State Park employees apparently visited Garrapata State Park recently and posted this new sign reminding users that the extremely popular Rocky Ridge/Soberanes Creek Loop remains closed.
Back in the 60’s and 70’s, a well-established use trail ran up Soberanes Creek and into the redwood forest, where it petered out into a rock hop along the stream as the canyon narrowed. Somewhere around the time Garrapata State Park was founded, in 1985, the park service, or someone acting with their blessing, extended this trail further upstream and then up to meet the Rocky Ridge Trail, forming a loop.
Whoever did this work was, to put it politely, absolutely terrible at trail building. Rather than surveying a well-graded, feasible route in advance, they apparently just headed upstream, badly building trail as they went. When they encountered obstacles – obstacles that could easily have been avoided with a little advance planning – they climbed around by means of steep staircases. When they left the stream and headed for the ridge, they simply went straight up. Most of this section averages over 30% grade.
In spite of these deficiencies, the incredible views, redwood forest, wildflower displays, proximity to the Monterey Peninsula, and reasonable hiking distance – the entire loop is less than five miles – made this trail immediately popular. Yet heavy use, combined with the trail’s poor layout and reliance on easily deteriorated structures, left the trail – particularly the final section of steps in upper Soberanes Canyon – in such poor condition that State Parks decided, many years ago, to declare the newer sections of the trail closed.
The public paid no attention to the closure and, as Garrapata State Park goes almost entirely unpatrolled, the closure wasn’t enforced. Eventually the “Trail Closed” signs, which were just laminated paper stapled to sign posts, weathered away.
Meanwhile, the route’s popularity continued to grow. Today, the Rocky Ridge/Soberanes Loop is easily one of the most heavily used trails in Central California. On weekends it is routine to pass more than 100 people while hiking it. Yet, according to the State Parks website, it remains “closed indefinitely.”
So why doesn’t State Parks simply fix the trail or, better still, reroute it onto a better-drained and more easily walked and maintained alignment? The answer, of course, is money. State Parks doesn’t have it, and building trails these days seems to cost staggering amounts. Down the road at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, for example, the Save the Redwoods League is planning to spend $345,000 of the notorious Sean Parker wedding settlement money to realign and rebuild the Pfeiffer Falls trail, which is less than one mile long.
So it seems that hordes of hikers will continue to slip and slide along the steep slopes, while the Friends of Garrapata continue to do what they can to hold things together, for quite some time to come.
The location of what was once the biggest set of steps on the Soberanes Canyon Trail is now the most deteriorated section of the entire loop. Although this was part of the original closure, the new sign, oddly, lists only the back side of the Rocky Ridge Trail as closed.
The trouble with steps is that they don’t hold up very well over time.
Soon, it becomes easier to walk beside the steps than on them, and the trail begins to migrate.
The back side of the Rocky Ridge Trail may be officially closed, but don’t expect solitude as you ascend or descend its 30%+ slopes.
The extreme steepness makes the trail slippery. People walk on the edge of the trail to gain better traction. Over time, the trail grows wider and wider. When heavy rains return, erosion is likely to be spectacular.
The front side of the Rocky Ridge Trail, although officially open, is even worse. This section of trail is now as wide as a highway.