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Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail near Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

The short but spectacularly scenic Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail is a must-do Big Sur hike near Carmel-by-the-Sea. The coastline here is some of the most scenic you will see along the Big Sur coast.

Soberanes Point to the south. The colorful cliffs of Garrapata to the north. The mighty Pacific Ocean to the west. And the scenic Santa Lucia Mountains to the east. What more could you expect in terms of a stunning setting for a hike?!

Garrapata State Park used to be somewhat of a hidden gem, but no longer. The trails here have become extremely popular, and on a nice weather day, you will find hikers of all ages enjoying the Garrapata Bluff Trail. It is a trail you can walk even on a road trip through Big Sur as a whole, because it is easy and quick.

A view of Soberanes point from the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail in Central California

Planning to walk the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail? Read on to learn what to expect, plus some things to know before you set out!

TABLE OF CONTENTS
What can you expect on the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail?
Essential facts about Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail
How to get to the trailhead for the Bluff Trail in Garrapata State Park
How long does it take to hike the Bluff Trail at Garrapata State Park?
What to bring on the Garrapata State Park Bluff hike
Tips for Hiking the Bluff Trail in Garrapata State Park

What can you expect on the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail?

Soberanes Point is known for being ridiculously photogenic, and the Bluff Trail features beautiful views every step of the way. The cliffs here are some of the most colorful and rugged along the coast.

We could wax lyrical about the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail all day long. It is short enough that you can squeeze it into the briefest of stops. And the scenery is just drop-dead gorgeous on a good weather day.

The colorful cliffs of Garrapata seen from the Bluff Trail

And if you plan your visit for the spring (when all of Big Sur is at its most beautiful!), you will reap the added reward of tons of wildflowers all along the trail and on the mountains.

We’ve described here a version that encompasses the stretch of trail between gates 7 and 8 of Garrapata State Park, starting at gate 8. You can, of course, start the trail at gate 7 as well. This hike is one of the most picturesque of the hikes in Big Sur.

Ice plant on the cliffs by the Pacific Ocean at Garrapata State Park in California: a view from the Bluff Trail.

Coves and Cliffs

As you start from gate 8, take the trail that veers right, or northward. As the trail curves around to follow the water, admire the beautiful ocean views and watch the surf dash against the rocks off the shore.

The cliffs are draped in ice plant in many places, and when their foliage turns red, the cliffs blaze with color. Ice plant blooms in vivid magenta and yellow also add bright spots of color.

The Bluff Trail features views of cliffs and coves: Garrapata State Park, Big Sur, California

At the base of the cliffs, rocks and pebbly coves give way to tiny strips of pristine sand. Little spur trails lead from the main trail closer to the edge, but we recommend staying on the main trail at all times, since the landscape at Big Sur is subject to erosion.

On the southern side, Whale Peak rises above the water at Soberanes Point. On the land side, across from California Highway 1, the Santa Lucia Mountains form a majestic backdrop.

Flora and Fauna

You may see sea birds flying over the water, raptors gracefully swooping down and back up into the sky, and, in season, perhaps spot migrating gray whales on their way south to Baja California in the winter and back to the Arctic seas in the spring.

Ancient cypresses rise up here and there above the coastal scrub, and you will see numerous wildflowers and flowering bush lupine in the spring. Sparrows flit amongst the vegetation, and you may see squirrels or rabbits.

Cypress trees along the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail in California

Scenic Overlooks

Although the trail is one long series of beautiful vistas, there are a couple of fenced scenic overlooks along the trail where you can stop to snap photos of the water and the cliffs.

The first overlook as you approach from gate 8 is directly above some of the most gorgeous rock formations along the trail, and a great place from which to appreciate the subtle textures, colors, and striations in the rock faces. We saw wildflowers clinging to the cliffs when we visited in May.

Rock formations seen from the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail in Big Sur, California

Soberanes Creek Waterfalls

Rounding another bend in the trail, you will see Soberanes Creek create a series of waterfalls as it plunges down the cliffs to run into the Pacific Ocean.

A bridge over the creek bed provides the perfect spot from which to photograph the main waterfall close to the bridge, and the smaller cascades in the cliffs beyond.

Soberanes Creek in Garrapata State Park plunges over the cliff

There was plenty of water when we visited in the spring, but even if the creek is dry, the cove where it meets the ocean is beautiful.

Soberandes Creek cascades in the spring: Garrapata State Park, California

Across the bridge, there is a further stretch of trail that leads to two overlooks that offer stunning photo ops. They look out over the colorful Garrapata cliffs toward the north, and Soberanes Point in the south.

Garrapata Bluff Trail Overlook, against the backdrop of the Santa Lucia Mountains

This part of the trail also features great views of the mountains east of the highway. Once you’ve finished exploring, retrace your steps to the start.

Essential facts about Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail

As we’ve described it, Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail is about 0.8 mile long round trip, out and back. It is a reasonably wide, well-maintained, easy trail, packed dirt, with less than 50 feet of elevation change. The trail is suitable for most visitors to the park.

There are steps, so the trail is not accessible, but it is short and easy enough that young kids can be carried if necessary. Bikes and pets are not allowed on the trail. The Bluff Trail at Garrapata State park can be hiked year round, and the area is open from sunrise until sunset.

Bluff Trail Sign at Gate 8 in Garrapata State Park, Carmel, California

There is a sign at the start of the trail warning against clambering onto the rocks by the shore. The surf here is extremely dangerous, and rogue waves can occur at any time. Heed park safety guidelines and signs.

How to get to the trailhead for the Bluff Trail in Garrapata State Park

You can access Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail from either mile marker (gate) 7 or 8 in Garrapata State Park. There are no obvious signs for the gates, and there is no cell reception, so download directions to Soberanes Point prior to entering Big Sur.

There are no parking lots in Garrapata State Park, and no entrance fees. Parking is on the gravel areas on either side of California Highway 1. See map, which marks the gate 7 entrance. Gate 8 is just a few yards south.

The bridge over Soberanes C reek on the Garrapata Bluff Trail in Big Sur, California

Parking spots at gates 7 and 8 fill up quickly, especially on nice weather weekends, so arrive early in the day, or later in the afternoon, to snag a spot. If you park on the west side of the highway, you won’t have to cross Highway 1 to access the trail.

Make sure your vehicle is parked completely off the pavement, because Highway 1 is narrow. Watch for vehicles pulling in and out as you walk from your car to the trailhead.

How long does it take to hike the Bluff Trail at Garrapata State Park?

If you are pressed for time, you could walk the trail in 20-30 minutes, but we suggest allowing about an hour, so you can stop to enjoy the views, snap photos, and observe marine life and birds.

The Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail in California offers lots of beautiful views!

For a shorter version, you can start and end at gate 7, and restrict yourself to the trail just north and south of the bridge over the creek. But if possible, we suggest doing the entire stretch, because the views by gate 8 are not to be missed.

On a recent visit, we started the trail at gate 8 and ended at gate 7, going up the steps to the road. We then walked by the side of the road to our car, which was parked by gate 8. Bad idea. The road is narrow, and traffic moves fast. We recommend allowing for enough time to retrace your steps along the trail to the gate where you began your walk.

Bluff Trail going north from Gate 7 at Garrapata State Park in Big Sur, California

What to bring on the garrapata State Park Bluff Hike

Water

There are no services in Garrapata State Park. Carry adequate drinking water to stay hydrated on your hike.

Food and Snacks

Garrapata State park Bluff Trail is super short, so you don’t really need food, but if you plan to spend the day in the park (there are many hikes to enjoy here!), bring a picnic lunch and snacks.

Cliffs at Soberanes Point viewed from the Garrapata Bluff Trail in California

Digital camera with Zoom Lens

Your smartphone should produce good photos of the scenery if you hike the trail on a good weather day. But if you like photographing birds and wildlife, you may want to bring a camera with a zoom lens.

We always carry our Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70 with us on hikes. It is a tiny camera, and fits in a pocket, but it features a Leica lens and a powerful 30X zoom, and we get great photos of birds and wildlife with it.

Sun Protection and Bug Spray

The trail is exposed for its full length, so remember your sunscreen, sun hat, and sunglasses. Also use bug spray if you are sensitive to bites, and to repel ticks.

A little spur trail from the Garrapata Bluff Trail leads closer to the cliff edge

Tips for Hiking the Bluff Trail in Garrapata State Park

Visit in the spring

You can hike the Bluff Trail at Garrapata any time of year, but visit in the spring for green hills and showstopping wildflowers along the trail. We’ve done this trail in every season, and spring is, by far, the most beautiful time of year to do this hike.

Spring also has lots of bright clear days, with stunning water views, and you may see migrating whales in the water.

View from a Scenic Overlook along the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail in California

Avoid the marine Layer in Summer

If you do the hike in the summer, note that the Big Sur Coast, like the rest of northern and central California, is prone to morning fog. The marine layer lies thick over the area, obscuring your views.

Generally (but not always), the marine layer tends to dissipate by noon, so if you hike the trail in the afternoon in the summer, you are more likely to enjoy clear views than if you hike it in the morning.

Soberanes  Creek flows into the Pacific Ocean at this pebbly cove in Garrapata State Park in California

Arrive Early or late to find parking

There is limited parking at gates 7 and 8 of Garrapata State Park, and the parking areas are shared by multiple trails. For the best shot at a parking spot, plan to arrive early in the morning, or later in the afternoon.

Early or late in the day, you will enjoy more solitude on the trails as well. On a recent visit, we arrived at 8 a.m., and had this trail to ourselves, although there were cars in the parking lot.

A look back at the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail in California

Bring layers

You will find the Big Sur Coast cool and breezy, no matter the time of year. On particularly windy mornings, it can feel downright chilly, even in midsummer.

Bring a light warm jacket or a windcheater with a hood to stay warm as you hike, especially if you follow our advice and visit early or late in the day.

A view of the Santa Lucia Mountains from the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail in Big Sur

Dress for Hiking

Wear long pants and long-sleeved tops to protect your skin from poison oak, which you will see along every trail in the park. The trail is maintained, so stay in the middle of the path to avoid brushing up against vegetation, which may also hold ticks.

Also wear closed-toed walking or hiking shoes or boots. Although the trail is not slippery and there isn’t any climbing involved, proper shoes and thick socks help protect your feet and ankles from insects and poison oak as you hike.

View of the Pacific Ocean from the Bluff Trail in Garrapata State Park in California

Allow more time than you think you will need

Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail is drop-dead gorgeous, and on a good weather day you will want to take your time, guaranteed. So definitely allow more time than you think you will need, not only for this trail, but for your visit to Garrapata State Park and Big Sur in general.

Indian P:aintbrush in bloom in Garrapata SP in the spring

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Enjoy hiking scenic trails? Check out these other articles on California hiking trails!

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Discover what to expect on the Bluff Trail in Garrapata State Park in Big Sur, California, from ocean views to waterfalls an d wildflowers. Plus tips for doing the scenic hike!

Dhara

Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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