When a friend of mine suggested that we do our first backpacking trip of 2012 to Sykes Hot Springs in Big Sur’s Ventana Wilderness, I said:
Into the Ventana Wilderness
Hiking and camping in Big Sur is always one of those must do’s for any native Californian.
The trip didn’t start off very well, unfortunately. Since we settled on going Sykes just a month before the trip, finding a vacant base-camp campsite up and down Highway 1 was pretty much impossible. EVERYTHING was booked up (we also went the weekend before the 4th of July, BIG MISTAKE). However, since I had just gone camping in Big Sur in 2010, I remembered a very small and far away campground called Botcher’s Gap –I was pretty sure it would have vacancies – it’s mostly a camp for backpackers.
After the long and winding drive up and down the mountain to Botchers Gap camp (whenever I go there, I always think that I’m getting lost! Just turn off of Hwy 1 onto Palos Colorados Rd. and you’ll be fine) we finally found ourselves a base camp – albeit a far away and uneven one.
We BBQ’ed our veggies, ate our tamales, enjoyed our fire, and went straight to bed.
Pluses of Botchers Gap: cheap, guaranteed vacancies, beautiful views if you’re lucky to get one of the 3 spots on the edge of the valley, easy access to one section of the Ventana Wilderness (not near Sykes though). Downsides: uneven ground, sites close together with no privacy, STANK-ass pit toilets, all sites are rimmed with poison oak. Don’t roll off your site!
In the morning, we woke and made the drive down the mountain to the Sykes hot springs trailhead at the Big Sur Forest Service Station. To get to Sykes Hot Springs via the Pine Ridge Trail, it’s about a 10 mile hike.
Notes about the hike:
Despite the fact that the initial part of the trail that ascends through a lush green forest, the first 3 miles of the hike kinda suck. It’s almost all uphill, most of it is very exposed to the sun, it’s narrow, there’s lots of poison oak, and the trail is deteriorating at times. Do it in the early morning before it gets really hot and dry on that dusty trail. Luckily, after the first 3 miles, it becomes much more enjoyable.
A typical view on the Pine Ridge Trail
There’s a few good camps to stop off at, so if you get tired, arrange to make your pit stops there!
Filtering water at Terrace camp, five miles in.
Halfway through the day, our group decided to go to a camp at the 8 mile mark and save Sykes for the next day, because we didn’t think we would want to do 10 miles straight in one day (our group was a mix of 1st time backpackers and people who haven’t backpacked in years). But we missed the turn off for the earlier camps and went straight to Sykes. It turned out to be the best decision.
The campgrounds at Sykes are numerous – besides the first ones you see on the right when you go do down to the river, there’s tons as you follow the river to your left. As we ventured on and on to find a site, a bunch of naked circus hippies wearing tu-tu’s and hula hoops approached us…