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Plan an El Camino Real pilgrimage with the California Mission Walkers

San Juan Capistrano

Alizada Studios | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 06/07/21

Visit 21 historic mission churches on the El Camino Real pilgrimage.

A walking pilgrimage on the El Camino Real (the route known as “the King’s Highway” that connects California’s 21 Spanish missions) is hard work, but planning the trip can be even more daunting. One may know the route beforehand, but where to find meals and amenities along the 800-mile route? 

Now, planning a pilgrimage to California’s 21 historic mission churches is easier than ever, thanks to the California Mission Walkers (CMW). The CMW is an organization that is dedicated to promoting the El Camino Real pilgrimage. Their website has developed a community that guides and supports pilgrims on their journey. 

The CMW was founded in 2011, and since then their community has grown to include over 1,200 members. Of these, more than 100 have walked multiple mission segments and 48 have taken the entire 800-mile pilgrimage. These members bring their experience to offer encouragement and helpful tips to new walkers on social media. 

The community is only the tip of the massive iceberg of pilgrimage guidance that is the California Mission Walkers website. There, they offer everything one could need to plan their own pilgrimage. From guidebooks to facilities along the route, CMW is a one-stop shop for everything regarding El Camino Real. 

The website

One section of the site, “A Newcomers Checklist,” helps prepare new pilgrims for the arduous walk. It offers a free guidebook, written by fellow CMW member Ron “Butch” Briery, as well as “pilgrim credentials.” The checklist includes a guide to training oneself before taking the walk. The group suggests working up to 12 miles a day, as well as practicing in the gear you plan to take. 

The most valuable part of the site is the extensive list of businesses that welcome pilgrims. The list currently includes 10 restaurants, bed and breakfasts, hotels, and grocers who have chosen to participate. These sites are in convenient locations to reach from the El Camino Real trail. While the list is still small, they welcome new businesses to join them and there’s a great potential for growth. 

The California Mission Walkers welcome any prospective pilgrim who wishes to take the full or even a part of the 800-mile course. While they are nothing but encouraging, they do note that the trek is “not for the faint of heart.” Of the pilgrimage, Edie Sundby, author of The Mission Walker, wrote: 

“This walk is unique to California, and is a much different walk than Spain. Pity the person who undertakes this walk expecting a similar experience to Spain :) … this walk is wild, rugged, unpredictable, scary, boring, beautiful, unpleasant, exhilarating, concrete and asphalt, freeways, huge cities, back country, wilderness, steep mountains, railroad tracks, creeks, days without food sources, suburban sprawl, etc etc etc. It is amazing and need not be over sold (as similar to Spain) nor should it be undersold (it is not for the faint hearted).”

Click here to visit the California Mission Walkers’ website and start planning your trip today.

PilgrimagesUnited States
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