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The Ultimate Guide to Backcountry Camping in Big Sur

The Ultimate Guide to Backcountry Camping in Big Sur

Whether this is your first camping trip or your hundredth, we wanted to make sure you camp in Big Sur the right way.


5 min read

June 15, 2021

Picture a tent, an awesome campfire playlist, and good company by the marvelous stretch of the Big Sur coastline. But here’s the catch—you’re not glamping in Big Sur—you’re completely off grid. And it doesn’t have to be scary. The great thing about Big Sur backcountry camping is that you get to choose the essentials you want to bring with you; you’ll learn to rely on your own skills and survive anything nature throws your way. But once you’re in the wilderness, all your worries will melt away as natural wonders whisk you away to rustic bliss. This is how you fully experience the great outdoors and become one with nature.

Whether this is your first camping trip or your hundredth, we wanted to make sure you camp in Big Sur the right way. So we’ve done the legwork and rounded up the very best campgrounds. Backcountry roads, take me home!

Remote Big Sur Camping Destinations 

Andrew Molera State Park is still relatively undeveloped and offers visitors great hiking and beachcombing opportunities.

Andrew Molera State Park

Fancy sleeping under the stars in a grassy meadow? Head to Andrew Molera State Park, a relatively undeveloped area on the Big Sur coastline. Here, you’ll find Trail Camp, a walk-in campground with 24 first-come, first-serve tent sites. Each campsite is about a quarter of a mile walk from the parking lot, so make sure you don’t have too many heavy supplies. Equipped with a picnic table, fire ring, and food storage locker, this Big Sur campground offers you a front-row seat into nature’s splendor.

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Wake early and meander along the trail by the Big Sur River all the way to Molera Beach. This rocky and sandy beach boasts excellent surfing and beachcombing conditions, as well as access to miles of trails. Traverse pathways that take you through meadows, beaches, and other striking stretches of this wonderful coastline.

Limekiln State Park features fascinating views of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and teaches visitors about the cultural history of limekilns.

Limekiln State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is usually the one under the spotlight, but Limekiln State Park is an underrated destination to check out on your PCH road trip. Visit this state park to view 19th-century history unfolding before your eyes. As the name suggests, the park was once the site of a booming limekiln operation. And if you’re scratching your head, we’ve got you in for a brief history lesson.

In the late 1880s, limestone was harvested for a nearby slope and then fed into the hulking kilns. Thanks to the extreme heat—with kiln fires fueled by redwoods—people were able to extract pure lime, a key ingredient in the construction of San Francisco and Monterey buildings. Now, in the midst of the park’s rustic setting, four iron and stone kilns rise like monuments of a time long passed. 

Pitch a tent at this campground near Big Sur in one of the 29 sites located by the creek, beach, and in the forest—car and RV is not accommodated. Head to Limekiln Creek for marine life viewings and hang around until later to see the sun disappear into the horizon. This is Big Sur at its finest.

Dispersed Camping Big Sur 

Enjoy dispersed camping in the Los Padres National Forest at Prewitt Ridge, the crown jewel of campgrounds in the area.

Prewitt Ridge Campground 

If ending your night on a ridgeline above the clouds and waking up to ocean views sounds like something you’d be into, then Prewitt Ridge in Big Sur is just the place for you. Once you’re halfway through your road trip, this campsite reveals itself as one of the hidden gems north of Los Padres National Forest.

Stock up on plenty of water and head to this spot to spend the evening in one of the best Big Sur dispersed camping sites. With no toilets, running water, or reservations, Prewitt Ridge is the wild alternative to the typical Central Coast touristy campgrounds you’re used to. The dirt back roads in the area will offer you total seclusion while the views above the coastal fog will give you that desired peace of mind.

Kirk Creek Campground

Kirk Creek Campground delivers everything you’d expect from an epic Big Sur camping adventure. Every single site here comes with incredible ocean vistas and scenic views of Los Padres National Forest. Bring your furry friend along to check out this campground near Big Sur equipped with 33 tent and RV sites. There are no hook-ups or water offered here, but there are picnic tables and smaller hike-in sites if you’re one to get further off the beaten path. 

There are plenty of areas at this campground that’s ideal for exploring some of the most pristine beaches and majestic forests in the state. Purchase a camping permit and get free access to the amazing Sand Dollar Beach, a popular spot for surfing and perch fishing. If you hike long enough, you might even reach Pfeiffer Beach.

Big Sur Camping Sites 

Nicknamed a "mini Yosemite," Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a popular camping destination that accommodates tents, RVs, and also features cabins.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Nestled near the Big Sur River, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park makes for a scenic camping experience on the breathtaking coastline. Your options include 189 RV camping and tent sites as well as quaint cabins available for rent. Each space comes with a parking spot, fire ring, and access to showers. You’re in the very heart of the region, so take advantage of the many day hikes available here. Simply step outside your tent and traverse the countless trails leading you to the unknown wilderness. As far as Big Sur campgrounds and cabins go, this one will take your breath away.

Fernwood Campground and Resort 

Fernwood Campground and Resort takes camping in Big Sur to a whole new level. With RV campsites, tent, and forest cabins abound, Fernwood provides you with all the conveniences you want—or don’t want. For those who prefer to be completely off the grid, the campground has sites equipped with only the basic amenities; just water and picnic tables. Kick back, unwind, and explore the rugged wilderness the wild way, and make use of your camping recipes while you’re at it. While you’re never necessarily roughing it with Fernwood, staying at their more modest locations will bring you closer to nature. 

Free Camping Big Sur 

Set within a grassy meadow shaded by Monterey pine and cypress trees, Plaskett Creek is a comfortable campground along Big Sur's south coast.

Plaskett Creek Ridge

Plaskett Creek Ridge is great for those with a 4x4 vehicle. This pot-holed off-road camping destination follows a backcountry route into the coastline, making for great opportunities to pitch a tent. Follow towards the top of the hill where it flattens out and pitch your tent in the grassy meadows and hillsides. 

Expect to rough it out at Plaskett Creek Ridge—you’re not in a safari tent anymore. This place sees less traffic than Nacimiento-Ferguson, so your chances for total seclusion are automatically higher. Stock up on food, water, and other remote camping essentials, and wander off into the wilderness. 

Los Burros Road 

A classic free Big Sur camping area, Los Burros Road offers great views and secluded wilderness. It’s also quite remote, so if you’re looking to get acquainted with fellow campers, this is probably not the camping ground for you. 

The drive up the road itself isn’t super long but it can get steep. Go early in the morning and snag yourself a good spot—don’t be afraid to walk a bit into the bush in search of the best tent sites. Come at the end of summer and pick wild blackberries to your heart’s content. 

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