Mount Carmel, located about 20 miles southeast of Carmel, California, is one of the northernmost summits in the Ventana Wilderness from where you can have 360° view. It is a popular peak to climb because: (1) it is one of the closest Big Sur peaks with a view to the SF Bay Area, (2) it is reached by a short 4.7-mile YDS class 1 route, (3) you can do this as a 1.8-mile side excursion on a Ventana Double Cone hike, and (4) there is an improved campsite at the trailhead, the Bottcher's Gap Campground.
Its closeness to the Bay Area means that you can climb this peak even when you only have half a day for your trip and you can head down to the spectacular Big Sur coast rather than staying in the Bay Area. Also, during the winter, you'll have opportunities to hike up to this peak with snow occasionally reaching the trailhead at 2050'. From the summit, you'll get gorgeous views of Ventana Double Cone, the Ventana Window, West Ventana Cone, Pico Blanco, as well as Monterey Bay.
The most popular method of hiking Mount Carmel is the 4.7-mile YDS class 1 route that combines 3.9 miles of the Skinner Ridge Trail with the 0.8 mile Mount Carmel Trail. From the Bottcher's Gap Trailhead (2050'), take the Skinner Ridge Trail up 2.1 miles to the Skinner Ridge viewpoint (3370') in a generally northeast direction. At the viewpoint, the trail makes a hard turn to climber's right (about 90°). From here the trail turns north along the ridge through some trees before descending to the junction with the Turner Creek Trail (3180') in 2.8 miles. From here, Devils Peak (4158') will be very prominent in your view.
Climb 1.0 miles up to the Devils Peak viewpoint, a bald knob right below the summit. There are posts marked 'TRAIL' at 3230' and 4120' near the base and top of Devils Peak. Continue north 0.1 miles through some trees where you will find a fork in the trail at 4150'. The left fork takes you up to the wooded Devils Peak summit and the Mount Carmel Trail. The right fork takes you to Ventana Double Cone.
Up until now the trail has generally been clear, however, the shrubs grow much closer on the Mount Carmel Trail and wearing a long sleeve t-shirt is nice to prevent scratches. In 0.8 miles from Devils Peak, you will reach the summit of Mount Carmel that is distinguished by a large granite rock and the remains of an old telephone post. Standing on the rock will provide you with views of The Ventana Double Cone cirque (though you'll have seen some better views of this en route) and Monterey Bay.
Morgan hiked this peak in November 2002 and had this to say: "I was a little disappointed with the views from Mount Carmel. While you can technically get a 360° view by standing on the granite summit boulder, high bushes and a rounded summit make it difficult to see much of anything below the horizontal. Here is a panorama that should allow you to judge for yourself. Be forewarned, though, the bushwhack from Devils Peak to the summit discourages casual attempts, at least in November 2002."
During the winter, you can often make this climb in the snow. Snow is most common from February 20 to March 5 during most years, however, you can have snowstorms any time during the winter. Snow has been known to reach below 2000', preventing 2WD vehicles from making it to the campground, even with chains.
BOTTCHER'S GAP CAMPGROUND: Take CA SR-1 (aka California Highway 1) to Palo Colorado Road. Heading south, this junction is right off the Big Sur coast 10.9 miles south of the large traffic light intersection between CA SR-1 and Rio Road. This intersection has a large Chevron station and a California Tourist Information building and it's hard to miss. The prominently signed Rocky Point Restaurant, 0.4 miles north of the Palo Colorado Road junction, is a good landmark to use. If you are heading north on CA SR-1, the Palo Colorado Road turnoff is 3.5 miles north of the Andrew Molera State Park turnoff. From the junction, simply drive up the 7.8-mile 1-lane Palo Colorado Road to the Botchers Gap Campground and Trailhead.
For public transportation, Greyhound buses will take you to Monterey, CA from where you will need to hitch a ride or hire a taxi. You can also try Monterey-Salinas Transit at (831) 899-2555. Note: CA SR-1 is considered a hazard to buses.
PARKING FEE: There is a $5 day-use fee and overnight parking fees as well. These fees are also covered by the USFS Adventure Pass for the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino National Forests. The Adventure Pass is available from the Bottcher's Gap campground attendant for $15 or you can pay the individual fees using an envelope at the trailhead/campground. Since there is an attendant here, don't think you can get away without paying. Note, if you want to support the local NF, use the Adventure Pass as the monies paid by envelope just go to the FS as a whole through the concessionaire.
CAMPFIRE PERMITS: California Campfire Permits are required if you plan to build a campfire or use a stove outside of developed recreation areas (campground or picnic area).
Like most peaks in Big Sur, the best times to hike are between mid-November and April to get the benefit of cooler temperatures. Be prepared for rain and snow if you go during the winter, though since this is a day-hike, you shouldn't need too much.
Generally, camping isn't required to hike this peak, however, several options are available. The "improved" Bottcher's Gap Campground is at the trailhead, though you can camp in the Ventana Wilderness as well. Some good spots in the wilderness include:
There's probably room for 2-3 tents at the Devils Peak summit inside the protection of some black oaks. At the Mount Carmel summit, there's room for 1 tent that is protected by trees. I'm not sure how great the clearing just below the Carmel summit is as the ground seems to be sloping and the surrounding vegetation is not as tall to protect you from the wind.
Use the following resources to check route and weather conditions on Mount Carmel:
BIG SUR STATION
Big Sur, CA 93920
MONTEREY RANGER DISTRICT
Los Padres National Forest
406 S. Mildred
King City, CA 93930
Tel: (831) 385-5434