The East Molera Trail

A classic Big Sur hill climb

Length 3.2 mi · Climbing 1390 ft
California > Big Sur > Andrew Molera State Park
Pico Blanco from the East Molera Trail in Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur

Pico Blanco rises above ridgetop redwoods

The East Molera Trail switchbacks up to a ridgetop high above Creamery Meadow. Averaging a 16% grade, it’s a slow and exhausting climb that feels a lot longer than 1.8 miles. Since this is an out-and-back hike it’s not quite as enjoyable as the hill trails in other Big Sur state parks. The trail officially ends at the ridge, but an unnofficial (and often tick-infested and overgrown) trail goes on for miles more and offers much better and more varied panoramic views than the East Molera Trail. There’s very little shade along the entire hike and it can get very hot, even on days when it’s cool at the coast, so bring lots of water.

It’s best to start from the main parking lot. Next to the white barn near the lot, a trail cut through a solid wall of poison oak leads to a tunnel under Highway One, then to the trail. There’s also a pullout by the side of Highway One just south of the park entrance, next to a roadsign that says "Andrew Molera State Park 1/4 mile". However, this parking spot just around a blind corner, and when you leave you’ll be pulling into 60 mph traffic that comes around the corner with no warning. From this location, take either the gated fire road or pass through the wooden structure to reach the trail.

The trail briefly climbs through oaks but then breaks out into an open field and climbs up to a strip of redwoods.

View from the East Molera Trail in Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur

View from the East Molera Trail

The dirt road turns into singletrack and becomes much steeper, averaging a difficult 26% grade for the next quarter-mile. The surface is loose rock and the trail is heavily overgrown with brush, which makes for slow going. Fortunately the gradients and the surface become more normal before the first switchback. For all this climbing, you’re rewarded with increasingly impressive views of the ocean, Creamery Meadow, and Point Sur.

Poison oak is abundant as you near the ridge. A clump of redwoods (actually the tip of a large region of redwoods covering the Little Sur Valley) and a few big oaks in a saddle marks the end of the official trail.

From this point, an unofficial trail continues along the ridgetop for several more miles. It’s actually easier and more scenic than the official trail, although in spring and early summer it can get overgrown with tall, tick-harboring grass. This quiet, isolated trail climbs through open grasslands, offering superb views of the Little Sur Valley and the distinctively Matterhorn-shaped Pico Blanco. The grasslands are free of poison oak, and wildflowers are abundant even in late summer. The trail runs for two miles to reach a minor peak with views of the Big Sur Valley. Far below, the coastal plain and the ocean stretch into the distance. Determined hikers can continue on faint, difficult wilderness trails to Post Summit, Mount Manuel, and beyond.

More information

View of Point Sur from the East Molera Trail in Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur

View of Point Sur from the unofficial ridgetop trail south of the East Molera Trail

The unofficial extension of the East Molera Trail, Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur

The unofficial trail meanders along the ridgetop


© 2006, 2018 David Baselt