Pine Ridge Trail to Barlow Flats Camp
Distance: ~ 15 miles RT
Location: Big Sur, CA
Trail Type: Out and back
Dogs Allowed: Yes!
Sore, y’all. Real sore.
That’s how I’m feeling after an impromptu weekend of backpacking in Big Sur with the bear dog. I decided to check out the Pine Ridge Trail in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with the goal of making the 10 mile trek to Sykes Hot Springs. Real talk, I did not make it to the hot springs but this was a case of plan B working out better than plan A.
Big Sur is about a 6 hour drive from Los Angeles and is such a cool look at the varying landscapes that make up California. The fluffy one and I hit the road at around 3 am which put us on the Pacific Coast Highway just in time to catch some beautiful morning light on the California coast.
We arrived at the Big Sur Ranger Station at 11, paid the $5 parking fee and hit the trail. Now here’s the deal, this trail is NO JOKE. What makes it such a killer is that from the start it’s just a constant uphill climb with roughly a mile or so on an exposed portion of the trail that gets hit with some serious sun. The trail is really only brutal for the first two-ish miles so when you hit the Ventana Wilderness sign, just know that the worst is over. Hoorah!
The trail itself is gorgeous. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is home to huge, beautiful Coastal Redwoods that line the trail as you make your way up and down (and up and down). Since we were there on a weekend, I expected to see a few people, particularly because of the popularity of the hot springs. I passed (or got passed, rather) by two groups of about 10 or so young’ns but other than that only ever saw a few other hikers.
At mile 5 you get some reprieve from the dry, dusty trail when you arrive at your first water crossing. Hiking in September in the peak of a historic drought meant that the crossing was no perilous feat but I imagine in wetter months/years you may have to scale some of the downed trees to cross. You’ve never seen a happier soul than the bear getting to soak his hot paws for a bit.
The bear dog was truckin’ along just fine but he also wasn’t carrying a 35lb pack so I on the other hand was absolutely dogging it by mile 7. Luckily for me, it’s at mile 7 that a miracle appears. That miracle? A sign for the turn off to Barlow Flats Camp. It’s at this point that I threw my hands up and resolved to spend the night at Barlow Flats, nestled in a grove of redwoods along the Big Sur River. Like I said, not a shabby Plan B.
I almost had the place entirely to myself. This was far more desirable then hiking an extra 3 miles to meet the hot springs crowds, which I was told could reach upwards of 100. If I had to do it again, I would take three days to do the hike, camp night one at Barlow Flats and then take a nice easy day trip to the springs on day 2. We did get to take a quick dip to rinse off in the river. It was real dang cold but felt so nice to wipe the substantial layer of dirt off. Bugs were a real issue until the sun went down so I cocooned myself in my hammock and exiled Finn to tent isolation until they started to dissipate.
We woke up with the sun, speedily packed up and were on the trail by 7:30 to get an early start and escape the heat. I was shocked on the trek back about how much of the trail was just a continuous downhill. It proved that I wasn’t just being a whiny little baby on the trek up and that the trail was, in fact, mostly uphill. The dog and I were totally beat by the time we made it back to the parking lot with a long ride home ahead of us but the PCH drive was the perfect end to a rad, exhausting trip.
Big Sur is one of those bucket list destinations. Take a cruise up the PCH for a little walk in the redwoods on the Pine Ridge Trail. It’s a butt whooping you’ll be happy to take!