Climbing & Hiking Trails - 12 min read

15 Best Carmel Hiking Trails (Rough Terrain & Vibrant Plant Life!)

Ashley Brown

Ashley Brown, Updated October 3, 2022

Carmel, California, is a stunning city well-known for its beautiful nature and artistic history. Moreover, it is popularly known as Carmel-by-the-Sea. Whether you want to explore nature or the city villages, each will give you a feeling like you’re in a movie.

While Carmel, California, is known for its beautiful art, fairytale-esque village, and clean streets, that is not all it offers. Carmel also has many charming ocean views, wildflowers, and diverse wildlife. It also consists of the Mission Trail Nature Preserve! This nature preserve is a thirty-four-acre park and encircles three miles of hiking trails. 

You can find many charming trails in Carmel that are going to make you feel like a princess or prince! You will surely enjoy your stay at Carmel with waterfalls, fields of wildflowers, and so much wildlife. Finding the best trails to suit you is crucial since everybody has their preference and style!

1. South Plateau Trail to Bird Island

Credit: Yuval Shapira / AllTrails

The South Plateau Trail is perfect for those that enjoy bird-watching. There are so many opportunities for you to observe various birds. There is free parking and parking that costs $10.

This would be a fantastic trail to go on with children to help them learn and have a good time! There are many helpful signs that will educate you on the birds and flowers that may appear on this trail!

This trail is open year-round, so no matter when you plan your visit to Carmel, you can explore this trail!  On this hike you’ll have to leave your dog at home. This trail does not allow dogs.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.6 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 259 feet

2. Bird Island Trail

Credit: Julia Trinidad / AllTrails

The Bird Island Trail is perfect for visiting in the spring and summer. There are opportunities to view pelicans, sea otters, a great blue heron, and Black-crowned night herons!

You pass through Monterey pine woods and the sea while on this trail. You can also come upon two beaches: China Cove and Gibson Beach. China Cove, while a smaller beach compared to Gibson Beach, is a quaint location to spend a little time.

It is best to visit this beach in the spring to see seals! The seals often nurse their pups in this spot. Set aside some time to marvel at the rock formations created by coastal erosion! The arches tend to collapse and form isolated outcrops like Bird Island.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 0.8 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 95 feet

Related Read: 15 Best Monterey, CA Hikes

3. Mission Trails Park

Credit: Travis Mickel / AllTrails

The Mission Trails Park is one of the trails that makes you feel like you are in a fairytale. You have the opportunity to walk through the Monterey pine forest, wetlands, willow riparian corridor, and a coastal prairie! This trail was designed in 1979 to be used for passive recreational use.

Canines are allowed on this trail, even off-leash in some areas. This trail is open year-round. It is also a perfect trail for people of any age and experience in hiking. While this trail is well-maintained, you still need to be cautious of poison oak.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 183 feet

4. Cypress Grove Trail

Credit: Mary and Andrew / Flickr

The Cypress Grove Trail shows you beautiful scenery and what happens to nature over time. It is a wonderful place to visit and is a fairly short path. A perfect trail to spend a relaxing Sunday morning. This trail is also great for kids.

You walk through one of the stands of naturally growing Monterey cypress trees. There are only two remaining on Earth! The cypresses withdrew to these headlands as the climate changed from 15,000 years ago!

It is flat with many beautiful views, such as the headland cove, cypress cove, and pinnacle cove. It is truly astonishing to see them. Make sure to visit on a clear day as you can see sea lions.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 0.8 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 59 feet

Related Read: Top 20 Santa Cruz Hiking Trails

5. Point Lobos Loop Trail

Credit: vivian-Im / Flickr

The Point Lobos Loop Trail is a popular and gorgeous trail that takes you through various ecosystems. You can see flora, fauna, coastal shrub-covered coastline, rocky beaches, and more!

There is also so much ocean life that you can discover on this trail! You can even have a little educational lesson if you bring your kids here. You can teach them about the various wildlife they can observe.

Open year-round; The best time to visit this trail is September, as it will not be so hot outside. There is a lot of poison oak on this trail.

Moreover, the park authorities restrict how many cars are allowed in Point Lobos. Therefore, parking is limited and subject to a $10 fee. Although, some people have been able to visit by leaving their car parked on Highway 1 and walking in.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 6.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 741 feet

6. Soberanes Point and Whale Peak

Credit: Kakapo Kiwi / AllTrails

The Soberanes Point and Whale Peak is a spectacular trail to take in the evening with your kids. It is an easy route and mostly follows the ocean’s coastline. The beach has many beautiful sea shells, mussels, and anemones. While this trail can be a bit strenuous, it will be worth every step.

All of the beauty this trail offers is worth a lifetime of memories. Visiting in July, you’ll increase your opportunities to see beautiful wildflowers in various colors! Just be sure to bring your sunscreen on this trail. There is no shade on this trail.

Furthermore, it is crucial to be aware that there are some partial closures on this trail. Therefore, checking the park’s website for more information on what parts are closed before you visit is best.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.8 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 311 feet

7. Cypress Grove Trail via South Shore Trail

Credit: Mary and Andrew / Flickr

While this trail is not very long, it is still a wonderful trail for your whole family. The Cypress Grove Trail is a beautiful loop trail. Even as short as it is, this hike still has plenty to offer. This trail is not dog-friendly. Therefore, you will need to leave your dog at home.

Whether you are on the lookout for exploring the beach, observing wildlife, or the Cypress Forests, this trail is perfect. You have the chance to observe sea lions lying around on the rocks! Bring binoculars or a camera for some truly precious moments.

This trail does have some steep inclines up patches of cliffs. The workout that you get from the cliffs will be worth it! Those that enjoy bird-watching, hiking, and trail running will especially enjoy this trail.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 1.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 124 feet

Related Read: Best Time To Visit San Francisco

8. Lower Ridge, Rhus, and Coffeeberry Loop

Credit: Toni Rodriguez / AllTrails

This moderate hike is terrific for those that want a longer trail with a little more difficulty. Especially if you visit this trail in the summertime, you get to have stunning views and plenty of shade!

There is an excellent mixture of terrains on this trail as well. You go through flat land, inclines, and declines on this trail. There are some narrow sections that have poison oak. Furthermore, you will want to be cautious on this route with the signs as they are not properly posted. It may be best to have an offline map downloaded.

This trail is also perfect for dogs! Those that want to bring their dogs may have them off-leash in certain areas. This trail is less crowded than others, making it a great place for those that want alone time.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.0 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 764 feet

9. 17-Mile Drive to Carmel Road Ride

Credit: Sharon Mollerus / Flickr

The 17-Mile Drive is a spectacular roadway that goes from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. While this route is frequently done by scenic driving, it is also a fantastic hike. For those that enjoy biking, it will be a great place to bike in the early morning. It is perfect for those that want an easy but long trail with plenty of beauty.

Part of this trail is wheelchair, stroller, and mobility equipment friendly. However, in some areas, there is deep sand that is not suitable for this equipment.

Although, those that plan on biking or hiking this path will want to proceed with caution. The road can get pretty busy with vehicles during peak hours. This trail is also open year-round. This trail does cost $10. Though it is worth it with all the stunning scenery you will be seeing.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 7.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 400 feet

Related Read: 20 Best Camping Spots In Northern California

10. Lace Lichen, North Shore, and Cannery Point Trail

Credit: btwashburn / Flickr

The Lace Lichen, North Shore, and Cannery Point Trail is an amazing one to go on. You will have plenty of opportunities to explore wildlife and see the diverse nature here in Carmel. This trail has some spectacular features to it. The name Lace Lichen comes from the grayish green lichen that hangs from the Monterey pine branches, and coasts live oaks.

The lichen that hangs here was used to dress wounds in the past! It also helps to capture the summer fog’s moisture in the trees. Often, deer and birds use the lichen for their own needs as well.

The blue blossom ceanothus and wild lilacs and will make the whole area smell amazing! Therefore, it will be worth it to visit in the early spring. You will see many mushrooms on this trail as well. Be cautious, many of them will be poisonous!

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.9 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 223 feet

11. Moss Cove Trail

Credit: Laura Neal / AllTrails

The Moss Cove Trail is a looped trail that is frequently visited by those that enjoy bird-watching, hiking, and walking. It is open year-round and perfect for those that want a quiet place to relax. Plus, a side trail will allow you to view the rocky beach! This side trail makes it great for those that want to make their hike a little longer.

This trail takes you through an open field to Ichxenta Point. The Ichxenta Point can be reached by walking down steps from the Granite Point Trail. The first thing you can observe on this trail is the Moss Cove. The Moss Cove is protected by the Escobar Rocks, which endure the ocean waves. It crosses over two visible marine terraces. It also shows remnants of the natural prairie habitat.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.8 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 173 feet

12. Carmel Beach City Park Trail

Credit: sk / Flickr

The Carmel Beach City Park Trail is perfect for those that want a quick and easy stroll on the beach. It is also one of the more accessible routes, making it great for everybody! The trail surface consists of dirt and pavement that is three feet wide. Moreover, this trail has a mostly gentle grade.

This trail offers you a journey from 8th Avenue south to Martin Way. Here you can get some fantastic views of the ocean! It is close to the coast along residential Scenic Road as well. There is also a park nearby where you can have a picnic after your hike! It is filled with beautiful cypress trees and will make your picnic feel lovely.

While dogs are allowed on this trail, they need to be on a leash. Though, if you plan on going to the beach, your dog can be off-leash. There are also plenty of benches that you can rest at!

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.3 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 32 feet

13. Jacks Peak to Rhus Trail Loop

Credit: J Google / AllTrails

The Jacks Peak to Rhus Trail Loop is located in Jacks Peak County Park and is one of the more secluded trails. It is excellent for those that enjoy bird-watching, hiking, and trail running. This trail does not allow mountain biking.

This hike also has plenty of inclines and declines. Though, the incline may be a little strenuous for some. There are also many side trails that you can explore if you are looking to lengthen your hike.

There are even areas in the trail where your furry friend can be off-leash and enjoy the summer sun! Furthermore, it is crucial to be careful on this trail. There have been many reviewers talking about how much poison oak there is.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 2.3 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 498 feet

14. Rocky Point

Credit: Scott Densmore / AllTrails

The Rocky Point will be a great trail to go on if you are looking for a short trail with charming views. This would be a great place to visit before dinner as well. There is a restaurant nearby that you can stop at after the trail and eat.

This trail is also dog and kid-friendly. Although, your dog will need to be on a leash during this trail. This area is popular with bird-watching as well. You may want to bring your binoculars onto this trail to catch a glimpse of the birds! It is also close to Notleys Landing and rocky cliffs.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 0.2 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 13 feet

15. South Plateau-Mound Meadow Loop

Credit: Yuval Shapira / AllTrails

The South Plateau-Mound Meadow Loop Trail is a charming trail in Garrapata State Park. Whether you are looking for wildflowers, a forest, or a place to watch birds, this trail has it. This trail is not dog friendly. Though, it is not too difficult for children!

While this trail is considered easy, some people may have difficulties. Prepare well by wearing the correct protective footwear. During the inclines and declines, it may be challenging with the loose gravel underfoot.

The wildflowers that you can see here are absolutely stunning and will surely make you fall in love with Carmel. There are also a breathtaking view of the coastal skyline to look forward to,.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 0.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 118 feet

Recommended for you

Travel smarter

Join the thousands of travel enthusiasts who are part of our T&T community.