Are you ready for a Point Lobos hike? Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is an explorer’s paradise, situated on the beautiful coast of California, just south of Carmel. With its breathtaking views, fascinating wildlife, and otherwordly trails, Point Lobos calls to adventurers of all sorts—especially those looking for an unforgettable family-friendly hike.
When I first brought some friends to explore this park, we honestly didn’t know where to start. We ended up wandering and spent much of the day on the Point Lobos Loop Trail. Now that I’ve been exploring the park for years, it’s not the route I’d recommend for first-timers or families with kids.
In this post, we share our favorite family-friendly Point Lobos sights and hikes, with the difficulty levels and highlights of each one. We also discuss the best times of the year to visit and tips and tricks for planning a perfect day in this coastal paradise. With its spectacular beauty and incredible views, hiking in Point Lobos is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Things are changing fast – make sure to double-check what’s open before your trip. And be sure to follow all local guidelines to keep yourself and others safe!
Also, we use affiliate links to keep our blog free and to pay for the occasional pizza night. If you make a purchase through a link on our page, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you.
THE BEST POINT LOBOS HIKES
The magic of Point Lobos made a deep impression on me during my first visit over 25 years ago. But I didn’t truly appreciate it until I moved back to California as an adult. And though we’ve been bringing people here for years now, I still feel that there’s so much more to see and explore.
Just south of Carmel on Highway 1, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve offers more than just spectacular trails. You can scuba dive, explore cultural and geological sites, and view harbor seals, sea lions, seabirds, gray whales, sea otters, and more.
This post shares the best way to experience the park with kids, especially if you’re visiting for the first time. We also share ways to get the whole family excited for your visit, and ideas for where to start your second (and third and fourth!) visits.
YouTube of Our Favorite Point Lobos Hike
Start Here: The Cypress Grove Trail
This is my absolute favorite trail to start on in Point Lobos. It’s hard for photos to do this trail justice, but we keep trying! It has almost unbelievable vistas, and yet the entire circuit is only a 0.8-mile loop from the nearest parking lot. Though there are inclines and steps, we’ve navigated it with young kids and grandparents without difficulty.
The Cypress Grove Trail leads you through one of only two wild groves of Monterey cypress trees remaining on Earth. The other is Cypress Point on 17 Mile Drive. California first began acquiring acreage at Point Lobos State Reserve in order to protect these trees. As you enter the trail, you’ll see a sign stating that the grove is a memorial to Mr. and Mrs. A.M. Allan, the couple who owned and began conserving the land in an effort to preserve its unique beauty.
With its dramatic ocean views and weathered trees covered in fuzzy-looking burnt orange algae, the trail feels otherworldly. The algae growth doesn’t harm the trees, but it does send a signal that this isn’t your everyday forest landscape! Though the loop itself is not long, I encourage you to take it in slowly. We try to explore each little detour that is open to visitors.
As you can see in the photos, there are a few rocky inclines and many vistas are near steep cliffs. Some people recommend not bringing young children accordingly. Our kids stay close by us on the trail, so we feel comfortable here. But it may not be for every family.
GETTING TO THE CYPRESS GROVE TRAIL
This is one of the most popular trails in a very popular park. We like to go on weekday mornings. It’s less crowded, and we can take our time and enjoy some sections of the trail to ourselves. I’m usually there by 8 am to grab a spot in the small parking lot near the trailhead.
If you miss out on parking, many people park along Highway 1 and walk into the Reserve. Just plan for this extra walk to add to your overall trail miles.
If you walk in, turn left onto the Mount Meadow Trail from the main entrance. Start on the South Shore Trail first. This is the reverse of what we suggest here, but it covers the same ground.
South Shore Trail
South Shore Trail winds south from the Sand Hill Trail, near the Cypress Grove Parking Lot. We recommend heading down the South Shore Trail after Cypress Grove and following it down to Weston Beach. This is where you’ll find the Reserve’s tide pools, which are always fun for children to explore.
The walk down the South Shore Trail is easy, but don’t forget that you’ll need to hike back up the incline after exploring. This is a 2.5-mile out-and-back trail.
In the past, the tide pool area has been roped off during our visits. Between animal conservation and rough seas, make sure to check the official Point Lobos website to see which trails might be open or closed if you have your heart set on seeing one thing in particular. Also, check the tide chart to make sure you visit at low tide.
There is much to explore here, from sea stars to sea anemones to crabs. And you might even spot some migrating whales and dolphins in the distance!
GETTING TO THE SOUTH SHORE TRAIL
Access the South Shore Trail near the Cypress Grove Parking Lot via a short walk on the Sand Hill Trail Loop. You might also want to do this hike in reverse. You’d start at the Weston Beach tide pools and then walk northwest to the Cypress Grove Trail. There is a small parking lot along the beach area.
You may also want to start at Weston Beach if parking is full and you have to park out on Highway 1. In this case, walk into the main entrance and take the Mound Meadow trail to the coast. It ends at the South Shore Trail.
Explore the tide pools on Weston Beach, and then take the South Shore Trail northwest to the Sand Hill Trail. Make a right on Sand Hill Trail to get to the Cypress Grove Parking Lot and the start of the Cypress Grove Trail. After exploring the cypress trees, you can head back to Highway 1 via the Lace Lichen Trail which cuts through the center of the Reserve.
More Popular Point Lobos Hikes
You can view a trail map of the full Reserve here. The following are some other popular Point Lobos hikes:
- Point Lobos Loop Trail (6.7 miles): Starting at the main entrance gate, this loop follows the coastline in a large circuit around the park. You’ll take in many of the park highlights, including Moss Cove, Cannery Point, The Cypress Grove Trail, The South Shore Trail, and Bird Island.
- South Plateau Trail to Bird Island (1.6 miles): This one is next on my Point Lobos hike list. Not only am I curious to check out Bird Island, but this trail also passes the gorgeous China Cove and offers access to Gibson Beach.
- Moss Cove Trail (2.8 miles): In addition to Moss Cove itself, this trail will lead you to historic and cultural sites such as Ichxenta Point, the site of a village inhabited by native Ohlone people for over 2,500 years, and the Whalers Cabin and Museum which once housed fisherman at the height of the local whaling boom from the 1860s to 1900.
Take a Point Lobos Hike with the Experts
If you’re still not sure what to do when you arrive at Point Lobos, join a tour and follow along with experts who know this magical place inside and out!
- The Point Lobos Foundation’s Docent Program offers public tours that cover everything from geology to park highlights.
- For a memorable experience, hire a local expert to show you around. The author of two books about the history of the region leads this popular tour which shares the cultural and natural history of the area.
Get Kids Excited for a Visit with These Activities
As much as we enjoy going to Point Lobos to simply immerse ourselves in its natural beauty, the amazing biodiversity of the area also presents plenty of learning opportunities for the whole family. Luckily, the Point Lobos Foundation and the State Parks Education Team have created plenty of resources to help us better understand our experiences at the Reserve.
- Observation Checklist which helps your family play scavenger hunt as you spot and identify a range of flora and fauna (including a helpful sketch of Poison Oak!).
- Coloring Book with information about some of the animals you might encounter.
- Discover Point Lobos Tablet App for children 7+ (shown above). Free on the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store.
- Virtual Programs taught by California State Park Interpreters.
- Finally, if you can’t make it out for a Point Lobos hike but need a little mental escape, check out Google Trek Point Lobos, which allows you to go on a virtual hike of the Reserve.
Point Lobos Hikes FAQs
First and foremost, always check the official Point Lobos website before visiting. It will have the latest information on possible closures and how to keep yourself and others safe in the park throughout all seasons.
Park entrance fees are $10 if you park in the Reserve. There are only 150 spots spread throughout the park, so parking fills up quickly. Visitors who can’t find parking park along Highway 1. There is no charge for walk-in visitors.
Printed trail maps are also available at the main entrance for $2.
The park opens at 8 am and closes at sunset. Arrive before 9 am or later in the afternoon if you want to park in the Reserve. While a Point Lobos hike is worthwhile all year, visitors should expect more crowds over the summer as well as foggy mornings.
Migrating gray whales are visible from the coastline from December through April.
Dogs are not allowed inside Point Lobos, with the exception of trained service animals accompanying people who have qualifying disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Point Lobos is currently not taking reservations for hiking, though the state is considering implementing a new reservation system to control overcrowding. Entrance is first come, first served only. Permits are only required if you plan to dive, kayak, or use the boat launch.
We usually allow about 2 hours to walk the Cypress Grove Trail and South Shore Trail with young kids. But I’ve also stayed for over 4 hours. There are many great options for short hikes, and you can piece them together if you want to spend a full day at the Reserve.
Dress in layers, as the weather can be difficult to predict. Summer days are often the foggiest. There are no restaurants or concessions in the park, so bring your own snacks, lunches, and water. There are picnic facilities at Piney Woods, Bird Island, and Whalers Cove.
Do you have a favorite hike in or near Point Lobos? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!
If you enjoyed this post on Point Lobos hikes, you might enjoy:
Road Trip Planning Basics
These are our go-to resources when planning a California road trip!
Compare car rental deals to find the best price with Discover Cars. All fees and taxes are included in your quote.
Booking.com is our first – and often last – stop for finding great deals throughout the Golden State.