This is one of my favorite hikes in Big Sur, it's fairly easy and offers breathtaking views the whole way culminating at a good resting spot on a somewhat secluded pink sand beach. The park is huge, 4,800 acres, and diverse, featuring a dreamy surf beach, flowy waterfall, amazing views, great bird and whale watching, and of course, a delightful pink sand beach. Now, a lot of people describe the beach as purple sand, which is probably more accurate at times, honestly I have seen it both vibrant pink and deep purple, so I am just going to refer to it as pink because I'm always doing things a little different (keeps it interesting), and let's face it, pink is cuter.
Now, this is not the only pink sand beach in Big Sur, the more popular (and more crowded) place to experience this cool phenomena is at Pfeiffer Beach, just down Highway 1. But I prefer Andrew Molera State Park, particularly because the park has remained essentially undeveloped. The property was originally owned by the Molera Family. Frances Molera is somewhat infamous in Central California for bringing the beloved artichoke to the region for growing. When Frances died, his sister granted the the property to the Nature Conservancy with distinct directions the park should remain undeveloped and made into a State Park. And this is how the park has stayed ever since.
Route: Creamery Meadows Trail, to Bluff Trail, to Spring Trail, to pink sand beach; out and back. See my route & time here.
Stats: About a 5.8 mile, 826 elevation gain, a little under 3 hours (depending on how much time you spend on the beach).
Moderate difficulty: This is a flat hike but very exposed, longer (with no facilities on the trail), and there is a river crossing, which sometimes can be high and fast.
Warning: Make sure you check the park conditions before you go, as mentioned above the hike includes crossing the Big Sur River. After big rains sometimes this section of the park will be closed due to the water being too fast and high to cross.
Gear: On that note, in addition to your normal day pack, you will will want to bring water shoes (for the river crossing) and a towel (to dry off after the river crossing). Also it is a good idea to wear pants (the trail has lots of poison oak) but pants that either unzip at the legs, are quick drying, or can easily be rolled-up because sometimes the river can be high and you won't want to be wet the whole hike.
Directions: From Carmel drive approx 22 miles south. Andrew Molera State Park is just past Point Sur, you will see the State Parks sign before you see the turn off to your right, if you hit Big Sur River Inn you have gone too far.
Parking: Yes, to avoid the $10 parking fee park above the turn off to go down to the park and walk down instead.
The trailhead is accessible just in front of the parking kiosk on the south side of the parking entrance. Take a moment to use the facilities here because there are no others on the hike. This is a new entrance as all the storms have wiped out the old access route. The trailhead will be unmarked, but there is a big entrance for the ranch, this is where you will enter.
Walk about 500 feet and the path will curve to the west (right), this is your first view of the Big Sur river. At this point you will either be able to see a small seasonal footbridge or you will not. If the footbridge is removed (they remove it during salmon season due to flooding and the potential to impact salmon migration), then it's time to forge the river on foot. This is the big moment of truth. I'm not going to lie, I always walk up to the river super confident. My inner monologue says, "everybody's crossing this should be a cake walk for me." But as soon as I step in and I feel the cold of the river and the swiftness of the water, I have a momentary freak out. But, trust me, it's not as bad as it looks and after the first couple steps you will get your sea legs and cross just fine. Especially if you came prepared and brought some water shoes.
Now that the hard part is over, it's time to hike! Follow the path about a mile and on the left will be a trail marker for Creamery Meadow Trail. Take this turn and you will immediately start up a somewhat steep hill, this will essentially be one of your only hills on the trail, except when going down to the beach, so don't get too worried. Once you get to the top of the short hill, the path will fork again, take the right side of the fork toward the water. This will put you on the Bluff Trail.
Now you are on the main trail, enjoy walking the coastal bluffs with expansive views of Point Sur to the north, the untouched Big Sur coastline to the south, and inland Phiffer ridge towering above you. The vegetation on this walk is typical of Big Sur coastal bluffs scrub and includes coyote brush and bush lupine, which in the summer blooms yellow and purple, creating an interesting backdrop to the bright blue ocean. For a moment you will walk through a stabilized sand dune feature which offers it's own interesting dune species.
While walking make sure you take the time to look towards the ocean. Often in will see, or hear, whale spots from probably from a migrating grey whale, or it could be a humpback or even a blue whale. Supposedly you can tell which whale species it is from the spray of the spout, but I have never been good at this. I guess it goes that a humpback whale has a more columnar spout (straight and high), and grey whale spout will be heart shaped (who knew?),
But, my personal favorite on this hike is to watch the brown pelicans, that come up from Mexico to roost in the summer. You will see multiple of these guys, sunning themselves on the rocks or bomb attacking the water for their dinner. The pelican used to be more than just a visitor to Big Sur, with their northern-most breeding colony in Point Lobos until 1959. Their population decline has been attributed to the pesticide DDT, and now they are considered an endangered species. DDT impacts many birds, but specifically with the brown pelican residual pesticides in coastal water accumulate in the the fish populations they feed on, causing them to lay thin shelled eggs which break during incubation. But with the banning of DDT following Rachel Carson's famous book Silent Spring in the early 1970's, the brown pelican is making a come-back to Big Sur, with growing populations every year.
Just before 3 miles, you will see a trail marker for Spring Trail, take this trail as you curve to the west (right) towards the entrance to the beach. You will meander back and forth along a small creek and eventually emerge onto Molera beach with a bright pink sand. This phenomenon is created due to light garnets which have eroded from the exposed sandstone along the marine cliffs.
Once you are done daydreaming on the beach make your way back the way you came. Good job you've accomplished your mission for the day, now time for a burrito and beer at the Big Sur River Inn Market, enjoy!