In mid October, 2011 I decided I wanted to get away for the weekend and do a little photography. I wanted to visit somewhere new and take some pictures I hadn’t before. A friend of mine was planning on going to Andrew Molera State Park for Saturday night and I decided to head up a couple days early. Before going I searched the web to find out any details that would help me pack for the trip. The State’s website was vague about anything besides the location and some regulations. I decided to write a post about my trip and add some details that might help others planning a trip camping at Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, California.
Some unedited picture from the trip can be found in my Andrew Molera Album.
- Located about 21 miles south of Carmel on HWY 1 (Traffic is slow as everyone pulls over to take in the sights along HWY 1)
- Cost $25 a night ($15 for site + $10 for parking fee)
- Campsite is 1/3 mile hike from parking lot (pack light or take many trips)
- 24 sites (see image below), max occupancy 4 people per site, max 7 nights consecutive stay.
- Firewood available at parking lot usually weekends only otherwise down Hwy 1 at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or a General Store on the side of the road.
- 2 bathrooms (Flush toilets and running water cleaned daily)
- No electricity
- No Showers, but you can sponge bath in bathroom or dip in Big Sur River
- Trash and Recycle Bins
- Drinkable running water throughout camp (tasted fine to me)
- Each site has a picnic table and fire pit with grill
- Raccoon boxes at each site (2 shelves H: 16″ W: 20″ D: 22″) My ice chest didn’t fit.
- Quiet Time 10 PM – 6 AM
- Check-out time is 12 PM
- Official Andrew Molera State Park Website
Access to the campsite from the parking lot is about 1/3 mile. The trail is rocky and has a few steps but for the most part is a dirt trail. Some people had carts with wheels which seemed like a good idea. A friend of mine used a hand truck to carry firewood but because of the rocky path it tipped over dumping out all the wood. I carried a couple bundles of wood, which I purchased at the local store down HWY 1, and by the time I was done needed a shower and a deep tissue massage! The trail itself isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s the extra payload that drained me. This is the single reason that most people pass on camping here. While almost every campsite along California’s coast is booked months to a year in advance, this campsite is usually open. The campsite is just out of reach for people that like car camping and it isn’t quite far enough for people that enjoy long backpack trips. My ice chest has wheels and because the trail is so rocky every single one of my eggs, which I had in a special camping egg carrier, was destroyed.
Once I was at the campsite and had everything setup, I found it very peaceful and relaxing. I was very impressed with the maintenance and quality of the campsite. Having camped in many campgrounds around California, both state and national parks, this park is almost as good as it gets.
During the week it appears the campsite is self-check-in. The first thing I did upon my arrival was head down the trail with my backpack and tent. I found the spot I wanted, setup my tent, then registered when I came back to my truck to get the rest of my gear. To register all you have to do is fill out an envelope with the campsite number and your name, put in cash or check for your fee, then cross out your site number with a grease pencil. You then need to place the stub from the envelope on the dash of your car. The volunteer working the check-in booth that weekend told me that all money collected stays within the park and does not go into the State’s general fund. I personally think that is a great philosophy.
Below is a picture of the campgrounds. I took this on a Thursday and as you can see the campsite was empty. Then again it was in mid October well past peak vacation season. On reason I headed up Thursday was because most of the reviews online mentioned how fast this campsite fills up. While I was there it never reached full capacity.
There isn’t much shade except for a select few sites. This wasn’t much of a problem because the sunshine is why most people head to the coast. However if you’re planning on sleeping-in, it becomes difficult when the rising sun’s heat wakes you up.
The campsites are fairly level but infested with ground squirrels. They are not afraid of humans whatsoever. While researching the campground people had commented about the aggressive squirrels. This in no part is the squirrels fault. While I was there almost everyone camping near me was feeding their leftovers to the squirrels. Needless to say it was very aggravating.
I thought my tent would be fine with my gear in it and decided not to stake it down. When I came back from a short walk I found my tent completely upside down despite the 50+ pounds inside of it. When the wind blows here the strong gusts can blow almost anything around. I suggest firmly staking your tent down.
There is a lot of active wildlife in this park. All night long you will hear animals in the bushes. Each night I was there a pack of coyotes came through or near camp. Their howls interrupted the peaceful sound of crickets and the waves crashing along the shore.
While walking along paths you will see and hear snakes and small animals running away as you walk by. Because this is where the Big Sur river dumps into the ocean, you will find many animals that you may not find at other parks around the state. Be respectful and enjoy them at a distance. If you are up for some real excitement walk back from Molera Beach to the campsite about 20 minutes after sunset without a flashlight. You will test your bravery as bats dive bomb right in front of you to eat moths and other insects.
The Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy, and California Partners in Flight have named Andrew Molera State Park a Globally Important Bird Area. Any bird watcher would find a wide variety of birds here including the once extinct California condor.
Animals I saw:
- Squirrels / Moles
Above is a panoramic picture of Molera Beach. I took a couple, video 1 & video 2, videos on Molera Beach. To get to the beach from the camp site you have to walk about 3/4 of a mile down a path. The path ends at the mouth of the Big Sur river where it dumps into the ocean. From here you have to wade across the river to the beach. During my visit the river was about knee deep during low tide and during high tide it came up to my belly button. I am 6 feet tall so that gives you a good idea of how deep it is. The bottom is all sand and some rocks so for me it was perfectly safe to go barefoot. I found this link helpful for tides, sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset.
- Poison Oak is everywhere, be careful and stay on trails.
- Ticks live in the meadow areas so make sure to check yourself often.
- Driftwood Structures can be found along the beach. People make these out of driftwood and they are prone to collapsing.
- Valuables should be locked or taken with you.
- Firewood Gathering is not allowed so make sure to purchase or bring your own wood.
- Fires are allowed only in the campsite and in the fire pits.
- Dogs are not allowed in the park, beach, or trails.
- Trails are open between sunrise and sunset.
This was an amazing trip. I wish I could have spent a few more days to explore more of the park. I purchased a map at the Pfeiffer general store and have selected a couple hikes I want to take next time I visit. My trip was so enjoyable that part of me was tempted to give this park a negative review to keep people away. During my visit the weather was perfect and the water wasn’t too cold to dip my feet in.
The only negative about my trip was the other campers. I stayed a total of three nights and the first two nights were very peaceful. Saturday night, however, was miserable. A couple groups of late teen and early twenty-somethings set up camp and were rowdy all night. One group was drinking heavily and playing a radio. They decided to scream along with their music at 1 AM. The other group, who I suppose was under the influence of some substance, was burping and screaming out random words at the top of their lungs all night. I know I sound like an old grump pointing this out, but these groups of campers were going above and beyond just having a good time. From what I gathered this is typical of Saturday nights for local youth to do. They finally quieted down slightly after someone from the site next to them pleaded with them to settle down. The ranger came around at 10 PM and then again at 11 PM every night. Their approach however was to circle the campground in their car with their windows up and expect people to flag them down if they have a problem.
Overall despite the obnoxious youth, this was a great trip. I recommend anyone who is up for a little work to get to camp plan a visit to Andrew Molera State Park. The tranquility and abundance of activities is well worth the extra effort. But please if you go, DON’T FEED THE SQUIRRELS!!