This one of the best, and well-known trails in the area. Punctuated by majestic redwood groves in the pockets of the mountain, this path climbs past several camping areas and streams. The terrain is rocky and steep, often hugging the cliffside. The trail is prone to washouts, but the high volume of traffic generally ensures that workaround paths are quickly cut. This is a very busy trail. It is not uncommon to pass more than 50 hikers in any given day. It's best to visit midweek when the traffic is lighter.
The trailhead starts at Big Sur Station off Hwy 1. The lot is small and fills up fast. A lot of folks park for free along the highway, but this isn't the safest of options. Parking at the trailhead is $5 dollars per day. Leave cash in an envelope or pay at the station (credit cards accepted). This trail is much hotter than it looks. The first reliable water point is Terrace Creek about 5.5 miles in. Don't be deceived by how well worn this trail is, it can be very technical in areas. Dress appropriately and go prepared.
The trail immediately climbs through the first of many redwood groves, overlooking the Pfieffer Big Sur campground. This fist section is actually in the Pfieffer Big Sur State Park. Dogs are not generally allowed on the trails, but the Pine Ridge Trail #3E06
is an exception as long as they are leashed. As you depart the woods, the trail begins to climb in earnest. You'll gain about 1000 ft between miles 1 and 3. Some sites say that the trail levels out at this point, but it really doesn't, there aren't any significant level stretches in the entire route. It takes about two miles to escape the traffic and RV Camps noise.
At the 4.5 mile mark, you'll pass the turn-off for Ventana Camp. This small connector drops into the Big Sur River and is a good stopping point if you are traveling with kids. Just keep in mind that you'll have to climb back out before you can continue.
At the 5.5 mile mark, the trail crosses Terrace Creek. This is a reliable water source and is shaded by Redwoods. This is a great place to stop and rest since it is right on the trail. The Terrace Creek campsite is about 50 ft up the creek if you want to stay overnight. There are also toilets available at Terrace.
Once you cross Terrace Creek, the trail has more shade and crosses several intermittent streams. At the 7 mile mark, you'll pass the Barlow Flats campsite which sits right on the Big Sur. You can see the camp from the trail. This is a good option for camping, especially on weekends when the Sykes campsite tends to be overcrowded.
The highest point in the trail is about 1,700 ft, which you'll hit at around 8.5 miles before dropping in earnest for the last 1.5 miles to the Sykes campground. The trail crosses the Big Sur and campsites are in both directions along the river from the crossing point.
The hot springs are about 100 yards downriver, on the left-hand side directly adjacent to the river. There are two main pools that can only accommodate 3-5 people at a time. Since this is such a popular hike, the pools are usually packed. Hot spring etiquette is all over the place so don't be surprised to see nudity or unsavory behavior. Be warned that this is not to be considered this kid-friendly environment.
The Pine Ridge Trail #3E06
continues past Sykes for 14 more miles but gets significantly more treacherous. The next campsite is Redwood that is about three miles and 2500 ft in elevation beyond Sykes. This is a nice site and worth the trip if you are looking for a little more solitude than Syke provides.
This route is best accomplished during midweek in spring or fall. The trail gets very crowded on weekends and you'll see all sorts of young people venturing under-prepared into this wilderness. Due to the high volume of novice trail users, it is more important than ever to adhere to leave-no-trace and pack-it-in, pack-it-out principles as you'll see the consequences of ignoring these ideas in many areas.
This trail wanders in and out of redwood groves and high cliffside scrub forests. The contrast is amazing. Expect tons of wildlife showcasing the diversity of California's central coast.