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Carmel Meadows Loop

by Carie Broecker

carmel meadow view

Carmel Meadows is one of my favorite scenic, leisurely hikes, and not just because I get to revisit “Castle Rock,” where Scott and I got married sixteen years ago. The meadow loop trail here is a relatively easy hike and one that bestows you with rich rewards. Hidden from view between the bluffs and Highway One, Carmel Meadows is located just south of the Carmel Mission and north of Point Lobos State Park. It is Carmel’s very own lost coast, teaming with a variety of wildflowers and boasting spectacular views of Carmel Bay, Point Lobos, and the Pebble Beach coastline. This is an on-leash-only hike, and for three very good reasons – steep drop-offs, abundant wildlife, and dangerous surf.

You can remain up on the bluffs in the meadow and do a wonderful loop hike. A number of small dirt paths crisscross the top of the bluff, giving you ever- changing panoramic views of Carmel Bay. Some of the paths lead out to private little vistas, complete with large wooden benches to sit on or have lunch while you take in the view. You will see birds of prey circling overhead, some outstanding rock formations, the Carmel Valley hills rising up behind you to the East, and of course the awe-inspiring views in every direction. From the bluff, you can make your way down to the lower-level trail via one of two rail tie stairways or by following the dirt trail south until it merges with the lower trail. This will take you to Castle rock and a beautiful crescent-shaped beach. Be careful of the ever-pounding waves and the very powerful rip currents here.

carmel meadow hike

The lower trail will eventually lead north to Carmel River State Beach, which is only one mile away. On the way, you can make a short side trip on a loop trail that takes you up a small hill to the wooden cross that marks the spot where Portola landed in 1769.

Continuing on the dirt path, you will end at another rail tie stairway that leads down to Carmel River State Beach. In the winter and early spring, the river will likely be flowing to the bay and will be too dangerous to cross or venture into. At other times of the year the river does not meet the bay, and you have an unobstructed route to the rest of the beach and the lagoon, which is home to waterfowl and songbirds who enjoy the peace and tranquility of their river-mouth sanctuary. You are likely to see pelicans, mallards, andterns, and if you are lucky, a Great Blue Heron, an egret, or the occasional osprey. Mammals that live here include bobcats, Brush Rabbits, and  Grey Foxes.

One year we crossed the river, heading south on a beautiful day after some rains. The river was just a tiny trickle making its way to meet the sea. We walked for about thirty minutes and then turned around to head back to our van, which was parked in the Carmel River State Beach parking lot. Upon our return, the river was raging and we couldn’t cross it! We had to hike all the way over to Highway One via Ribera Road, up Highway One to Rio Road, and back around to the parking lot. It was a five-mile detour and a lesson on the unpredictability of running water!

Enjoy this area. It has much to offer you and your dog.

Directions: There are several trailheads that lead to the Meadow trail. A nice place to start, that not many people know about, is located at the end of the Bay School parking lot, right off of Highway One. Heading south on the highway,you can see the little school and a eucalyptus grove on the right. It is exactly one mile past Rio Road in Carmel. It is just two-tenths of a mile south of Ribera Road, so once you pass Ribera Road, get ready to make a sharp right off the highway and follow the road about 100 yards until it dead-ends at the trailhead. There are about eight parking spaces. The other convenient trailhead is at the very end of Ribera Rd. Take a right on Ribera and keep following the road, curving with it until it ends at the trailhead.


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