How To Plan For A Big Sur Camping Trip
Image from The Dyrt camper Elly A.
The weather in Big Sur can be very unpredictable, so its smart to pack all-weather gear when preparing for a Big Sur camping trip. A damp, foggy morning can be followed by a warm, sunny afternoon!
Fortunately, Big Sur has a long window for great camping weather, stretching from the end of April to early November. The ideal time is from mid-September to the end of October, when the crowds dwindle but the weather is still good.
Traffic delays are common, as are road closures due to rock and mudslides. Have a back-up plan in case you are unable to reach a specific section of the highway during your visit, as the road can be heavily impacted by weather. For up to date information on road and trail closures, see the California State Parks website.
Consider booking campgrounds on one end of the highway, such as north in Monterey or south near San Luis Obispo, and then drive into the middle section for day trips. It is the safest approach to guarantee you will be able to reach your accommodations for the night.
Best Time To Visit Big Sur
The high season stretches from April to October, but Big Sur is gorgeous all year-round, so no matter when you visit youre always in for a treat. If the forecast is clear, then its the perfect time to visit and go camping in Big Sur.
Just keep in mind that Big Sur is wildly popular on the weekends, so if youre looking to avoid the crowds then its best to visit during the week.
How Much Do Campsites In Big Sur Cost
It can really run the gamut, but it does veer towards the expensive. Expect to spend $70-85 at places like Big Sur Camping and Ventana for two people, one campsite .
Camping in state parks tends to be cheaper, but sell out faster. Expect to pay about $35-50 per night at a campsite at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and $30 per night per campsite at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. However, spots at the latter are very limited, so youll be lucky to nab one.
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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Camping
is yet another totally magical Big Sur camping destination. The campsites are nestled on a cliff under some trees overlooking the ocean. Big Sur camping doesnt get any better than this!
The obvious major drawback? There are only two goddamn campsites! The campsites at Julia Pfeiffer book out faster than a $2 rodeo in rural America. You need to be very on it if you have any hopes of securing a spot and reservations can only be made up to six months in advance.
Upon checking the availability schedule, I found both campsites are fully booked for the next six months. Bummer. Pretty much as soon as you know you are coming to Big Sur, check the and book whatever is available within your time frame.
The campsites are magical, though for $30/night I have a hard time justifying camping at Julia Pfefier at all.
If you do somehow manage a reservation, hopefully, you will get to see some whales, dolphins, or other amazing sea creatures!
Big Sur Bakery And Restaurant
Comfort food is done the right way at Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. Chill out in this rustic setting and enjoy everything from wood-fired pizza to fresh pastries. Before you leave you absolutely must try one of their scrumptious desserts we recommend the flourless brownie with hot fudge or the lemon ice cream pie!
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Where To Camp In Big Sur
With 90-miles of pristine coastline, Big Sur is just about the dreamiest place to cruise out of cell service and pitch a tent. There are redwoods and waterfalls, craggy alcoves and socked-in canyons, and on a clear, late summer day you can see whale spouts off in the distance.
Look up in the sky to spot a condor you cant miss them, theyre the ones with the 10-ft wingspan or peek over the cliffs to watch the otters bob in the waves. From the birds to the bakery , the mossy rocks and the babbling brooks, the silent hikes to the crashing swells heres our guide to the best campsites in Big Sur. Dont forget your long johns.
Big Sur Campground & Cabins
At the heart of the Big Sur coast, halfway between Andrew Molera and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Parks, this family-friendly campground offers nearly 100 spots next to the Big Sur River. An outdoor playground surrounded by redwoods is popular with both parents and kids at the campground, as is the large swimming pool that branches from the river. Offering space for tents and RVs, Big Sur Campground also features one- and two-bedroom camping cabins with private bathrooms.
Easy to sleep in at night and filled with activity throughout the day, Big Sur Campground enforces their quiet time of 10pm to 8am with a gentle but strict touch. Inner tubes are available to rent through the campground, and flushing toilets and showers are free to use for all overnight guests. For beach access and one of the most stunning places to catch the sunset in Big Sur, the world-famous Pfeiffer Beach is only a five-mile drive away.
Address: 47000 CA-1, Big Sur, California
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+ Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
189 RV and tent sites are available at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with a maximum of eight people per site. Trailers are allowed to be a maximum of 27 feet while motorhomes can be up to 32 feet. Offering standard and premium riverfront sites, this crazy popular campsite is often fully-booked. Reservations open six months in advance, so if you want to stay here then make sure to book early. Each campsite comes with parking, a fire pit, grill, and a picnic table, while showers, toilets, and a dump station are only a short walk away. If youre looking to go camping with dogs in Big Sur, then Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park may be the perfect solution. When it comes to camping in Big Sur, its hard to beat Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
When To Visit Big Sur
Big Sur enjoys a mild, temperate coastal climate throughout the year. Periods of intense drought and heat do happen in the summer. Warm temperatures are really felt in the interior when you move away from the coast.
Obviously, the summer is crazy busy up and down the coast. Huge, legendary traffic jams occur nearly on a daily basis from June-August. Around holidays too, Highway 1 is totally nuts chockablock with holidayers driving the classic West Coast route.
In order to get the maximum level of enjoyment, I highly recommend that you visit Big Sur in the shoulder season .
The truth is Big Sur can be super busy any time of the year. You might turn up on a Tuesday in late February only to find masses of people at every turn. Likewise, the opposite could be true.
Every time I have gone to Big Sur in the off-season I have visited at all times of the year) there has never been a consistent pattern of when its busy and when its not. Certainly, in the winter there tend to be fewer people on the roads.
Springtime is a beautiful period to experience Big Sur. The weather is mild with a potential for fewer people to be around, and the grey whales are migrating to the Arctic from March-April!
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Best Hikes In Big Sur
While some people just pass through for the scenery, true nature lovers absolutely have to go hiking in Big Sur. With over 80 day hikes, theres a hike for everyone. Some hikes are tougher, some will go through forests, and others to beaches, guaranteeing everyone can find a hike they love. Make sure to check the conditions before you go, but no matter when your trip, these are the best hikes in Big Sur.
Who The Hell Is Big Sur
Or more appropriately, where is Big Sur?
The 70-mile+ of coastline that makes up the Big Sur region runs between Carmel Highlands in the north and San Simeon in the south. The Pacific Coast Highway 1 runs along the Big Sur coast, sandwiched between by the dramatic Santa Lucia Mountains rising abruptly from the Pacific Ocean.
From San Francisco, northern Big Sur is roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive. That is if you dont hit any traffic.
Big Sur has no definitive borders, though the general consensus is that the above-mentioned stretch of highway and the surrounding mountains from south of Carmel to the north of San Simeon makes up greater Big Sur area.
California is the most populated state in the US. Big Sur, by contrast, has a fraction of the permanent residents occupying other parts of the California coast.
Big Sur is not and cannot be densely populated due to the rugged nature and isolation of its topography. There is no shortcut to get into and out of Big Sur by car. The only access is via the Pacific Coast Highway . This route, however, is one of the best road trips in California.
It is possible to hike into Big Sur via crossing the Santa Lucia mountain, but it isnt common. Certainly 99.9% of people drive to Big Sur.
The majority of the interior region of Big Sur is part of the Los Padres National Forest, Ventana Wilderness, Silver Peak Wilderness and/or Fort Hunter Liggett all of which are prime candidates for badass places to camp in Big Sur.
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Best Free Big Sur Camping Spots
Almost without exception, if it is free Big Sur campsites you seek, then you are going to have to get off Highway 1. There are numerous forest service roads running through or adjacent national forest land owned by the government that offer the best free camping spots in Big Sur.
Below, I cover the best free spots for camping in Big Sur that can be accessed by car
Limekiln State Park Campground
Why you should camp here: Soak up the cool and quiet of an ancient redwood forest at this 29-site haven.
- Reservations accepted: Yes
- Best season: Spring, summer, fall
- Campsite type: Tents, car camping, RV
- RV hookups: None
Full of history and just 52 miles south of Carmel, Limekiln State Park is a wooded wonderland for hobbit-types looking to bask in the glory of tall trees, electric green ferns, and cascading waterfalls.
While camped at Limekiln, you can sleep at the foot of towering redwoods, hike to the ruins of historic, centuries-old limekilns, and stroll to the beach to catch a glimpse of a sea otter all without ever getting into your car.
Ocean-view campsites cost a bit more than redwood sites, but trust us itll all be worth it when you watch the orange glow of the sun melt into the deep blue Pacific at dusk.
Campsites here are smaller and only hold two passenger vehicles or one RV . The trailer length limit is 15 feet and is strictly adhered to.
Pit toilets and picnic tables are available for all guests, while a steaming hot shower will cost you a small fee.
The rustic facilities and easy trails in the area make this an excellent campground for families with smaller kids whod rather soak up a variety of sights and sounds than push big miles.
Why you should camp here: Located just steps away from McWay Falls, these two environmental campsites are the best Big Sur has to offer if you can nab one!
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Ventana Double Cone Trail / Lone Pine Camp
A hike on the Ventana Double Cone Trail is a great opportunity to gain one of the best views in all of Big Sur.
The easiest start is from Bottchers Gap. To arrive, take Highway 1 south from Carmel for roughly 20 miles. Make a left at Palo Colorado Rd and drive through a remote cluster of houses dotted among some massive redwoods adorning the canyon.
Drive the road to its end, about 8-9 miles where it stops at Bottchers Gap. Dont drive through the gate, even if it is open!
The best camping option is probably Lone Pine Camp, though you can wild camp in many other places should you choose to. Water sources can be far and few between. Keep that in mind when choosing a place to camp.
Andrew Molera State Park Camping
Andrew Molera State Park is the only state park campground that is first come/first served, meaning you cant reserve a place. Of course, not having to make reservations has its benefits and its pitfalls.
Since there are only 24 campsites available on any given day, be sure to get there early to ensure you snag a campsite.
Andrew Molera is my favorite coastal Big Sur state park campground. There are plenty of awesome day hikes, secluded beaches, and jaw-dropping views . The landscapes are dreamy as hell and will leave you very much wowed by the days end.
If you like to surf, there are a few decent breaks accessed within Andrew Molera.
Youll need to hike for couple hundred meters to reach the campsites, so be prepared to make the short trek .
Tip: Try to get a campsite with a fire ring and picnic table! Cost: $25/night $10 extra for firewood.
The Trail campground at Andrew Molera is closed and has been for some time. I will post an update when the campground opens, but as of now, it isnt possible to camp here.
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Best Big Sur Camping Areas For Trekking And Hiking
In my opinion, the best Big Sur campgrounds involve a trek or hike. There is an endless amount of awesome Big Sur backcountry camping to uncover, and youll be rewarded with some of the best hiking in California state.
As is the case with most places, far fewer people set out on foot to explore a place. Even of those who do, fewer still do so with the intention to camp overnight.
I have seen insane traffic pile-ups, congestion, and masses of humanity just outside some of the popular state parks. After parking my truck at the visitors center and hiking 10 miles to the Sykes Hot Springs in the Ventana Wilderness, I found myself pitching my tent next to the Big Sur River with nobody in sight.
Camping out in the wilderness areas is the best way to escape the crowds, hands down. Its the best way to experience the best hikes in the USA. Plus, you can be certain that no police or ranger will hassle you for camping.
Within the Santa Lucia Mountains and Los Padres National Forest, there are at least 55 designated trail camps and countless others that are unofficial or undiscovered campsites.
Below are some of my favorite backcountry Big Sur camping spots
Big Sur Campground And Cabins
Why its worth camping at: Enjoy a family-friendly camping environment on the Big Sur River.Address: 47000 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920Phone number: 667-2322Cost: $110+/night , $400/night , $215/night , $150+/night .Amenities: Picnic table, fire ring, bathhouse, showers, water, electric hookups, dump station, inner tube rentals, playground, and camp store.
Big Sur Cabins and Campgrounds is a great place for Big Sur RV camping because it can accommodate the longest trailers of any of the other campgrounds on this list.
They also have water and electric hookups, as well as a dump station and showers.
In addition to RV campsites, Big Sur Cabins and Campgrounds offers traditional tent sites , camping cabins, and traditional cabins.
The camping cabins are made from a mix of wood and corrugated metal and include beds with linens, a covered porch, and a picnic table.
Overall, this is a great campground for families. Theres a playground and inner tube rentals to use on the Big Sur River, as well as a campground store to pick up those last-minute forgotten items.
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Big Sur Camping Cabin
This Big Sur Camping Cabin is located on a hill in rural Monterey county, close to Ventana Wilderness of Los Padres National Forest and Tassajara Zen Center.
Only 60 miles from the Big Sur this 140sq ft charming cabin features 2 beds, outdoor shower and an access to a separate building with compost toilet and. However, there is no kitchen or refrigerator so guests are advised to pack their own food. The nearest restaurant is 12 miles away.
The best for: people looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy solitude.
Price per night : from $175
Pfieffer Big Sur State Park Camping
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers up all of the best aspects of Big Sur. There are a series of excellent hiking trails, brilliant ocean views, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Every awesome place has its downsides though. The campground here is massive and can be quite the circus at any time of year. Also, there is no ocean/beach access from within the park. Try to get a campsite along the Big Sur River in the far back reaches of the campground.
A stay here has the potential to be peaceful, but with the number of campsites, you should have realistic expectations of the campground vibe/noise/human traffic.
Campsites for 1 car and tent costs $35/night.
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Big Sur Glamping Yurt On The Farm
Located in Big Sur town of Salinas, this Airbnb glamping yurt features a luxurious bed, fully equipped kitchen, a deck, a fire pit and the spectacular views of nearby vineyards.
The yurt can accommodate up to two guests who can enjoy plenty of outdoor games on the ranch, including a croquet course and a cornhole game. You can explore plenty of hiking trails or visit local vineyards and tasting rooms.
The best for: couples who are looking for a simple and cozy stay with a range of fun activities.
Price per night : from $344