San Juan Grade Road, Salinas


Welcome to this guide to walking a route along California's historic El Camino Real. Here you'll learn about the 800-mile path, pick up tips on planning and training, and get detailed route information.

What is El Camino Real?
California's El Camino Real is popularly known as a trail blazed by the Spanish in the 18th century, in their efforts to colonize the region. However, many thousands of years before Europeans began to explore the area, sections of the Camino were possibly part of an ancient migration path from Asia. Later, native peoples created footpaths that criss-crossed the area. In 1769, when the Spanish arrived, some missionaries and explorers retained native guides and followed indigenous footpaths as they created a path connecting the missions. In the years after the Spanish were ousted, the Camino Real was gradually paved over, supplanted by freeways and highways, and subsumed into modern California. The Camino Real is made of not one narrative, but millions of stories.

Walking the Path
The route outlined in this guide starts at the Coast Miwok village of Huichi, now known as Mission San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma, and loosely follows an 1812 map of the Camino Real. 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 and missions. You'll have to find food where you can.

But the walk can 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.

The Guide
This guide is a work in progress. And you can help. Have a suggestion for a different route, or other options for food or lodging? (You'll be credited.) Have an idea for other information you'd like to see here, or any questions or thoughts? I'd love to hear them. Please email me at sdodaro at gmail dot com.

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.