An In-Depth Review of the Top Big Sur Hiking Trails – If you have ever considered hiking one of the many Big Sur Hiking Trails, then you are probably looking for some good trail advice and directions.. There are so many natural wonders in this area that it is regarded by many as one of the greatest beauties of the west, but particularly of sunny California.
Big Sur hiking must be on any outdoor enthusiast’s to-do list, as this area offers clean air and gorgeous, maintained hiking trails that are some of the best in the country. Table Of Contents
Table Of Contents
Making Your Way To Big Sur
To get there, a scenic drive on Highway 1 is required. From the south, you will exit at San Luis Obispo (US Highway 101) and then follow Highway 1 north through the Morro Bay. From the north (a popular route if you are visiting or staying in cities like San Jose or San Francisco), you will take Highway 101 to Highway 156 before meeting Highway 1.
You must have your own car to travel through this area, as it’s out of reach of any public transportation.
The higher you hike, the better the view. Big Sur offers views of the Sequoia and redwood forests, three deserts, the Pacific coastline, strawberry fields, crystal lakes, snowcapped mountains, and even the city lights. This region is nestled in the central coast area of California, between the San Simeon and Carmel Highlands.
We couldn’t pick just one trail to review, so we have covered our favorite top 8 for you to consider. Select the one that sounds the most appealing to you, or, if you’re lucky enough to be blessed with plenty of time, consider sampling them all.
Big Sur Hiking – Limekiln Trail
- Hike Difficulty: Moderate
- Hike Distance: 2-3 miles
- Address: 2 miles south of Lucia, of the inland side of Highway 1
- Family-Friendly: Yes
- Dog-Friendly: Yes – but not allowed on trails
- Notable Stops: Lime kilns, the waterfall, and a beach
Redwood Forest is near Big Sur and is famous for its towering, historical trees that are some of the largest in the world. You can also find redwoods on the coast of Big Sur. The Limekiln trail is one of the best for viewing these statuesque relics.
The Limekiln trail is in the southern portion of Big Sur and allows you to walk among these red giants. They also allow you to view historic lime kilns hence the name) as well as a lovely waterfall.
The lime kilns were used over a hundred years ago, utilizing quicklime to extract lime that was used mostly for cement making and general construction in the San Francisco and Monterrey regions.
The trail has three branches, each a half a mile or less long and all well worth exploring. All of the trails are family-friendly, but the waterfall branch can be challenging as it involves scrambling across bodies of water.
The hikes are easy and well worth the money you will spend to travel here. It’s a moderate hike, offering easy inclines and a family-friendly experience. The best time to hike these trails is in the spring when the weather is mild and you don’t have to worry about inclement weather hindering your experience.
That being said, the weather here can be finicky, so it’s a good idea to bring several changes of clothes as well as multiple layers. The park is open from eight in the morning until sunset and is located just two miles south of the town of Lucia.
Your hike starts after you park at the scenic campground (for a minimal fee, you might also consider staying the night here). You can tent or RV camp here, but the maximum size for a trailer is fifteen feet and for a motorhome, twenty-four feet, so keep these restrictions in mind.
You also need to truck in your own firewood, as wood gathering is prohibited here. For more information about the campground, current hiking conditions, and advisories, you can contact the site at (805) 434—1996.
As an added bonus, when you’re done exploring these trails, consider heading across the parking lot to an access road that dips beneath Highway 1 and heads out to the beach. This is a great spot to view dolphins and other wildlife.
Ewoldsen Trail and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (McWay Waterfall)
- Hike Distance: 4.5 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Address: 37 miles south of Carmel, off Highway 1
- Family-Friendly: Yes, but bring plenty of food and water for the long hike
- Dog-Friendly: No
- Notable Stops: Multiple waterfalls
When you think about the beauty of Big Sur, it may be difficult to comprehend how you will fit in everything in just a single trip. Therefore, you should make this stop a feature on your vacation, as it will allow you to see a multitude of the sights that Big Sur has to offer.
If you only have one hike to make the most of your Big Sur trip, this is the hike to pick, offering views of old-growth redwood forest, scrub landscapes, and even ocean vistas.
The trail begins at the parking lot, taking you quickly into a magical land of lush greenery, huge redwoods, and even a small, meandering brook. This trail will take you about two miles, allowing you to experience amazing beauty as you traverse fallen logs and manmade walkways.
Towards the end of your journey, you will reach a twenty-foot tall waterfall. You’ll be standing at the top of the waterfall when you reach it, giving you some of the most panoramic views of the entire trip.
The hike allows for sizable views of the surrounding area. You’ll see the coast, gorgeous forests, and spectacular ridges. California Condors have been known to roost along some of the trail, giving you the experience of a lifetime in terms of wildlife viewing opportunities.
While this hike is short, you also have the option of taking a turn to visit the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This park offers camping areas as well as other scenic vistas. This is where the McWay Waterfall – one of the most famous in the state of California – can be found. You can’t get quite as close to these waterfalls as you can to the trail’s other falls, but it still offers amazing views from above.
This trail is a good option for children, as it can be quite short if you only hike out to the waterfall and back. It’s not a good spot for dogs; while four-legged companions are allowed at the campground, they must be on a leash at all times and are not allowed on any of the trails.
The campground is one of the more expensive options around, charging a minimum of $35 per night with an additional $45 parking fee. Wood collecting is not allowed, either, but the campsite does have flexible hours that make it easier to enjoy everything the park has to offer.
Big Sur Hiking – Andrew Molera Trail
- Hike Distance: Ranges between 2 and 8.8 miles depending on where you start
- Difficulty: Easy to hard
- Address: 4.5 miles north of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park along Highway 1
- Family-Friendly: Yes
- Dog-Friendly: Yes
- Notable Stops: Horse stables, beach
This is one of the easier Big Sur trails but offers more adventurous hikers the ability to add additional loops to make it a full day.
This is an excellent choice if you are hiking with children, as its path passes gorgeous horse stables (the stables are also open for riding experiences during the summer months). The trail is simple and easily marked, with much of the hiking taking place on dirt roads.
There are footbridges and large rocks to help make your walk easier as well.
The trail features small redwood trees and groves of oaks, offering a longish loop through the forest and across some coastal bluffs. You can also access some more remote bluffs and beaches from this trail.
While hiking, you should take care not to accidentally wander onto the El Sur Ranch, which is private. That being said, the trail is well marked, so it’s next to impossible to get yourself lost. This trail is simple, without a lot of special features or glitz and glamor, but it does lead to the beach.
This is a great place to view wildlife and watch the tide come in, and it’s actually known for the impressive driftwood that washes in from time to time.
If you choose to hike this trail, keep in mind that since it is so remote, you might pick up the occasional tick or spot a rattlesnake. There are a variety of trails, webs, and side routes here, so pick your path carefully and use maps to make sure you don’t lose your way.
Big Sur Hiking – Tanbark Trail
- Hike Distance: 5.6 miles
- Difficulty: Hard
- Address: 9 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- Family-Friendly: Not advised for small children or those with medical problems
- Dog-Friendly: Use discretion
- Notable Stops: Tin House
This trail is a varied one that offers hikers a bit more of a challenging hike with some pretty rewarding views. It is rather long, so not recommended for young children.
If you have a dog, you might consider taking him along, as dogs are allowed both on and off leash, but keep in mind that the trail is lined with cedar. Cedar can be toxic to dogs, so if your dog is especially nosy or likes to dig, this may not be the best choice.
This trail was actually closed for a few years as the result of a massive forest fire, but since reopening in 2012 has experienced a major facelift in terms of the quality of its trails.
You may have to scramble over a fallen tree here or there but this hike, which lifts you 1,600 feet among towering oaks, offers gorgeous views of massive rock outcroppings and spiraling redwoods.
The Tin House destination on this hike has a fascinating history. Built in 1944 by a former Congressman, the house was abandoned shortly after its construction. It is currently dilapidated and it’s not recommended that you enter inside, but it’s a cool glimpse at local history in the middle of the quiet forest.
The trail is a great hiking destination for both spring and summer, but make sure you bring plenty of water, as the hike can be rather tiring. The trail starts with a moderate climb up into a shaded canyon before continuing down on a fire road that offers exemplary views of the Big Sur coastline.
You’ll reach the Tin House before heading back down. The views on this hike can’t be beaten, so if you have a bit more time to spare you should definitely consider adding it to your list.
Big Sur Hiking – Mill Creek Trail
- Hike Distance: 3.2 miles
- Address: Nacimiento-Fergusson Road (off of Highway 1 about 8.5 miles north of Gorda)
- Family-Friendly: No
- Dog-Friendly: Yes, but on a leash
- Notable Stops: Waterfalls, creeks, scenic views
The Mill Creek hiking trail offers an easy hike that is rewarded by views of a gorgeous waterfall and Bitterroots. With well-established and clearly marked trails, as well as designated picnic areas, it’s a great place to head for a leisurely hike with the family.
The trail is easy to find and starts directly at the parking lot. It ascends quite quickly into a canyon, which is surrounded by dense forest and vegetation. It’s a great spot to soak in some of the local flora and fauna.
At first, the trail may seem extremely challenging, but as you carry on it becomes significantly less difficult. The hiking path gets wider, making it easier to traverse as you head uphill.
Once the canyon opens up, you will be rewarded by views of a craggy and breathtaking mountain line. Two miles after leaving the parking lot, you will reach the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness area, and an additional mile after that leads you to Mill Creek Falls.
This trail is quiet, just far enough off the beaten path to keep away excessive foot traffic. It is almost entirely in the shade, making it a great summer hike.
This trail doesn’t offer any campgrounds, but if you’re hiking it as an addition to your Big Sur trip, this likely isn’t a necessity. Because it’s short in length, you don’t necessarily need to stay overnight. Dogs are allowed as long as they are on a leash, but it’s not recommended for children due to the rapid ascents and more challenging terrain.
Big Sur – Willow Creek Trail
- Hike Distance: 3.6 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Address: Willow Creek Road turnoff from Highway 1 about a mile north of Gorda
- Family-Friendly: Yes
- Dog-Friendly: Yes, but on a leash
- Notable Stops: Homestead, campsites
This is yet another short, yet rewarding, trail in the Big Sur area. It is comprised of winding trails that meander through redwood forests and among rocky, tree-lined creeks.
The trail offers a substantial amount of history and gives you plenty of opportunity to rest and relax along the creek beds.
The trail leads to an old homestead that includes a crumbling fireplace and an old foundation. This is where you will find one of the major campsites, as well as other old relics like the bolts from an eighty-foot long suspension bridge.
The trail is one of the oldest in the state and has a rich history among the homesteading and mining communities. It has few campsites but is incredibly well-maintained – much of it is old, rock-based road. The trails are open year-round and are good for children, so long as they are older and in good physical condition.
Big Sur Hiking – Sand Dollar Beach Trail and Jade Cove
- Hike Distance: Sand Dollar Beach – .7 miles; Jade Cove – 1.5 miles
- Difficulty: Easy
- Address: west side of Highway 1, less than 4 miles north of Gorda
- Family-Friendly: Sand Dollar Beach – yes; Jade Cove – no
- Dog-Friendly: No
- Notable Stops: Jade cliffs and exposed bluffs
This quaint, isolated hiking trail is a great spot to visit at any time of the year. A dirt path runs parallel to the parking lot, leading eventually to a sandy beach. This is a popular destination for fishing, picnicking, and hiking, allowing you to experience the best of all worlds with just a short hike.
Nearby is Jade Cove, which is a fantastic place to tack onto your day-trip because it’s only about half a mile away. This is considered one of the finest destinations in all of California, offering visitors the chance to view natural jade as it lines the coast.
Jade has traditionally been used for religious objects, jewelry, tools, and weapons, and is found here lying on the ground as it washes ashore. The trail is not marked in an effort to dissuade tourists, so walk carefully as you approach the cove.
Camping is not allowed at either spot, but the nearby Plaskett Creek Campground can help you out if this is something you are interested in doing so. There is a parking fee for both.
Be careful at both of these destinations, as swimming is not recommended due to the rogue waves and strong currents. The hiking trail to Sand Dollar Beach is easy and safe for children, but it’s recommended that you leave the kids at home if you plan on visiting Jade Cove, as the currents can be too dangerous here.
Hiking Big Sur – Vicente Flat Trail
- Hike Distance: 4-1.20 miles
- Difficulty: Extremely challenging
- Address: Opposite Kirk Creek Campground, off Highway 1 about 9 miles north of Gorda
- Family-Friendly: No
- Dog-Friendly: No
- Notable Stops: Eucalyptus groves, picnic areas, ocean and canyon views
As one of the longest hiking trails in Big Sur, the Vicente Flat Trail is also one that should be at the top of your Big Sur bucket list. This trail is the backdrop to some of the most famous Big Sur photographs and offers visitors the view of a lifetime.
The trail begins to climb almost immediately, offering a climb of about two miles before you begin to experience breathtaking ocean views.
As a long trail, it takes about five hours to complete and stretches, in its entirety, nearly ten miles. That being said, this is a trail that can be done in portions, as you don’t need to hike the entire distance to experience gorgeous views (you simply need to reach 1000 feet above sea level to experience the beauty).
The trail is easy to find, accessible by only one road that hugs the Pacific Ocean. While dogs are not allowed and the trial is not recommended for children, this trail is open year-round and also offers a nearby campground.
If you really want to experience everything the Big Sur has to offer, you should consider visiting for at least a week. Each trail offers a unique experience for any skillset, ability level, or interest, so visiting one or two trails is probably not going to be enough to satiate your curiosity.
If it’s your first time hiking, Big Sur is an excellent choice, as any of these trails are easily accessible for beginners. That being said, you should always bring plenty of gear and supplies in the case of an emergency; this includes things like water, plenty of food, first aid equipment, and camping gear.
Whatever you do, make sure you bring a good camera – Big Sur is a photographic gem that should not be missed by any outdoor enthusiast.
P.S – Why not head over and have a read at some of our other best trail guides. Read More HERE