The Quick and Dirty:
Location: Backpacking Sykes Hot Springs in Big Sur, CA. The Pine Ridge trail head starts from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Beach and overnight parking is free at the lot.
Distance and Duration: 10 miles one way on the Pine Ridge trail to Sykes camp, we finished the hike in about 4 hours one way.
Permit: No advanced permit reservation is required however a back country fire permit is needed if you want to cook with a stove or start a camp fire. At the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Beach ranger station, you can obtain the back country fire permit and for a $1 donation, the rangers will provide you with a nice trail map of the Pine Ridge trail.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed in the national forest and to the hot springs
Trail conditions: This is a very popular trail, therefore the it is well maintained and clearly marked.
Good to know: Beware of the abundant amount of poisonous oak on the trail. When arrived at Sykes camp, you will be required to cross the stream several times to get to the campsite and the hot springs. Be extra careful crossing the streams in the spring time when water flow is fast. It’s always a good idea to walk up and down the stream and pick a spot where the flow is the slowest before you cross. Having water shoes to cross the stream is a good idea or we just took off our hiking shoes and went bare foot across the stream.
We arrived at the trail head a little after lunch and started hiking in to Sykes campround at 1:15PM. The trail was very lush this time of the year and wild flowers were in full bloom. Five miles into the hike, we reached the Ventana campground turnoff sign, this was the first campsite of our hike.
As we hiked on, we saw a surprising number of hikers coming out of the trail (at least 30-40), most we talked to were camping at Sykes the night before. It was hard for us to imagine this many people camping at the same campground. We made a mental note to never camp at Sykes during a weekend.
We continued on to Terrace Creek at about 6 miles in and took a break for Louis to refill his water. There is only one (unofficial) camp spot right next to the Terrace Creek we saw someone camping at. After another mile passing Terrace Creek, we reached Barrow Flats campground junction. Located 7 miles from the trail head, Barrow Flats looked like a spacious campground with a running steam. It is a good option to camp here instead of Sykes if you are looking to get away from the crowd.
Even though Louis really wanted to stop at Barrow Flats and camp for the night, I was excited to check out the hot springs at Sykes and convinced him to head to our final campground. We reached Sykes at around 5:30PM and decided to camp the opposite side of the hot springs. The stream we had to cross had a good flow but thankfully there was a rope to help guide us across.
As we walked through Sykes campground, we noticed a ton of unofficial campsites with makeshift fire rings, some campsites were right on the trail! Once we set up our tent and quickly changed into our bath suits and looked for the hot springs. There are no signs directing where the hot springs are, we ended up followed the general direction of another hiker. It is about a quarter mile from the main camp area. Once you are close to the hot springs, you will smell the sulfur before you see it. By the time we got there, the two big tubs were already occupied and we were told there was a smaller tub down by the river. The smaller tube can fit one person comfortably and two with a tight squeeze. The temperature at the mouth of the hot spring was about 100 degree (much cooler than a hot tub) but very comfortable nonetheless.
We packed up our things and hiked out early next morning at 7am and got back to our car at 11 am. Next stop for us is Medicino County which is a 4.5 hour drive north. We wanted to pamper ourselves for the night at the beautiful Bed and Breakfast of Glendevin Inn. The inn is located in a small town right by Van Damme State Park called Little River.