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Carmel-By-The-Sea Day Trip, Point Lobos and Mission Carmel

A Picturesque Location Where Mountains Meet the Sea

Just about an hour and a half south of us here in San Jose lies the world famous Carmel by the sea. While we’ve visited Monterey, which is just a few miles north, we had yet to really take in Carmel.

The picturesque location of mountains meeting the sea shore gives no wonder to why it’s such a popular day trip for many in the Bay Area. We had been back in California for a couple months at this point, and I was really itching to get a good coastal hike. After some research I decided I wanted to go to Point Lobos State National Reserve and Briana planned a couple other stops for our time down there such as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo (better known as Mission Carmel). 

Whaler's Cove Point Lobos

Mission Carmel

Stairs At Mission Carmel

We arrived at the Mission just after noon on a very clear and somewhat warm Sunday. It was pretty busy, as it is an operating mission, but we managed to get parking easily enough and made our way in to see the site.

The campus is large, and a perfect example of a classic Spanish Mission: adobe plaster, warm colored brick, and ceramic tile roofs. Mission Carmel had a distinct charm and personality to it, one that I find perfectly characterized by it’s crooked window above the entrance to the church.

Fountain At Mission Carmel

The grounds were well landscaped with numerous flowers and fountains. Throughout the compound there were also numerous rooms that we could visit that held various histories and artifacts related to the Mission and surrounding area.

Chapel Entrance At Mission Carmel
Fountain At Mission Carmel

The mission was established June 3, 1770. The mission served primarily to baptize the native Ohlone Indian population. It reached a peak of 927 members in 1794, but had dwindled back down to 381 by 1823.

Graveyard At Mission Carmel

The missions was secularized in 1833 by the Mexican government and slowly fell into ruin and disrepair until the Roman Catholic Church regained authority of the mission in 1863, with extensive restoration beginning in 1931.

Tomb At Mission Carmel

Today the mission serves multiple roles as a museum, working mission, and minor basilica.

Display In Mission Carmel

Carmelite Monastery

We also planned on visiting the Carmelite Monastery on our way to Point Lobos. I had thought this would make for a good starting point to our Point Lobos excursion. I was wrong – but it was still a nice stop.

Carmelite Monastery Monterey

The Monastery is mostly closed off to visitors. While you can visit, you will need to set up an appointment first. With that being said, you can walk around the grounds and enjoy the sea breeze.

Bri in The Carmelite Monastery Garden
Carmelite Monastery Garden

Point Lobos State National Reserve

Monastery Beach

Having parked at Monastery Beach, which sits across the street from the Carmelite Monastery, we made our way along the beach in search for the trail into Point Lobos. The maps online are very misleading, because it appears that you can enter the park via a trail at the far end of Monastery Beach – you cannot do this. As such, we walked about a mile up the road to main entrance to the park. It also turns out this is the only entrance into the park.

Monastery Beach
Warning Sign for Monastery Beach

Parking costs $10, however, there is no charge for people just walking in as we did. When you enter the park, you are a little bit away from the actual coast. Because of this, we set off for Whaler’s Cove via the Carmelo Meadow Trail.

Forest Trail through Point Lobos

Whaler’s Cove

Whaler’s Cove is the largest cove in Point Lobos, and it offers stunning views the seashore. Upon arriving, we were treated to a fresh breeze and picturesque landscapes. We slowly made our way around the top of the cliff sides until we reached a boat launch.

Whaler's Cove Panoramic

Here at the boat launch, we were treated to a great surprise: a Sea Otter with her pup, eating crabs. We sat here and watched for nearly a half hour before proceeding on. It was mesmerizing to watch the wildlife here, and we managed to snap a few other pics of the local sea life.

Sea Otter Eating A Crab
Crab on the Rocks

From here, we proceeded up a trail along the cliff edge and continued on the trim around the coastal trail. Here you can find a small whaling museum to visit. The museum features stuff such as the equipment used by whalers, whale bones, and baleen.

Whaling Display Near Museum
Bri With Whale Bones

Cannery Point

Cannery Point offered a great view of the ocean (as did most spots). Artists sometimes will take advantage of the location.

Overlooking Whaler's Cove
Man Painting At Point Lobos

We kept on, passing through Big Dome and Cypress Coves before beginning to head back. While we only saw half the park at this point, we were beginning to get tired and the sun was beginning to go down, and we wanted to get back home before dark (we didn’t).

Cypress Cove Point Lobos

So when we came to a trail junction near Headland Cove, we turned inward back towards the park entrance. The park was very well maintained, so these trails in the interior were well manicured, paved, or had wooden walkways.

Meandering Trail In Point Lobos

The southern half of Point Lobos is considered phenomenal as well. We plan to return to see the rest of the park. For those interested, you can also go scuba diving here in the Point Lobos Marine Reserve. Visit the park December through February and you might see migrating gray whales.

~K~

Sea Otter In Whaler's Cove Point Lobos

Bear Gulch Reservoir Hidden behind Mountain at Pinnacles National Park California from the High Peaks Trail

Pinnacles National Park California

Pinnacles National Park

We’ve visited Pinnacles National Park previously about two years ago, but this time around we decided to take a slightly different route through Bear Gulch cave and then up to the High Peaks pass. Pinnacles is just under a two hours drive south of San Jose and makes for a great day trip, and we’d been itching to go since we arrived back in California.

Rock formation at Trailhead

The park itself offers more than 16,000 acres of dramatic spines of rock and and fallen boulders. And this time of year is a great time to visit because the weather compliments the location pretty well. In the summer it can get hot and the sun brutal. But spring is great because the recent rains have turned the landscape green and vibrant with wildflowers and the temperature allows for a comfortable climb.

Creek In Pinnacles National Park

Getting In

We arrived at a seemingly inopportune time; as this is the best time of year to visit, the park can get crowded pretty quick, and with us arriving at noon we had to wait about fifteen minutes before we could get parking, but that was about our only set back.

We parked near the trailhead for Bear Gulch and began making our way towards our first destination – Bear Gulch caves. The path gently rose, through the well shaded riparian forest and rising monoliths of stone.

Rock Formation near trail head
Path to Bear Gulch

Bear Gulch Cave

Canyon Approach

We could see numerous rock climbers taking advantage of the excellent climbing conditions here as we approached the cave. Just before entering the cave, we could feel a strong cool breeze blowing out from the entrance. The breeze was refreshing, but quite decidedly chilly.

Rock Climbers near Bear Gulch at Pinnacles National Park
Tunnel on the way to Bear Gulch Cave
Passage on the way to Bear Gulch Cave
Entering Bear Gulch

Talus Caves

The caves themselves are Talus caves, formed from rock falls in valleys and canyons, where the falling boulders would become wedged in the narrow spaces and form the roof and interior layout of the caves.

Talus Rock Roof Inside Bear Gulch Cave

Bear Gulch cave was a little bit larger than Balconies Cave (which we had previously visited) and was a little more challenging to get through as well. We enjoyed the challenge though. The primary obstacle was the water, as a small stream flowed through the cave and many times the stream crossed the path or even was the path.

flooded path in Bear Gulch Cave
Part of the path inside Bear Gulch is the River itself

Climbing Waterfalls

Numerous waterfalls were inside the cave as we proceeded through the roughly half mile cave, and we steadily climbed up the rocks. The passages were quite narrow and ceilings low, so scrambling on rocks and wedging into tight spaces was a must. The most difficult part (for me at least) was getting through a small passage that could only have been maybe 3 feet high at the max and shimmying up a stepped waterfall.

Waterfall inside Bear Gulch Cave
Pool inside Bear Gulch Cave
Light from above in Bear Gulch Cave

Bear Gulch Reservoir

After about thirty minutes we emerged from the cave, miraculously completely dry, although I suffered a few bumps on the head from the low ceilings. The caves are home to Townsend’s big-eared bats, and are closed throughout the year to allow them to raise pups in peace. Due to the narrow nature of the caves, they can also close due to rain.

Exiting Bear Gulch Cave

Upon exiting the cave, we came to Bear Gulch reservoir. The reservoir is a nice lake, home to the endangered red-legged frog. While we could have stayed here for a while, as others were, we knew that we still had a long hike to go and only so much daylight, so we proceeded on up the path towards High Peaks.

Bear Gulch Reservoir

High Peaks Trail

The rocky trail winds its up way steadily up for several miles, passing through meadow, sparse woods, and ridge line. The floor falls away pretty quickly as you climb and you can begin to see the surrounding landscape.

Rising Above Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park was originally established in 1908 by President Roosevelt as a National Monument and later converted into a national park in 2013 by President Obama. Pinnacles sits squarely atop the San Andreas fault, and as such the park and surrounding areas have been dramatically shaped by the seismic activities. The dramatic formations of the park are part of what remains of the Neenach Volcano, which erupted 23 million years ago, down near Lancaster. The fault has since moved the roughly half the rock 195 miles north to it’s present day location in the Salinas Valley.

Rock Stack on way to High Peaks

After an hour or so, we began to near the High Peaks area. The spires of stone stand with a dramatic hue of orange and red against the green hills. Within another thirty minutes or so, we finally made it to the “top”.

Approaching the High Peaks
Climbing towards High Peaks

This isn’t really the top of the mountain, rather it’s a convergence of several trails at a scenic overlook. Here, you can often see falcons and other birds going about their business. We had stopped here our previous time for lunch, but had to run down the canyon due to an abrupt lightning and hail storm. This time however, the skies were completely clear.

From this point, where you’ll also find a restroom if you should need it, you can proceed multiple ways. Our direction was through the High Peaks trail, which follows the ridge line of the mountain.

Steep and Narrow

The hike through here is a lot of quick up and down, climbing very steep and narrow stairs. There are also several tight walkways to maneuver. Luckily, the park has installed railings to assist you through here.

More Stairs at Pinnacles National Park
Steep stairs at High Peaks Pass

You can also find tons of multi-colored lichen and slime molds on the rocks throughout the park.

Lichen at Pinnacles National Park

Back from the Brink

As we were finishing our way through the High Peaks area, we came a stunning view of the resident Californian Condor. Brought back from the brink of extinction, all the birds present are descended from the original 27 birds that were left on earth. The breeding program has been a huge success and brought their numbers up now to 435. Pinnacles serves as a release site for the Condors and if you look closely, you can even see the tag numbers and find out who they are.

Narrow Paths in the High Peaks Paths
California Condor

Most of the Condors were a little too far away from us to get a real good look at, but there was one in a tree near the trail that decided to pose well for us. The tag reads 00. This Condor was laid in the wild, and hatched (under care of researchers) in April 2015. You can find more information about the specific Condors here.

California Condor Landing on a Tree
California Condor No. 800 at Pinnacles National Park

Condor Gulch Trail

After spending twenty minutes watching the Condors (if not more), we steadily walked towards Condor Gulch trail. By this time, the sun was starting to get low, being that it was already nearly 6. We picked up the pace to get down the mountain and make it back to the car before sun down.

Along this route, we encountered the numerous wildflowers present along the trail. There are also numerous bees in the area, due to the flowers. In fact, Pinnacles hosts the highest density of bee species in the world with 400 different species. Most of them are solitary bees though, not hive-dwelling, so you don’t need to worry about being stung.

wild flowers at pinnacles national park
wild flowers at Pinnacles National Park
Wild flowers at Pinnacles National Park
I call them Bee Bonnets

Condor gulch made for a nice walk down as the sun set and the temperature began to drop. The flowers, fresh air, and gurgling streams made for a nice end to a pretty strenuous walk. We were pretty happy for the route we chose as well. I don’t think we would have been as enthused traversing the caves at this late a point in the day.

Finally we got to the car, as the Condor Gulch trail put us out right at the parking lot that we had left roughly 6 hours previously. Tired, but happy, we started our long drive back to San Jose.

Plan Your Visit

If you plan on visiting Pinnacles, you should keep in mind that there are two entrances to the park. SR 146 approaches from both the east and west, but is not a through road. It takes two hours to drive from one entrance to the other, so be sure to go to the correct entrance. We entered from the eastern side, which is just a little south of Hollister; whereas the western entrance is just east of Salinas.

west parking lot viewed from High Peaks trail at Pinnacles National Park

Both entrances are good locations with full access to the park. The western entrance will put you closer to Balconies cave, while the east entrance puts you nearer Bear Gulch cave. Be sure to bring enough water, especially in the summer. Even on a cool spring day, we went through six bottles of water and could/should have drunk more.

Regardless, Pinnacles National Park is an excellent spot to visit for hiking, camping, or even night hikes.

National Park Service Website

 

Sunset near Hollister California

Camping At Pinnacles National Park

If you want to camp at Pinnacles National Park, you absolutely can. There is a campground, but only on the eastern side of the park. To reach them you must approach from Hollister, not Salinas. The campground has 134 sites, so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty getting a place.

They may fill up during the spring season though, which is the ideal time camp. You can camp all year, but may want to be wary about the summer and early fall due to extreme heat. In any case, you’ll want want to get a shaded spot if possible.

There is a camp store that is well stocked for what it is, but you should still pack carefully. The closest supermarket is in Hollister, 32 miles away. There are also showers and flush toilets on site for you to use.

~K~

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California USA Pinnacles National Park

View of Pinnacles National Park California

Hike in the South Bay

Santa Teresa County Park Hike

~B~

Yesterday we went on a short hike in Santa Teresa County Park. Santa Teresa is only about fifteen minutes away from our place making it an ideal spot to hike. In the winter it’s nice and green, and this year it is especially so with all the rain we’ve been getting. Kyle gets home from work pretty early and with the sun beginning to set later, we are able to go on short weekday hikes if we want. It helps a little with curbing our wanderlust and gives us some exercise and fresh air.

Here is short video just for fun.

The main reason I took/made a video this time was for some fun experimentation. I knew this would be a good place because we had already been there and it’s both a nice backdrop and not very crowded (I assumed this would especially be true during the week).

If you want to see more hikes in our area, check out our South Bay Hikes post (though it hasn’t been updated in over a year!- we’ll get on that soon) or see our North and Central America page for even more hiking posts from the bay area.