CENTRAL COAST DOG WALKS
A Trail Less Traveled - Garza's Canyon
by Pam Bonsper
Living on California’s Central Coast is all about exploration. I once told my husband, “We could live here a thousand years and still not see everything.”
With a dog, a whole new dimension is added to the game of discovery. Beaches, parks, and hiking trails that are off the beaten path, sometimes as hidden as the most talked-about courtyards of Carmel, are here to be found and enjoyed.
But you have to know where to look.
One such is discovery is the Garzas Canyon Trail—a trail less traveled, yet within the well-known Garland Ranch Regional Park. If you have a dog that loves to walk you, you’ve probably been to Garland Ranch Park. But have you been to the eastern-most trails there?
Many of the trails that await you are for pedestrians and horses, so be sure your dog is well behaved around horses. Dogs are allowed off leash if under voice and sight control. Take water and allow enough time to enjoy the splendors of a well-maintained public park.
As you leave the trailhead, high oaks lean into each other forming a natural arch, and light dances through the twisted branches as the trail leads upward. When my husband and I went hiking there with our two dogs, we left in the late afternoon as the sun was poking through the trees. Follow along as we take a trail less traveled.
The trail is wide and clear, and giant ferns and moss dribble down the sides of the hill on our left. We approach a memorial bench, just when we need a rest, so stop and look across the valley to the home-studded hills. The dogs are eager to continue.
The trail gets steeper with wild grasses and poison oak on either side, as well as a few madrones, oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and some contrasting shiny-leafed trees. The trees cool us off and the climb slows us down. We come to a marker that indicates Veeder Trail is to the left. We stay to the right. The trail continues to steepen, getting narrower and rockier.
Then suddenly, it heads downward, following the ridgeline.
Soon we have a choice: continue on Garzas Canyon Trail and drop down to Garzas Creek, or go straight ahead to Terrace Trail. We head to the creek. The switchbacks are slippery and quite steep, oak worms dangle from the trees and hitch a ride on our clothes, and the trees get greener as we get closer to the creek.. I think the dogs smell the water. I could hike in this place forever.
“What goes down, must come up,” my husband says. I laugh as we pass the benches along the way, going down, down into the canyon. Wild sage and bright green ferns burst from rocks. The forest becomes enchanted, compelling . . . the leaves play music, and fallen logs and rotting trunks invite the dogs to sniff.
The creek appears on our right, and we come to a bridge. The dogs cool off in the swimming hole there. Across the bridge, the trail starts up, roller coaster style, and the creek is now on our left. Leaves cover the trail—gold, brown, orange, crimson. We have been hiking for 45 minutes. We come to a marker that indicates Garzas Canyon is to the right; East Ridge and Redwood trails are to the left. We turn left. We come to another bridge where the boulders are bigger, and a small stand of redwoods appears. A gray squirrel announces the marker—we turn left onto East Ridge and begin the climb. I remember my husband’s words as I shorten my stride and settle into the long trek up.
It is worth the climb. At the top is an incredible view. With the sun setting in front of us, we sit on a bench called “Listen.” The three-dimensional Santa Lucia Mountains open before us, redwoods and other conifers hugging their sides. Blue jays scold and hawks soar.
Our dogs tell us it’s dinnertime.
We decide to take the shortcut, Terrace Trail, back. It’s narrow and steep, and we wind slowly and carefully down. The canyon and creek are far below, the mountains in the background. I pay attention to each step and don’t look down.
When we reach Garzas Canyon Trail, the dogs trot ahead, eager to reach the car. It’s been a great hike, taking us one hour and forty-five minutes.
Next time we will take the longer route—East Ridge to Veeder.
To get to the trails on the eastern side of Garland Ranch Park: Travel east on Carmel Valley Road past the main entrance to the park, then turn right onto Boronda Road (10.2 miles east of Hwy 1). Huge eucalyptus trees line this picturesque, windy road, and a dependable, one-lane bridge delivers you to Garzas Road. Turn left onto Garzas. In less than a tenth of a mile (approximately 100 yards before a very large oak tree splits the road), a sign on the right announces the entrance to Garzas Canyon Trail. You can park right there.