Partington Cove, located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, is one of Big Sur’s hidden jewels. It’s a short hike with just enough exertion to make hikers feel they worked for the views, with vistas that show how Big Sur earned the nickname “Little Yosemite.” The entire hike, down and back, can be completed in an hour or less, although there’s enough to see to spend a half day. It’s a great excursion for beginning hikers; the trail is so broad and distinct that it’s impossible to get lost.
How To Find The Partington Cove Trail
The trailhead is located five miles south of Nepenthe or 1.8 miles north of the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The only marker is a gate by the side of the road at a fairly sharp curve. It doesn’t look like much, but take just a few steps down the path and you’ll hear the magical sound of Partington Creek as it descends a series of small falls to its namesake cove. Only a few feet more down the path, and the sound of any traffic on Highway One will be entirely obscured.
Partington Cove: The Hike
The trail down to Partington Cove is broad. Once upon a time this served as a road for mule trains heading down to the cove; now it’s a fire road. You’ll have a bird’s perspective as you descend, looking down into the treetops. Don’t be surprised if you see a bird soaring below you! As you walk down the dirt path, you’ll catch glimpses of Partington Creek between the trees below.
Once you reach the bottom of the road you’ll have three choices: go straight across a wooden bridge, turn right to a path along the creek to the cove, or turn left to hike up the creek.
Over the Bridge
From the center of the bridge, you’ll have a great view of Partington Creek rushing toward the ocean between tall green trees. It’s an idyllic spot, perfect for photos. Continue on and turn right to get to one of the most unique spots in Monterey County – a more than century-old 60-foot tunnel.
Over a century ago, Big Sur was much more populated than it is now. John Partington, for whom Partington Cove is named, ran a business selling the bark of the tanbark oak tree to leather manufacturers, who used the bark to tan leather (hence the name). The best cove for ships to come into was also difficult to access; Partington drilled this tunnel through the hill to make it easier to ship all that tanbark out. On the other side of the tunnel is Partington Cove. Look down toward the ocean and you’ll see massive eye bolts in the rock that have been there since the 1800s. Once they were used to tie up timber ships (and, it’s rumored, bootlegger’s boats during Prohibition). At the end of the trail is a perfectly placed bench with spectacular views of the coastline and ocean. You may spot otters playing in the ocean not far from where you’re sitting.
Downhill Toward the Ocean
This short path wends its way between trees, down the last few yards to the ocean. This small cove, with its rocky beach, is a contained but lovely landscape, especially Partington Creek’s final tumble across a series of boulders into the sea.
Uphill Along the Creek
The views along Partington Creek as it tumbles toward the ocean are picturesque. You’ll see redwoods and other local flora (watch for poison oak). Look up at the right point and you may be surprised both by how far below your starting point you now are – and how much further up the hill goes before it reaches its summit.