2018 MSSJ Pilgrimage – California Mission Trail

Friend of the blog and fellow Canterbury pilgrim DCL has graciously undertaken the planning for the next Mormon Society of St. James (MSSJ) pilgrimage scheduled for Presidents Day weekend, February 16–19, 2018.


The Central Californian coast in February 2017

For all those who have been deterred by the trip to Europe from participating in the past, this is the pilgrimage you’ve been waiting for—in 2018 the MSSJ is coming to California.

We will walk in three stages from Mission San Juan Bautista to Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel, the burial place of Fr. Junipero Serra. The total distance we plan to travel on foot is under 35 miles.

The trail will cover the two missions and another, even older church that was the first incarnation of the mission in Carmel—the San Carlos Royal Chapel in Monterey, the oldest continuously functioning church and the first stone building in the State of California. We are lucky to be able to route portions of the trail on purpose-built walkways, including a well-preserved portion of the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail. We will pass through lush fields and orchards of every fruit and vegetable under the sun, gentle hills clad with California oak and Monterey pine, and along the sandy dunes and craggy cliffs overlooking Monterey Bay. This is Steinbeck country—the land of the Gabilan mountains and immigrant fruit packers, but also a longtime home of Robert Louis Stevenson.


  • Friday, February 16 – Soft start with dinner in San Juan Bautista for those who are in the area.
  • Saturday, February 17 – The pilgrimage begins in the morning with a prayer service at the mission church and a send-off blessing from Fr. Albert. We will cover 14 miles (900 ft elevation gain · 1000 ft loss) on our way to Salinas. This will be by far the most challenging day.
  • Sunday, February 18 – We bus from Salinas to Marina and walk 8 miles along Monterey Bay to the San Carlos Royal Chapel in Monterey.
  • Monday, February 19 – The pilgrimage will end mid- to late afternoon upon arriving in Carmel after walking no more than 12 miles over and along the Monterey Peninsula.

Transportation and Accommodations

Participants should plan on making their own arrangements for travel and accommodations, but don’t hesitate to visit the MSSJ events page to coordinate with other pilgrims.

To help with your planning, the two nights on the trail will likely be spent i) in the outskirts of Salinas, and ii) in Monterey.

Bay area airports (SFO – Oakland – San Jose) are best if arriving by air. Public transportation (train/bus combo) is available from airports to the beginning and end points. Coming by car is fine too; we are just working out how to shuttle the vehicles.

We will be making use of the bus network between Salinas and Carmel to facilitate travel on portions of each stage. You might also find it useful to link your accommodations with the walking route.

Finally, Pilgrims Credentials for el Camino Real de California are available at Mission San Juan Bautista.

See you there!


  1. Thanks for posting, PeterLLC. Check the facebook page for details on accommodations and a schedule for each day to be posted soon!

  2. I’m in. I love excuses to visit that area of California.

  3. I grew up with these. Fantastic trip. Well done team.

  4. If only I weren’t old and decrepit. Enjoy! One of the most beautiful parts of California, and the best time of year to go.

  5. I live in this area and it will be hit or miss on whether you end up hiking in a California type winter downpour or not, but keep in mind February is our rainy season. If you are hiking off roads, be prepared for plenty of mud either way. Also, if I were flying in I’d use the Monterey airport as first choice. San Jose after that. Stockton as third (looks far on a map, but with bay area traffic it’s a MUCH better choice than either SFO or Oakland).

    And keep in mind that driving anywhere in this area on a Friday after 1 PM means hours and hours of traffic as the bay area heads out of town for the weekend. San Juan Bautista is on a commute corridor and gets gridlocked. Driving south out of San Jose Airport will be a nightmare. We pretty much don’t go anywhere anymore because the traffic is so bad. (Flying into Stockton would be better as you are then driving against traffic.)

    Not to be entirely negative though, it is a gorgeous area. The hills should be brilliantly green and the weather is almost always mild. The hiking is great and the hillsides peaceful. If you need a place to stay the night before the start of the pilgrimage your best bet is Hollister (my town) or Gilroy. Our favorite Mexican restaurant is in San Juan Bautista (Dona Ester).

    I’ll put the dates on the calendar and maybe come join for at least the opening night.

  6. Rachel – I was in SJB exploring a few weeks ago, nice to know you are so close. I agree that traffic on 101 and on 1 around Monterey Bay is a nightmare on Friday evenings and to some extent the weekends in general – so a Friday arrival around SJB is optional. One option for people arriving at the larger airports is to just stay near the airport on Friday night, and come down the highway in the morning. But for those that are in SJB on Friday – let’s gather at Dona Ester for a kickoff dinner. Also, the contrast between the emerald green hills and the possibility of downpours will be one of the trip’s adventures. Layering should cover all cases.

  7. John Mansfield says:

    With any luck the current enthusiasms will have lulled, and you won’t have to clarify, with much conviction, that the choice of sites was not motivated by racism and won’t wish you had just stuck with Europe.


  8. I love the idea of Dona Ester for dinner, but you’d better check with them in advance. It’s a small place. I’m happy to help if you guys need anything. I wish I could join you, but I have nerve problems in my feet and five miles is my max for a hike/walk.

  9. That picture is beautiful

  10. Thanks phoenixraay, it was taken from the hills around Cambria looking south to Morro Bay.

    As a native Californian, I still pray for rain on my on my ancestral stomping grounds and time my visits to coincide with the (historical) rainy season.

    So far the only thing making me wish we’d stuck to Europe is the breathtaking holiday weekend hotel prices on the peninsula.

  11. I am so in!

  12. I am SO EXCITED about this. It’s just south of my hometown, and gives me an excuse to fly home AND see friends and pilgrimage. I really hope to make it.

  13. John Mansfield, defender of Confederate Monuments. Ridiculer of their critics.

    Meanwhile, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451399/seeing-confederacy-clear-terrible-issue-monuments-and-all

  14. From the National Review article linked above, George Will speaks for me too:

    “Earlier this week, I recorded a podcast with George F. Will. What he said, spoke for me. ‘The Confederates tried to destroy our country. That’s kind of a serious business. … And they tried to destroy our country in the name of the ultimate human evil, which is the complete annihilation of freedom we call slavery. So there’s no point in investing the Lost Cause with glamour and romance. It was an execrable movement with a hideous objective.'”

  15. John Mansfield says:

    John F., I was referring to the vandalism last week of a statue honoring Junipero Serra, founder of nine California missions. He was not a Confederate.

  16. EnglishTeacher says:

    Welcome to my neck of the woods, humble pilgrims! What a pleasure to see the central coast featured for pilgrimage.

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