Although I've spent most of my life in Northern California, I've had very little opportunity to explore Big Sur. It's a shame considering how close I live to it. I think my desire has been hampered by the crowds and difficulty of access. However, when I found myself in need of a quick weekend getaway, I was lucky enough to secure a campsite at Big Sur State Park. With this in mind, I set off to hike some of the lesser-explored trails in the area. My first hiking adventure took me to Doud Peak in Garrapata State Park.
Doud Peak Overview and Directions
Doud Peak is located just south of Point Lobos State Reserve which receives hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. Garrapata State Park probably receives much less though it is still a popular park. Most visit for the outstanding views of the ocean and the short hikes around Whale Peak. Soberanes Canyon Trail is also quite popular and serves as the start of Doud Peak. Parking for the park is just off Highway 1 and is free. It's a bit harrowing to park there though given the traffic and summer tourist season. Park with caution.
The historic winter of 2023 has changed the landscape and hiking access of Big Sur considerably. The Rocky Ridge trail from Highway 1 was closed when I visited. Hence the only route up is via Sobreranes Canyon to the inland part of Rocky Ridge Trail. Obviously check with the park rangers and website for any updates before going.
Here's a map of the route I took:
Doud Peak is 1,977' in altitude. Though picturesque, it doesn't show up on any major peakbagging lists. My hike took about 2.5 hours and was 6.75 miles in length. Total elevation gain was about 1,950'. Route finding was a little challenging in some sections but not terrible.
Doud Peak Trip Report
I arrived in Big Sur during the late afternoon, prompting me to adopt a combination of power-walking and jogging to make up for lost time. I began my hike at the main entrance, following the Soberanes Canyon Trail. The trail was incredibly scenic, adorned with blooming lupins everywhere. However, it was also quite congested. Ill-prepared and large groups of hikers hindered the overall experience. Many of them were unprepared for the muddy conditions and the challenging creek crossings. Luckily, my waterproof trail runners and hiking poles proved invaluable. Some of the creek crossings posed quite a challenge. Typically, most people only hike the initial mile to mile and a half of the Soberanes Canyon Trail before turning back due to the conditions.
As I ventured about a mile further up the creek, the trail led me deep into the redwood forests alongside the water. This stretch, spanning 0.7 miles, offered pleasant shade and significantly fewer crowds. However, persistent washouts and treacherous creek crossings occasionally made me hesitate, causing my pace to slow.
Roughly 1.7 miles from the entrance, the trail doglegs to the north. From here it was a grueling climb out of the canyon and up the flanks of Doud Peak. The trail was steep, lose and had no switchbacks. In wet conditions, it might have been impassible. However, there were no other hikers at this point, only solitude. Views of the Pacific opened up as I gained altitude. The trail gains 1,000' in just under a mile.
After a 2.6-mile trek from the trailhead, I reached a point where the trail intersected with several unmarked paths that crossed the ridgeline. Keeping to the right, I followed the unmarked "Peak Trail" towards the summit. Despite feeling a bit winded from the previous climb, the final 0.8 miles to the summit were relatively less steep. However, the gusty winds added an additional challenge, making the last stretch a little more challenging.
The summit itself appeared as a modest, grassy bump, unremarkable in its appearance. There was no marker or summit register to indicate its significance. However, as I reached the top, the panoramic views unfolded in all directions. To the south, the distinctive and conical Pico Blanco stood tall, resembling a coastal version of Mount Shasta from a distance. Monterey Bay and the Gabilan Range were visible to the north and to the east. I had the view to myself.
The mile-long descent from the ridgeline to the canyon proved to be just as challenging as the ascent, with the slippery terrain demanding careful footing. However, the setting sun added a touch of beauty to the journey back. I reached the car with ample daylight to spare and continued on my way to Big Sur for the night.