10 Best Hikes in Big Sur

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Big Sur is known for its breathtaking scenery and beautiful coastal landscape, and while a lot of people enjoy this area during a road trip on Highway 1, exploring the gorgeous nature of the Big Sur area is especially great on foot.

There are tons of hiking trails in the Big Sur region, offering a variety of panoramic views of the ocean as well as sandy beaches and redwood forests.

In today’s article, we’ll show you the 10 best hikes in Big Sur, so you can pick the ones that suit you best. These trails span from easy to difficult, so even if you’re not an expert hiker, you’ll be set.

Big Sur, best hikes in Big Sur

» Looking for more inspiration along the route? Check out all our guides to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Diego. Find the best beaches in Monterey, waterfalls in Southern California, and national parks.

Where is Big Sur?

You can find Big Sur in Central California, along a mountainous section of Highway One, between Carmel and San Simeon. For those driving in from further afield, it’s about 150 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of Los Angeles.

Big Sur has been called the “longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States”. One of the most iconic landmarks of the area is the Bixby Bridge that spans 260 feet above the bottom of a canyon carved by Bixby Creek.

Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge (Photo by GTC)

Best Time to Visit

Generally, the peak season in Big Sur runs from April to October. However, there are more than 300 days of sunshine per year, so there’s really no bad time to go. You might just be a little chilly if you’re visiting in the winter. No big deal, right?

If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy pleasant weather, September to November is the best time to visit. During these months, you’ll experience sunny days with fewer tourists and less fog.

The good news is that Big Sur is a beautiful destination year-round, but the best time to visit, as always, depends on your preferences and priorities.

Things to Know Before You Go

Some things to remember before you go hiking, make sure you’re prepared for the weather with the appropriate clothing and shoes. Pack plenty of water and sunscreen, and always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be done, just in case.

Hiking Etiquette & Tips

It is essential to always be prepared for hiking by wearing the appropriate clothing, packing the right gear, and being aware of hiking etiquette whenever you’re out on the trail. Here are some of our tips for ensuring your hike is a good one:

  • Park only in designated spots, not off-road or in unpermitted areas.
  • Wear the appropriate clothing for the time of year – bringing a layer in case of sudden temperature changes. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes (flip flops are never a good idea).
  • Do not feed or approach any wildlife. Be aware there might be bears mountain lions, bobcats, or rattlesnakes on the trail.
  • Bring a good amount of water, some food, and sunscreen with you.
  • Never leave trash behind.
  • It’s best not to hike alone, but if you do tell a friend where you’re going and when to expect you back.

10 Great Hikes in Big Sur

1. Pfeiffer Falls Trail

Pfeiffer falls trail
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Total Distance: 1.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 403.5 ft

Starting off with a relatively easy one, the Pfeiffer Falls Trail is located in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

The state park is located directly on highway 1, around 30 miles west of Greenfield. You can find the trailhead parking behind the main office of the park.

This out and back trail is considered a relatively easy one, even if you’re not a very active person. It also opens all year round and you can visit it any time of the day.

This makes it ideal for beginners and those who want to enjoy the adventure without breaking heavy sweat.

The easy route takes anywhere between 45 to 50 minutes to complete, but since it’s quite popular among hikers, you’ll stumble across many hikers along the way. 

The trail is very well maintained, but pets aren’t allowed anywhere, so you’ll need to leave them at home. The park itself costs $10 per car for entry.

2. Buzzards Roost Trail

Buzzards roost trail
  • Difficulty Level: Relatively challenging
  • Total Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 810 ft

Buzzards Roost Trail is a loop trail that involves some steep climbing, which makes it a moderately challenging hike. However, the rewarding view at the top is well worth the effort!

The trail is found around 5 miles west of Rapid City. You should find the trail’s parking area on the left side of the highway.

The trail is surrounded by tall trees and coastal redwood forests, which makes it a great spot for bird watching and enjoying unique views, especially as you reach the summit.

The ideal time to go on this hike is late in the morning because early morning fog can obstruct the beautiful view. 

You can also go in the late afternoon. The best time to hit the trail is during early summer to mid fall, but it gets quite warm at the top.

The hike takes anywhere between 90 to 120 minutes to complete, depending on your pace and frequency of breaks!

3. Creamery Meadow and Ridge Trail Loop

Big Sur river
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to challenging
  • Total Distance: 8.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,440 ft

If you don’t mind going on a relatively long trail that takes you through a brief tour of the Big Sur area geography, you should consider this one!

You can find the trailhead at Andrew Molera State Park. The hike starts with the Creamery Meadow trail, which is a relatively easy trail where you cross the very shallow Big Sur river.

After that, you’ll continue up towards the bluffs trail loop and then head south towards the ocean where you’ll be greeted with a unique panoramic view.

The route itself is well maintained, but the challenging part is the lack of sunshade throughout the trail along with some rocky terrain and small hills. 

4. McWay Waterfall Trail

McWay waterfall trail
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Total Distance: 1.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 50 ft

Despite being a relatively short trail, this family-friendly stroll will walk you through the McWay Waterfall, which is one of the iconic attractions of Big Sur. 

You can reach the trailhead from the south parking lot past the Pfeiffer State Park entrance. This will cost a small parking fee, but it’ll come in handy if you’re planning to visit the park on the same day!

The hike starts with a few wooden steps that take you to a trail that goes under the highway. After that, you’ll find an easy route with a lot of nice spots to get a lovely view of the waterfall.

5. Tanbark Trail and Tin House Loop

  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Total Distance: 5.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,600 ft

This unique combination is quite popular among hikers near the Big Sur area because it walks you through lush greenery with coastal views!

Finding the trailhead can be a little tricky but you should find it a few feet ahead of the Parlington Cove Trailhead sign.

The deeper you get into the trail, the quieter and more scenic it gets. After passing by the beautiful redwoods, you’ll find large groups of long spiral-bark trees. Lastly, you’ll come across an old house that was built in 1944.

The trail opens throughout the year, but it’s recommended that you go from spring to fall to enjoy the green landscape in its full glory.

6. Pfeiffer Beach Trail

Pfeiffer fall and beach
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Total Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 16 ft

Pfeiffer beach is a unique out and back trail that takes you through some of the most attractive beaches you’ll find anywhere, as it has some unique purplish sand thanks to manganese garnet that comes down after rainfall from nearby mountains.

The Pfeiffer Beach trailhead can be accessed immediately off the parking lot, so it’s very easy to find. 

In addition to the beautiful purplish sand, you will be able to take a glimpse at the Keyhole Rock near the beach as well as plenty of aesthetic rock formations. Keep in mind that this beach is not for swimming, but the views are quite worth it!

7. Headlands Trail

Andrew Molera State Park at sunset
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate
  • Total Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 50 ft

While there are plenty of trailheads in the Andrew Molera State Park, the Headlands trail is a special out and back trail that shows you the true diversity of wildlife in the area.

You can find the trailhead around 0.25 miles north of the state park’s entrance near Surfer’s point.

The trail follows Big Sur rivers and takes you to Molera Point where you can enjoy a clear view of the Big Sur coastline. The trail also passes by Cooper’s Grove which is famous for its eucalyptus trees and colorful butterflies.

Along your hike, you’ll find a variety of seabirds as well as sealines and several gray whales that are passing by while migrating.

8. Mill Creek Trail

  • Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate
  • Total Distance: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 610 ft

If you don’t do well under the sun, you should consider this lovely trail with plenty of shade thanks to the variety of maple and redwood, and sycamore trees in the region.

You can trail the trailhead by traveling a few miles south down the road from Big Sur town. To pinpoint the casual entrance, look for the dirt trail exactly 0.8 miles up the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

Although the trail is fairly easy, you still need to be a little careful, as there are some poison oaks in the region.

However, the low popularity of this trail guarantees some untouched natural beauty that is shrouded by a variety of trees and shrubs!

9. Vicente Flat Trail

  • Difficulty Level: Challenging
  • Total Distance: 10.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,308 ft

Despite the name, Vicente flat is a relatively steep climb that is quite lengthy and requires high endurance and deep backpacking skills.

The Vicente Flat Trailhead starts off the main highway, so it’s easy to find. Simply park your car along the road and you’re ready to go.

The climbing starts almost immediately in this one, and it’ll keep going for around 3.5 miles where you’ll have gained 3,000 feet.

At such a high altitude, it’s no surprise that you’ll enjoy a one of a kind view of the entire Big Sur area. You’ll also come across a variety of unique plants and flowers. The route is out and back, so you’ll go back the same way you’ve gone up.

10. Limekiln Falls Trail

Limekiln falls
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate 
  • Total Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 250 ft

Once you reach Limekiln State Park, you can find this trail by the entrance. The trail is fairly simple with plenty of signs to let you know where you’re going.

However, it requires a fit hiker who is ready to go over and under some logs scattered across the path.

The relaxing trail also branches into an optional side route that takes you to a small waterfall, but you’ll need to maneuver your way around a few boulders.

Big Sur coastline at sunset

Wrap Up

There you have it! A brief guide that walks you through 10 different hiking spots in Big Sur where you can experience its true beauty firsthand!

As you can see, whether you’re looking for an easy stroll on the beach, a challenging climb for a lovely view, or to reach picturesque waterfalls, Big Sur hikes have you covered!

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10 Best Hikes in Big Sur

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