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Big Sur Wilderness Places to Visit

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(last update: May 20, 2024)

   I've been asked about places particularly iconic to visit in Big Sur wilderness areas.  The below illustrates the variety available. 

   Access depends upon trail conditions, which after recent fire and storm damage can now be difficult for some locations.  And trails/roads can be closed. 
   To display color-coded trail conditions on a map, click/tap its  ⇒ Trail Conditions  button.  (To hide magenta route, click "Overlay:hide" button)  Accessing some of these places will be only for more adventurous souls. 

Orderings below are roughly north-to-south. 

Ventana Wilderness

Redwood Forest:   Many camps and trails lie within a redwood forest, iconic to the Big Sur coast. 
  Easiest access: 
  · (Old) Coast Road

  · Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: Pfeiffer Falls Trail
  · Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: Ewoldsen Loop Trail

  · Limekiln State Park: Limekiln Trail

  Notable backcountry examples: 
  · Western and eastern ends of Little Sur Trail

  · Western end of Pine Ridge Trail

  · Redwood Camp

  · Vicente Flat Camp

Ridge views of Big Sur coastline:   Any trail which climbs steeply upward from CA Route 1. 
  Notable examples: 
  · Boronda Trail

  · North Coast Ridge Road (dirt, gated)

  · Cone Peak Sea-to-Sky Route

Waterfalls:   Click on waterfall icons on Big Sur Trailmap
Flow varies greatly between wet and dry seasons
  State Parks:
  · Pfeiffer Falls:  Map   Photo  
  · Limekiln Falls:  Map   Photo  
  National Forest with nearby trails:
  · Pico Blanco Public Camp Falls:  Map   Photo   A falls not high but considered one of the most beautiful in the Ventana, with its pool set midst surrounding redwoods.  (but its beauty currently marred by fallen redwood trunks)
  · Last Chance Falls Map+Description   Dramatic vertical drop over cliff with overhang.  (Slows to trickle in dry season)
  · Salmon Creek Falls:  Map   Photo   Split falls with dramatic drop and downstream pools.  Very popular since close to Route 1. 
  · Upper Salmon Creek Falls:  Map   Photo   Less frequented alternative to Salmon Creek Falls. 

Pat Spring Camp:   Map+Photos  Wonderful view of iconic Ventana mountains (Ventana Double Cone, Kandlbinder, The Window) from ridgeline, where can camp if not windy.

Ventana Double Cone:   Map+Photos  View into the heart of the Ventana Wilderness.  The traditional route is overnighting at Pat Spring with a out-and-back dayhike to the peak. 

Carmel River Trail:   Map+Photos  Hiking along (and in, for its many crossings), an quintessential Big Sur stream.  Hot in summer. 

Pine Valley:   Map+Photos   Meadowed valley with pines and rocks.  A favorite with many due to its relatively easy access from Tassajara Road.

Lost Valley:   Map+Photos   Isolated large meadowed valley.  For those seeking more solitude than Pine Valley.

Sykes Hot Spring:   Map   The iconic redwood hot spring, but often overcrowded so not a "wilderness experience".  See Sykes Camp info

"Wind Caves":   Map+Photos   Sculpted sandstone along southern end of Church Creek Trail. 

Arroyo Seco Gorge:   Map+Photos   Deep canyon narrows in gorge, isolated swimming holes  

"The Rocks":   Map   Sandstone formation around Santa Lucia Memorial Campground.  Best viewed from above on the surrounding Santa Lucia Trail or Carrizo Trail.  (Not to be confused with similar "The Rocks" formation in inaccessible eastern end of Ventana Wilderness.)

Cone Peak:   Map   Pano photo   Steepest rise from ocean to mountaintop on Pacific Coast. 
  Accessible via: 
  · Vicente Flat Camp (for redwood experience)

  · Stone Ridge direct, via "Sea-to-Sky" Route (off-trail, steep!)

  · Cone Peak Road (closed during rainy season)

Cone Peak Loop: (aka Stone Ridge Loop)   Map+Photos  Contouring above ocean amid redwoods with Big Sur ocean views. 

Silver Peak Wilderness

Redwood Forest:   Many camps and trails lie within a redwood forest, iconic to the Big Sur coast. 
  Notable examples: 
  · Mansfield Ravine Trail

  · Villa Creek Camp

Ridge views of Big Sur coastline:   Any trail which climbs steeply upward from CA Route 1. 
  Notable examples: 
  · Prewitt Ridge Usetrail

  · County Line Road and Ridge Usetrail

  · Baldwin Ranch Road (dirt, gated)

Prewitt Ridge Campground:   Map   Photo   Fabulous views of coast plus iconic Stone Ridge with Cone Peak and Twin Peak (considered the steepest mountain slope to an ocean in the US) 

Salmon Creek Falls:   Map   Photo   Split falls with a large flow (and many visitors since it is close to a highway)

Salmon Creek Trail:   Map+Photos  Hiking along a river with several falls/rapids in addition to Salmon Creek Falls 

Dutra Flat:   Map   Photo   Large grassy meadow - tenacious pear and peach trees at Dutra homestead site (but unpleasant when cattle present) 

Jack Glendening
Trailmap Forum

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.