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Big Sur Wilderness Places to Visit

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   I've been asked about places which are particularly iconic to visit in Big Sur wilderness areas.  The list below illustrates the variety available, but is not all inclusive.  Note that panorama photos near a location can be viewed by clicking the camera icon icon on each "Map" button's interactive map (sometimes partly obscured by marker)

Access depends upon trail conditions, which unfortunately are not good for some locations - for current trail conditions, see the Wilderness Trail Conditions Map.

The ordering below is 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:  Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: Valley View Trail ┉ Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park: Ewoldsen Loop Trail ┉ Limekiln State Park: Limekiln Trail ┉ Mansfield Ravine Trail
  • Notable back country 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.  Examples include:
  • Pico Blanco Public Camp Falls:    A falls not flashy or tall, but considered one of the most beautiful in the Ventana with pool set amidst surrounding redwoods. 
  • Last Chance Falls   Dramatic vertical drop over cliff with overhang. 

Pat Spring Camp:     Nice view of iconic Ventana mountains (Ventana Double Cone, Kandlbinder, The Window) from ridgeline, where can camp if not windy. If hiked from Bottchers Gap, route includes many ridge views. 

Ventana Double Cone:     Iconic view into the heart of the Ventana Wilderness.  Last trail section brushy, connection to other routes via Puerto Suelo Trail is very brushy.  Backpackers doing a large loop should consider staying at Lone Pine Camp and day packing to the peak. 

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

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

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

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

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

Arroyo Seco Gorge:     Deep canyon narrows in gorge, worth a short backtrack if on a long loop hike. 

"The Rocks":     Sandstone formation around Santa Lucia Memorial Campground.  Nicely viewed from Arroyo Seco or Rodeo Flat Trails.  (Not to be confused with similar "The Rocks" formation in inaccessable eastern end of Ventana Wilderness.)

Stone Ridge Trail:     Contouring above ocean amid redwoods with iconic Big Sur ocean views. 

Cone Peak:     Steepest rise from ocean to mountaintop on Pacific Coast.  Accessable via:  Cone Peak Road (shortest, closed during rainy season) ┉ Vicente Flat Camp (for redwood experience) ┉ Stone Ridge direct, via "Sea-to-Sky" Route (off-trail, steep!)

Silver Peak Wilderness

Redwood Forest:   Many camps and trails lie within a redwood forest, iconic to the Big Sur coast.  Notable examples:  Mill Creek Trail 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:     View of iconic Stone Ridge with Cone Peak and Twin Peak, considered the steepest mountain slope to an ocean in the US. 

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

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

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

Jack Glendening
Trailmap Forum

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