Backpack the Pine Ridge in Big Sur, North Coast Ridge Loop

Big Sur Station, Big Sur, California, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    50 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    3000 Feet


This is suggested 4-day backpacking loop for those looking to spend a few days in the Ventana Wilderness section of Los Padres National Forest. It starts and ends at the popular Pine Ridge Trail trailhead in Big Sur, CA and offers a challenging but rewarding backpacking experience.

If you are looking to do some backpacking in the Big Sur area, you've come to the right place. This post shares a suggested 4-day backpacking loop in the Ventana Wilderness that will offer a bit of everything - challenging hiking with a healthy does of elevation, beautiful primitive camping among the Redwoods, plenty of great water sources and a great ending along a coastal ridgeline trail that offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. If you're like this East Coaster and unfamiliar with the area, it can be a daunting task to plan a multi-day loop here. The Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness offer so many options. My hope here is to offer some suggestions and share my experience - both good and bad (bad = character building :)

Day 1 - Pine Ridge Trailhead to Redwood Camp
This is a somewhat aggressive first day with an approximate 12 mile hike to Redwood Camp, but it is well worth it. If you leave early, you can get a great spot along the river at Redwood Camp, right beneath giant redwood trees. The Pine Ridge trail is well-maintained. You will pass a few other camp sites along the way including Terrace Creek (great lunch stop), Barlow Flats and Sykes Camp and Hot Springs. There is a river crossing near Sykes with a hand line.

Day 2 - Redwood Camp to Rainbow Camp via Big Sur Trail
Warning - as of late Spring 2016, the Big Sur trail is unmaintained and at some points it is easy to lose. In addition, you will have a lot of switchbacks and approx. 1000 ft of elevation gain. Watch out for Poison Oak. It's everywhere! This is a good resource for checking current trail conditions and reports. Rainbow Camp is another nice camp down in the valley right along the Big Sur River, but be warned - this is a tough day!

Day 3 - Rainbow Camp to Cold Spring Camp
The hike out of Rainbow Camp will have another day of switchbacks and approximately 1500 ft of elevation gain as you continue along the Big Sur Trail to Cold Spring Camp. Cold Spring Camp offers just a few camp sites at about 3000 ft. and has a much different feel than camping down in the redwoods. It is a bit more exposed to weather and can get quite windy. There are also two types of water sources here - a water tank and a creek. Enjoy lots of croaking frogs at night :)

Day 4 - Cold Spring Camp to Big Sur Station via North Coast Ridge Road / Pine Ridge Trail
The last day provided a much needed break with fairly flat hiking from Cold Spring along the North Coast Ridge Road. This is a beautiful morning hike with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean to your left and the Ventana Wilderness to your right as you head back North. At about the 6 mile mark, you will see signs to essentially re-enter the Los Padres National Forest towards Terrace Creek. Take that trail back down to Terrace Creek Camp and then pick up the Pine Ridge Trail in the opposite direction as Day 1 to make your way back to Big Sur Station.

Check out these helpful resources for more information on the Ventana Wilderness

Pack List

  • Campfire Permit
  • Water purification system
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag / pad
  • Camp stove
  • Trough
  • First aid kit with temporary poison oak relief spray (e.g. Ivy-Dry)
  • US Forest Service or comparable topo map
  • Compass and/or GPS
  • Long pants and sleeves for unmaintained portions of trails
  • Rain jacket
  • Sunglasses (despite being in the National Forest, there are portions of sun exposure above the treeline on this trip)
  • Other typical backpacking hiking essentials
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As of December 5, 2016, the Soberanes Fire closure area has been reduced. See the links below for the Forest Closure Order and a map which indicates the closure boundaries. Most of the Ventana Wilderness remains CLOSED. This includes backcountry camps like Sykes, Terrace Creek, Barlow Flat, Pat Spring, Carmel River, Pico Blanco Public Camp, and many others. Unauthorized entry is punishable by a fine up to $5,000 and imprisonment up to six months. Please review these links and call the Monterey Ranger District at (831) 385-5434 before visiting the Ventana Wilderness. Also, please note that Level 2 Fire Restrictions are in place. This means NO CAMPFIRES in the backcountry (stoves are OK with a permit). With visitation to the Monterey Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest now concentrated in far fewer trails and camps, it is up to all of us to tread lightly on the land and adhere to restrictions. Now more than ever, it is critical that all visitors practice Leave No Trace principles. Many State Park trails in the Big Sur area are also CLOSED. Call the State Park that you wish to explore to determine if trails are open. A handy list of State Park phone numbers can be found at the link below. Big Sur Chamber of Commerce Camping Guide

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

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