What is El Camino Real?
California's El Camino Real is popularly known as a road blazed in the late 18th century by Spanish forces that colonized the region. But the story doesn't begin or end with the Spanish. Many thousands of years before Europeans began exploring the continent's western coast, Native peoples created trails that criss-crossed the area. In 1769, when the Spanish arrived, some missionaries and explorers retained or forced Native guides to take them along these paths, parts of which became "El Camino Real," or the "Royal Road." After the Spanish were ousted by Mexican forces in 1821, the Camino Real was traveled by Mexican rancheros, then wave after wave of immigrants from around the world. The path was gradually paved over, supplanted by freeways and highways, and subsumed into modern California. The history of the Camino Real is not one fixed narrative, but made up of millions of stories.
Walking the Path
The route outlined in this guide loosely follows an 1812 map of the Camino Real, running on or as close to this path as possible. The trail starts at the site of the Coast Miwok village of Huichi, now known as Mission San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma. It runs through all kinds of landscapes and communities: over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, through army bases, past the vast farmlands of the Salinas Valley, through breathtaking national parks, by gritty industrial areas, across cities and suburbs, through wetlands, and on scenic coastal bluffs. It ends approximately 800 miles south at a Kumeyaay village site now occupied by Mission San Diego.
There's no official trail, no guideposts, and this trek isn't easy. Along the way, you'll do some hard walking along busy roads. You'll need to wrangle lodging at campgrounds, hotels, hopefully the houses of friends and family, and maybe a few convents or missions. You'll have to find food where you can.
The walk can also be immeasurably rewarding. It's a walking meditation, of sorts. It's a chance to experience the nature, art, and history of California, step by step. To cut across boundaries imposed on the land. You'll meet people from all walks of life with amazing stories to tell. You may feel frustrated, alone, and tired at times, but you'll likely also find beauty in unexpected places and be borne along by the generosity of others.
Thanks for your interest!
Disclaimer: I'd really rather not add this, but since we are a litigious
people: Please note that the author assumes no legal or financial
responsibility for advice
given in the above guide. Follow at your own risk. And check with your
doctor before undertaking a new exercise routine.