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Backpacker Magazine – September 2005

Adventure Weekend: Hike Big Sur, California

Scratch the picturesque postcard surface of Big Sur...and there's far more than you imagined, including hot springs and high-rise trails.

by: Amy Ettinger

PAGE 1 2

In the morning, rise early to pit your fly-fishing acumen against the river's steelhead trout (catch-and-release only; the season lasts through October). Then continue along the Pine Ridge deeper into isolation, zigzagging up 2,770 feet in 3.9 miles to the trail's namesake ridge and views of the wilderness's jagged peaks. It's another 3.2 miles to Divide Camp--an ideal spot to bed down under oaks and alders before rounding the pine-cloaked mountains that flank the final 4.1 miles out to China Camp. From there, Cone Peak towers nearly a mile above the Pacific; 5,862-foot Junipero Serra, the highest point in the Santa Lucia Range, looms in the distance. Stop at Big Sur River Inn for outdoor jazz and homemade apple pie before heading home; as Henry Miller would tell you, wilderness is just one of many earthly pleasures.

--Amy Ettinger

©International Mapping Associates
» Directions This end-to-end hike requires a car shuttle. Park one at Big Sur Station; stash the other at China Camp, 33 miles by road to the northeast.

» Permits None required for camping, but you will need one for campfires (free at www.

» Beta For current trail info, go to Other questions, contact Big Sur Station at (831) 667-2315.

» Map Get the USFS map of the Los Padres National Forest, Monterey and Santa Lucia Range Districts.

PAGE 1 2

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star
Dick H.
Mar 03, 2014

First hiked into Barlow and Sykes in August of 1962. Damn near pristine then. Still had telephone at Barlow to call in fires or emergencies. Counter culture hippie trash in 60's tore out phones, tables, tried to run a commune at Barlow---till they ran into some of us local boys who drew them up short. Became pleasant again in mid 70's through the 80's (more of the yuppie mentality at that time. Same stupid mentality actually, just a different direction.)

Star Star Star
Aug 20, 2013

The Pine Ridge Trail through the Big Sur Canyon is a beautiful hike through the Redwoods but the illegally constructed hot tubs at Sykes Camp attract far too many visitors and Sykes suffers from over use. The Big Sur River is a wild and scenic river within the Ventana Wilderness, manmade structures are not permitted and the hot tubs are a violation the wilderness act and the wild and scenic river act. While the Forest Service does not plan to remove the hot tubs visitors need to understand wilderness ethics before any backpacking trip. Please visit for information before visiting Sykes Camp.

Star Star Star Star Star
Betsy MacGowan
Aug 11, 2013

Great suggestions, for camping at Barlow or Redwood. Be forewarned, though, Sykes tends to be VERY crowded, with piles of TP and even feces everywhere. And currently fire restrictions have expanded to include even backpacking stoves, so that means only cold food. One option: do this hike during the week, when it is less crowded.

Star Star Star
Jun 19, 2013

this is definitely a great hike but so crowded! And its a little offensive to paint Carmel in such a negative light "over-priced bauble shops," come on. It is a little touristy but It's also a beautiful town with a rich history as well.

Jul 08, 2012

I hiked this area at the end of June '12. This place is very magical and extremely beautiful. I didn't do the whole hike described above, but hiked from the ocean to sykes camp. The area and the diversity of plant life is so prestine and wonderful, and is definitely worth checking out. However, being that pine ridge trail is the highway of ventana there are some downsides, but don't be discouraged.

The people who hike this trail are apparently some of the most thoughtless, careless, and lazy hikers I've seen. There was an abundance of sh*t and toilet paper littered everywhere. Granted there are a couple of nasty toilets at a sykes camp and barlow which not all of us want to use, bury your shit! And bury it deep because its very difficult to get a safe distance away from the water cause the foliage is very thick, and most of the time cliffs surround you.

Poison oak is always a threat. I made it out ok, but just be weary.

It can get crowded, but everyone seems to stay near the hot sprite and near the trail. We ventured far off trail and never saw anyone for 6 days. Plus, all the best gems are always hidden off the beaten path.

On the plus side: no bears and very little worry to be had about hanging your food!!!

Check this area out, if pine ridge trail, somewhere else. The area is magical!!!!

Dec 23, 2011

I soaked in the top pool above the river at Sykes and it was contaminated with poison oak resin. I was hospitalized and it took me a month to heal. Don't soak too long, and make sure to rinse well in the river when you're done.

Jun 08, 2011

I agree with anon. Most of this trail is straight up.The water is very cold year round, and it is very difficult to find the hot spring.

Jan 21, 2010

A lot of this area is shut down because of the fires there 2 years ago. I went through part of the Ventana last year and it's pretty rough. We lost the trail quite a few times, and we'd been there before.

I do like the area a lot, but if you are looking for an easy, casual trip this isn't it.

Mar 08, 2008


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