The Ridge, Panorama, and Bluffs Loop
Loop hike via the Hidden and Beach Trails
Length 7.5 mi · Climbing 1300 ft
Molera's most enjoyable loop route climbs a partially-wooded ridge, offering some nice panoramic views of the Big Sur Valley. The trail then descends through chaparral, offering sweeping coastal views before running along seaside bluffs and reaching two beaches. This is a popular loop and gradients are reasonable throughout, but the Hidden and Panorama trails can become overgrown with poison oak.
In wintertime, there are no bridges across the Big Sur River and the loop may be inaccessible.
Starting from the parking lot, cross under the Molera Horseback Tours sign near the entrance kiosk. Take the first right (near the ranch house), crossing the Big Sur River on a seasonal footbridge. Turn left onto the River Trail, which runs along the edge of a grassy meadow. The Santa Lucia Mountains with their patches of redwoods and multi-hued grassy tops rise dramatically above the meadow.
Turn right at the Hidden Trail. As this trail climbs it offers some great views of the Big Sur Valley.
The trail ends at the Ridge Trail. Turn left onto this trail, which initially descends and then climbs along a ridge through open grassland high above the green and densely-wooded Big Sur Valley. The trail soon climbs into a wooded area. Continuing its incessant climb, the trail reaches a small redwood grove. It's not clear whether this grove is old-growth, although despite a few large trees it seems unlikely. The trail soon leaves the redwoods and breaks out into the sunshine, offering the first views of the ocean.
At the highest point in the loop is a bench under a large tree. If the bench is not occupied this is an ideal place for lunch. The bench has a dramatic view north of coastal ranchland and Point Sur. Although you're only at an altitude of 1000 feet it feels much higher because the landscape is so low and flat. To the east, the rocky peak of Pico Blanco rises above the other mountains like a mini-Matterhorn.
From the bench, the Panorama Trail begins a steep descent, at first following a dirt driveway. A short spur leads to perhaps the best viewpoint of the entire hike, with coastal views to the north and south, although the views to the south are somewhat spoiled by a housing development.
The trail descends steeply through dense chaparral that sometimes forms high walls on both sides of the trail. Wildflowers cover the chaparral in spring and early summer.
The trail bottoms out in a gully, then climbs slightly to an intersection with the Spring Trail. This trail descends through the same gully to a small clean beach sheltered by bluffs, although to get to the beach you'll have to scramble over a huge pile of driftwood. This beach is the nicest in the park and is a popular destination, even though it's a long walk.
The trail, now named the Bluffs Trail, undulates along the coastline before flattening out. Continue straight at the next two intersections to reach a third intersection (with no signs) at which the main track curves off to the right and a lesser-used trail continues straight ahead. Go straight to stay on the Bluffs Trail.
The trail descends to a beach. There are a lot more stones and driftwood at this beach, and the site is more open and windy than the little cove on the Spring Trail.
Turn right onto the Beach Trail, which is heavily-used by horses. Again, you'll come to an intersection at which the wide sandy road curves to the right, and a more narrow, unmarked trail leads off to the left. Take the trail, which doesn't get any horse traffic. It runs through a large grassy meadow dotted with trees, chaparral, and poison oak thickets. The mountains rise up in front of you as you approach the parking lot.
© 2006 David Baselt