Big Sur Backpacking Suggestions

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(last update: Mar 1, 2024)

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When planning a hike consider the season and how much rain might have fallen.  Fall is a great time for river hikes, or anywhere that requires driving on a dirt road, since creek crossings are easy and dirt roads are driveable. In winter and spring, consider ridge trails after a storm.  Summer is the least desirable season - hot, flies, fewer water sources.  Big-Sur-specific hiking info

For hike difficulty, note both total mileage and total elevation gain - in Big Sur the latter is often more important, with many ups and down along a route.  (Calculated elevation gains approximate, but useful for comparison.)  Be sure to check the latest trail conditions for your route - brush definitely increases hike difficulty ! As a guide, the "Average Trail Condition" along the route is given (100/100 = "Clear", updated weekly), with more detailed info at the "Route metrics & trail conditions" button. 

2023 Update:  Over the past 5 years the wilderness areas been damaged by multiple wildfires and erosion from heavy rains, so trail conditions have deteriorated.  Consequently I've had to remove several backpack routes - in particular, the collapse of the bridge connecting Marble Peak Trail to the Arroyo Seco trail system has made impractical several popular backpacks.  And current conditions for some routes have become iffy.  So know the current trail conditions for your route!

Betsy MacGowan (credit:j.glendening)

Betsy MacGowan
(j.glendening)

Ventana Wilderness backpacking suggestions from Betsy MacGowan, Ventana wilderness doyenne
Shorter to longer:
  •  Carrizo Spring Camp:  RoundTrip=5mi+1800ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=100/100
         Views of rock formations, Junipero Serra Peak and "The Rocks" valley
  •  Vicente Flat:  RoundTrip=10mi+2700ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=91/100
         Redwood grove camping with views of Big Sur coast and Cone Peak along the way
  •  Pine Valley:  RoundTrip=11mi+2800ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=100/100
         Meadowed valley with pine trees and rock formations
  •  Tassajara Loop:  RoundTrip=12mi+7300ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=80/100
Horse Pasture Trail, Marble Peak Trail, Tony Trail, Marble Peak Trail, return
         Narrow riparian valley, rock formations, views over mountains and valleys
  •  Lost Valley:
From Escondido Campround:
(Escondido Campground accessible by 4WD when ArroyoSeco-Indians Road open)
RoundTrip=12mi+3700ft.gain
 AvgTrailCondition=58/100
From Memorial Park:
RoundTrip=18mi+4100ft.gain
 AvgTrailCondition=71/100
Lost Valley Trail, return
         Isolated valley, inland views
  •  Carrizo Loop:  RoundTrip=17mi+3900ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=80/100
Carrizo Trail, North Coast Ridge Trail, Arroyo Seco Trail, return
         Views of rock formations, Junipero Serra Peak, "The Rocks" valley, the coast and all around
  •  Route 1 South Fork Trail Loop:  RoundTrip=31mi+7900ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=99/100
Boronda Trail, Big Sur Trail, South Fork Trail, Marble Peak Trail, North Coast Ridge Road, return
         Coastal views, wide and narrow riparian valleys, inland views, etc.
         (ambitious due to 72 hr Rte.1 parking limit)
  •  Ventana Double Cone:  RoundTrip=31mi+8600ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=79/100
new Long Ridge Road (dirt), Skinner Ridge Trail, Ventana Double Cone Trail
         Views along horseshoe ridgeline to reach iconic Big Sur view
  •  Black Cone Loop via Pine Ridge Trail  RoundTrip=31mi+9300ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=70/100
Pine Ridge Trail, Black Cone Trail, Marble Peak Trail, Tony Trail, Church Creek Trail return
         Seldom visited (and now brushy) Black Cone Trail gives wonderful views of upper Big Sur River and all over the Ventana (and do read Details)
  •  Big Sur Loop:  RoundTrip=34mi+9400ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Pine Ridge Trail, Big Sur Trail, North Coast Ridge Road (dirt), Terrace Creek Trail, return
         Coastal views, wide and narrow riparian valleys, inland views, etc.
         Celebrate the 2021 clearing of the Big Sur Trail after 10+ years of being nearly impassable

Variable length:
  •  from Memorial Park:  RoundTrip=3-6mi  AvgTrailCondition=65/100
Any camp along the Arroyo Seco Trail
Map+Photos  Route metrics & trail conditions  Printable map  Details 
         Pine and oak forest with surrounding rock formations
  •  Carrizo Spring Camp:  RoundTrip=5mi+1800ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=100/100
       plus excursion to Cone Peak:  RoundTrip=11mi+3800ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=72/100
         Views of rock formations, Junipero Serra Peak and "The Rocks" valley - then views of the coast and all around
  •  from Los Padres Dam:  RoundTrip=8-18mi  AvgTrailCondition=63/100
Any camp along the Carmel River Trail
         Narrow riparian valley amid oaks
  •  Vicente Flat:  RoundTrip=10mi+2900ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=91/100
       plus excursion to Cone Peak:  RoundTrip=12mi+3900ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=63/100
       plus Cone Peak Loop (aka Stone Ridge Loop):  RoundTrip=16mi+5300ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=56/100
       Webpage:  Sea-to-Summit Backpack: Cone Peak via Vicente Flat
         Redwood grove - then views of coast and all around
  •  Pine Valley:  RoundTrip=11mi+2800ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=100/100
       plus excursion to Pine Ridge:  RoundTrip=7mi+2000ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=87/100
         Meadowed valley with pine trees and rock formations - then views in all directions
  •  from Route 1:   Boronda Trail to:
     Timber Top Camp:  RoundTrip=6mi+2500ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=100/100

     Cold Spring Camp:  RoundTrip=11mi+3200ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=99/100

     Rainbow Camp:  RoundTrip=20mi+6100ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=99/100
         Timber Top Camp has coastal views, Cold Spring Camp has inland views, Rainbow Camp has a river with views along the way
  •  from Route 1:   Boronda Trail to Marble Peak Trail Camps:
     Nearest Camp: Indian Valley Usecamp  RoundTrip=25mi+5700ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=85/100
     Furthest Camp: Adobe Usecamp  RoundTrip=46mi+11,100ft.gain  
         Coastal views, wide and narrow riparian valleys, inland views, etc. - side trail possibilities
  •  Pine Ridge Trail:  Trail Length = 23mi  
Spanning the Ventana Wilderness, create your own route from either end
Seven camps (west to east):
Ventana Camp:  RoundTrip=10mi+3000ft.gain (from west end)  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Terrace Creek Camp:  RoundTrip=11mi+2600ft.gain (from west end)  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Barlow Flat Camp:  RoundTrip=14mi+3600ft.gain (from west end)  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Sykes Camp:  RoundTrip=19mi+5400ft.gain (from west end)  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Redwood Camp:  RoundTrip=24mi+6600ft.gain (from west end)  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Redwood Camp:  RoundTrip=22mi+6400ft.gain (from east end)  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Pine Ridge Camp:  RoundTrip=16mi+4000ft.gain (from east end)  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Divide Camp:  RoundTrip=8mi+2500ft.gain (from east end)  AvgTrailCondition=94/100
Map+Photos  Route metrics & trail conditions  Printable map  Details 
         West end low ↔ East end high : River canyon ↔ Mountain views : Redwoods ↔ Pines

Jack Glendening (credit:p.danielson)

Jack Glendening
(p.danielson)

Jack's Silver Peak Wilderness backpacking suggestions

Shorter to longer:
  •  Villa Creek Camp:  RoundTrip=5mi+1500ft.gain  
         Camp under trees near large creek with pools
  •  Estrella Camp:  via Salmon Creek Trail   RoundTrip=6mi+1900ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=75/100
         Waterfalls and stream lead to secluded camp
  •  Buckeye Camp: 
     from South, via Soda Spring Trail   RoundTrip=6mi+2000ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=100/100

     from South, via Buckeye Trail   RoundTrip=7mi+2400ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=100/100

     from North, via Cruikshank Trail   RoundTrip=9mi+2600ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=86/100
         Pleasant secluded camp
  •  Three Peaks Loop:  RoundTrip=15mi+4300ft.gain   AvgTrailCondition=82/100
Salmon Creek Trail, South Coast Ridge Road (dirt), Three Peaks Trail, Spruce Creek Trail, return
         Waterfalls, inland and coastal views, meadows
  •  Dutra Flat Loop:  RoundTrip=15mi+4400ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=85/100
Baldwin Ranch Road (gated), County Line Ridge, Murry Mine Track, Spruce Creek Trail, return
         Coastal and inland views, meadows
           Apr.2023: corrected from previous incorrect routing along Route 1 to intended lollipop loop
  •  Lion Den Loop:  RoundTrip=16mi+4800ft.gain   AvgTrailCondition=84/100
Salmon Creek Trail, South Coast Ridge Road (dirt), Cruikshank Trail, Buckeye Trail
         Waterfalls, inland and coastal views, cinnamon serpentine rock, endemic Santa Lucia fir, serpentine-endemic Sargent cypress
  •  Elk Camp:  For adventurous solitude seekers  RoundTrip=17mi+4900ft.gain  AvgTrailCondition=85/100
Baldwin Ranch Road (gated), Elk Camp Trail, return
         Coastal and inland views, meadows - route following skills required
  •  Mix & Match Segments from above hikes  wink



Click to thank:               
 
Photos from Jack Glendening, Paul Danielson, Maria Ferdin, Betsy MacGowan, Jim Ringland, Leor Pantilat, Hillary Trout, Paul David Tuff, Nathan Kistler, Amanda Sevall, Perry Way, Brett Pall, and anonymously from the web.  Jim Ringland's photos are under the CC‑BY‑NC‑4 license.