage as a public park.
You can explore the park on over 50 miles of trails. Hikes of all levels are possible from nearly level 1-2 mile loops to a steep ridge climb with an 1,800 foot elevation gain. On our recent visit we combined several trails near the visitor center to create a 3½-mile loop up to the top of "the Mesa" -- a relatively easy climb of about 500 feet to a wide bench below Snively's Ridge, the park's high point. Views from the Mesa span east and west through Carmel Valley. The higher you climb, the better the views become. Next visit I plan to hike to the top of Snively's Ridge -- a trek of at least 5½ miles, with additional ridgeline to traverse if there is time.
Garland Ranch had been on my list of places to visit for a long time until a reader in Atwater finally got me there by naming it as his favorite park in the state.
Dogs are allowed off leash at Garland Ranch as long as they are under voice control. We saw a lot of friendly, unleashed dogs that were enjoying the trails with their owners. Horses are allowed on a majority of the trails and the generally rock-free trail surface makes the park a great place for a ride. There's a large trailer parking area beyond the car lot.
Bikes are allowed on a number of the trails as well. The park is open from sunrise to a half hour after sunset.
There's no fee to enter the park. A visitor center and museum provide information about the trails and the park's features. Restrooms, water, and picnic tables are available at the visitor center and you can find a trailside water fountain near Mesa Pond. Pick up a park map for $1 to plan your hike and help navigate the complicated web of trail segments near the parking area. It's also helpful in determining which trails are open to horses and bikes. You can print it out from the park's website, but it's helpful to have a version that's larger than an 8½ by 11 page.
The main entrance is located on Carmel Valley Road, 8 ½ miles west of Highway 1. For Central Valley visitors, the fastest access is from U.S. 101 in Salinas. Exit at Highway 68 and follow it to the left turn for Laurels Grade. At the T-intersection where Laurels ends at Carmel Valley Road, turn right and watch for the park entrance on the left.
Directly after a rainstorm there's a pretty little waterfall that lasts for a few hours. It wasn't flowing while we were there, but I've seen some photos that make me want to return after a storm.
The Carmel River flows through the park, paralleling Carmel Valley Road. During the winter and spring, there can be a lot of water flowing. Between March and May, Garland Ranch is a great place to see wildflowers. If you have daylight remaining once you have finished your hike, you can return home along Carmel Valley Road -- a 54-mile paved route that traverses rural Monterey County from Highway 1 in Carmel to Greenfield on U.S. 101, 10 miles north of King City.
For more information about Garland Ranch, go to http://www.mprpd.org or call (831) 659-4488.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org