Garland Ranch: I Can See for Miles

Hiking, Photography


DSC_7480FromPSDFor the past few years I’ve been driving past Garland Ranch Regional Park a couple of times a week and have always wanted to hike up to the top just to see what it was like.  Not a big bucket list item, just a minor fitness challenge, sort of like hiking up to the top at Pinnacles.

I’ve been to Garland a couple of times before.

FX0_7849 The first time the place was carpeted with a magnificent wildflower display. On my second trip I brought the bike and did the designated bike trails for a few hours.

On this trip I studied the map and set out for the high point, Snively’s Ridge, which looked to be about a 1600 foot climb from the parking lot.

DSC_1434I packed the camera bag, a couple bottles of Gatorade, some Clif Bars and the tripod and headed for the ‘waterfalls’, which was a last minute recommendation by one of our friends at the ranch as I was packing the trusty Element to head out.

Getting to the waterfalls was a mild hike on open trails through the oaks typical of the region.

DSC_1425While it has finally rained a little bit in the last few weeks, we are still in a difficult drought situation this year and I wasn’t surprised to find a waterfalls without the water.  It’s still an interesting rock feature that would only be more pleasant with the addition of a vail of water flowing from above.

This path also took me past the ‘Mesa’ a huge open meadow, which was closed off to give the vegetation a break.

By seeing the waterfalls, I sort of committed myself to climbing to the top by way of a trail that was marked on the map with an ominous ‘Very Steep 15% Grade’.  Undaunted, I walked on.  I mean, unless you’re talking about interest rates, 15 just doesn’t sound like that big of a number.

Wrong.  After about the first 40 minutes of the 15% grade I was sucking some pretty good wind. That’s the down side: Oxygen deprivation.  Upside?  Better and better views of Carmel Valley and Garzas Canyon.

DSC_1471You just keep climbing and climbing and the views get nicer and nicer. These are the views you cannot see from the highway.

It’s one of those deals where you’re certain you must be near the top and then you turn a corner and, crap… there’s a lot more to go.  Thinking that this attempt to see the top might be a little ambitious, I (correctly) reasoned that it would be better to keep slogging uphill.  The alternative was turning around and risking a slip on that loose 15% gravel going downhill, which would certainly mean a major butt or worse, a face plant.

But besides the views, my pain was eased with a fun shot of a horned toad (perfect camouflage)

D70_6992 and some unusual white specimens of Padre’s Shooting Star.



Mercifully, at about 1400 feet, the trail levels off to open meadows, sunshine and plenty of fresh breezes.  This is where the trail I was using connects to the ‘Sky’ trail, which is the way back down if you’re doing a loop.

However from this point I could see that there was just a still better view about a quarter mile further up the trail:


I allowed myself about 2 hours on the Sky trail to come back down, which put me in the parking lot at sunset when the park closes.  Of course, hiking downhill is easier on the lungs, but a little harder on the knees.

Many times you’ll drive by the parking lot at Garland and it’s almost full.  But don’t let that discourage you from visiting.  With over 4400 acres there’s plenty of room for you and your friends, and your dogs and your bikes.DSC_1390

In spite of my writing about my trip to the top, there’s acres and acres of flat, open spaces with picnic tables and facilities at the main park office.  The Rancho Loop is a flat circular ½ mile biking trail that you can warm up on before you head up into the hills nearby.

The wildflowers are out right now (April) and although they’re a little sparse because of the drought, I still managed to find 8 or 10 different species to shoot, all along well marked trails at the lower levels.


You’ll see folks on horseback, joggers, dog walkers, families and hikers, all taking advantage of a park that’s nearby, yet has all the room you need to find some space for yourself in the natural surroundings of Carmel Valley.

Kid Factor: (+) Plenty of safe, open spaces and easy hiking trails through the woods.  Beginning trail bikers can work on their skills with a variety of trail challenges.  Bring the dog.  (-) As always around here, watch for poison oak.  Bring an extra jacket and sunscreen.  If it’s foggy (often) it’s cold.  If the fog burns off, it’s really really sunny.

Fitness Factor: (+)  Something here for everyone of any fitness level.  Flat trails across open meadows give way to more challenging trails through the woods.  Then there are the 15% grade sections on the trails to the top which will give you a good workout.  (-)  Don’t let the map fool you.  The trails are switchbacks for a reason.

Photo Factor: (+)  Wildflowers and plants, no problem, but better in the spring.  Some rustic barn buildings with rusty farm implements can be fun.  Big sweeping vistas if you’re willing to climb for it.  Screams selfies at the top and panoramas if the light is right.