Disclaimer: We visited Monterey County prior to coronavirus pandemic, some experiences may have since changed. This post was brought to you by See Monterey. As always, our thoughts and experiences are our own.

Monterey’s hiking trails are some of the best in the state of California, we’ve compiled 10 of the best Monterey hiking trails for you to explore. The hiking in Monterey County is especially great because the county has got a little bit of everything. From waterfalls along the Pacific Ocean, redwoods in Big Sur, and rock formations inland, you’ll find amazing views along every hike in the Monterey area. 

Plus, if you’re hiking in the Monterey area, there’s a good chance you’ll see some wildlife! Along the coast there are opportunities to spot sea lions, sea otters, and various sea birds. In the redwood forests, you might happen upon a banana slug or two. And inland, you might find lizards or other creatures. 

HEALTH ADVISORY: Note that while Monterey County is now open to visitors, they are now asking visitors to travel responsibly. Face coverings are required throughout the state. The county is also pushing social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from others), staying home if you feel sick, and leaving no trace behind. For more information, please see website

This is our list of 10 best hiking trails in Monterey!

Rocky coastline on a sunny, summer day
View of Lovers Point Park from the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail.

Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, Castroville to Pacific Grove

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail is an 18-mile long trail that runs from Castroville down to Pacific Grove. It’s also one of the most popular trails in Monterey since it traverses popular tourist spots including Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, making it very accessible if you’re already in the area. 

Our favorite part of the trail is walking from Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey to Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove. It is approximately 2.2 miles in one direction, making it a 4.4 mile walk in total. For a shorter hike, you can also walk from Cannery Row in Monterey over to Lovers Point Park. This is a little bit shorter and clocks in at 1.5 miles one way and 3 miles total. 

Best Time to Hike this Trail
Spring is best for this trail if you’re wanting to see wildflowers in bloom. The ice plants are located between Pacific Grove and Asilomar State Beach. You’ll spot this pink, technicolor treat between the months of April and May. 

PRO TIP: Ice plants only open when it’s sunny, they close in cool weather and when it gets dark so be sure to visit on a sunny day if you’re wanting to see them in bloom.
 

For wildlife, you’ll be able to see harbor seals between the months of March and July. This is pupping season and though you can’t and shouldn’t get close, you might catch a glimpse of the famous harbor seals of Pacific Grove on your hike. 

Trail Length
18 miles from Castroville to Pacific Grove
5.2 miles from Old Fisherman’s Wharf to Asilomar State Beach
2.2 miles from Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey to Lovers Point Park, Pacific Grove
1.5 miles from Cannery Row, Monterey to Lovers Point Park, Pacific Grove 

Elevation Gain
554 feet

The spectacular McWay Falls, a quick stop off of the Pacific Coast Highway.

McWay Waterfall Trail, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur

Important Note: This trail is closed due to COVID and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is closed completely due to the Dolan Fire, please direct any questions to the Monterey District Office at 831-649-2836.

Located within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Waterfall Trail is one of the most popular coastal hikes in the Big Sur area. Its scenic cliffside waterfall makes it a particularly beautiful and unique hike. 

The hike takes you to an overlook where you can see the waterfall flowing into the Pacific Ocean via the beach. The trail is paved and wheelchair accessible, taking you through a tunnel, under the highway, and to the observation deck. 

Important Note: You used to be able to hike down closer however due to erosion the remainder of the trail is now unsafe and closed so there is no access to McWay Beach. 

Best Time to Hike this Trail
Spring and summer are the best times to take this trail. During the spring and sometimes summer, you’ll get a chance to see some yellow wildflowers. 

Trail Length
1.1 miles to the observation deck and back

Elevation Gain
170 feet

Soberanes Point and Whale Peak Trail, Garrapata State Park, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Located just south of Carmel Highlands, Garrapata State Park is very close to Carmel-by-the-Sea and is home to great trails traversing from the rocky coastline to the redwood forests. Soberanes Point and Whale Peak Trail is a great 1.8 mile loop on Soberanes Point with scenic views and wildflowers. 

The hike is pretty easy and you’ll easily spot wildlife from sea otters to harbor seals, sea lions and even whales. Portions of the Soberanes Point Trail, namely, the parts closer to Hwy-1 (Pacific Coast Highway) along the side of Whale Peak, do have a few sets of stairs so be prepared for that. 

Best Time to Hike this Trail
Yet another trail with beautiful wildflowers, spring and summer are the best times to take this trail to see those. However with the amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, any time is a good time as long as the weather is clear!  

Trail Length
1.8 miles loop

Elevation Gain
311 feet

Fort Ord Dunes State Park Loop Trail, Fort Ord Dunes State Park, Marina

This trail along the beach at Fort Ord Dunes State Park takes you on a paved path and then onto the beach. It’s a great spot to walk, bike, or even just to explore the sand dunes and of the Monterey coast. Towards the end of the trail you’ll also find bunkers from when the area housed Fort Ord. 

Fun Fact: Fort Ord Dunes State Park was once a United States Army installation housing 15 rifle stations along the beach and the grid you see in the sand dunes was once used as a firing range. The fort was in use between 1917 and 1994. 

The hike is a leisurely walk though you might find that it can be a bit more of a struggle once you hit the sandy parts. 

Best Time to Hike this Trail
Spring, obviously, for the ice plant flowers! 

Trail Length
4.1 miles loop

Elevation Gain
265 feet

View into a cove surrounded by rock.
View of Headland Cove from Cypress Grove Trail in Point Lobos State Reserve.

Point Lobos Loop Trail, Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Point Lobos Loop Trail is obviously located within its namesake Point Lobos State Reserve. This hike is a combination of multiple trails for a total of 5.1 miles including Point Lobos, N Shore, Cypress Grove, Sea Lion Point, Sand Hill, S Shore, Bird Island, S Plateau, Carmelo Meadow, and Granite Point Trails. The route will take you to wonderful lookouts such as Cannery Point, Guillemot Island, Sea Lion Point, Weston Beach, China Cove, and more. Our recommended trail route is to start at the parking lot at Whaler’s Cove and making a big loop along the coast in a counter-clockwise direction. 

Fun Fact: Point Lobos gets its name from its Spanish name, “Punta de los Lobos Marinos,” or  “Point of the Sea Wolves” due to the sound of the sea lions nearby. 

Some of our favorite parts of this trail include spotting wildlife, we’ve gotten a chance to see sleeping sea lions, lizards, and of course, all of the sea birds that make their homes along the rocky coast.

Be sure to also check out Whaler’s Museum, you can check out the giant whale bones to the side of the museum building and various artifacts that once turned whale blubber into oil.

Best Time to Hike this Trail
During the spring and the fall, the coast is less foggy compared to the summer and you’ll be treated with better views. We visited in mid-August and even though it was technically during the summer, we did catch some sun once the fog burned off. 

Trail Length
5.1 miles loop

Elevation Gain
348 feet

Pond in between rocky formations
Beautiful reflections on the Bear Gulch Reservoir in Pinnacles National Park.

Moses Spring Trail to Rim Trail Loop, Pinnacles National Park

Important Note: Many trails are closed due to wildfires, click here for more details. 

We can’t talk about the hikes in Monterey County without talking about Pinnacles National Park, the Monterey area’s one and only national park! 

When you think of Monterey, you might think of beautiful blue water and rocky coastlines and you’re not wrong about that at all as you’ve seen from the trails we’ve already recommended. However, Pinnacles is located inland, in a mountainous area east of the Salinas Valley. Many of its rock formations were created through volcanic activity with magma depositing above granite forming a vast volcanic field. 

Fun Fact: Pinnacles National Park was established as a national monument in 1908 by President Teddy Roosevelt and didn’t become a national park until President Barack Obama in 2013. 

The trail starts at the parking area at Bear Gulch Day Use Area, you can take the Moses Spring Trail through the Bear Gulch Trail and out via Rim Loop. This is a great trail to easily see beautiful rock formations, the caves of Pinnacles National Park, and the Bear Gulch Reservoir all in one trail. 

PRO TIP: Remember to bring a flashlight if you’re headed through the Bear Gulch Cave, it can get dark in there! Note that the cave trail is not always open so it’s better just to be prepared.
  

Best Time to Hike this Trail
During the summer this trail can be extremely hot, spring and fall tend to be the best for prime weather and comfort. 

Trail Length
2.2 mile loop

Elevation Gain
500 feet

Hiking trail leading to the rock formations in the background

Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail Loop, Pinnacles National Park

Important Note: Many trails are closed due to wildfires, click here for more details. 

If you have the entire day and are down for a more strenuous trail, the Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail loop is one of the best in all of Pinnacles National Park. Note that parts of the trail can be super steep and narrow, especially in the High Peaks section. 

To see more of the park, you can also add on the Rim Trail and Moses Spring Trail on the way back to make it a total of 6.1 miles and of course to see more of Pinnacles. 

PRO TIP: Pinnacles National Park has two main entrances, the East Entrance (Pinnacles Visitors Center) and the West Entrance. Both entrances are located off of CA-146 but the highway does not go through the park. There is no way to drive through the park, you have to go south to King City on Hwy-101 to get from the west to the east side. The only way to go through the park is by foot.
 

Best Time to Hike this Trail
During the summer this trail can be extremely hot, spring and fall tend to be the best for prime weather and comfort. 

Trail Length
5.3 mile loop
6.1 mile loop when you add on Rim and Moses Spring Trails

Elevation Gain
1,300 feet
1,900 feet with Rim and Moses Spring Trails

View of the bay from behind trees.
Amazing views of Monterey Bay and Old Fisherman’s Wharf from Jacks Peak.

Jacks Peak Trail, Jacks Peak County Park, Monterey

Jacks Peak County Park is a great, off-the-beaten-path place to hike if you’re looking for some nature closer to the city. Located in the hills of Monterey, Jacks Peak has amazing views of Monterey and Carmel. 

Fun Fact: Jacks Peak is 1,068 feet tall making it the highest point on the Monterey Peninsula.  

The park has 8.5 miles of trails for you to explore. Jacks Peak trail is a quick 0.6 mile in and out hike with tall Monterey pine trees, and even wildlife like the California banana slug. If you’re up for a slightly longer hike, tack on the Skyline Nature Trail, with only 0.8 miles total, 

Fun Fact: You can see Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Carmel Highlands from the top of Jacks Peak.  

Along the Skyline Nature Trail, you’ll pass a rocky wall where you might be able to spot some fossilized sea creatures. 

PRO TIP: Admission to Jacks Peak County Park is $2 per person, don’t forget to bring some cash!
 

Best Time to Hike this Trail
This trail is nice any time of the year as there is some cover amongst the tall trees. 

Trail Length
0.6 mile in and out
0.8 mile loop with the Skyline Nature Trail

Elevation Gain
121 feet

Ollason Trail, Toro Park, Salinas

Important Note: This park is completely closed due to the River Fire, click here for more details. 

Toro Park in Salinas Valley has some of the best trails in all of Monterey County, one of these amazing trails is the Ollason Trail. This hike is a bit strenuous and takes you to the top of Ollason Peak, at 1,800 feet. Along the way you’ll pass by beautiful trees and even grazing cattle. 

PRO TIP: Admission to Toro Park costs $2 per person, be sure to bring cash for easy payment.
 

Best Time to Hike this Trail
Spring and fall is the best time to hike this trail as there is minimal cover on the trail. 

Trail Length
8.2 mile loop

Elevation Gain
1,007 feet

Beach with beach plants and power plant in the background.
Elkhorn Slough and Moss Landing’s infamous power plant from Moss Landing State Beach.

Moss Landing State Beach Loop, Moss Landing State Beach

This is an easy walk along the beach between the sand dunes and the Monterey Bay towards the mouth of Elkhorn Slough. 

Fun Fact: Elkhorn Slough is one of the largest estuaries in California. It is home to over 700 marine species including mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, algae, and plants. 

Elkhorn Slough is also a great place to watch the birds and get a glimpse of wildlife in the area. It is home to California’s largest concentration of sea otters so you could easily spot one from the shore.  

PRO TIP: After you work up an appetite walking along the beach, be sure to check out some of the best restaurants in Moss Landing – The Haute Enchilada and Phil’s Fish Market and Eatery.
 

Best Time to Hike this Trail
In the summer, there might be quite a bit of coastal fog, fall and spring are more ideal weather wise. We visited in early March and it was a bit overcast and rainy. 

Trail Length
4.1 mile there and back

Elevation Gain
65 feet

Monterey County’s amazing hiking trails run from coastline with marine wildlife and redwoods to grassy valleys with cows, volcanic rock formations in Pinnacles National Park and views of the Monterey Peninsula. You’ll be able to find a trail that suits any type of scenery you’d want to see.

List of the Hiking Trails in Monterey, California

  • Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, Castroville to Pacific Grove
  • McWay Waterfall Trail, Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park, Big Sur
    Parking lot located off of Pacific Coast Highway, Hwy-1
    GPS Coordinates:
    36.158879, -121.670312
  • Soberanes Point and Whale Peak Trail, Garrapata State Park, Carmel-by-the-Sea
    25070 Cabrillo Hwy, Carmel-By-The-Sea
    GPS Coordinates: 36.452087, -121.925685
  • Fort Ord Dunes State Park Loop Trail, Fort Ord Dunes State Park, Marina
    Parking lot located off of Beach Range Road, Marina
    GPS Coordinates: 36.660195, -121.820966
  • Point Lobos Loop Trail, Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel-by-the-Sea
    GPS Coordinates:
    36.520077, -121.940858
  • Moses Spring Trail to Rim Trail Loop, Pinnacles National Park
    East Entrance at Pinnacles Visitor Center
    GPS Coordinates for East Entrance: 36.493545, -121.146646
    Parking lot located at Bear Gulch Day Use Area
    GPS Coordinates for Bear Gulch Day Use Area:
    36.481145, -121.181603
  • Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail Loop, Pinnacles National Park
    East Entrance at Pinnacles Visitor Center
    GPS Coordinates for East Entrance: 36.493545, -121.146646
    Parking lot located at Bear Gulch Day Use Area
    GPS Coordinates for Bear Gulch Day Use Area:
    36.481145, -121.181603
  • Jacks Peak Trail, Jacks Peak County Park, Monterey
    25020 Jacks Peak Park Rd, Monterey
    GPS Coordinates:
    36.564327, -121.874638
  • Ollason Trail, Toro Park, Salinas 
    501 Monterey-Salinas Highway 68, Salinas
  • Moss Landing State Beach Loop, Moss Landing State Beach, Moss Landing 

    Parking located on Jetty Road, Moss Landing
    GPS Coordinates: 36.805559, -121.788799

Map of the Parks and Parking Lots for the Best Hiking Trails in Monterey, California

Loved this guide to the 10 Best Monterey Hiking Trails? Pin it for later!

Best hiking trails in Monterey County, California. Where to hike in Monterey, CA. Top 10 places to hike in Monterey, includes Monterey, Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Salinas, Moss Landing, Marina, Pinnacles National Park, and more. Explore the scenic Central California coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway, see redwoods, Monterey cypress trees, volcanic rock formations, and even wildlife on your hike. McWay Falls, Point Lobos, Monterey Bay. Best hiking trails in Monterey County, California. Where to hike in Monterey, CA. Top 10 places to hike in Monterey, includes Monterey, Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Salinas, Moss Landing, Marina, Pinnacles National Park, and more. Explore the scenic Central California coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway, see redwoods, Monterey cypress trees, volcanic rock formations, and even wildlife on your hike. McWay Falls, Point Lobos, Monterey Bay.

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I think I would absolutely love hiking here. That blue, blue sea against the jagged rocks looks gorgeous & then The Pinnacles looks totally unique.

    • Constance Panda
      Constance Panda Reply

      Honestly we think Monterey County has some of the most beautiful spots along the California coast 😉

    • Constance Panda
      Constance Panda Reply

      Hiking in the Monterey area is truly amazing and a wonderful experience.

  2. Avatar

    We had a CA road trip planned to San Fran from SoCal this summer but had to cancel! These are great places for us to stop along the way!! Thanks so much for sharing! Pinned for us for later!

    • Constance Panda
      Constance Panda Reply

      Oh well, hope you’ll get a chance to visit soon.

    • Constance Panda
      Constance Panda Reply

      It does indeed! Pinnacles is definitely one of the most underrated national parks in the state.

  3. Avatar

    What a great list of hikes! Can’t wait to try all of them once I can travel to California. Thanks for putting this together, I’ll definitely save it for future reference.

    • Constance Panda
      Constance Panda Reply

      There is so much hiking in California, don’t make us keep you only to Monterey County! 😉

    • Constance Panda
      Constance Panda Reply

      There are so many hikes you can do in Monterey County! This is just a handful of them.

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