This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. On the Central California coast, a magical, sparsely populated land of waterfalls, rugged mountains, redwood trees, stunning beaches, and blazing sunsets has been attracting people of all walks for decades. The park contains four lime kilns from an 1887–1890 lime-calcining operation. The Broke Backpacker team has tried out over thirty backpacks this year! It starts and ends at the popular Pine Ridge Trail trailhead in Big Sur, CA and offers a challenging but rewarding backpacking experience. They aren’t super large, about 8 feet in diameter. It’s all about helping out our tribe of awesome backpacker readers [that’s you!]. Camp at your own risk. 5. The 70-mile+ of coastline that makes up the Big Sur region runs between Carmel Highlands in the north and San Simeon in the south. Below, I cover the best free spots for camping in Big Sur that can be accessed by car…. The trailhead is located at the Big Sur Station. It is possible to treat it as a day hike, but it is recommended to take some time for the hike, as there are rolling green hills, several waterfalls, and wildflowers throughout the trail, none of which should be missed. Campsites for 1 car and tent costs $35/night. Also, there is no ocean/beach access from within the park. This route, however, is one of the best road trips in California. Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way! Every awesome place has its downsides though. Start by parking at the Ventana Wilderness area ranger station and heading towards the back parking lot. With so many people visiting Big Sur each year, the associated abuses involved with high numbers of people have made it quite difficult to find free camping spots along Highway 1. If you like to surf, there are a few decent breaks accessed within Andrew Molera. Certainly 99.9% of people drive to Big Sur. Though in the fall, winter, and spring, the flows can be epic. Despite the tourist hordes, Big Sur is still one of my favorite sections of the coast I have explored – anywhere on earth. None of the sites have electricity, but you don’t need that anyway, right? Hikes in Big Sur reveal lush forests, towering bluffs and rare wilderness. Artists, hippies, surfers, hikers, beach bums, burnouts, and every shade of tourist ventures to this land… that land is called Big Sur. They are just too big, and turning around on these roads is impossible (mostly). Big Sur is a hell of a dreamy place – certainly one of  the most magical places in the USA to visit – and there are a lot of cool camping opportunities to be found here. McWay Waterfall Trail. Hikers wishing to access the beach, Creamery Meadow, Ridge, Bluffs, Panorama and Spring trails must wade across the Big Sur River. For more ideas on the essentials for outdoor adventures, check out our jumbo-sized roundup of the best gear to take backpacking. The GRAYL GEOPRESS water bottle is the ONLY all-in-one filter water bottle setup you’ll need. The drive up the road isn’t super long, though it can be very steep in some places. There are few places in the world where you can stroll through untamed redwood forests, tackle burly mountains, and stare longingly at the great Pacific Ocean all in one place (and often from the comfort of your car). What you’re going to want to take is going to very much depend on your style. Most likely there will be other people camping up there as well. "I recommend driving … Please check the USDA site for current trail conditions before visiting: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/lpnf/alerts-notices. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see). With zero facilities on offer, it is not a surprise that campers here have made a mess of things. Making a Big Sur camping trip or two is without a doubt the best way to take it all in. In fact, most if not all lay-bys, turn-offs, and small nooks found just off Highway 1 are off-limits for tent, car, and RV camping. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. Jeffrey Schaffer's Hiking the Big Sur Country: The Ventana Wilderness ($15.95, Wilderness Press, 800-443-7227) is an excellent resource. Around holidays too, Highway 1 is totally nuts chockablock with holidayers driving the classic West Coast route. 66 reviews. Note: Be aware that there is TONS of poison oak in the area. With over 80 day hikes, there’s a hike for everyone. By the end of this guide, you’ll be ready to hit the road (or the trail) in search of your perfect Big Sur camping spot. The only catch? After parking my truck at the visitors center and hiking 10 miles to the Sykes Hot Springs in the Ventana Wilderness, I found myself pitching my tent next to the Big Sur River with nobody in sight. A stay here has the potential to be peaceful, but with the number of campsites, you should have realistic expectations of the campground vibe/noise/human traffic. Keep in mind that accommodation in the Big Sur area is EXPENSIVE. The Big Sur backcountry offers a bounty of hiking trails and wilderness backpacking T he Ventana Wilderness owes its name to a dramatic mountain peak known as Ventana Double Cone. Andrew Molera is my favorite coastal Big Sur state park campground. On every adventure, there are five things I never go traveling without: 1. Thanks for your support. Locals in Big Sur have had to endure a lot of shit from tourists (literally, in some cases). Legends relate that at one time the unique notch at the mountain’s top was roofed over by a rock bridge. Skip to main content. We’re drawing to the end of the Big Sur camping guide now but before we do, I’m throwing some delicious travel tips at you. © 2021, The Broke Backpacker. The hike begins at the Ventana Wilderness ranger station parking lot. If you do intend to camp off a forest service road (which I will cover in a minute), ALWAYS be smart about where and how you go to the toilet (with no toilets). For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans! There are a series of excellent hiking trails, brilliant ocean views, and wildlife viewing opportunities. On October 31, 2018 the seasonal footbridge crossing the Big Sur River was removed for the season. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Are you…. Give some thought to this and how you’d like your Big Sur camping adventure served. Because the hike is rather short, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hike in with plenty of water on-hand too. This city offers a lifestyle for anyone. This epic Big Sur camping guide will show you the best places to camp in Big Sur. Experiencing the beauty of Big Sur is truly epic. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colorful and tough. This is … Artists, hippies, surfers, hikers, beach bums, burnouts, and every shade of tourist ventures to this land… that land is called Big Sur. This is suggested 4-day backpacking loop for those looking to spend a few days in the Ventana Wilderness section of Los Padres National Forest. I hope you found the information in this guide helpful! Big Sur has no definitive borders, though the general consensus is that the above-mentioned stretch of highway and the surrounding mountains from south of Carmel to the north of San Simeon makes up greater Big Sur area. Andrew Molera State Park. 10 reviews Hiking “I reached out to Lesli from Big Sur guides, shared my ideas and she was simply amazing.” See all Big Sur Guides and Hiking reviews Big Sur River Gorge. The hike itself is only 5 miles (one way) and should take no more than three hours to complete. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse products or services that are not up to scratch. A picnic option is offered on all hikes. The campground here is massive (174 sites) and can be quite the circus at any time of year. Since camping on Highway 1 is illegal (and camping on certain Forest Service roads is too), state park campgrounds offer up a stress-free alternative to free guerrilla camping. Here are some of the biggest threats to your safety that immediately come to mind: Posion oak… rattlesnakes… ticks… Staying safe in America’s nature can be a lot more than most people bargain for. Combine four different trails into a challenging but stunning hike in … The pools can accommodate several adults (perfect for couples). I have seen insane traffic pile-ups, congestion, and masses of humanity just outside some of the popular state parks. Upon checking the availability schedule, I found both campsites are fully booked for the next six months. 154. In total, Kirk Creek has 35 paid campsites, costing $35/night. Almost without exception, if it is free Big Sur campsites you seek, then you are going to have to get off Highway 1. Good luck, amigos! This trail offers the opportunity to take a dip in the Big Sur river. You need to be very “on it” if you have any hopes of securing a spot and reservations can only be made up to six months in advance. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (not to be confused with Julia Pfieffer State Park) offers up all of the best aspects of Big Sur. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Cost: $25/night; $10 extra for firewood. For the sake of transparency, some of the links in our content are affiliate links. Big Sur Land Trust 509 Hartnell Street, Monterey, CA 93940 (831) 625-5523 | info@bigsurlandtrust.org Tax ID# 94-2473415 The real draw is the redwood forest and 100-foot waterfall called Limekiln Falls. Big Sur is a bucket list destination for anyone who loves the outdoors, and winter is the perfect time to plan a trip. I hope this track opens soon! Headtorch: I would never travel without a headtorch. Not picked the perfect travel backpack yet? Located a few miles south of the tiny town of Lucia, the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road is a windy, steep road dotted with a variety of small “campsites”. There is no cell phone signal in the area. Do your part to help keep Big Sur’s camping places awesome for the next group of travelers. If you’re RV camping, I don’t recommend trying to park here. So, if you park and walk into the bush more than 300 feet, in theory, this is allowed. ALWAYS clean up your burn-out pile and make sure there are no leaves, grass, wood or other dried out materials left behind. He is an advocate for off-beat responsible travel and the preservation of the world's wild places and spaces. There are only two goddamn campsites! LOST AND FOUND: 831-667-1112 SPECIAL EVENTS, SCHOOL GROUPS: BigSurEvents@parks.ca.gov 831-667-0507 FILM PERMITS (MOTION and STILL): BigSurFilm@parks.ca.gov 831-667-0507 CELL PHONES: Cell phone service is extremely limited in Big Sur. Periods of intense drought and heat do happen in the summer. The water temperature seems to consistently be at or near 100° F. This place is the essence of what makes Big Sur camping so magical. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash. The fact is, there are lots of places to park and pitch your backpacking tent, and the higher you go up the road, the better the views are of the sea. In some places, you can get away with car or van camping in Big Sur, but it is never a 100% guarantee that police or national park service officers won’t come knocking on your car window in the middle of the night. In recent years, I have spend a lot of time exploring Big Sur’s beaches, mountains, canyons, and rivers hunting for the best Big Sur camping spots. “My friends and I had driven up to Big … You might turn up on a Tuesday in late February only to find masses of people at every turn. You’ll need to hike for couple hundred meters to reach the campsites, so be prepared to make the short trek (> 7 minutes). A group of my friends met up for Rob's birthday for a scenic backpacking trip on the California Coast. Sweeping views of the Big Sur valley. The point being, both the locals and the police have had enough of the disrespectful campers shitting everywhere and leaving behind piles of rubbish. This trail is extremely popular on weekends and holidays when many backpackers are drawn to Sykes Hot Springs, a strenous 10-mile (6-7 hour) one-way hike. Big Sur has many great destinations, but Sykes Hot Springs is definitely near the top of the list for anyone who has been there. Beaches. Keep that in mind when choosing a place to camp. THE BEST WEEKEND BIG SUR BACKPACKING TRIP. Whether you are looking for a luxurious hotel overlooking the ocean or you are ready to head out on your next backpacking adventure, then Big Sur is the spot for you. Creek crossings found on the hike can be difficult if the water flow happens to be particularly fierce. It also became one of the most popular, but for good reason. Every time I have gone to Big Sur in the off-season – I have visited at all times of the year) – there has never been a consistent pattern of when it’s busy and when it’s not. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Camping in California is one of the best ways to experience everything the state has to offer, and emptier campgrounds during low season can be very enjoyable indeed. Extreme heat, impassable trails, and unrelenting topography conspire to make summer backpacking difficult for even the most experienced explorer. This website uses cookies to improve your experience. It’s highly recommended to make use of flameless products like battery-powered candles to avoid human-caused wildfires. Don’t let that put you off! Pssssst! Before we talk about all the best places to camp in Big Sur, let’s answer the burning question…. #3 - Pico Blanco via Coast Road and Little Sur Trail. Climb the highest peak in Big Sur — in fact, the tallest … There are some pieces of gear that are absolutely essential to staying comfortable, safe, and happy in the backcountry whilst experiencing camping in Big Sur for yourself. Parking is also available for $10.00 per calendar day Pine Ridge Trailhead Parking Lot. The Ventana Wilderness does experience drought and the last thing you want is for the spring to be dry when you arrive. Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. That said, compared to some of the other campsites on my list, Los Burros can be less populated with campers…and it is a fucking gorgeous spot! In the past, some folks even parked here semi-permanently, though I think law enforcement has put an end to long-term camping here. Urinate at least 70 steps from water sources. Big Sur enjoys a mild, temperate coastal climate throughout the year. However, the sad truth is that Big Sur has changed quite dramatically over the years. The Pacific Coast Highway 1 runs along the Big Sur coast, sandwiched between by the dramatic Santa Lucia Mountains rising abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. Limekiln campground contains 24 sites which must be reserved ahead of time. 2.4 miles 550 feet Our guide, Everett, took us on a spectacular hike up Tan Bark Trail. Los Burros Road is another classic free Big Sur camping area that offers great views and peaceful camping. Here is what the Forest Service said in their statement: “A violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization or imprisonment for not more than six months or both.”. Explore the most popular backpacking trails near Big Sur with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you. To see Big Sur through the best local guides, contact Ventana’s reception desk to reserve a hike with Big Sur Guides and Hiking. Ventana Wilderness: Cone Peak Trail. Most hotel rooms are at least $100/night at an absolute minimum. Since there are only 24 campsites available on any given day, be sure to get there early (very early in some cases) to ensure you snag a campsite. The easiest start is from Bottcher’s Gap. Get out there and experience it for yourself. Any time of the year you could find people camping along this road. This hike starts from the end of Cone Peak Road on the old road/trail; it is known as the North Coast Ridge Trail at this end. Huge, legendary traffic jams occur nearly on a daily basis from June-August. McWay Falls. For more than 40 years, Big Sur Guides has been leading hikes in Big Sur. Below are some of my favorite backcountry Big Sur camping spots…. This out and back trek is like two hikes in one, reaching a waterfall in a canyon of redwoods and a vista point overlooking the Big Sur River Valley. Hidden behind the veil of undeniable beauty are the dangers involved with camping around Big Sur, and really just visiting Big Sur in general. Fun fact: A lime kiln is a kiln used for the calcination of limestone (calcium carbonate) to produce the form of lime called quicklime (calcium oxide). We’ve hiked Big Sur many times, but wanted history and knowledge of the area, plants and trees. This is the most detailed guide to hiking and backpacking in Big Sur. The Plaskett Ridge Road located in southern Big Sur is great for those with a 4×4 vehicle. #10 - Cone Peak Loop via Highway 1 [CLOSED], Pico Blanco via Coast Road and Little Sur Trail, Sykes Hot Springs via Pine Ridge Trail [CLOSED], Salmon Creek Trail, Cruickshank Trail, and Buckeye Trail Loop [CLOSED]. Learn what Leave No Trace Principles are and use them! Cone Peak rises dramatically from the Pacific Ocean and offers great views of the Lucian Range. We wanted a trail less traveled, ( especially during Covid ) and one we’ve never been on. On the Central California coast, a magical, sparsely populated land of waterfalls, rugged mountains, redwood trees, stunning beaches, and blazing sunsets has been attracting people of all walks for decades. Once you know your style, check out some of our other excellent gear posts! The hike to its summit is the most dramatic by far in the Big Sur area. They can be crowded as hell and of course, you need to pay. If you are tired of staring at the inside of your tent night after night, you can book a hotel for a night or two. The falls are, however, very seasonal. With oceanfront views and plenty of hiking trails nearby, Kirk Creek is a Big Sur camping favorite of mine, and one of the best spots if you want to camp on a Big Sur cliffside. best down jackets for backpackers in 2021, Big Sur Camping: Finding the Magic of Big Sur, Best Big Sur Camping Areas for Trekking and Hiking, Best Hotels in Big Sur: Alternatives to Camping. PIT STOP: Stop and have lunch at Nepenthe's south of Big Sur. There is a water spring at the camp that should be flowing any time of year, however, packing a filtered water bottle for hiking is always a recommendation, even in highly-developed nations. Always use caution when crossing streams, and simply don’t risk it if you are in doubt. River Loop Trail: 4 mile loop. While some people just pass through for the scenery, true nature lovers absolutely have to go hiking in Big Sur. Bummer. This ultimate guide to camping Big Sur is the result of my experiences getting to know this beautiful and wild stretch of coast. Sanitation and rubbish issues are a big problem on the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road. From within these state parks, one can experience the quintessential Big Sur Coast, epic day hikes, redwoods, waterfalls, and, of course, some of the best Big Sur campgrounds imaginable. Read our full review of the GRAYL GEOPRESS! Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. Within the Santa Lucia Mountains and Los Padres National Forest, there are at least 55 designated trail camps and countless others that are unofficial or undiscovered campsites. The ridgeline trail begins along the north flank of Cone Peak and follows a craggy ridge with sweeping views of the coast and mountains. For what is arguably the finest weekend of backpacking along the entire California coast, plan to spend 3 days on the 23-mile Pine Ridge Trail, which meanders through groves of 300-foot redwood trees and fern-lined canyons. Note: For more adventure inspiration in California and the rest of America, check out our post on the most amazing hikes in the USA. The weather is mild with a potential for fewer people to be around, and the grey whales are migrating to the Arctic from March-April! Shoutout from Will – The OG Broke Backpacker: Have fun on your backpacking adventure, but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it. There are a numerous amount of waterfalls to see throughout the Santa Lucia Creek Gorge. If you have realistic expectations of what Big Sur has become, in addition to possessing the motivation to get off the beaten path, you’ll have an amazing time exploring and camping in Big Sur. In the peak of the summer in years past, the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road was absolutely loaded with cars and people. #4 - Sykes Hot Springs via Pine Ridge Trail [CLOSED]. If you come in season (end of summer), you can pick wild blackberries to your heart’s content. #8 - Salmon Creek Trail, Cruickshank Trail, and Buckeye Trail Loop [CLOSED], Please note that this trail is currently closed due to fire hazard. Big Sur Hiking Trails Pfeiffer Falls & Valley View Overlook. If you do camp I think it best to depart the campsite at first light. The North Coast Trail hike to Cook Spring Camp is less committing than Sykes. In that case, perhaps you better consider some insurance before you go hunting backcountry places to camp in Big Sur. The park features the beauty of the redwoods, rugged coast, and cultural history of the limekilns. The fall, winter, and fellow campers rock bridge costs $.... 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