Explore Loop Trail Hiking at Garrapata State Park

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Outfitted with beachfront property, great sites, and plenty of hiking trails, Garrapata State Park is a fantastic and underrated park in California. More specifically, this state park is in the southernmost section of Big Sur.

Garrapata is known to the locals as a hidden gem of the Big Sur area as it is far quieter and more secluded than some of the visitor-heavy areas. To be even more specific, today, we are going to be breaking down the Rocky Ridge and Soberanes Canyon trails.

Each of these trails is connected and forms a hiking loop. They offer really awesome opportunities to engage with nature and enjoy your surroundings.

Hiking on loop trails will give you a wide range of views and give you time to enjoy nature without seeing all the same stuff twice. So, here is some really important information about the Rocky Ridge and Soberanes Canyon trails.


  • Location: Central Coast, California – South of Monterey and West of Fresno
  • Difficulty: Moderate-with some areas a little harder with a steep grade
  • Distance: 5 miles for the loop. Approx 4 hours hiking time
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1700 foot gain with a maximum grade of 52%
  • Best Time of Year: Year-round.  To avoid crowds visit in Spring and Fall
  • Permits Needed: None
  • Campgrounds: None at State Park. Padre National Forest and Carmel River State Beach are close by.

Loop Trail Hiking On The Beautiful Central Coast of California


ocean with hiking loop trail in foreground.

Both of these trails are located in Garrapata State Park on the coast of California. This park sits south of Monterey and a bit west of Fresno. This coastal area of California is known for its views, rolling hills, and lush landscapes. All these aspects are on full display in this park and on these trails.

The loop aspect of these two trails brings you from the gorgeous coast, inland to see the redwoods and pretty vegetation, and back again. This is a unique location in the country as you can really dive right into the local nature right away.

How Hard Is The Loop Trail


hikers hiking on a loop trail going through trees.
This is the hardest 100 yards of the trail

Although the hike along the two trails is not overly long distance-wise, you are exploring a wide range of perspectives and natural areas. So, the difficulty varies throughout the hike.

The Rocky Ridge trail is definitely more difficult as the grade is steep and it is the longer section to take on. If we use the pepper analogy, with a habanero being super hard and a bell pepper being super easy, this first portion would probably be some serrano action with the rest of the loop being closer to a poblano as it is really scaled back in comparison.

A Fun Scenic Day Hike On The Coast


hiker sitting on a rock overlooking the ocean

These two trails make a unique experience as one trail leads to the other to complete the loop trail. On the north end, the Rocky Ridge Trail brings you quickly up to Doud Peak with gorgeous overlooks at the heart of the trail and them back down into the forested areas.

Upon connecting at the trail junction, you take the Soberanes Canyon trail to get back to the starting point. This way, you can constantly be seeing new things and will not have to double back on the same trail.

It is just under five miles to tackle the entire loop trail with 2.9 miles dedicated to the Rocky Ridge trail. The rest is made up of the Soberanes Canyon section.

If you are planning on completing the entire trail loop, you should have at least 4 hours carved out of your day, but to maximize the experience, you should really take your time and stretch the experience to whatever you see fit.

The Hardest Part Of This Loop Trail Is The Elevation Gain


Hikers on a trail on a mountain

The most challenging factor of taking on these trails is the elevation. If it were flat, it would be a very easy afternoon, but it is not.

The big elevation changes come on the Rocky Ridge trail. It starts off pretty easy, but it gets steep further down the trail. The vegetation fades away and you will gain about 1700 feet with the maximum grade at one point of 52%, which is considerably steep.

Although sunscreen is a great thing to have on hand, pay extra attention to this aspect. Just be aware of the sunburn possibility. On the descent, the vegetation finally returns before connecting with the Soberanes Canyon Trail.

This information is important to know so you can prepare for some serious elevation gain, and then loss on the backend. Once you transition to the Soberanes Canyon trail, you are on your way down as you come closer to the ocean and your starting point.

The key to navigating these various aspects is the direction in which you hike. Generally, people hike clockwise starting with the Rocky Ridge trail and end with looping back around.

However, a really cool way to hike this loop is to actually go counterclockwise. Because of the elevation gain and the wind trends, this is actually the most enjoyable way to experience the area.

Best Time of Year to Hike Garraparta State Park


the loop hiking trail at Garraparta State Park

A lot of people view California as this hot, desert area that is miserable in the summer and is slightly toned down in the winter. This area of California is very far from that. In fact, the weather in this area is incredibly enjoyable in terms of precipitation and temperature.

The peak seasons for the area will be in the summer as temperatures are in the 60s and there is virtually no rain. This is because hikers in other parts of the United States want to escape the heat and enjoy the coast.

So, if you want to avoid those busy times, go in the late fall and early spring. Rain is more prevalent, but temperatures sit in the mid-to-high 50s, which is a super enjoyable hiking temperature.

A great perk of Garrapata State Park and the surrounding areas is the ability to visit year-round. This is a bonus that cannot be replicated in a lot of areas of the country.

However, if you want to see the local flower bloom and plants flourish, spring will be a great time to visit.

Do I Need A Permit To Hike The Trail


a wooden foot path on a hiking trail

Thankfully, both of these trails are completely free of cost and permits.  The only reason why you would need a permit on these trails is if you are filming for a commercial reason. Other than that, these are two fantastic trails that can be enjoyed free of charge.

Now, where permits or fees will apply is the camping opportunities that are nearby. Camping near where you want to hike helps you take advantage of the opportunities laid out in front of you.

If you do not have to travel far, you can spend the early mornings and late evenings enjoying the views with no pressure.


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Campgrounds Close To The Garrapata Loop Trail

Because you will be a good few hours drive from the major California cities, these loop trails are best suited to be explored by camping nearby. This keeps you close to the action and allows you to take advantage of all the sites in the early mornings and late evenings.

Unfortunately, there is no camping at the state park specifically, but there are a few options in the nearby regions that are worth checking out.

Padre National Forest

The closest free place to post up for a night is the Padre National Forest. This is a great place in and of itself, so you can even do some exploring here.

Carmel River State Beach

The Carmel River is a fairly well-known river in the area, and it provides some excellent camping and adventure opportunities. Staying here will keep you close to the loop trails and also provide some additional fun.

If you can camp near the hiking trailheads, you will be in the optimal position for getting the most out of the experience.

Closing Thoughts

Garrapata State Park is a must-visit location when it comes to hiking and all of the fun and views that come along with it.

More specifically, the Rocky Ridge and Soberanes Canyon trails are excellent ways to engage with nature and really take in this unique area of California.

So, get after it and see how these trails can benefit you!

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