Monterey County High Point Trip Report

Junipero Serra Peak

Date: May 31, 2003
Author: Peter Maurer

Monterey County's highpoint is a classic California Coast Range hike, lots of chaparral and not to be attempted in the heat of summer. Fortunately it has been a late spring, and the area has not reached its normal temperature range. As it was, the hike was hot, muggy, and buggy. We got a later start than desired due to a long drive from home, and did not get on the trail until almost 11:00. The first two miles is a delightful ramble through oak savanna and riparian zones. Had a close encounter with a rattler on the side of the trail, but we all went our separate ways without harm.

At two miles, the trail, which if not well marked is easy to follow, breaks out of the trees and into the chaparral. Although the trail is maintained, the chamise, scrub oak, ceanothus is quickly overgrowing it, and if not cut back soon will become impenetrable. The occasional yucca plant lurks along the edge of the trail, ready to skewer the unsuspecting leg or hand, as I painfully discovered. The trail becomes dramatically steeper here, with switchbacks up to a ridge. Ultimately the climb entails a 3900-foot elevation gain. At the top of the ridge is a sign that indicates the summit is two miles away. This is where previous hikers have taken a wrong turn. (See Chris Randall's report of January 2002.) Keep to the right.

The chaparral is now shoulder high at a minimum, with much of it over our heads. High enough to block any cooling breezes, but not high enough to provide shade. It is a long two miles as the trail winds up the ridge, finally cresting the main ridge 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the summit. The trail stays level for a stretch, cutting over to the north side of the peak, where a unique forest of Coulter, sugar, and ponderosa pine grows. The summit is, as described in Suttle's book, a rather large, flat plateau. The abandoned fire lookout provides the best views (unfortunately it was rather hazy, so we could not see the Pacific or very far towards other peaks). The high point appears to be a concrete pillar on a rock outcrop on the eastern edge of the summit.

This would be a great winter or early spring hike, as long as one waits for several weeks after serious rains to let the creeks subside. There are two fords that are closed in wet weather on the approach to the trail head. If you plan on a summer attempt, start early, and bring lots of water. We were able to filter water in a stream on the descent, but most the streams in this region are seasonal. Also, one must drive through Camp Hunter-Ligget, and the military requires proof of insurance and vehicle registration to enter the base. Finally, the Los Padres requires a Recreation pass to park at the trail head ($100 fine if you don't have one) which can be purchased at the Monterey Ranger District in King City or some local retailers in nearby communities.