With some of the best scenery in California, Big Sur is an incredibly rewarding place to hike. The different scenic elements of the California coast really come together here. Rugged flower-strewn mountains provide magnificent vistas over a rocky coast and a strikingly turquoise ocean. Surprisingly lush and scenic redwood forests shelter in steep canyons beside fast-flowing and crystal-clear creeks. Unspoiled beaches are tucked away into little coves.
Big Sur is also one of the most difficult parts of the redwood coast to hike. The steep mountains also make practically every hike a challenging climb. Every trail gets overgrown with poison oak, to the point where some trails are surrounded by 6-foot-tall walls of the plant. The chaparral is crawling with ticks in the spring, and you can easily pick up a hundred ticks on a single day hike (as Analise Eliot points out in her indispensible Big Sur hiking guide, “Garrapata State Park” translates to “Tick State Park” ). Clouds of flies may surround and bite you, undeterred by insect repellent. Rattlesnakes, black bears, and mountain lions also live in the area.
Big Sur has two types of trails. All but one of the trails featured here are in the relatively easy-to-hike Big Sur state parks. There’s also an extensive network of wilderness hiking routes that are often poorly maintained and a lot more challenging.
Located on the site of a former ranch at the northern end of the Big Sur Valley, this park mainly features flat, grassy meadows and low coastal bluffs covered with chaparral, a departure from the rugged mountains of the other Big Sur parks. Two ridges within the park provide great views over the otherwise flat landscape.
The main feature of this park is a dramatically rocky shoreline with an offshore sea lion colony. Inland are steep, chaparral-covered hills, and hidden in a canyon is a small strip of redwoods. There are very few facilities and it’s easy to drive right through the park (on Highway One) without even realizing that it’s there.
This exceptional park is in the heart of Big Sur, set in the Big Sur valley among the Santa Lucia Mountains. It contains some very nice old-growth redwood forest bisected by a cool, crystal-clear river. The park is heavily developed and the accessible areas mostly consist of attractive campgrounds, lodging, and picnic sites. Although hiking opportunities are limited, the park is a real gem.
The wilder neighbor of Pfeiffer Big Sur, this small and largely undeveloped park is located in the rugged coastal hills of Big Sur. It offers two 5-mile hikes plus the famous McWay Falls. The Ewoldsen Trail in particular is the quintessential Big Sur hike.
This tiny park has a remarkably lush second-growth redwood canyon that contrasts strikingly with the arid coast.
Consisting of the Ventana Wilderness and the Silver Peak Wilderness, this national forest includes an extensive network of very challenging but very rewarding trails. Since many of the trails are poorly maintained, this area is not for the casual hiker.
© 2006, 2007, 2011 David Baselt