Garrapata State Park and Calla Lily Valley

Distance 5.1 mi
Time 3 hrs
Elevation Gain 1000 ft
Season Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Hike Info Hiker Info

Sand-colored cliffs and ocean waves envelop Garrapata State Park, a day-trip-worthy excursion along the Big Sur coast three miles south of Point Lobos. The park is an excellent way to experience Big Sur from the Bay Area without breaking the time bank. This 5.1-mile hike visits the best of the park: its coastline, a surprising redwood forest, the Santa Lucia Mountains, and wildflowers. Add a side trip to Calla Lily Valley, a 2.4-mile drive south.

Gates and Garrapata

Garrapata State Park is organized into roadside gates numbered 1 through 19. The numbered gates are on the west side of the highway and generally mark trailheads and parking locations. Parking is mainly on dirt pullouts near these gates, and that is the case with this hike. There are no fees for parking along the gates. And what does Garrapata mean anyway, you ask? It means tick in Spanish…well. Wah-wah. But…maybe not a bad idea to check after your hike… 

Soberanes Canyon Trail

So let’s start on the eastern side of Highway 1 with the gorgeous canyon and redwoods! Then we’ll work our way along the coastal trails and finish up at Whale Peak. Alternatively, skip the canyon and shorten the hike to a 2.1-mile coastal hike. 

Begin on the Soberanes Canyon Trail, across the road from Gate 8 on the eastern side of Highway 1. Head around a gate and onto a fire road that soon narrows to a single track. Cypress trees stretch overhead beside a rusted barn. As you descend a stairway and cross a pedestrian bridge, a quiet rushing sound and a glimpse of Soberanes Creek greet you.

Follow the Soberanes Canyon Trail into sunny Soberanes Canyon, heading northeast for 1.5 miles. The canyon views are magnificent from the start: The Santa Lucia Mountains drape and fold like a billowing sheet into Soberanes Creek. Evergreen coyote brush, gray-green sagebrush, and a surprising smattering of cacti cover the hillsides. Yellow bush lupine, purple lupine, orange monkey flower, and red paintbrush bloom in spring. 

After the initial pedestrian bridge, cross three more creeks in the first 0.8 miles. The crossings can be fairly rustic, with wobbly branches bridging the creek. Sturdy shoes and hiking poles are handy, especially when the water rises to calf level in winter and spring.

Redwood Forest

After 0.8 miles, a cool and breezy redwood grove is a welcome change from the sunny canyon. Carefully step through a fourth creek crossing between redwoods—a bit dicey in high water but doable with careful stepping. Beyond it, flats near the creekbed are good spots for resting and enjoying the little cascades along the creek. Redwood sorrel pops along the forest floor beneath enormous coast redwoods, the tallest tree species on earth.

Over the next 0.7 miles, to the turnaround point, the trail becomes steeper, gaining 300 feet on a moderate and sometimes rocky incline. Cross three more creek crossings in quick succession. After the last crossing, a wooden staircase leads further up and into the canyon along ferny hillsides and Douglas Iris.

At the 1.5-mile mark, arrive at a sandy flat surrounded by redwoods. The creek is visible from the flat, and a half-buried log makes a good break spot. Retrace your steps back to Highway 1 when you’re ready, enjoying peekaboo views of the ocean on your way back. 

Soberanes Point Trails – North to Soberanes Creek Bridge

Return to the Soberanes Canyon Trailhead at the 3.0-mile mark. Then, carefully cross Highway 1 to Gate 8. Friends, there is no crosswalk on the highway, so please be careful when you’re hopping to the other side of the pavement.

Now that you’re on the western side of the highway, step onto the Soberanes Point Trails. These coastal trails wind around the coastal cliffs in Garrapata and up to Whale Peak. We’ll start with the northern trails first for a zoomed-out view of Whale Peak and to visit a scenic bridge. Then, we’ll return to this junction and hike to Whale Peak, finishing with epic views of the Big Sur coast.

Bear right at Gate 8 and head north on the mostly flat, coastal trail for 0.4 miles. To the south, a vista immediately opens over a magnificent cove and Whale Peak. The Santa Lucia Mountains, to the east, are a breathtaking backdrop to the crashing waves, barking sea lions, and rugged sea stacks. Below the cliffs, the ocean is an undulating melange of aquamarine, sapphire, and foamy white ocean waves.

Over the next 0.4 miles, three observational platforms jut to the edges of the cliffs for 180-degree views of the coastline. The Soberanes Creek Bridge, nestled among them, is a highlight. Low green shrubs and lavender seaside daisies grow beside the windy clifftop trail. After you reach the third platform and take in the view, retrace your steps to Gate 8.

Soberanes Point Trails – South to Whale Peak

At the 3.8-mile mark, return to Gate 8 and continue south toward Whale Peak. After 0.2 miles, stay straight at a Y-junction, beginning a counter-clockwise loop around Whale Peak. The left-hand trail is a shortcut to the peak. 

Heading toward the coast, pass seaside sunflowers and a U-shaped cove. Soberanes Point, the small peninsula jutting out to your right, is named after Ezequiel Soberanes, a sheep and cattle rancher who owned this land from the late 1860s to the 1890s.

Next, turn left at a T-junction at the 4.3-mile mark, heading north toward Whale Peak. The trail briefly travels close to Highway 1 and then leads to a stairway up the peak. As you climb 50 feet elevation up the stairway, notice a trail descending to the north: We’ll come back to this trail to finish our hike.

Whale Peak

Reach the top of the stairway at 4.6 miles among fragrant blue blossom. Straight ahead, a viewing platform overlooks the coastline. To the right and left are two vista points connected by a ridgeline trail. The southern vista overlooks the southern Big Sur coastline, while the northern peak is slightly higher and better positioned to see the Garrapata State Park trails, coastline, and Santa Lucia Mountains. 

Turn left and take a peek at the southern vista. Then, retrace your steps and head to the northern vista, the highest point on Whale Peak at 280 feet elevation. A  large circular stone platform overlooks panoramic views of the Big Sur coast, the Pacific Highway, and the Santa Lucia Mountains. Beside it is a bench with an Emerson quote that reads, “Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.”

True to its name, you may even spot gray whales from Whale Peak. Between February and early May, look for northbound gray whales returning to their Arctic feeding grounds after a winter spent in warm breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. April and May are particularly good for spotting northbound mothers and their calves, who typically swim closer to the coast to avoid predators. December and January are also sighting possibilities when the gray whales pass by California on their southbound migration to warmer water.

Soberanes Canyon Trailhead

When ready, retrace your steps down the Whale Peak stairway and pick up the northbound stairs, heading toward Gate 8. Turn right at the next junction and hike north toward the cypress trees, finishing your hike at 5.1 miles.

Calla Lily Valley

Calla Lily Valley, a 2.4-mile drive south of Whale Peak, is a small canyon along Garrapata State Beach where calla lilies bloom in late winter and spring. It’s reachable via a 0.4-mile out-and-back hike from Gate 18 and a longer approach via Gate 19. Calla Lily Valley is popular; consider visiting during off-peak times like early morning and weekdays if you’d like some solitude.

From Gate 8 and the Soberanes Canyon Trailhead, drive south on Highway 1 for 2.4 miles. Then, pull over and park on the shoulder at Gate 18, across from the Doud Creek Ranch gate. Pick up the short 0.2-mile trail, descending 75 feet toward Garrapata State Beach.

After 0.2 miles, descend a rugged stairway into the narrow canyon. Bunches of calla lilies surround a creek that flows into the ocean. (Yes, you can reach Garrapata Beach from here.) The Santa Lucia Mountains rise above the valley behind it. The combination of lilies, mountains, beach, and ocean is a can’t-miss bucket-list experience. There is a reason the flower and the valley are named calla: derived from the Greek word “Kallos” meaning beautiful.

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Accommodations near Garrapata State Park and Calla Lily Valley

Trail Conditions

The route is a mix of narrow single-track and wide trails. The hike is fully exposed to the sun and wind, except for the redwood forest section on the Soberanes Canyon Trail. Multiple creek crossings can be calf-deep after winter rains. The coastal trails are mostly flat, windy, and can be cold: Bring a jacket and sun protection.

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How to Get There

From Rio Road in Carmel-by-the-Sea, drive 7 miles south on Highway 1. Pull over and park on the shoulder as you approach the Soberanes Canyon Trailhead. The Soberanes Canyon Trail begins on the eastern side of Highway 1, across from Gate 8. There is no crosswalk between the two sides: Please cross the highway carefully. There are port-o-potties at the Soberanes Canyon Trailhead. Hours are 8:00 a.m. - sunset. Parking is free. No dogs are allowed except at Garrapata Beach and trails leading to it.

Driving Directions

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