By Valerie Lemke
Carmel, CA –The Central Coast is home to many beautiful parks and recreational areas that may rival any place in the world. One of these exceptional treasures is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, located off Highway 1 in Carmel. It is often noted as the “Crown Jewel” of our State Park System, and many of us who have been there tend to agree.
Point Lobos has a rich and complicated history. You might expect some of its previous uses, such as whaling and abalone harvesting, while others you might not expect at all.
According to the Point Lobos Foundation, in 1855 a rock quarry was built on the land where the Whaler’s Cove Parking lot is currently located. Granite that was mined there was used to build the San Francisco Mint and Navy Shipyard at Mare Island. Later in the 1870s, coal was discovered a few miles from the reserve and a chute was built to load the coal onto ships in the deeper waters of what is known as Coal Chute Cove in Whaler’s Cove. By the end of 1941, the park was occupied by the U.S. Military as a radar and anti-aircraft station where it reportedly engaged in “secret” military operations.
Point Lobos offers a unique outdoor experience for everyone. Not only are there great hiking trails, but there is an entirely different side of the park to enjoy for water enthusiasts, too. Divers and kayakers get to see a large part of the reserve that most people won’t ever experience.
Point Lobos permits scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding with reservations. The Whaler’s Cove hosts a vast kelp bed with calm waters and a rich environment of colorful flora and fauna for water explorers.
For those who prefer their feet to be solidly planted on the ground and not quite so wet, there are many unforgettable hiking trails to explore.
One of the most striking and popular hikes for visitors is the combination of the North Shore Trail and the Cypress Grove Trail that stretch from Headland Cove to the Whaler’s Cove parking lot and is about 3.5 miles round trip.
The 2.8 mile North Shore Trail is a more strenuous hike than some of trails, but it’s manageable for those who are able to climb a few steep inclines as well as a lot of steps. On this route, you will see some of the best coastal rocky cliff views, turquoise pools with swimming otters, secluded beaches dotted with harbor seals or sea lion families, and many species of birds. There is also a colorful variety of plants such as wildflowers, native trees, lace lichen and green algae. At the top of the trail is the famous thousand-year-old tree known as the “Old Veteran Cypress”. Along the easier and shorter 0.8 mile Cypress Grove Trail you will find one of the last native Monterey Cypress stands in the world.
Point Lobos offers many trails of various fitness levels, as well as an assortment of different terrains. One trail or many combined can make it an enjoyable hike for people of all fitness levels.
There is a car entrance fee, but there are also some limited spaces available along Highway 1 if you prefer to walk in. Sometimes, the parking lot can be full, so you will want to plan accordingly. Along with the large variety of plant life, there is also plenty of poison oak directly next to or crossing some of the trails so you will want to use caution.
For more information such as hours, trail maps, tours or dive reservations, check out the Point Lobos Foundation website at pointlobos.org .