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Big Sur to Sykes Hot Springs - California, United States

by chris  
with a Garmin Forerunner 305
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David and I were ready to try some snow camping in Yosemite this weekend, but the weather report had other plans.  It was set to rain on the first day in Yosemite, and we decided that camping in snow while being rained on did not sound like a good use of a weekend (hopefully we will get some clear skies soon!).  Since we had psyched ourselves up for a backpacking trip for the past few weeks, we set our sights on somewhere a bit closer: Big Sur.

After spending Friday night in Monterey, we drove along the coast through Monterey, eventually making it to Big Sur, but not before taking a few stops along the road at scenic viewpoints to take some photos of the clifs.  Unfortunately we had no map, and we left the book that described the hike at home, so we had to rely on the rangers.  They told us that it was a solid 10 miles to the Sykes Hotsprings, and it was very difficult to go the wrong way, so we parked the car, put on our packs, grabbed our cameras, and hit the trail.

Most of the hike was pretty damp (not muddy, just damp), which was cool and relaxing, and I have seen enough banana slugs to keep be happy for a while.  The recent rainstorms definitely had an impact on the area: flowers were already starting to bloom, trees had fallen over the trail, and we had to hike over some pretty big mudslides. We took a leisurely 7 hours (lunch included) to hike about 12 miles, stopping for lots of macro photography practice as well as a few long-exposure waterfalls shots on our tripods; with 10 miles total, we were in no big rush.

At around the 6 mile mark, we met up with the first river we had to cross and looked upstream for a better way to cross.  After throwing out a few options (like the fallen tree 10 feet above the 2 foot deep river), we found a good-sized tree forming a bridge.  David got on first, and as stepped over the log to get a better picture of him crossing the total weight was too much and it snapped in half.  I guess it was better than in a few seconds when David would have been above the water.  With 30 minutes wasted, we just sucked it up and walked straight through, fought through the cold, and then immediately stopped for lunch and wrung out our socks.

At mile 9 we made it to yet another river crossing, this one was much more powerful and we needed a rope to cross it safely.  We had about 1 mile left, but couldn't seem to find the camp anywhere.  It was getting pretty dark, and we put on our headlamps.  When we eventually found a sign, we were told that we had passed the camp 3 miles earlier--ugh! Rather than walk back the 3 miles in the dark, we just camped there a ways off the trail. 

After setting up camp and getting some couscous in us, we grabbed out tripods, remove shutter release cords, and our headlamps and hiked out to the ridge to practice some night photography.  After a solid 30-45 minutes we started to get cold and headed back to camp, jumped in our sleeping bags, and got some much-deserved rest.

On Sunday morning we were in a bit of a hurry to get back in time to stop at REI on the drive back.  We quickly made breakfast (oatmeal with raisins and dried cranberries), filled out camelbaks, packed our bags and hit the trail.  2.5 miles in we were back at the rushing river and dropped our packs to search for the elusive hot springs (spoiler alert: we still didn't find them), so we crossed the river again and kept going. 

We kept a pretty quick pace, only stopping a handful of times to take out our tripods for waterfalls or for david to use his infrared filter.  We finished the remainder of our food at lunch (which made my pack lighter!) and soon got back on the path. David's knee started acting up with a few miles left.  My GPS device died with an hour left but fortunately I had my iPhone handy to still capture the last couple of miles. 

When we got back to the car we threw everything in the trunk and grabbed our celebratory avocados for our traditional post-hike treat, delicious!

After getting back, we found out that the Hot Springs were before the big river crossing, up a pretty steep hill that we would have needed to scramble up.  I may not get back to it for quite a while, as I would rather hike another one of the great bay area trails that repeating this one.  We shall see...

The Hot springs is up a pretty steep hill (so I've heard), and is not very well marked.  Make sure you do some research before you go, do not just rely on a map or sign posts to find it.
Big Sur, Sykes, hot springs, waterfall, banana slug, Coast, Backpacking, photography
Photos: See all pictures and videos from Big Sur to Sykes Hot Springs
Comments (17)
As I was saying this gypsy character was carrying a rolled up blanket with the rope over his shoulder and was carrying a full gallon can of corn oil I asked him with the corn oil was for any barked at me saying it was for the potatoes what do you think !when we finally arrive to the Hot Springs there were about half a dozen to 10 people there. After having the hot soothing waters melt are wary barking dogs I went to look for my brother which someone said he went to go get help at the ranger station apparently a tree had fallen on top of one of the campers and was in a lot of pain and duress when evening came we saw a helicopter flyover and took off for half hour and came back landed on top of a hill nearby and came down with a stretcher around 2 AM that night I brother finally came back in the dark she had walked the 1012 miles to the ranger station this and asked if the Ranger could accommodate him overnight the Ranger said well there are plenty of other campers out here why don't you ask them so instead of doing that he hiked back in the dark with a very weak flashlight and somehow by Mericle successfully made it back to camp the very next day repacked up and when I left the Hot Springs back to our car it was quite a memorable trip
by Myopticbliss on Aug 02, 2015
I remember going up to the Hot Springs in the early 1970s and boy was it quite an experience . There was one person using a full duffel bag instead of a backpack slung over his shoulder, it must've weighed at least 40 to 50 pounds. then they were is another colorful character that look like a gypsy .he was carrying a rolled up blanket with a rope tied in between
by Myopticbliss on Aug 02, 2015
very good!
by sibonluk on Nov 07, 2012
Great story, wonderful photography. Thanks for sharing!!
by kozik on Jun 15, 2012
Thanks Chris ... I have tried and it seems like there is never anybody there to pick up ..

by Aliciahiking on Jun 01, 2012
I don't think we reserved a campsite, and I'm not sure if you even can in this area--you could try calling the Ventana Wilderness Ranger station to see. I think the only permit we needed was to use our camping stove
by chris on Jun 01, 2012
This is exactly the hike that I am interested in taking a little later this summer. How important is it to reserve a campsite in advance? Do you have any advice on this? Thanks
by Aliciahiking on Jun 01, 2012
It's a great area, enjoy!
by chris on May 09, 2012
This trip looks awesome i cant wait for it!
by pbnjcapt on May 09, 2012
First Time on trail it was a heatwave in CA over night was 70F Unbelivable
by Cloudbase on Jun 09, 2010
cool trip
by mirroruk on May 12, 2010
You put mile numbers.
by walkingyathusan on Feb 15, 2010
Great, thank You ! I did not know about that !
by Thailon on Feb 09, 2010
@Thailon the "10 essential" is a list of 10 areas for which you have to have gear if you are to survive in the wilderness. It was put together in the 30's by The Mountaineers, originally a list of 10 items, it is today more than 10 items, but still contains 10 "systems":


Sun protection

Insulation (extra clothing)


First-aid supplies


Repair kit and tools

Nutrition (extra food)

Hydration (extra water)

Emergency shelter

REI has a good description : http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/ten+essentials.html
by Vaudesir on Feb 08, 2010
Great story and photo documentation ! Vaudesir, what's Yours 10 essentials ? :)
by Thailon on Feb 08, 2010
I usually pack a pretty thin one that can't do much other than string up food in a tree. Luckily we caught up to 2 guys who had already strung the rope across, but the next day we just walked across with no rope and it was fine
by chris on Feb 08, 2010
Very cool adventure. Do you really carry a rope when you hike? Never had one (it's not part of the 10 essentials ;-)
by Vaudesir on Feb 08, 2010
Trip Info
by chris
January 30, 2010
Trip Location: Pfeiffer Big Sur, California, United States
Length: 26 miles
Duration: 15 hours
Activity: Backpacking
Trip viewed 48,323 times
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