GETTING OUT: Garland Park offers more than meets the eye

Lichen hangs from a valley oak along Mesa trail, one of many

One of the best things about writing this column is hearing from
readers about new parks and preserves. I recently met Ray Trabucco,
a ranger for the Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District
(www.mprpd.org), who told me about Garland Ranch Regional Park in
Carmel Valley. Excited to tramp new territory, I went to
explore.
One of the best things about writing this column is hearing from readers about new parks and preserves. I recently met Ray Trabucco, a ranger for the Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District (www.mprpd.org), who told me about Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley. Excited to tramp new territory, I went to explore.

Garland Ranch was purchased in 1975. Since then, through various land acquisitions, the original 540-acre ranch has grown to a 3,464-acre park with more than 50 miles of trails for hikers, equestrians and limited bike riding. The heart of the old ranch sits alongside the Carmel River on the floor of the valley, but many trails climb the ridges above, which mark the very northern tip of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

I turned off Highway 1 at the south end of Carmel onto Carmel Valley Road and drove about seven miles to the parking lot. While Garland Park is new to me, it is no secret to residents of Carmel Valley. Trabucco mentioned it was a very popular park, especially on the weekends. So to avoid the crowds, I went on a weekday afternoon. Despite Trabucco’s warning, I was surprised to see about 20 cars in the lot, but I soon discovered why.

For local residents, Garland Park is an ideal place to take your daily walk with the dog or a friend. The close-in trails are full of folks chatting as they walk past old ranch buildings on the network of paths that comb the wide open valley floor. But I had come for more than that, and it was waiting on the trails above.

The Carmel River was cooking. The winter rains it had collected in upper Carmel Valley made for a powerful current by the time we surveyed it from the bridge a few steps from the parking lot. Across the river and past the willows that line its bank, an open pastoral valley appears. What a ranch this must have been – plenty of water and pasturage all beautifully nestled in a spacious valley.

Garland Park has a complex network of trails. While there were several kiosks near the parking lot with slots for park maps, most were empty. You are not likely to get lost since the location of the valley is always clear, but if you want to be sure you will have a trail map, I suggest printing one from the district website before you come.

A short walk from the bridge, we reached a collection of farm buildings before beginning our climb. Ray had suggested heading for Garzas Canyon. From the many ways to get there, we began by ascending Maple Canyon, one of the little creases that drains the ridge above. I thought how lovely this little riparian habitat must have been in the fall when the big leaf maples that lined the creek were at peak color.

We angled across the ridge, moving up the Carmel River and climbing slightly through a mixed forest of oaks, buckeye and bay trees; Maple Canyon Trail to Hawk Trail to Mesa Trail until we reached a large open knob at Mesa Pond. Above the pond, Garzas Canyon Trail crosses grasslands that present lovely views up Carmel Valley. At Oak view Trail, perhaps two miles out, we turned toward home.

If you do not require solitude but enjoy scenic variety and views, Garland Park is for you. Our 4-mile walk barely touched the options available there. Several miles up Carmel Valley Road are other access points that I have only seen on a map. More for another day.

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