Heard about the 17-Mile Drive? Of course you have. Travelers arrive from around the world to drive the Monterey Peninsula roadway that traces the splendorous coast and meanders past seven world-class golf courses.
Heard about the 7-Mile Hike?
I didn't think so. Not many have discovered this combination of footpaths that meanders the same coast as "Nature's Drive-Through" and also offers a tour through a magical forest.
If you've ever dreamed about setting foot in the exclusive enclave made famous by the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Lone Cypress, this hike is for you. Like the drive, the hike presents tableaux of oh-my-gosh natural beauty and oh-so-posh resorts.
But there's an extra bonus for the sojourner afoot: Unlike the road, the trail is toll-free. You might save enough on admission to the drive ($7.50) to buy a sandwich at the Pebble Beach Market deli counter. More important, walking gives you an intimate view of this enchanted land and sea that you can't get from behind a windshield.
To ramble around and through the resort is to step back into an earlier, pre-automobile era when the 17-Mile Drive was a far more leisurely outing. In 1881 the Pacific Improvement Co. built the scenic byway for the pleasure of guests staying at its Del Monte Hotel. Tallyhos (horse-drawn coaches) traveled a 17-mile circuit from Monterey over the coastal bluffs and through a magnificent maritime woodland that became known as Del Monte Forest.
Samuel Morse (if the name rings a bell, he was a grandnephew of the telegraph and Morse code inventor) acquired the land in 1919. While Morse and successors subdivided and built many upscale haciendas and lots of links, they also preserved much of the pine and cypress forest. Thus for today's hiker there's considerable green to be seen beyond the golf courses.
What I've dubbed the 7-Mile Hike' presents some attractive options and a couple of challenges as well. The three miles of Coastal Trail extending from Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove south to Bird Rock is superb walking with a photo opportunity at every turn. If you want to end a moderate walk of six miles round trip on a high note, watch the birds at Bird Rock and the seals at Seal Rock and return the way you came.
From Bird Rock Overlook, the intrepid will trek inland on a horse trail and ascend a mile over the dunes and into Del Monte Forest. A second mile of road walking leads to the Lodge at Pebble Beach and a well-deserved lunch break at one of the lodge's four restaurants.
Those keen to complete the 7-Mile Hike to Carmel can follow equestrian trails marked with a dizzying assortment of red, blue, orange and green blazes (not for the directionally challenged). However, should you lose the trail, you can easily walk various Pebble Beach-adjacent lanes or the shoulder of 17-Mile Drive to Carmel.
Directions to trail head: From California Highway 1 between Carmel and Monterey, turn west on California Highway 68 (which becomes Sunset Drive) and follow it to the beach. If you're in the Cannery Row area, follow Ocean View Boulevard west and south along the coast.
Begin this walk opposite Asilomar Conference Center or at the north end of Asilomar State Beach just south of the Sunset Drive-Jewell Avenue intersection. Park along Sunset Drive.
The hike: Begin where the boardwalk comes down from the Asilomar grounds to meet Sunset Drive. Stroll Asilomar State Beach, a broad, fine-grained sand strand, to its southern end and join the signed Spanish Bay Shoreline Pedestrian Trail. The path passes above Moss Beach, so named because just offshore a variety of underwater habitats has created what is said to be the greatest diversity of marine algae on the West Coast.
About a mile out, the sandy beach gives way to cobbled shore, and the coastal trail travels the bluffs above a dramatic meeting of rock and surf.
Just as you begin to ponder the cosmic question, "Why is the sea so restless?" you arrive at the Restless Sea Overlook, where an interpretive panel offers an explanation. No, it's not colliding ocean currents, as I had guessed, but submerged rocks that account for the sea's agitated state.
The sea appears particularly restless at nearby Point Joe, the most exposed point on the Monterey Peninsula. The coastal trail follows the seaward shoulder of 17-Mile Drive for 200 feet, then makes its own way over the bluffs. The footpath parallels the drive for the next 1.4 miles to Bird Rock Overlook, where you'll find this hike's only public restroom and drinking fountain.
Gulls, pelicans and cormorants are among the winged residents of Bird Rock. Boisterous colonies of seals and sea lions also hang out on the rock. From the overlook, a signed nature trail leads south to a lovely little white sand beach at the mouth of Seal Rock Creek. Beyond the south end of the beach, join a horse trail marked by a green-and-white blazed post. This narrow, sandy track parallels the road for 0.2 mile, then crosses 17-Mile Drive and turns inland.
What follows is a steep, thigh-burning ascent over sand dunes. As you struggle in two-steps-forward-one-step-back fashion up the dunes, be sure to look southwest down at Cypress Point. Crest the dunes and descend a red-blazed path to a junction with signed Del Monte Forest Trail. Turn left and ascend amid Monterey pines to a road junction where Spyglass Hill Road meets Stevenson Drive.
Hungry hikers will likely want to follow Stevenson Drive south, then 17-Mile Drive to the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Those trekkers bound and determined to continue to Carmel by trail (do remember there are plenty of nearby roads to walk when in all likelihood you lose the trail) will follow a blue-marked path up a hill parallel to Stevenson Drive, cross Forest Lake Road, climb past the Poppy Hills Golf Course, meander through a residential neighborhood and follow a fire road through the wilds of Del Monte Forest at about the 6-mile mark.
At the 6.5-mile point, the trail crosses 17-Mile Drive and, after more woodsy meandering, passes the Carmel Gate and delivers you to Carmel. The complicated route-finding and the necessity for a car shuttle or bus ride to get from Carmel back to the trail head add up to quite a challenge for the 7-Mile Trail hiker. You'll have a sense of accomplishment when you complete this unusual journey.
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California Coastal Trail
WHERE: Pebble Beach, Monterey Peninsula.
DISTANCE: From Asilomar State Beach to Point Joe is 3 miles round trip; to Bird Rock is 6 miles round trip; to the Lodge at Pebble Beach is 10 miles round trip; to Carmel State Beach is 7 miles one way.
TERRAIN: Beaches, bluffs Monterey pine forest.
HIGHLIGHTS: Visit highlights of 17-Mile Drive on foot.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy along coast, more strenuous over sand dunes.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Asilomar State Beach, tel. (831) 372-4076; 17-Mile Drive, tel. (831) 624-3811