About Garland Ranch Falls
Garland Ranch Falls was an ephemeral waterfall that happened to be within the popular Garland Ranch Regional Park.
In my mind, it’s kind of a waterfaller’s excuse to experience a different side of Carmel and the Big Sur Coast because it sits within Carmel Valley.
This valley, where the Carmel River flows, seemed to be the fruit-growing and wine-growing alternative to the otherwise rocky coastlines of Big Sur itself.
As you can see from the photo above, seeing the 70ft Garland Ranch Falls perform requires some serious timing for right after a heavy rain.
Our visit in early February 2021 occurred a week after a strong storm hit the Big Sur area with 4-6″ of rain in some areas.
It even caused a landslide along Rat Creek (further to the south) that ended up closing Highway 1 for several months.
Nevertheless, the waterfall was dry on our visit, and so seeing this waterfall perform comes down to whether we’ve had sustained rainfall (we didn’t in Winter 2020-2021), and how soon after the last storm we’d show up.
Accessing and Experiencing Garland Ranch Falls
From one of the plentiful parking spaces at the Garland Ranch Regional Park (see directions below), we backtracked towards a year-round footbridge traversing the Carmel River.
There was actually supposed to be a second bridge over the Carmel River closer to the large parking lot, but it was out during our early February 2021 visit.
Once we got past the bridge, we then followed the main trail following the Carmel River upstream towards the Garland Ranch Visitor Center.
During this wide open and flat walk, we noticed several trail junctions leading to loops like the Lupine Loop or Sycamore Trail among others.
However, we just kept left and stuck with the riverside part of the Lupine Trail while enjoying the expansive views across Carmel Valley.
In roughly 0.2-mile, we reached the Carmel Valley Visitor Center, which had some brochures as well as a nice relief map of the park.
In the clearing fronting the visitor center, I also noticed picnic tables and interpretive signs fronting the vegetation endemic to this area like the Monterey pines, Monterey cypress, chaparral, and coast live oak among others.
Keeping to the trail on our left, we continued along the general trajectory of the Carmel River for another 0.6-mile before reaching a fork in the path shortly after other trails converged from the right.
At this point, we had a choice of going straight towards an ascent or descending on a narrower trail to the left.
We kept straight to go onto the so-called Waterfall Trail to continue the final few paces towards the Garland Ranch Falls.
During the ascent, there were still more trails coming in from the right, but they led up to the Sky Trail as well as the Cliff Trail, which ultimately would ascend up to Siesta Point for expansive views.
That said, we kept going straight on the Waterfall Trail, which eventually bent to the right alongside the seasonal creek that would have been the outflow of Garland Ranch Falls.
Shortly after crossing over a bridge over this seasonal creek, the trail eventually ascended to the base of Garland Ranch Falls.
The trail would continue climbing up and away from the waterfall to eventually join up with the Mesa Trail and perhaps the pond or lake that would normally feed the Garland Ranch Falls when it would overflow.
By this point, we had gone roughly 1.3 miles from where we had parked, turn around and head back to conclude the excursion.
However, as you can see from all the trail junctions, there were plenty of ways to extend a visit here to fully experience the subtle beauty that the Garland Ranch Regional Park had to offer.
Nice Rapids on the Carmel River
Speaking of extending our visit, when we backtracked downhill to the trail junction at the bottom of the descent, we then headed down the narrower trail towards the Carmel River.
Apparently, this trail traversed in an area that was apparently private property (according to the signage), but we stopped roughly 0.1-mile from the Waterfall Trail, where we arrived at some attractive rapids on the Carmel River.
Given the disappointment of Garland Ranch Falls running dry, this quaint rapids was a nice consolation prize to chill out by the sounds of running water while watching the morning sun paint the surrounding scenery with its light.
The trail didn’t seem to proceed any further from here, and I’d imagine this was probably some trail that was created by visitors and maybe tolerated by the owner of the land that prompted the private property signage.
Only after having our fill of these rapids on the Carmel River did we wrap up our short and pleasant visit to Garland Ranch before returning to our car.
Judging by how many people we encountered on the Sunday that we showed up in early February 2021, I’d imagine that this was quite the popular spot mainly due to its accessibility and the plethora of trail routes to choose from.
Overall, Julie and I spent a little under 2 hours away from the car.
However, it was a very leisurely stroll so conceivably a more focused waterfall visit could take around 60-90 minutes to cover the 2.6 miles round trip.
Garland Ranch Falls resides in the Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley in Monterey County, California. It is administered by the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. For more information, questions, and current conditions, you can check out their website.
Garland Ranch Falls resides within Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley.
So once we got on the Hwy 1 below the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, we then drove north on Hwy 1 for about 3.7 miles to the traffic light at Carmel Valley Road.
We then turned right onto Carmel Valley Road and followed it for roughly 8.5 miles to the parking area for the Garland Ranch Regional Park on our right.
We chose to park on one of the many parking spaces along the road, but there was also an entrance leading to an even more spacious parking lot down below.
Overall, this drive took us around 15 minutes, but given the amount of traffic (especially on weekends) this part of Carmel can get, I can imagine it might take longer depending on the degree of congestion.
For context, Carmel-by-the-Sea was 4 miles (roughly 10-20 minutes depending on traffic) south of Monterey, 47 miles (about an hour drive) south of Santa Cruz, about 77 miles south of San Jose, 116 miles (over 2 hours drive) south of San Francisco, and about 321 miles (5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.
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