10 February 2016.
Though most visitors drive through Big Sur on Highway 1, one of California’s most popular drives between San Francisco and LA, there’s a whole lot more to Big Sur than just this iconic stretch of road.
Alongside this fantastically scenic drive that takes in sheer cliffs and boundless ocean, you’ll find a number of trails and tracks waiting to be explored in the mountains and backcountry of Big Sur.
After several visits over the past few months, we’ve discovered some of the lesser known, secret spots of this beautiful stretch of Californian coastline. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, have already ticked off the classic vantage points and don’t mind taking your vehicle off road, these are some of our favourite secret spots in Big Sur.
* This post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you. *
Big Sur has long been a favourite place to visit in California and with this influx of visitors comes a greater strain on this fragile environment. After hearing some fairly disturbing reports from locals about increasing destruction in the area, I would implore anyone who visits this beautiful part of the coast to please do so in a responsible and respectful manner.
I firmly believe that nature is there to be enjoyed by everyone rather than just a handful of ‘gatekeepers’, but this also means we all have the responsibility to take care of the places we visit and preserve them for future generations. These are a few tips to help you do just that.
Leave No Trace | Whether you’re staying overnight in Big Sur or just visiting for the day, please be mindful to leave no trace. Pick up after yourself and dispose of your trash properly once you’ve left the park. Stick to the trails rather than wandering off course and use the toilet facilities available.
Don’t Go Offroad | Many of the locations listed below require can only be reached by 4WD. If you’re in a small car or 2WD, I would not recommend you drive down any unpaved roads that your vehicle is clearly not equipped to handle. Many a car has gotten stuck in these parts and it’s simply a waste of resources trying to get them out safely, not to mention the additional damage it does to the road.
No Fires | In the wake of the devastating California bushfires over the last few years, definitely steer clear of lighting open fires of any kind due to the ongoing extreme fire danger.
Camp In Designated Campgrounds | Due to overuse and the prevalence of irresponsible behaviour, camping in Big Sur is no longer permitted anywhere outside of the designated campgrounds – please respect that! For the full list of official campgrounds in Big Sur, see here, or for those not looking to camp, you can search other accommodation in the region here. For either option, it’s best to book ahead, especially on holidays and weekends, as they do tend to fill up.
*UPDATE* Be Aware Of Road Closures | Due to ongoing overcrowding, a number of roads in Big Sur have been closed to alleviate traffic in the area, including Plaskett Ridge, Cone Peak and South Coast Roads among others. Unfortunately, this means that many locations mentioned in this list are currently off limits. See here for more information and to check for any updates before making your trip.
For current information on camping sites and accessibility in Big Sur, please also check the website for Los Padres National Forest.
The bumpy track winds along a steep ridgeline into the mountains of Big Sur’s backcountry. Follow this track past several private properties and keep climbing through the forest toward rolling, grassy hills scattered with lonely trees and panoramic views up and down the coast. The dirt road flattens out and is much better up here.
Find a tree, enjoy a picnic and marvel at the views.
Not in a 4×4 or don’t want to take your tiny hire car off road? This place is perfect for you.
When heading north, just before Kirk Creek Campground there’s a steep turnoff to Nacimiento Fergusson Road. The trail winds upward for 11km with the views getting better at every turn. Countless parking bays along the road are available to stop and capture the perfect shot.
Overnight camping is now illegal along this stretch. Please stick to the designated camping sites.
The Coast Ridge Trail will take you even further off the beaten path
Follow Nacimiento-Fergusson Road for 11 kilometres all the way up to the top where you’ll find an intersection with two dirt roads parting left and right. To the right is the Coast Ridge Trail which runs parallel to Highway 1 and to the left is Cone Peak Road.
Again look forward to little traffic and terrific views.
If you head left off Naciemento-Fergusson Road and follow the Coast Ridge Trail (aka Cone Peak Road) for 10km, you’ll reach a dead end.
At this lovely stop, rolling golden hillside and mountains await; the untouched backcountry of Big Sur.
There’s a trail here that leads to the second tallest peak in Big Sur, Cone Peak, which reaches 1,574m. It’s only a 3.2km hike and definitely worth the trek. Remember to bring water as there is no spring up here to fill up your bottles.
On the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road and Coast Ridge Trail intersection head to the right and follow the dirt road for nearly 7km before reaching another intersection.
Stick to the right and continue to Prewitt Ridge Campground, an open area with numerous paths and ridges you can follow down to pitch your tent. It can get a little busier up here but there should be ample space to find a private camp spot.
It can also get quite windy up here so make sure your tent is attached to the ground. Seriously, we saw tents rolling down the hill that hadn’t been pegged down properly.
Also, bear in mind that there is no trash collection or toilets up here so be sure to take all your waste with you and dispose of it properly.
Rent A Car | There’s no better way to travel California than on a road trip. For Highway 1, best is to rent a car in one of the state’s major capitals and either drive in a loop or from one city to the next. To reach these offbeat spots in Big Sur, a car is essential. Find the best deals on car rental in California here.
Stay | Outside of camping, accommodation along this stretch of the coast is fairly limited and booking ahead is essential. Check rates and availability for Big Sur accommodation here.
Get There | With international airports in San Francisco and Los Angles, just a few short hours away, it’s never been easier to fly in and be gazing across the dramatic cliffs of Big Sur in no time. Search the best flight deals here.