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13 Big Sur Hikes That'll Take Your Breath Away
Health & Fitness

13 Big Sur Hikes That'll Take Your Breath Away

While you can go on a PCH road trip and call it a day, some of the most breathtaking places in Big Sur can only be reached by foot.

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8 min read

June 14, 2021

Got your sturdy boots on? Good, we’re going on a Big Sur hike. There are so many trails to check off your Central Coast itinerary, and we’re finally doing it. While you can go on a PCH road trip and call it a day, some of the most breathtaking places in Big Sur can only be reached by foot. Climb atop jagged rock cliffs and watch the waves curl along the Pacific, proving once and for all that the best views come after the hardest climb. And with a place like Big Sur, you’re bound to receive far more than you seek.

Not sold on the idea yet? These are the best hiking trails in Big Sur that’ll change your mind in a heartbeat. It’s time to walk the walk and hike the hike. 

The Big Sur Trails You Won’t Want to Miss 

The Tanbark Trail to Tin House is a strenuous loop into the hills above Big Sur with amazing views along the coast as far as the eye can see.

1. Tanbark Trail and Tin House 

Location: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Parking: At McWay parking lot 

Difficulty: Hard 

Distance: 6.1 mile 

Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes 

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

A series of flower-filled meadows in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park give way to one of Big Sur’s hidden gems—the Tanbark Tin House. This abandoned house overlooks the ocean from the top of a mountain. To find this rustic treasure, trek the Tanbark Trail, a six-mile loop that belongs in the Big Sur hike hall of fame (if that’s not a thing, it totally should be).

Follow the redwood forest and into the woods—the sound of the highway will soon fade away. Not only is the Tanbark Trail Big Sur’s best hike, but it also leads you to 70 years worth of history that comes in the form of a quaint, graffiti-clad tin house.

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2. Ragged Point Cliffside Trail

Location: San Simeon 

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Parking: Not applicable

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 0.8 mile

Time: 1 hour 

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

No Pacific Coast Highway road trip is complete without cruising down the stretch between San Simeon and Ragged Point. This is where the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains meet the roaring ocean, resulting in the most jaw-dropping views you’ll ever see. As you’re driving, you’ll come across plenty of must-see stops, one being Black Swift Falls—a 300-foot waterfall accessed by the Ragged Point Cliffside Trail in Big Sur. This winding and steep trail may be moderate, but it’s not as easy as you think. But if you’re up to the challenge, the unparalleled panoramas of coastal perfection will be waiting as your reward. 

The hike to San Dollar Beach is pretty easy. The beach is covered in big smooth pebbles, so it's best to wear shoes or water sandals.

3. Sand Dollar Beach Trail

Location: Los Padres National Forest, Jolon 

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking:  In the Los Padres National Forest day-use area

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.4 miles  

Time: 15 minutes 

Route: Out and back 

Dogs allowed: On leash

Big Sur’s dramatic coastline is a thing of beauty, but at times, it can be difficult to access. The best way to go on a nice, long beach walk is by taking the Sand Dollar Beach Trail. Meander half a mile along a crescent-shaped arc and take a moment to admire the Pacific in all its glory. Find one of the best trails in Big Sur at the northwest part of the Los Padres National Forest’s parking lot and make your long weekend getaway truly unforgettable.

The Best Trails for Backpacking in Big Sur 

Cone Peak is the second highest mountain in the Santa Lucia Range and one of the steepest gradients from ocean to summit in the contiguous U.S.

4. Cone Peak Summit Trail 

Location: Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: At Cone Peak Road

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 4.5 miles 

Time: 1 hour 45 minutes 

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash 

With an elevation of 5,155 feet, Cone Peak is the highest coastal mountain found on the country’s mainland. The peak is located a mere three miles from the ocean—you may want to prepare yourself for a steep climb. However, the views are bound to make up for it, especially in the winter months when snow covers the top of the mountain. In fact, photos on a snowy Cone Peak are considered an achievement for many Big Sur backpackers.

5. Sykes Hot Springs via Pine Ridge Trail

Location: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Near the ranger station in the park

Difficulty: Hard 

Distance: 18.9 miles

Time: 6 hours 

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes 

This 20-mile round trip hike gains approximately 5,000 feet in elevation, making it a staple in Big Sur backcountry camping. The scenic route takes you through oak and redwoods, winding for miles until it brings you to Sykes Hot Springs. The hot springs consist of two warm pools large enough for five adults to swim in all at once. And while it’s possible to complete this hike in one day, there are awesome campsites in the area that’ll make pitching a tent a much better idea.

The East Molera Trail to Post Summit is a beautiful spring hike with gorgeous views of the coast and Pico Blanco. Photo courtesy of AllTrails.

6. East Molera Trail to Post Summit 

Location: Andrew Molera State Park 

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: At Andrew Molera parking lot 

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 9.1 miles 

Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes 

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: No

Frolic through fields dotted with wildflowers and bask in nature’s splendor through one of the best hiking trails in Big Sur. The East Molera to Post Summit Trail starts off with a gentle climb, winding through oak giants, and then breaks into wide expanses filled with lush greenery. Bring all your best picnic ideas to life while coastal views grace you with the best photo ops imaginable.

Best Hikes in Big Sur for Beginners 

Salmon Creek Falls is a 120-foot waterfall in the southern Big Sur area, reached by a 0.3-mile trail from California State Route 1.

7. Salmon Creek Trail to Salmon Creek Falls 

Location: Los Padres National Forest, Jolon

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Roadside parking along Highway 1

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.3 miles 

Time: 15 minutes 

Route:  Out and back 

Dogs allowed: On leash

Renowned among backpackers, this Big Sur waterfall hike takes you deep into the Silver Peak Wilderness. But if you’re new to hiking, don’t worry. You only need to hike a quarter of a mile to reach a 120-foot waterfall. Simply follow the Salmon Creek Trail to reach this gorgeous waterfall pouring down the Santa Lucia Mountains.

8. Buzzards Roost Trail

Location: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Available at Pfeiffer Big Sur parking area 

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 2.6 miles 

Time: 2 hours 

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

Forget about hiking Big Sur’s Boronda Trail— it’s too hard. Buzzard’s Roost, on the other hand, lets you roam the winding pathways and cuts through forested areas. This trail is as beginner-friendly as it gets, with views of mountainous peaks and crashing waves following you every step of the way. 

Family-Friendly Big Sur Hiking Trails

Hike the Big Sur River Gorge Trail from April until September for excellent bird watching opportunities and family-friendly nature trips.

9. Big Sur River Gorge Trail

Location: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Parking: None 

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.2 mile

Time: 15 minutes 

Route: Out and back 

Dogs allowed: No

The Big Sur River Gorge Trail is one of the biggest draws at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The rugged, unmaintained trail will take you worlds away from the hustle and bustle—you don’t get much of this outside Central California. Follow along the path to reach an inviting pool near a granite-walled gorge and dip your toes in the azure waters to cool off.

The Mill Creek Trail is a great and easy hike that's mostly in the shade among the trees. Your kids and pets will love it!

10. Mill Creek Trail

Location: Los Padres National Forest, Lucia

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Not applicable

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.3 mile

Time: 1 hour 20 minutes 

Route: Out and back 

Dogs allowed: Yes 

Lush greens and towering redwoods follow your path as you trek Mill Creek, one of the easiest kid and dog-friendly hikes in Big Sur. Families love going on nature trips here and rewarding themselves with a lovely picnic at the end. Meander through the rustic pathway and let the chirping birds guide you to a cascading waterfall. 

11. Valley View Overlook 

Location: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Available in the day-use areas outside the park

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 1.8 miles

Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes 

Route: Out and back 

Dogs allowed: No

The Valley View Trail in Big Sur is a perfect fit for hikers who like to multi-task. Located in the gorgeous Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, this hike has a bit of everything. Marvel at redwood trees in shaded canyons, smell the colorful wildflowers along the way, cool off by a cascading waterfall, and gaze out from an overlook, showcasing views of the majestic Pacific.

The Top Dog-Friendly Hikes in Big Sur 

Once you ascend the first-half mile of the Buckeye Trail to Villa Creek, you’re rewarded with amazing coastline views.

12. Buckeye Trail to Villa Creek 

Location: Silver Peak Wilderness, San Simeon 

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Not applicable

Difficulty: Hard 

Distance: 12.6 miles 

Time: 4 hours  

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes 

Trek the Buckeye Trail in Big Sur and find yourself in a front-row seat of breathtaking ocean views—ones that need to be seen to be believed. The trail winds through Silver Peak Wilderness, taking you through the most scenic spots at this rustic oasis. Climb the coastal canyons and ridges to reach camping areas, where you can spend the night free of charge.

13. Cruickshank Trail to Upper Cruickshank Camp

Location: Silver Peak Wilderness, San Simeon

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Parking: Available on Highway 1

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 5.1 miles 

Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes 

Route: Out and back 

Dogs allowed: Yes 

This Big Sur Trail is ideal for backpackers, day hikers, and even your four-legged friends. Explore the wilderness off Highway 1 and catch glimpses of the beautiful Big Sur Coast while you’re at it. The out and back trail starts off with a bit of a climb and then heads inland along a canyon wall—pockets of oaks and redwood offer you a refuge from the scorching sun.

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