Junipero Serra Peak Hike

My default outdoor activity is cycling, so you’re probably wondering if that ‘h’ should actually be a ‘b’. But no, it’s not a typo. True, hiking is one of those things I don’t do so often, but whenever I do hike I think, “hey, I should do this more often!” And then when your 78-year-old father proposes an excursion to the high point in Monterey County, what is there to say but, “Yes!” – well, and “may I be so able and active at that age.” Eric came with me, and my Dad’s long-time friend Steve came with him, and Vince from The Reservation filled out our gang of five.

At 5,857 ft, Junipero Serra Peak can get snow in the winter, but also can get heat during the summer. That left spring or fall, and it ended up working out to go the last weekend of April. The previous weekend had been on the warm side, we got a goldilocks day weather wise – high 60s (plus/minus), a few clouds for some interest in the sky, and a bit of a breeze later in the day.

The trailhead was about an hour drive from King City, passing through vineyards, rangeland, Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base and oak woodlands. The spring green was lovely. There were two creek crossings and some bumpy pavement, but it’s doable in a regular 2WD vehicle. The creek crossings could be prohibitive after a heavy rain, but it was not an issue the day we went.

The trailhead is near Santa Lucia Memorial Park Campground, which had a pit toilet that we took advantage of before hitting the trail. The first part passed through some open meadows, with an assortment of fantastic rock outcroppings. We’d been warned of mud at the start, and had all come prepared with a second set of shoes, which we turned out not to need. *Better to have them and not need them then need them and not have them… As we continued, the trail passed into a draw, and got steeper in spots. There were a few creek crossings, but all doable without getting wet feet.

There were a variety of wildflowers in bloom, and great clouds of white ceanothus. We passed through a few different types of vegetation. At one of the stops we took I turned around to check out where we’d come from and WOWVIEW!!!

We took a lunch break at the saddle, elevation 4100. The almost completely – at least at that point – brushed over Santa Lucia trail headed downhill toward the Arroyo Seco from there, and our route continued up toward the peak. My Dad had alloted 4.5 hours for the ascent and 3.5 hours for the return, and we ended up timing out before we got to the summit, but we made it to a panoramic view spot that felt like a good turn around.

It ended up being only about 3 hours back, but it was just as well that we’d turned around when we did, as my Dad seemed pretty tired when we got back to the trailhead, and Vince had to get back to Hastings for an incoming class. I was a little worried, but when I checked in with my Dad the next day, he’d rallied and made it out for his Saturday night dancing at the Madonna Inn!

We did encounter some other hikers, but everyone was pleasant, and overall it still felt pretty remote and un-people-y. I would go back, and would be interested in getting to the summit at some point, but the conditions were so splendid the day we went it might be hard to top!

Hike date: April 28, 2019


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