six great dog-friendly hikes for your soul and senses
1. Land of Medicine Buddha
Chinese Buddhists from the seventh century argued whether dogs have Buddha-nature or will suffer endless rounds of karmic rebirth. It was finally decided that ALL sentient beings have Buddha-nature . . . and all sentient beings will enjoy the “8 Verses Pilgrimage Trail” at the Land of Medicine Buddha. It is a trail of changes: in landscape, in temperature, and possibly in insight. To get to the 8 Verses Trail, follow the main road to the upper parking area. Here you will see a large stupa—a dome-shaped structure containing a Buddhist shrine.
Walk down the paved road to the dirt-path cutoff that is the beginning of the 8 Verses Loop Trail. The sometimes wide rolling trail takes you across a sunny meadow surrounded with oak trees, berry bushes, columbine flowers, and wild grassbefore descending into a cool redwood forest. As you continue on the loop trail, you will come across 8 large beautifully framed verses, each with a bench to rest and contemplate on. On a sunny day the meadow can get pretty hot so be sure to bring your own water.
2. Byrne-Milliron Forest
AJ’s Point of View, “Eagle in a Tree” Vista
Byrne-Milliron Forest is not for wimpy walkers. It’s a hike—and well worth the effort. The views of the Pajaro Valley and Monterey Bay are spectacular. Following the Byrne trail to Ridgetop Road takes you to two amazing view points. The first and slightly lower one, known as AJ's View Point (1200 feet), resembles an outdoor living area complete with various benches, tables, and old school desk. And echoing the feeling of the location, there’s a carved wood coyote in full howl mode. Continuing back toward and past the Byrne Trail, the Ridgetop Road trail climbs slowly and steadily to an altitude of 1,600 feet.
Once you reach Eagle in Tree, you are above the clouds and the view is magnificent. Here there is also a picnic table, benches, and a journal full of fascinating tales and sketches from fellow hikers. Return the way you came. Be sure to have a map and pack plenty of water for you and your pup! The parking lot is at about 1,000 feet above sea level.
3. Santa Cruz Harbor
After a romp across Frederick Street Park, walk toward the harbor stairs, but instead take the dirt path to the right. It goes behind the houses looking down into the harbor and continues until it joins up with the paved trail adjacent to Woods Lagoon. Just before you go under the Murray Street Bridge, take the dirt path to the right and walk about 15 feet. There is an overlook to the “Secret Garden,” an oasis that neighboring resident Bud Cummings has created over the years from a pile of berry bushes, weeds, and trash. There is a beautiful creek, as well as cannas, lilies, and eucalyptus that hold a breeding colony of Great Blue Herons in March and April. Everything, including the huge stone Buddha head, has been hauled down the steep embankment using ropes. The garden is not open to the public, but the view is free. Back on the harbor trail continue on under the bridge and you will come to Aldo’s Restaurant with a nice large dog-friendly deck. Continue past Aldo’s to Walton Lighthouse at the mouth of the harbor. It’s not unusual to see dolphins swim by there at sunset.
NOTES: The harbor kindly provides poop bags in dispensers all around the harbor. Parking in the harbor is either in a pay lot or metered. (Be prepared to feed them with MANY quarters.)
4. South Bank Trail
If you are looking for a lovely stroll in the country with your canine and human companions, the recently opened South Bank Trail is for you. Located on the south side of the Carmel River between the area near Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley and Palo Corona Regional Park, the beautifully scenic 1.5-mile-long South Bank Trail is the ultimate family-friendly experience. The easy, mostly flat trail takes you across the Carmel River and follows a timeless crushed-granite road skirted by green pastures, towering oak trees, and hills on one side and the river and Quail Golf Course on the other.
The South Bank Trail is part of a larger vision of interconnected trails and parklands called Experience Carmel River, aimed at helping people get outside and connect with nature in the Carmel River region. The trail ends at the west entry gate to Palo Corona Regional Park. While no permit is needed to use the South Bank Trail, a day-use permit is required to pass through the west entry gate into Palo Corona Regional Park.
To ensure that the South Bank Trail experience is pleasurable for everyone, dogs are required to be on a leash at all times. A dog-mitt dispenser is provided for trail users. As always, be prepared with water and treats for your dog, as well as a tick-removal tool since ticks can be abundant close to the river.
5. Mission Trail Nature Preserve
The wide wooded canyon here is split by two small merging streams that flow serenely out to Carmel Bay. They can be easily traversed on the north side via two consecutive wooden bridges that take you from one side of the canyon to the other. Part of the original trail that connected the Carmel Mission to El Camino Real in Monterey is incorporated into this trail system, along with both wide canyon trails and narrower hillside trails. Walk through and past a variety of habitats, from redwood, pine, and oak groves to prickly pear cactus-covered slopes. The main trail is wide and cushioned with deep layers of bark, and a side trail leads you uphill to a large meadow and the city-owned Flanders Mansion built in 1924. Here you can take a rest on benches or chairs and take in spectacular views of the Carmel Mission, Mission Ranch, and Point Lobos. It is a good idea to bring fresh water for your dog, although it is usually refreshingly cool here. A mutt mitt to clean up after Fido would come in handy, too. Dogs can be off leash in the preserve, but you might want to keep an eye out for dogs that aren’t as well mannered as your precious pooch.
6. Carmel Meadows
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, and the Carmel Valley hills rising up behind you to the East. 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. The trails can be accessed from the end of Ribera Road / Cuesta Way or from the parking area behind Bay School on Highway 1.