Some of the most beautiful hikes and trails in the world are located in Big Sur. Bordered by the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains and the gorgeous Pacific Ocean, Big Sur offers unparalleled scenic beauty. And there’s no better way to experience this beauty than by hiking the extensive trail system that runs through this area. Here’s a run-down of the best Big Sur day hikes for all levels and abilities, from short and accessible jaunts to steep and strenuous backpacking treks. Along each one you’ll find epic views all around.
As you enjoy these trails remember that Big Sur is a very special place, so please enjoy it responsibly. Help to preserve the beauty for all to see and enjoy for years to come by following all posted signage, staying on designated trails and leaving no trace behind. Learn more about visiting Big Sur responsibly here and take the Big Sur Pledge. When visiting, plan to use state park day use parking lots, and bring cash for the fee (usually $10).
1. PFEIFFER FALLS & VALLEY VIEW TRAIL - PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK
If you’re looking for short and relatively easy hikes in Big Sur, the Pfeiffer Falls & Valley View Trail is the perfect option. This out and back scenic hike is about 2 miles with 500 feet of elevation gain and a waterfall! With great lookouts and plenty of benches along the trail, it’s great for kids and those who want to take their time with plenty of opportunities to rest and enjoy the view. However, leave your pups at home because dogs are not allowed on these trails.
The hike begins from a trailhead by the Big Sur Lodge near the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. After parking in day use parking lots, walk back toward the lodge on either River Path or Nature Trail to reach the start of the trail. Look for the sign for Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View and the path will lead up a dirt trail on steps between gorgeous redwood trees. You’ll pass beautiful greenery and a babbling stream as the hike gets underway. When you come to an intersection, turn toward Pfeiffer Falls, this route will take you directly to a flowing 50-foot waterfall. For a slightly more difficult route at about 3 miles and 700 ft of elevation gain, head towards Valley View at the intersection. Although a bit steeper, this route will lead you above the trees and provide gorgeous views at the top.
2. WATERFALL OVERLOOK TRAIL TO MCWAY FALLS - JULIA PFEIFFER BURNS STATE PARK
The wheelchair accessible Waterfall Overlook Trail is approximately 0.5 miles long and leads from the parking lot to a bluff and overlook area where visitors can enjoy coastal views and the majestic McWay Falls that pours down on the sandy beach below in McWay Cove. Be mindful that there is no direct access to the waterfall and pedestrians must stay on the designated trail. This is one of the most popular Big Sur waterfall trails, so expect higher amounts of traffic here. The trail is about 4 feet wide with a surface that consists of dirt, gravel and a wooden boardwalk with railings. The majority of the trail is gentle, but there are some steeper sections. Keep in mind there is one designated accessible parking space in the paved parking lot off of Highway 1 at the northeast end of the trail. For more info on accessible features on this trail check the California Department of Parks and Recreation website. Dogs are not allowed beyond the day-use parking lot.
3. BUZZARDS ROOST TRAIL - PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK
Buzzards Roost is a great Big Sur hike to break a little sweat and get some great views, best used from March to October. This moderate 2.6 mile trail takes you up switchbacks through a forest of tan oaks and bay trees, and along streams, to a summit view at Pfeiffer Ridge that looks out over the coast. This trail is a local favorite and the perfect hike to do at sunset! Dogs are not allowed on this trail.
4. PARTINGTON COVE TRAIL AND TAN BARK TRAIL - JULIA PFEIFFER BURNS STATE PARK
Here you have the option to take a short 1.5 mile hike or a 5.6 mile longer hike at Tan Bark Trail loop. Either is perfect if you need to stretch your legs a bit while on a drive down Highway 1. The shorter hike is just a ten minute walk down an incline, the trail leads you over a small creek to a tunnel carved through a wall of rock. Walk through the tunnel to the hidden cove on the other side. Follow the trail along the right side of the cove to Partington Point and enjoy the coastal views before hiking back to the trailhead. The longer Tan Bark Trail loop begins at the McWay park entrance and continues up a steep climb through meadows and redwood-filled canyons. Dogs are not allowed on these trails.
5. TIMBER TOP AND BORANDA TRAIL - LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST
This 5.3 mile out and back trail is challenging with epic views. The trail immediately begins with a steep ascent through thick foliage and remains steep for most of the way. As you continue, you’ll travel through meadows, trees and plenty of wildflowers if you’re trekking in spring. As you reach the top you’re met with coastal views. Either camp for the night, or head back down before sunset. For camping, check here for more info, or call 1-877-444-6777 for more details. Follow all guidelines and restrictions listed. If you choose to camp, at the top you’ll find a great area to set up for the night with a picnic table, grill and some trees for shade. Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash at all times.
6. SYKES HOT SPRINGS VIA PINE RIDGE TRAIL - LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST
This hike is not for the faint of heart. The trail is strenuous, and you'll most likely cross a river twice - be careful in the winter and spring months, when the water runs quickly. It is over nine miles to Sykes Camp and Hot Springs along the Pine-Ridge Trails and approximately 19 miles round-trip. If you're prepared for the long day of hiking, you can accomplish this visit in a day. However, this trail is better if you’re looking to do some Big Sur backpacking. This is a dog-friendly trail, so feel free to bring your pup along if they can handle the mileage, but make sure they stay on leash. Although this is a breathtaking hike with beautiful views, keep in mind the trail only just reopened in April 2021 after a 4.5 year closure due to overcapacity and natural disasters. In an effort to keep the trail and hot springs open, please follow the regulations provided by Ventana Wilderness Alliance here. For more details on camping, check here for more info, or call 1-877-444-6777 for more details. Follow all guidelines and restrictions listed.
7. 8 MILE LOOP - ANDREW MOLERA STATE PARK
This 8 mile round-trip hike is moderate to strenuous. The perfect middle ground for someone looking for a bit more than an easy walk, and a bit less than an intense trek. This hike also combines a number of different terrains, offering a good variety of views including a combination of the Ridge Trail, the Panorama Trail and the Bluffs Trail with great coastal views and beach access. No dogs are allowed on this trail.
For a more comprehensive list of Big Sur hikes, visit the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce Local Hikes Guide here.
When planning your Big Sur hike make sure to research your trip prior to arrival to determine if all roads and trails are accessible. Highway 1 on the Big Sur Coast often has roadway repairs especially during the winter months. It is wise to check Caltrans' current Highway 1 conditions here before you drive along the Big Sur coast. You can also call a hotline at 1-800-427-7623. Check with individual State Parks to confirm access and for additional information. Please drive safely, and visit Big Sur responsibly.