A Complete Guide To Big Sur Backpacking
Big Sur is an absolute dream spot for any hiker. With spectacular coastal views, ample backcountry campsites, and majestic redwood trees as far as the eye can see, it’s impossible not to be enamoured with this stunning region of California.
Whether you’re seeking adventure or some time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Big Sur has something to offer everyone. With a plethora of trails and campsites that total more than 300 miles in length, your possibilities are practically endless! To make things easier for those just starting out their exploration journey, we’ve selected five amazing destinations for you to consider within the Ventana region.
What is the origin of the name “Big Sur”?
Big Sur traces its name back to the Spanish “El Sud,” which described a land grant used by ranchers south of Monterey. After English-speaking settlers arrived and established a post office, they Anglicized the name from “El Sud” to “Big Sur.”
What is the Best season For Big Sur backpacking?
March through May is generally considered the most ideal time as temperatures are mild and certain areas, such as Pfeiffer Beach, are known to be at their most stunning with wildflowers in bloom. The summer months of June through August can be crowded due to the influx of visitors, so if you wish for an authentic experience you may wish to avoid this period.
September is also a lovely time for visiting Big Sur when the summer crowds have dispersed and fall colors begin to emerge in the surrounding redwood groves. Winter visits can also be rewarding when days are shorter and fog clouds often give way to spectacular views of rocky cliffs along California’s coast. No matter what season it is, Big Sur always offers something special!
Do I Need to obtain a Permit For Big Sur backpacking?
Exploring the two main backpacking areas in Big Sur, Ventana Wilderness and Silver Peak Wilderness doesn’t need a permit; however, you will have to secure a California Fire Permit for any kind of stove like Jetboils or other camp stoves powered by pressurized fuel. Obtaining your permit is quite simple: just watch an online video followed by taking a brief multiple choice exam. Print out your proof prior to setting off on your journey.
Should you hire a guide to hike in Big Sur?
Your wilderness capabilities, knowledge of the area and previous hiking experience all come into play when determining if you should hike with a guide. But what’s certain is that having one for your Big Sur adventure will help make it unforgettable! They’ll show you paths less traveled and share insider tips to ensure even first-timers can appreciate this iconic California coastline’s beauty. A tour guide means no guesswork; they curate the right trails so everyone in your group enjoys their journey regardless of skill level. Generally, selecting guided hikes in Big Sur ensures that you get the most out of your journey. Even when going with a guide, it’s wise to look over some introductory hiking advice before initiating your excursion. That way, you can make sure that your outdoor adventure is as safe and enjoyable as possible!
Best tips to know before hiking The Big Sur
Get started on your Big Sur hiking journey like a true pro with these tips!
- Make sure to plan ahead and set off early if you want to be successful in visiting this area, especially during summer weekends. Take the Point Lobos State Reserve as an example – its parking lot only has room for 75 cars before it shuts down to additional vehicles. To guarantee yourself a spot, aim for arriving as early as possible; however, if that fails don’t be discouraged just yet! There may still be chances of finding parking along highways.
- Although there are limited opportunities to bring your pup along while visiting Big Sur, this flyer provides a useful guide for where you can take them! This is due in part to the high concentration of wildlife that frequents the area. Utilize this resource and make sure you keep your furry friend safe as you explore all that Big Sur has to offer!
- Wildfires and landslides can make visiting Big Sur’s trails a difficult activity, which is why it is essential to check the trail conditions before embarking on your journey. Fortunately, most California State Parks have an up-to-date Trail Status page that you can access quickly whenever needed – as do US Forest Service sites overseeing the various national forests of Big Sur.
- There are annual passes available at several California State Parks that can be free or discounted depending on your eligibility. If there’s a fourth grader in the house, they get to receive their own pass for absolutely FREE! Economically disadvantaged families, veterans and elderly citizens also qualify for these reduced prices.
- Get ready to pay for day passes. Most parks in the region have a $10 fee per car that’s valid for one whole day. But there are exceptions too, like Garrapata State Park which is funded by the surrounding parks’ fees instead of charging an entry fee.
My Favorite Trails in Big Sur
The Ventana Wilderness and Silver Peak are the two predominant backpacker hotspots in this region. Pine Ridge Trail used to be the most much-loved backpacking spot for all visitors before a catastrophic wildfire wreaked havoc on its nature followed by landslides. Sadly enough, such destruction has caused significant damage that made it necessary for The Forest Service to shut down Pine Ridge Trail from Big Sur Station to Sykes Hot Springs until further notice.
Stone Ridge Trail
For a full-flavored experience of Big Sur, the Stone Ridge Trail is your perfect adventure! It’s rated moderate to strenuous and offers stunning coastal views that are almost as good as Olympic National Park. And on top of those incredible ocean scenes, you get old growth redwoods characteristic for Northern California, oak woods covered with mossy green plants, meadows, and streams so clear you can see straight through them.
Kirk Creek Trail to Vicente Flat Camp
The Kirk Creek Trail provides an awe-inspiring overnight trip that encapsulates the best of Big Sur, ideal for any beginner or intermediate backpacker looking to get away in just 5 miles each way.
Kirk Creek Campground is the place to be for car campers, but reservations book up quickly! Just across from it you will find a trailhead with an imposing wooden sign that informs hikers of the distance up to Vicente Flat Camp and beyond. Park your vehicle off the road and get ready for adventure!
When the weather is nice, the initial section of the path is extremely hot and exposed, a 3-mile uphill hike with only a few patches of shade. Nevertheless, the scenery is breathtaking. The sound of the waters of the Pacific Ocean can be heard during the climb up.
After an arduous 3,000-foot ascent in only three miles, you can opt to set up camp at Espinosa Camp near the 3.25-mile marker; however, we suggest pushing onward through picturesque green hillsides and lush meadows for a more rewarding experience. Vicente Flat Camp offers many more sites with reliable water sources – making it well worth the journey!
If you love a good challenge, extend your Vicente camping excursion and take on the 5-mile roundtrip to Cone Peak – the highest elevation in this area! Make sure to plan for an extra day so that you can enjoy every moment of your amazing journey.
Ready to go home? Just turn and amble back the course you used for arrival. This trek in Big Sur is absolutely spellbinding, a jewel only California can brag about!
Pine Ridge Trail
The Pine Ridge Trail in Big Sur is a popular choice for adventurers seeking breathtaking views and an invigorating journey. The most desired destination of hikers on this trail are the Sykes hot springs – what better way to reward yourself after a long, intense hike? While it may sound like the ideal excursion, please be aware that due to drastic elevation changes throughout the trek, even experienced travelers should plan accordingly. Often times people choose to break up their expedition over two days as it totals 18 miles round-trip.
Kick-off your Pine Ridge Trail adventure at the Big Sur Station, where you’ll need to pay a nominal $10 fee for parking. Brace yourself—the first part of this trail is not for the faint of heart; it’s an arduous 400m climb through Redwood trees that will reward you with magnificent mountain views. It can get quite warm in summertime so plan ahead and set out early if possible!
As you traverse along the path, two campsites are encountered – Terrance Creek and Barlow Flat. Here, one can pitch a tent or move forward to Sykes Camps. Right after that is a vigorous climb up the side of the mountain which will surely build your endurance; however be wary as this trail section is exposed to scorching California sunrays! Finally at peak level, descend into Sykes Camp for an unforgettable camping experience.
Vincente Flat Trail
For anyone looking to explore an awe-inspiring natural landscape, the Vincente Flat Trail is a perfect option. Spanning 10 miles out and back, this trail includes breathtaking coastal views as well as lush redwood forests. Although its difficulty level ranges from moderate to difficult due to some of its steeper inclines, it is well worth the effort.
Just two miles south of Limekiln State Park, the trailhead to this scenic journey is readily noticeable. If coming from San Francisco, it should take 3.5 hours by car. To get exact coordinates for your hike beginning point, type “Kirk Creek Campgrounds” into Google Maps – you’ll find that the starting area is a short distance across the street and there’s room available to park several cars at once along its side.
If you’re road-tripping through Big Sur and looking for the ideal hike that captures it all, then Limekiln Trail is your best option! Situated in Limekiln State Park, this captivating journey will take you among towering redwoods as well as a picturesque creek. With every twist and turn of the trail, you will be met with breathtaking natural beauty. The shady forest and periodic river crossings create a postcard-worthy backdrop that is sure to take your breath away. Once halfway through this enchanting hike, there lies something even more astonishing – Limekiln Falls! This 100-foot wonder is simply awe-inspiring; so make sure to dedicate some time to marvel at this magnificent sight before carrying on down the path.
After trekking through the quiet forests, you will reach the abandoned lime kilns. Constructed by Rockland Lime and Lumber Company in the 19th century to refine lime taken from these lands, they are an interesting sight that deserves a few moments of exploration. Be sure to leave them untouched as respect for those who have gone before us!
If you’re searching for a brief and invigorating hike after an extended drive, Plaskett Rock Point and Jade Cove is your ideal spot. This 1.5-mile path offers panoramic ocean views as it winds from Plaskett Rock to Jade Cove. It’s the perfect way to clear your head and stretch those legs! This hike may not be the most picturesque, but it is certainly doable for all ages and abilities. It’s a great option for families looking to make memories while enjoying some fresh air! Plus, you can fuel up with a picnic lunch at the end of your journey.
If you’re up for an extra challenge, the Jade Cove part of this hike is a great choice. You can test your climbing skills by descending down the bluff using a rope and take in all that nature has to offer on its rocky beach below. Although there may not be any jade left now (as it’s what gave this spot its name!), exploring here remains a thrilling experience.
Preparation for the Trip
Preparing for a backpacking trip in Big Sur requires both physical and mental preparation. The physical aspect involves taking time to train and get your body ready for the rigors of the hike, such as strength-building exercises, cardio and interval training, and stretching. It’s also important to consider what kind of terrain you’ll be dealing with and make sure you are physically fit enough to handle it.
The mental aspect is just as important. Plan out your route thoroughly, research all the regulations that apply to your intended path, familiarize yourself with map reading skills, practice essential outdoor survival techniques like setting up camp and managing food waste, an take time to acclimate to the environment before taking off on your journey. Having a positive attitude and the right mindset will go a long way in aiding a successful backpacking adventure.
What to pack for Backpacking the Big Sur
What to pack for a backpacking trip may vary depending on your route and the length of your stay, but there are certainly some essential items that you should never forget. Be sure to pack a good quality tent, sleeping bag and pad, as well as water-resistant clothing and reliable footwear. A first aid kit is also essential, along with a bear canister to store food.
In addition to these basic items, you should also bring enough food for the duration of the trip, flashlights with batteries or headlamps, cooking utensils like pots and pans if necessary, fire-starting supplies such as waterproof matches or lighters, insect repellent and sunscreen. You may also want to bring a filter or purification tablets for drinking water from streams or lakes. Planning ahead is key when it comes to packing the right gear for your backpacking adventure in Big Sur.
Importance of being mindful of the environment
When backpacking in Big Sur, it is essential to be mindful of the environment and your impact on the area. Leave No Trace principles are a great way to keep your impact minimal and ensure that the beauty of the area remains for future visitors.
Pack out all trash that you bring with you, making sure to dispose of it properly once you’ve left. Respect wildlife by not approaching or feeding them and always keep noise levels low so as not to disturb their habitat. If camping, only use existing fire rings or clear away dead wood from the surrounding area rather than building new fire circles. Lastly, avoid cutting switchbacks on trails and stick to established routes wherever possible in order to protect fragile ecosystems within Big Sur.