Garrapata State Park is one of several state parks located on California’s Pacific coast. It is located in Monterey County on Highway 1, just 10 miles south of Carmel and approximately 18 miles north of Big Sur. Garrapata boasts two miles of beautiful coastline and breathtaking views of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the base of which can be found within the park’s boundaries. The park does not have an information center, and visitors therefore could find themselves driving through the park along Highway 1 without ever realizing that they are in the park. The only indication of the park’s boundary is a small, inconspicuous sign. Trails and parking areas are marked by numbered access points along the highway. Nevertheless, there are several activities available at the park.
The main attractions at Garrapata State Park are the park’s hiking trails and its beach. There are five hiking trails in the park, the most popular ones being the Rocky Ridge Trail and the Soberanes Canyon Trail. These two trails meet and form a 4.5-mile loop through the park. Rocky Ridge Trail is probably best suited for more experienced hikers rather than novices due to its extremely steep ascent and descent along the trail. Hikers will experience elevation changes greater than 1000 feet while ascending to Rocky Ridge but will also be rewarded with spectacular views of the mountains and the coastline.
The Soberanes Canyon Trail intersects the Rocky Ridge Trail, but visitors will find the scenery along this trail much different. This trail cuts through a spectacular section of redwood forest and offers a considerably gentler hike than that of Rocky Ridge Trail. Other small trails and paths in the park include the North Fork Trail, the Peak Trail, and the Soberanes Point Trail, which forms a loop around Soberanes Point, ending at Whale Peak.
Garrapata Beach is also a main attraction of the park. The approximately 2 miles of beachfront can be accessed by either of two short footpaths. The beach offers picturesque scenery of cliffs and big surf. Due to the big surf and rock-strewn waters, swimming is not advisable. Dogs are allowed on Garrapata Beach but must be restrained with at least a 6-foot leash at all times. Nude sunbathing is tolerated but may come under the discretion of local law enforcement, as the beach is frequented by families with young children.
Other activities available at the park include ocean fishing, bicycling on the Rocky Ridge Trail, geocaching, wildlife watching, and nature studies. The park’s many wildlife species include the endangered Smith’s blue butterfly, the California horned lizard, Beechey ground squirrels, Merriam chipmunks, and Pacific giant salamanders. Offshore marine species include whales, southern sea otters, sea lions, and California brown pelicans. Birders will enjoy the great variety of birds found in the park, including the black-shouldered kite, American kestrel, Brewer’s blackbird, peregrine falcon, spotted owls, plus many others. The park’s diverse terrain supports six vegetation types for nature lovers to explore. These include scrub, grassland, chaparral, mixed evergreen forest, coniferous forest, and streambank woodland and forest. Plants and trees found here include dune buckwheat, California sagebrush, blue blossom, rare California oatgrass, blue wild rye, coast redwoods, willow, and coyote brush.
Garrapata State Park is located on Highway 1, south of Rio Road in Carmel. Parking areas and trails can be located by numbered access points along Highway 1. There are a few restroom facilities at the park located near Soberanes Point. Camping is not permitted, as the park closes at sunset. For park operating hours please contact the park at 831-624-4909. For wedding or special events information please call 831-624-3407. In January, whale-watching programs are held, as this is the time of the Pacific gray whales’ annual migration. Contact the park for more information on these programs.