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HIKING

A Garland of Trails in Santa Lucia Mountains

April 15, 2001|JOHN McKINNEY

Garland Ranch Regional Park in Monterey County is a hiker's haven: an elaborate, well-signed web of trails. At an open-air visitor center, knowledgeable docents offer maps along with species lists of trees, birds and mammals. From the banks of the Carmel River and its cottonwood-and sycamore-shaded flood plain, steep trails ascend to the northernmost crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The park ranges in elevation from 200 to 2,000 feet and reflects a diversity of environments: willow-tangled riverbanks, oak-dotted savanna, maple-filled canyons and chaparral-blanketed slopes. There's even an isolated canyon with a stand of redwoods.

Park namesake William M. Garland sold his ranch to the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District in 1975. The park has since expanded to 4,462 acres.

Families and others looking for walks on the mild side can saunter along the flatlands by the river and along Lupine Loop, which lives up to its name in spring. The 1.4-mile trail crosses a meadow festooned with blossoms.

More challenging is the steep climb up Snively's Ridge. The reward for reaching the top is a terrific view of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the Monterey Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean.

The basic loop outlined here can be shortened or extended easily.

Directions to trail head: From California Highway 1 in Carmel, turn east on Carmel Valley Road and travel 8.6 miles to a parking turnout for Garland Ranch on the south side of the road.

Walk south on the path along the Carmel River. Cross a bridge and follow the signed footpath 200 yards to the visitor center.

The hike: From the visitor center, take the broad path parallel to the river. In winter and spring, try Waterfall Trail. Go south, bypassing several signed, right-forking footpaths, and you'll reach the waterfall about 0.75 mile from the trail head.

The slender waterfall cascades about 40 feet. Stairs aid hikers' ascent of the fern-covered canyon walls. Continue your climb to meet Mesa Trail, angle left onto Garzas Canyon Trail, and you'll soon reach La Mesa, a large meadow and a pond of the same name 1.6 miles from the trail head. Continue past the pond on Garzas Canyon Trail and begin to climb Snively's Ridge.

Turn right onto steep Snively's Ridge Trail. The path scales the brush-covered ridge to the crest, where you'll find Snively's Corral and the junction with Sky Trail.

Sit on the bench, catch your breath and savor the vistas south to the Santa Lucia Mountains and west to the Monterey Peninsula and Monterey Bay.

Sky Trail rapidly descends Snively's Ridge, intersecting other trails along the way; turn left onto Sage Trail briefly, then right onto Fern Trail. The path will lead to Fern Pond.

For a grand loop back to where you started, descend Maple Canyon Trail to Lupine Loop. It returns you to the Carmel River bridge near the park entrance and the visitor center.

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For more of John McKinney's hiking tips and trails, visit http://www.the trailmaster.com.

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