Backpack to the Ventana Wilderness' Sykes Hot Springs

20 miles 5600 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Blake Maitoza

Take a scenic 20 mile hike (roundtrip) along the Pine Ridge Trail to 3 hot springs sitting next to the Big Sur River.

The trek to Sykes Hot Springs is about 10-miles one way along the Pine Ridge Trail. This is a great backpacking trip, but can be done as an out-and-back hike from the campgrounds at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park if you're really moving.

The trail is moderately challenging, you'll cross the river twice - be careful in the winter and spring months, when the water runs fast. If it looks too fast, we don't recommend trying to cross. In the last 0.5 miles, you'll have to scramble down rocks to get to the hot springs. If you're reading this and thinking that 20 miles in one day isn't for you, it's cool, there are 3 hike in campgrounds, which are closer to the hot springs: Terrace Creek (about 5 miles in), Barlow Flat (3 miles from the hot springs and the largest campground on the trail), and Sykes Campground (right near the springs). Fires are not allowed in these campgrounds during the summer months. There is one toilet along the route, and by toilet, we mean an exposed wooden box with a hole in it. Pro Tip: the hot springs only comfortably seat 4-5 people. It's best to go during the off-season (not summer) and to get on the trail as early as possible.

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CLOSED due to Storm Damage - No timetable to re-open the lower Pine Ridge Trail

First there was the 2016 Soberanes Wildland Fire (caused by an abandoned illegal campfire). Then there were the historic winter storms of 2017 which caused widespread damage to trails and roads in the region. The lower Pine Ridge Trail from Big Sur Station to Sykes is CLOSED for safety reasons. Honestly. Don't think you can get there. Washouts abound. Whole sections of trail are gone or covered by deadfalls. See photos here: Even if you do make it without killing yourself, you will cause erosion which will further complicate repairs. That is why it is illegal to go there until repairs are complete. This is a US Forest Service decision and responsibility. Call 831-385-5434 for more information or see this link. Note: The hot springs are inappropriate structures in designated Wilderness and the Big Sur River is designated as Wild & Scenic by the US Congress which adds further protections. So do not expect dammed up hot springs and tubs when the trail is re-opened. Sorry to provide bummer information about this so-called "bucket list" destination.

Perfect Overnight Trip

Went on a short backpacking trip here at the end of summer. My friend and I left early in the morning to beat the heat, which was a great call because parts of the trail have no shade and it gets hot! Through the 10 miles in, it was constant uphill and downhill. Once we arrived to Sykes it was so hot so we took a dip in the river. It felt amazing but I made the mistake of not packing sandals/ water shoes because it was real rocky. After we cooled off we finally made our way down the river to the springs. We picked a great weekend and there were only a few other people there, so plenty of room with there being 3 separate springs. Beautiful trip. Overall, Sykes was rad!

Serene and beautiful ... if you go at the right time

My wife and I have done this hike 3 times with our dog and we absolutely love it. Every time we've purposely gone right BEFORE a major holiday weekend (4th of July, Memorial Day, etc.) and have had the hot springs and adjacent river all to ourselves for at least a few hours. If you can manage it, we highly recommend going during a weekday. The peace and and forest sounds you get are perfect. The hike is nicely paced, flattening out or descending whenever the ascends seem to get a little old, and other than an exposed rocky first part, most of the trail has cooling shade cover and the smell of TREES! When you get to the river at the end, we recommend crossing to the other side to avoid campers coming through your site. There are a few fallen logs to cross and there is a particularly pristine sandy riverside spot just past the largest and longest fallen redwood if you have the fortune to get there first. Good luck and have fun!

Extra Tips

Cool little place to go to and relax. I've crossed the river in the spring time and it wasn't that bad, I do recommend wearing river sandals though when crossing. On the first crossing there are downed trees you can use as a bridge and on the last crossing into the camp ground there's a rope for balance. I recommend when you get to the last river turn left and walk down river, it's towards the hotsprings and good camp grounds. If I remember correctly there are 4 tubs. Please hike out what you hiked in! Every time I go there I hike out a couple bags of trash people leave behind 😭

Great 3-day Trip

We started on Sunday at 10 in the rain, which was perfect for that epic first climb. People were pouring out of the mountain heading home. We hiked all the way to Sykes the first day in about 6 hours with a stop for lunch at Terrace Creek. We found a decent, but not very flat campsite at Sykes. We were so tired by the time we got there, we chose not to keep looking for some of the "better" sites down the river, as the rain had made the river pretty deep. We had planned to stay at Terrace creek the next day but when we stopped for lunch, it seems crowded and busy so we opted for the Barlow Flat campground and we were so happy we did. After a morning soak in the hot spring, we took a leisurely 3 mile hike, enjoyed a beautiful, secluded spot right on the water. The 7 miles back are a bit arduous because of the steep descent, but the views are so worth it. It was great in the spring - all the wild flowers were out but there wasn't much poison oak. I would highly recommend it!

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