Andrew Molera State Park
The first “Big Sur” park you’ll encounter is Andrew Molera State Park (Hwy. 1, 22 miles south of Carmel, 831/667-2315, www.parks.ca.gov, day use $8). Once home to small camps of Esselen Native Americans, then a Spanish land grant, this chunk of Big Sur eventually became the Molera ranch. The land was used to grow crops and ranch animals, and as a hunting and fishing retreat for family and friends.
In 1965, Frances sold the land to the Nature Conservancy, and when she died three years later the ranch was sold to the California State Park system as per her will.
Today, the Molera Ranch House Museum (831/620-0541, bshs [at] mbay [dot] net, Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–3 p.m.) displays stories of the life and times of Big Sur’s human pioneers and artists as well as the wildlife and plants of the region. Take the road toward the horse tours to get to the ranch house.
The park has numerous hiking trails that run down to the beach and up into the forest along the river—many are open to biking and horseback riding as well. Most of the park trails lie to the west of the highway. The beach is a one-mile walk down the easy, multi-use Trail Camp Beach Trail. From there, climb on out on the Headlands Trail, a 0.25-mile loop, for a beautiful view from the headlands.
If you prefer to get a better look at the Big Sur River, take the flat, moderate Bobcat Trail (5.5 miles round-trip) and perhaps a few of its ancillary loops. You’ll walk right along the riverbanks, enjoying the local microhabitats. Just be sure to look out for bicycles and the occasional horse and rider.
For an even longer and more difficult trek up the mountains and down to the beach, take the eight-mile Ridge Bluff Loop. You’ll start at the parking lot on the Creamery Meadow Beach Trail, then make a left onto the long and fairly steep Ridge Trail to get a sense of the local ecosystem. Then turn left again onto the Panorama Trail, which runs down to the coastal scrublands, and finally out to the Bluffs Trail, which takes you back to Creamery Meadow.
At the park entrance, you’ll find bathrooms but no drinkable water and no food concessions. If you’re camping here, be sure to bring plenty of your own water for washing dishes as well as drinking. If you’re hiking for the day, pack in bottled water and snacks.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition