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Outdoor Life

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Nature: Outdoor Life / Parks

Monterey Outdoor LifeThe Beauty of Monterey County

At any time of year, the parks of Monterey County afford the visitor vistas of incredible beauty. Shy deer, long-legged blue herons, playful otters, and an abundance of other wildlife have made our parks their home.

Protect this magical place by observing park regulations. Be sure to stay on marked trails for safety, and avoid the poison oak, a bushy ivy plant that is common throughout the county. Remember: "leaflets three, let it be!"

County Parks | State Parks | Other Parks


Visitors and residents enjoy the diversity of landscapes in Monterey County Parks. Jack's Peak is 2.5 miles east of Monterey, south of Highway 68. At 1,068 ft., the summit is the highest peak on the Peninsula. You can hike or ride horseback through the park's 525 acres, enjoying wildflower meadows, forests of oak and pine, and grasslands. A self-guided nature trail offers great views of Carmel Bay and Point Lobos. There are picnic areas with barbecues; dogs must be leashed. There are free entrance days. Call Monterey County Parks Administration at 831-755-4899.

Laguna Seca is eight miles east of Monterey off Highway 68. There are 185 campsites with hookups, showers and restrooms. Laguna Seca offers a variety of activities including: fishing, hiking trails, a nature preserve, and a rifle range. The raceway is a world-class race track, home to the Sea Otter Classic, Cherry's Jubilee, and other NASCAR events. Call 831-755-4899.

Lake San Antonio Recreation Area is 85 miles south of Salinas on Highway 101. You can fish or swim, launch a boat, or picnic; there's also a convenience store. Call 831-755-4899. Eagle Watch tours take place January through March. Call 888-588-2267.

Lake Naciemiento Resort is off Highway One, south of Salinas. There are campsites, a general store, marina, boat ramps, hiking trails and fishing. Call 805-238-3256.

San Lorenzo Park in King City has the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum where antique farm equipment exhibits tell the farming and mining story of Monterey County. The blacksmith shop is still in operation. A one-room schoolhouse and a century-old farmhouse make the past come alive. The old King City train depot and a railroad caboose are on display. The main exhibit barn is open daily, 10am-4pm, year-round. April-October the other buildings are open. Free tours. Call for hours (831-385-2267). Playgrounds, walking trails, a campground and water activities make this an ideal family spot.

Toro Park is three miles west of Salinas off Highway 68, just 11.7 miles east of Monterey. Hiking, equestrian, and mountain biking trails make this a popular spot for residents and visitors. Great views plus horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, ballfields, picnic facilities and playgrounds attract families and groups. The Interpretive Trail has signs in Braille, English and Spanish. Open 8am-5pm. Call ahead, 831-755-4899.

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California's State Parks offer a wide range of experiences and some of the country's most magnificent scenery. Great hiking trails and scenic beaches are just part of the reason for the popularity of these parks.

Big Sur | Carmel | Marina & Seaside | Monterey & Pacific Grove | Moss Landing

Big Sur

Andrew Molera State Park has 4800 acres of meadows and woodlands through which the Big Sur River winds. Hiking and biking trails invite the visitor to discover the forests, secluded beaches, grasslands and wildlife of Big Sur. Horseback riding and camping are available. Bobcat Trail is an easy 3-mile hike that passes the Cooper Cabin, Big Sur's oldest structure, and ends at the beach. The Big Sur Cultural and Natural History Center has exhibits on the birds of the area and much more.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a great place to take a guided nature walk, with trails to suit all levels of fitness; there are campfires and programs for children. One of Big Sur's largest redwoods grows here amid other ancient giants that have been known to live for 2000 years. Another attraction is Pfeiffer Falls, a 60-ft. waterfall. The Big Sur Lodge has cottages to let, a heated pool, grocery store, gift shop, and restaurant. You can camp all year, but the sites book quickly in the summer, so reservations are highly recommended. There are two campgrounds, Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins and Riverside Campgrounds and Cabins. Pfeiffer Beach is more difficult to access, but is worth the effort. Getting there requires a very sharp turn onto a narrow, winding two-mile dirt road with overhanging trees. There are restrooms and a large lot for parking.
Garrapata State Park is located seven miles south of Carmel. This park is a hiker's dream, offering 2879 acres of Big Sur beauty including trails, beaches and forests. Beach accesses to the trails are clearly marked with signs at the turnouts. Soberanes Point is a favorite because of its panoramic views. Rock climbers can enjoy the rocks at the south end of the beach. As with all beaches, be cautious; the surf can be dangerous.
Limekiln State Park is a relatively new park with a fascinating history dating back to the 1880s, when lime was processed here. Lime had a myriad of uses for farmers and ranchers of the 1800s, from food processing to construction, from tanning leather to killing termites. The "slacking" process required that temperatures in the kilns be maintained at 1800°F; local redwoods were used both as fuel and to make barrels for the powdered lime. Though most of the lime was used right here in the county, pulleys and cables carried the barrels out to sea where the lime was loaded onto boats. There are four lime kilns at the end of the park's only developed trail.
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Carmel River State Beach at Carmelo Road is also known as Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Preserve. By whatever name, it's a wonderful place to watch birds and other wildlife while the children dabble in the shallow lagoon (but be very cautious of walking on the ocean side, due to dangerous surf and a steeply sloping beach). Canada geese, willets, herons and egrets are just a few of the birds that populate the marsh. This is part of the California Sea Otter Game Refuge that extends to San Luis Obispo. A small land trail leads to Monastery Beach. A modern cross marks the spot where Gaspar de Portola erected a cross in 1769.
Three miles south of Carmel is Point Lobos State Reserve, truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. From day to day, the ever-changing skies and shifting seas are a kaleidoscope of Nature's most exquisite handiwork. The Reserve takes in 750 acres of underwater wonders and 550 acres of protected land full of trails and views. Whales and dolphins can be seen in the distance, seals bark on the rocks, and a variety of birds soar over head. There are picnic tables and restrooms. Divers, photographers, painters and nature lovers frequent this special park.
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Marina & Seaside
Marina State Beach off Highway One has 170 acres of protected dunes and sandy beaches. It's very popular with locals for kite-flying, hang-gliding, and surf-casting. Although surfing is allowed, the waters are dangerous for wading or swimming. A boardwalk leads across the dunes (be sure to keep your dog leashed until you reach the beach); there's a cafe and observation deck.
Monterey State Beach at Wharf #2 is a popular spot for wading and sunbathing, with easy access to public amenities, including beach volleyball courts, kayak and canoe rentals, and the grassy lawns and picnic sites of the Window on the Bay public park. You can walk along the shore, or follow the Recreation Trail, to Seaside; it's great for fishing, diving, swimming, and kite flying. The beach, open dawn to sunset, has handicapped access and plenty of nearby parking.
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Monterey & Pacific Grove
Monterey State Historic Park includes historic buildings, restored gardens and adobes. The State Historic Park Visitor's Center is located in the Custom House Plaza. The Center suggests a walking tour of approximately five hours that will acquaint you with Old Monterey's historic adobes. One fee of $5 per person gives you entrance to all the MSHP properties on the walk. It's an informative and enjoyable activity for individuals or families, and one of the best bargains around.
Asilomar State Park and Beach in Pacific Grove offers swimming, surfing, tide-pooling, walking and kite-flying in a setting of great natural beauty. From the beach, visitors can enjoy native plants, otters, seals, sea birds, deer and other wildlife, to say nothing of spectacular sunsets. The boardwalk makes for a pleasant walk on the edge of Spanish Bay Golf Course. Caution is advised as large waves are not uncommon. Open sunrise to sunset; free.
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Moss Landing
Moss Landing State Beach, off Highway One, offers a range of activities including surfing and wind-surfing, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, horseback riding and surf fishing. Birdwatchers will have plenty to see. Boaters may use the pier and jetty; there are restrooms, and overnight camping is permitted.
Salinas River State Beach is colorful with blooming wildflowers in the spring. Hiking and equestrian trails are available as well as fishing. Fires are permitted at the north end only. South of the beach, the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge is home to brown pelicans, least terns and snowy plovers.
Zmudowski State Beach is north of Moss Landing, where the Pajaro River empties into the Pacific. It has 175 acres of parkland, great for picnicking and long walks; the beach is available for fishing, surfing and swimming.
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Garland Regional Park in Carmel Valley is a favorite spot for dog lovers and their furry companions: dogs may run free. The Carmel River flows by the entrance of the park, where a visitor's center has maps of the various trails. The wildflowers are beautiful here in the spring, while, year-round, painters and photographers find the beauty worthy of recording. Hikers, joggers and runners often share the paths and hills with riders on horseback. There are restrooms and picnic areas.

Veteran's Memorial Park, in Monterey at Jefferson St and Skyline Drive, has 50 acres of hiking trails, picnic areas, playing fields and restrooms. There are overnight fees. Access from here to Huckleberry Hill Nature Preserve.

The Ventana Wilderness Society was founded in 1977 by local residents who wanted to preserve and protect the wildlife and plants of the central California coast. Located in Big Sur at Andrew Molera State Park, its current projects include California condor reintroduction, habitat restoration and environmental education.

The Los Padres National Forest runs from the Santa Lucia Mountains in Salinas to the Pacific Ocean. It covers approximately two million acres, stretching from Carmel Valley to the western edge of Los Angeles County and contains some of the most rugged terrain in the state. Native inhabitants of this vast forest include mountain lions and bald eagles. There are 1,200 miles of trails, including two National Recreation Trails. Tassajara and Esalen are the sites of hot springs and world-class retreats for spiritual seekers. Steelhead populate the numerous streams and rivers that flow through the area. There are restroom facilities and picnic areas, but bring your own water.

Los Padres National Forest
6144 Calle Real
Goleta, CA 93117

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