Soak in three steaming, aqua-colored pools flanking the Big Sur River on a 19.3-miler south of Monterey. Pick up the Pine Ridge Trail at the Big Sur Ranger Station for a roller-coaster climb high above the river, linking redwood groves and chaparral hillsides. Nine miles in, descend switchbacks to the banks of the Big Sur (and Sykes Campsite), then follow the smell of sulfur to the hot springs.
- Distance: 31.1
Location: 36.247599, -121.781263
The trail begins at the Big Sur Ranger Station off CA 1 in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Hike south on Pine Ridge Trail. Note: This can be done as a day trip. If you start early enough (by 6:00 a.m.), without a big pack, you'll make good time to soak and return by the evening.
Location: 36.241018, -121.77244
Cross the Post Creek drainage and head north.
Location: 36.244323, -121.771264
Climb four switchbacks. Ahead, the trail curves to the east-southeast, traversing hillsides above the Big Sur River.
Location: 36.247143, -121.748472
Cross Bad Gulch.
Location: 36.255171, -121.742077
After rounding this ridgeline, the trail curves southeast.
Location: 36.246727, -121.729547
Cross Terrace Creek.
Location: 36.246518, -121.713391
Pass the spur trail to Barlow Flat Campsite on the left.
Location: 36.250087, -121.690004
Descend switchbacks to the Big Sur River.
Location: 36.248667, -121.686289
Pass Sykes Campsite on the right. Follow the smell of sulfur to the hot spring pools next to the river. Look for the pool that sits higher from the river: it's hotter and you'll have a canopy of trees that filters the sun during the day. Tips: Avoid peak crowds from September through mid-April. If you pack in cold drinks, find a place in the river to cool them off while you set up camp; by the time you're ready to hit the hot springs, they'll be nice and cold. Retrace route to the trailhead.