Think you have been there and done that when it comes to trails in Monterey County? Think again. Palo Corona Regional Park in Carmel is a secret playground for those willing to go the extra step. The 10,000 acre ranch is one of the Central Coast's most significant undeveloped open spaces with several trails and unparalleled vistas open to just a handful of adventurers at a time.
Currently this park is only accessible to the public with a permit in order to alleviate parking and traffic congestion. The Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District grants 13 permits per day through their website and luckily the process is painless.
Needing to get in on this secluded sanctuary I went onto the Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District website and submitted my permit application for the upcoming Saturday. Within 2 days I received a printable permit through my email which included a parking permit and the access combination to the locked entrance gate.
When Saturday arrived I printed 2 copies of my permit (one for my car's dashboard and one to take with me) and followed the arrival instructions just as the permit indicated. The Palo Corona Park entrance is located just passed Rio Road in Carmel on Highway One. I parked along the eastside shoulder of the highway and headed towards the main entrance gate.
The combo on the gate was easy to figure out and just inside was a welcome center with a sign in and printed trail maps. My boyfriend and I snagged a handy trail map and decided to head up to Inspiration Point via the park's main artery, the Palo Corona Trail.
Just passed the welcome center is the Palo Corona Barn with plenty of picnic benches and a well-kept porta potty, a great pit stop before ascending to the lookout from the green rolling hills above.
Since Palo Corona is not fully open to the public I wasn't expecting much when it came to the park's upkeep. I was shocked to see well maintained trails, legible signage and pristine picnic areas throughout; probably the best that I have seen in Monterey County!
Palo Corona also serves as a working cattle ranch and most of the trails go directly through their pasture, but don't worry, they are completely harmless. "Happy cows come from California," with fantastic real estate like this.
After trekking through a flat trail through shady oak trees we began to start the steep uphill climb to Inspiration Point. Every step granted a new perspective of Carmel's colorful coastline. The grassy greens at Pebble Beach's golf courses, sapphire crashing waves at Carmel Beach and the rusty red roofs near the Carmel Mission distinctly stood out.
At the top of the hill is another access gate which is basically the finish line to Inspiration Point. The open space is absolutely breathtaking giving you a bird's eye view of the peninsula with Point Lobos to the left and Pebble Beach to the right. The green and white barn where we started seemed so small in comparison to the expansive views in the distance.
My boyfriend and I had the entire place to ourselves, aside from some local bovines. We sat at the bench perched above the cliff and enjoyed a picnic lunch while pointing out recognizable landmarks like the Lodge at Pebble Beach, Crossroads Shopping Center and the Carmel Mission Basilica. The grand scale of the view was truly inspiring.
The trail to Inspiration Point does not loop so we came back down through the Palo Corona Trail. This time I focused on the outlooks of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range and Mount Toro in the distance, a stark contrast from the view of the coastline but just as awe-inspiring.
The entire hike was about 3.5 miles and took just under 2 hours, including an extended lunch stop at the top. This park is definitely worth the extra planning. Where else can you cherish a complete view of Carmel and have an entire park to yourself?
The Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District regularly hosts guided hikes throughout the Palo Corona Regional Park. Click here to view their schedule.