Carmel River State Beach in the Monterey Bay Area of California offers fine views of Carmel and Point Lobos, and Monastery Beach (also called San Jose Creek Beach), at its southern end, is a popular diving spot. The beaches themselves are not accessible unless you can bring a beach wheelchair (and then only Carmel River Beach), but the coastal trail on a short bluff to the north of Monastery Beach is worth a visit.
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: The turnoff to this trailhead, a driveway on the west side of Highway 1, is easy to miss. Coming from the south, look for a grove of eucalyptus trees and a little red schoolhouse one mile past Point Lobos State Natural Reserve; turn into the schoolhouse driveway. Coming from the north, the turnoff is three-tenths of a mile from Ribera Road. Park in the small parking area north of the school. For the best access to the trail, pass through a gate to the left of the official trailhead, onto a moderately steep paved driveway. A sign marks the driveway as private, but according to State Parks you may use it to get to the alternative trailhead, though parking alongside it is not permitted. Continue along the driveway for 150 feet to the trailhead.
Length: Under one mile total
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Spur trails are less than 3 feet
Typical Grade: Gentle
The approach to the trail has a moderate slope, and spurs at the north end are moderately steep.
Firm and smooth for all but the final loop, about 0.1 mile, which is hard but rough (gravel)
Mostly used by locals, this trail feels somewhat off the beaten tourist path and may be a welcome change from more popular sites in Monterey County. About half of the trail travels behind large homes that blend tastefully into the hillside, allowing views of Carmel to the north and Point Lobos to the south to draw your attention. You will see a lot of coyote brush, sage, grasses, and the ubiquitous iceplant. The route is only 10 or 20 feet above the ocean, close enough to look down into tidepools. At the first fork, go left to stay on the main trail along the coast, or right to travel uphill past the houses. A few hundred feet farther along the main trail, adventurous types can take a narrower (less than three feet wide) spur path to a tranquil picnic spot next to a rocky outcrop. When you reach the main trail’s end there is a lovely view of the Carmel River Lagoon, where we saw grebes diving in clear water while brown pelicans flew overhead.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Beach Wheelchair: Yes
There are no beach wheelchairs at the park, but you can borrow one at nearby Monterey Beach (831-373-5357) or Asilomar Conference Center (831-372-4076) if you can transport it in your vehicle.
Accessible Parking: Yes
The only designated accessible parking is at Carmel River Beach. There are no marked spaces at the trailhead, and room for only a few cars. Alternatively, you can park at Monastery Beach (shoulder alongside Highway 1) and travel along the highway shoulder to the trailhead, but the ride can be bumpy.
Accessible Restroom: Yes
At Carmel River State Beach parking lot. No restroom at trailhead.
Hours: Always open
Map: See here.
Dogs: On a leash unless otherwise posted