Palo Corona Regional Park is one of Central Coast California’s most significant undeveloped open spaces. In the largest land conservation project in Monterey county history, The Nature Conservancy, The Big Sur Land Trust, State of California (through several of its agencies), and Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District partnered to acquire the 10,000-acre Palo Corona Ranch. The acquisition was finalized in 2004.
The 10,000-acre ranch was then divided between the State Department of Fish & Game and The Park District to be protected as public conservation and Parkland in perpetuity. The State Department of Fish & Game added the southern 5,500 acres of the former ranch to its existing 640-acre Joshua Creek Ecological Preserve (Preserve). The Park District created the new Palo Corona Regional Park (Park) with the northern 4,350 acres of the former ranch.
The Park stretches for nearly 7 miles in length across 4,300 sprawling acres of rugged, spectacular country that boasts an extraordinary mix of ecosystems and wildlife species. The Park established a critical environmental link in a protected seventy-mile long wild land corridor that begins at the Carmel River and extends southward to the Hearst Ranch in San Luis Obispo County. The Park includes the headwaters of thirteen watersheds and protects significant habitat areas, wildlife corridors, wildlife, and endangered species.
The Park connects 9 previously protected conservation properties preserved for their biological, recreation and scenic values, including: Garrapata State Park, Joshua Creek Ecological Preserve, Mitteldorf Preserve, Glen Deven Ranch, Point Lobos State Reserve, Santa Lucia Conservancy lands, and the Ventana Wilderness.
Within the Park, there are over 500 species of plants occurring in diverse habitats from the Carmel River to the mixed hardwood forest that crown’s the 3,000-foot Palo Corona Peak. The Park’s grassland ecosystem supports some of the highest numbers of individual grass and wildflower species found anywhere along California’s central coast.
Beginning at near sea level and rising to over 3,400 feet in elevation, the Park provides an incredibly diverse wildlife habitat. The Park is permanent habitat to coastal trout, and steelhead fisheries occur in perennial creeks with rare amphibians, including the California red-legged frog and tiger salamander. The federally endangered Smith’s blue butterfly occurs in the acres of buckwheat, and a variety of fully protected raptors nest and forage throughout the forest and grasslands. Deer, mountain lion, bobcat, golden eagle and California condor range over the Park, where several unusual birds such as mountain quail and horned larks are known to reside. Rare black bear, peregrine falcon, and spotted owl, which have been documented on adjoining lands, are also likely to be found in the Park.
INSPIRATION POINT (1.3 miles, 850 ft. elevation climb)
The road leading up the mountain toward Inspiration Point is a moderate to strenuous hike. The trailhead takes you through a flat bed of non-native European grasses. The Coast Live Oak trees provide cool shade as the trail begins to get steeper. Approximately ¾ of the way, there are gorgeous views of the Carmel coast and it is a great place to take a break. Just around the corner from here is the mountaintop where hikers will be relieved from the uphill climb. To the right of the trail is a picnic bench that sits on the edge of Inspiration Point where hikers will get the bird’s eye view of Carmel and the coast nearby.
ANIMAS POND (0.6 mile)
Continuing from Inspiration Point, the trail is very relaxing as you head toward Animas Pond. Gregg’s Hill is the small mountain seated just south of the picnic table. As you head east into the mountains, pine trees provide plenty of shade for hikers. To the right of the trail is a meadow covered with annual grasslands where many hawks search for food. Flickers, turkey vultures, and deer can be found in this area as well. The Animas Pond provides a wetland habitat for the federally threatened red-legged frog. The large amount of sediment collected by the pond has severely reduced its depth to a mere 2 feet. Covering the surface of the pond during the spring months are bright red Azolla.
Directions for Highway 1 main entrance (West gate)
Take Highway 1 south past Rio Road intersection in Carmel; proceed south of Carmel River Bridge approximately 200 yards. Make the left-hand turn into the park entrance driveway. Do not block driveway. Limited parking is available on the shoulder of Highway 1.
To enter the park via the Big Sur Land Trust’s South Bank Trail (East gate)
Parking is available in the Santa Lucia Conservancy parking lot at 26700 Rancho San Carlos Road, which is about 0.40 miles from Carmel Valley Road, over the Carmel River bridge. There is no parking along the road shoulders. Turn right at the mailbox, into the first small, gravel parking area. Parking is very limited and first-come-first-served.
Palo Corona is open to the public via access permit reservation.