Monterey County's diverse parks range from tiny jewels beloved by birdwatchers to the vast, unspoiled spaces of the Los Padres National Forest and Fort Ord National Monument. Whether your interest is hiking, kayaking, parasailing and hang gliding, surfing, camping, horseback riding, fishing, mountain cycling, sailing, diving, geocacheing, birding, photography, trail running, tide pooling, stargazing or nearly any other outdoor activity, you'll find Monterey County's parks are the perfect place for outdoor fun.
Protect this magical place by observing park regulations. Be sure to stay on marked trails for safety, and avoid the poison oak, a bushy ivy plant that is common throughout the county. Remember: "leaflets three, let it be!"
City, County and Regional Parks
The tiny Frog Pond Wetland Preserve in Del Rey Oaks attracts a wide variety of avian species and is beloved by birders.
Dog-friendly Garland Ranch Regional Park offers both easy walks and fiercely challenging hikes such as the Sniveley's Ridge Trail. It is a popular spot for horseback riding and is the home of the annual Carmel Valley Trail Run.
Jacks Peak County Park contains the highest peak on the Monterey Peninsula. You can hike or ride horseback through the park's 525 acres, enjoying wildflower meadows, forests of oak and pine, and grasslands.
Laguna Grande Park, on the border of Monterey and Seaside, features a reed-laced small lake with a perimeter path, but the big draw is the extensive playground near the Russian Orthodox Church's blue onion domes.
Laguna Seca Recreation Area has 185 campsites with hookups, showers and restrooms. Laguna Seca offers a variety of activities including hiking trails, a nature preserve, a rifle range, and a world-class racetrack.
Lake San Antonio Recreation Area offers fishing, swimming, boating, picnicking and camping. It's one of Monterey County's top ten wildlife-spotting locations; you can spot a bald eagle on an Eagle Watch tour!
Little Locke-Paddon Community Park is the northern point of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. It's also renowned among birders; a stunning 138 species have been spotted in its 17 acres.
Pacific Grove's Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary is home to thousands of Monarch butterflies every October through February, and is a pleasantly tranquil park year-round.
Roberts Lake, circled by the paved Monterey Coastal Trail (also known as the Recreation Trail), is a haunt of waterfowl year-round, but also occasionally hosts radio-controlled speedboat races.
San Lorenzo Park in King City has the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum, where old buildings, historical recreation activities and antique farm equipment exhibits tell the farming and mining story of Monterey County. Playgrounds, walking trails, a campground and water activities make this an ideal family spot.
Toro Park is a popular spot for residents and visitors with hiking, equestrian, and mountain biking trails. Great views plus horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, ballfields, picnic facilities and playgrounds attract families and groups.
Veterans Memorial Park, in Monterey at Jefferson St and Skyline Drive, has 50 acres of hiking trails, picnic areas, playing fields and restrooms. There are overnight fees. Access from here to Huckleberry Hill Nature Preserve.
The California State Parks located in Monterey County offer a wide range of experiences and some of the country's most magnificent scenery. Great hiking trails and scenic beaches are just part of the reason for the popularity of these parks.
At Andrew Molera State Park, the Big Sur River winds through 4,800 acres of meadows and woodlands. Hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and fishing enthusiasts love the park, and surfers call it the most reliable surfing area in Big Sur. It is the biggest park on the Big Sur coast and holds several of Big Sur's oldest historic buildings.
Well-hidden Garrapata State Parkis a hiker's dream, offering 2,879 acres of Big Sur beauty including trails, beaches and forests.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parkis home to one of Big Sur's largest redwoods. Another attraction is Pfeiffer Falls, a 60-foot waterfall.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Parkhas a name similar to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but a character all its own. Nicknamed a "mini-Yosemite," it is Big Sur's most popular hiking and camping spot.
Make an appointment to tour Point Sur State Historic Park. The lighthouse on this unique outcropping is the only one of its era open to the public in California. It's such a great whale-spotting venue that it is one of Monterey's top ten wildlife-spotting locations.
Asilomar State Beach has a boardwalk with hiking over its dunes. Beach wheelchairs are available for those with limited mobility.
Carmel River State Beach is well-known among divers for its stunning kelp forests, among surfers for its reliable waves, and among birders for the diverse species that frequent it.
Fort Ord National Monument, located on the former Fort Ord military base, is currently run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They protect and manage 44 species of rare plants and animals that call the property home. The 7,200 acre parcel has more than 83 miles of trails that can be explored on foot, bike or on horseback.
Climb to the top of Fremont Peak State Park to see breathtaking views of four California counties. At night, astronomers frequently host educational activities at the observatory. Camp there yourself and enjoy a stunningly starry sky.
Marina State Beach and Marina Dunes Preserve is a top California spot for hang gliding, a popular surfing area, home to several threatened species and a popular birding spot.
Paragliders, tidepoolers, beachcombers and kite flyers love Monterey State Beach, which runs from Monterey to Seaside.
Monterey State Historic Park preserves and interprets places and objects of statewide historic significance. Monterey served as California's capital under Spanish, Mexican and U.S. rule. The U.S. flag was first officially raised in California here on July 7, 1846, bringing 600,000 square miles, including including the Custom House (built in 1827), California's First Theatre (1846-47), and several residences (now museums) built in the 1830s, preserve the area's rich history of early California.
Moss Landing State Beach is the top surfing destination in Monterey County. It is also popular among surf fishers and horseback riders, who also frequent adjoining Salinas River State Beach and Zmudowski State Beach.
Point Lobos State Reserve is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. The reserve encompasses 750 acres of underwater wonders and 550 acres of protected land full of trails and views. Whales and dolphins can be seen in the distance, seals bark on the rocks, and a variety of birds soar overhead.
Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserveis a unique environment, equally popular with birders and kayakers, and is one of Monterey County's top ten wildlife-spotting locations. Watch sea otters cavort, sea lions swim and seals laze on the beach.
The Los Padres National Forest runs from the Santa Lucia Mountains in Salinas to the Pacific Ocean and has 1,200 miles of trails. It covers approximately two million acres, stretching from Carmel Valley to the western edge of Los Angeles County, and contains some of the most rugged terrain in the state. Native inhabitants of this vast forest include mountain lions and bald eagles. Tassajara and Esalen are the sites of hot springs and world-class retreats for spiritual seekers. Steelhead populate the numerous streams and rivers that flow through the area, and it is popular for fishing and hunting.
With its unusual rock formations, Pinnacles National Park is a hands-on lesson in geology. Camp overnight, then go for a hike along its many trails.
The Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge is the other park in Monterey County in which hunting is allowed. It is also popular for wildlife watching.
Here in California and around the world, special ocean areas are being set aside to protect key ocean habitats and species by managing activities that threaten their integrity. In 2012, California became an international leader in ocean conservation by completing the United States’ first network of marine protected areas (MPAs) or underwater parks. Today over 120 MPAs stretch along the entire coast from Oregon to Mexico.
California’s central coast region boasts 29 underwater parks, many of them right here in the Monterey Bay area. These MPAs protect special areas of our coast like the iconic Point Lobos, the tidepools of Pacific Grove Marine Gardens and Lover’s Point, the world renowned diving at Edward F. Ricketts, Asilomar’s incredibly beautiful coastline, the recreational opportunities of Carmel Bay and many more important marine environments!
Come take a virtual tour of these underwater parks and discover what these special ocean areas have to offer, with breathtaking pictures and links to nearby activities.