Spectacular views between Carmel and Big Sur. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

Big Sur is Open for Business – Sorta; We Visited So You Don’t Have To

The northern nub of Big Sur is open for business despite heavy rain and fire damage to roads and wilderness. But the Coastside Slackers didn’t find much to do on their recent visit. You’d think we had found Slacker Nirvana. But instead we were disappointed. 

Hiking in the redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking
Hiking in the redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

Sure, the drive south from Carmel-by-the-Sea still holds plenty of dramatic scenery, at least until Highway 1 ends abruptly at the scene of the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge collapse. And rangers at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park told us they expect to have the campground fully operational by July 1. But we are not campers. (A trail around the bridge collapse to a south-bound shuttle also is scheduled to open July 1. Find more information here.)

MontaraManDan and The Kid often camped with other dads and daughters back before the turn of the last century. But as The Kid’s teen years began those day’s ended, with a semi-ceremonial pitching of their worn and battered tent into a dumpster on the way out of Joshua Tree National Park. Camping  days never really began for The Geek. Electricity for gadgets is scarce in the wilderness, and her aversion to poison oak is legendary.

Now we like to roam – bluffs, canyons, beaches, hillsides. And roaming options are in short supply right now at the north end of the scenic byway. Pfeiffer Big Sur’s popular Buzzards Roost, Valley View, Pfeiffer Falls, Ridge, Gorge and Mount Manuel trails are all closed. Garrapata State Park trails east of Highway 1 also are closed. Andrew Molera State Park? Closed. Pfeiffer beach? Closed.

So why did we go? A New York Times article piqued our interest – Even after the Landslides, You Can Still Visit Big Sur. We decided to check it out (so you don’t have to.) While the article was essentially accurate, the upbeat tone driven by local business owners and pols made us hopeful. We expected more. We got less.

We did not explore the south end of the scenic byway. Nor did we choose to take the treacherous Naciemiento-Ferguson Road to explore a presently isolated stretch of Highway 1 that remains open between closures to the north and south. The situation is fluid. You can find a detailed map and article on the challenges facing the region here.

Up north, we did enjoy a picnic lunch at a table near the Big Sur River in the company of the region’s omnipresent blue and black Steller’s Jays. CRAW! We hiked the available park trails – all two miles of them  —  alongside and above the river between campgrounds. Sections of the trails are festooned with strips of yellow police tape, plywood barriers and other signage warning hikers to stay out or keep back. Poison oak was an added deterrent to any thought of trail-blazing. The Geek is convinced it lurks beneath every rock and redwood, waiting to pounce. In fact, it’s the Steller’s Jays that are everywhere. CRAW!!

And we did our part for the local economy by spending the night at the Big Sur River Inn. We particularly enjoyed late-afternoon sangria and a fruit and cheese plate on the restaurant deck overlooking the river. We wandered the riverside lawn. (No poison oak!) Returned to the room and read. Walked back across the road for a bite of dinner. Fended off still more Steller’s Jays. CRAW!!!

Next morning we slept in, enjoyed a big breakfast and headed back north toward the Coastside looking for more attractive slacking opportunities.

Our advice?

Campers: If you like to camp and have a site reserved at Pfeiffer Big Sur, don’t miss it! The handful of campers on a Monday seemed to be having a big time just hanging out, particularly along the river. Pure camp slacking. Bring your inner tube.

  • Tech tycoons: If your unicorn startup is doing well, then book a room at the Post Ranch Inn south of the bridge collapse. The Inn is presently offering packages that start at the weirdly specific rate of $4,291 and include helicopter transportation.
  • Day-trippers: It’s still a magnificent drive to Pfeiffer Big Sur from Carmel-by-the-Sea. Just temper your expectations for when you reach road’s end. Maybe think of it as 17-Mile-Drive without the golf or other amenities.

If you decide to go, keep an eye on road conditions and services on the California State Park and Caltrans websites. Services and accessibility are expected to improve as summer progresses. The beach and bluffs at Garrapata State Park just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea are open and they are spectacular. See our post on Garrapata here.

Our plans? We’ll come back when the road is clear again from Morro Bay to the Monterey Peninsula. It may be a while. But for now, there’s little that the northern slice of Big Sur offers that we can’t enjoy Coastside. Except perhaps redwood-size poison oak and the dedicated company of Steller’s Jays. CRAW!!!!

NOTE: This post was updated on June 30 to add a link about plans to open a trail around the bridge collapse at Pfeiffer Canyon and a link to a June 28 Coastside Slacking blog post about the beach and bluffs at Garrapata.

Steller's Jay at Big Sur River Inn. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.
Steller’s Jay at Big Sur River Inn, complaining about poison oak. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.

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