Point Lobos State Natural Reserve offers some of the most enchanting landscapes of the Central Coast. Situated just under 5 miles from the Carmel-by-the-Sea village, it’s a convenient way to get your steps while taking in gorgeous coastal landscapes. While most of the trails aren’t particularly difficult, we’ve rounded up the easiest trails at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve for you.
Sea Lion Point Trail
For some of the most breathtaking ocean views in the region, don’t miss the Sea Lion Point Trail. This coastal path weaves along the rugged shoreline, offering mesmerizing looks at crashing waves, dramatic cliffs, and sweeping landscapes. As you stroll along, keep your eyes peeled for the trail’s eponymous sea lions that often bask on the rocks below you. This trail, just over half a mile, connects you to the Sand Hill Trail if you want to extend your walk, but don’t expect to get down on the water below you — those trails are not accessible to the public. This is a must-visit trail for those seeking a relaxing, moderate walk along the quintessential California coastline.
Cypress Grove Trail
There’s an ethereal beauty to the Cypress Grove Trail. The ancient cypress trees that line this meandering trail are some of the last rows of naturally grown cypress trees on the planet. You can almost feel the magic once you step foot on this soft path, and it is best to arrive early morning for a less crowded trail. This short path (less than a mile) is meant for ambling, allowing you to rejuvenate your senses and find a new appreciation for nature's artistry. In the winter and early spring, this is a great path to take for whale watching. And while it is a popular walk for travelers, that doesn’t keep locals away from its majestic appeal.
Bird Island Trail
For bird enthusiasts and nature lovers, the Bird Island Trail is a delightful treat. This coastal path takes you through coastal scrub and unveils breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, keep an eye out for a variety of seabirds soaring gracefully above the azure waters. From elegant pelicans to majestic gulls, the birdlife on display is sure to captivate your attention. Take a moment to listen to their calls and observe their fascinating behaviors, immersing yourself in the coastal ecosystem's wonders.
China Cove and Gibson Beach Trail
No visit to Point Lobos State Park is complete without experiencing the enchanting China Cove and Gibson Beach Trail. This scenic path unveils secluded coves, pristine beaches, and hidden caves, offering a captivating coastal escape. As you stroll along the trail, the turquoise waters and dramatic cliffs will leave you in awe of nature's grandeur. Take a moment to breathe in the salty ocean air and revel in the tranquility that surrounds you. The China Cove and Gibson Beach Trail is a gateway to serenity, inviting you to unwind and connect with the coastal splendor.
Point Lobos Loop Trail
This would be considered the most moderate trails of the bunch. The 6-mile loop is a great way to get break a light sweat on some short uphill climbs, but otherwise it’s a mostly flat trail along the coastline. On this trail, it’s almost like getting a highlight reel of the park where you see the iconic cypress trees, tide pools, picture-perfect hidden coves, and maybe even some cute otters playing around a kelp forest out on the water.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve offers stunning beauty year-round. Here are some insights on the best time to go.
Mornings are ideal for peaceful exploration as the soft light illuminates the coastline and wildlife awakens. Arriving early also ensures parking availability. The reserve tends to be the busiest in the fall months, but even then, there is plenty of open space and trailheads to explore.
Each season has its charm: spring brings vibrant wildflowers, summer offers pleasant weather for coastal hikes, autumn displays striking foliage, and winter boasts dramatic waves. Regardless of the time or season, Point Lobos is one the best things to do when you visit Carmel.
Parking at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve can be limited, especially during peak times and weekends. It is recommended to arrive early in the morning to secure a parking spot. The reserve operates on a first-come, first-served basis, and once the parking lots reach capacity, vehicles are turned away until space becomes available. If you're unable to find parking within the reserve, alternative options include parking along Highway One, adding .25-.5 miles each way to your route.
Find more tips and outdoor trip ideas on our 3-Day Itinerary for Outdoor Enthusiasts.
Staci’s Interior Design background focused on creating a specific experience for the user, and culinary tourism was a natural extension of that skill. With a deep-seated passion for food, wine and exploring her surroundings, Carmel Food Tours was a natural place to land. She also enjoys playing pickleball with her husband, teaching indoor cycling, and her two pups.