Big Sur hiking

What to know when hitting the trails

By Hailey Hill
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View of redwoods and mountains as seen from Buzzard’s Roost Trail. Photo by Hailey Hill.

One of the privileges that accompanies attending California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) is the campus’s close proximity to unique and beautiful places many travel to from other regions, states or even countries to experience. A short drive south on the historic Pacific Coast Highway (U.S. Highway 1) will take you into a selection of California state parks filled with ancient redwoods, flowing rivers, and pristine, untouched coastline.

Understandably, these parks and areas are at the top of many avid hiker and nature enthusiasts’ lists of places to explore. In order to enjoy what nature has to offer to the fullest, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you begin your adventure.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, located about 45 minutes south of CSUMB, is among the most famous parks in the vicinity of campus. Since there is no reliable internet or cell service, as Big Sur is situated in a valley, it’s a good idea to know where you’re going and what trails are best for you before you enter the park.

It’s important to note that dogs are not allowed on the trails of the park. Many of the trails are too narrow or uneven to have a dog safely accompany you. Dogs are allowed in the campground and day-use areas.

Many hikers come to this park to see the Pfeiffer Falls, which are accessed via the Pfeiffer Falls/Valley View trail. However, this trail is currently inaccessible to the public due to repairs and reconstruction being done on the route. The reopen date for this trail is unknown. If you are wanting to see waterfalls, travel a few miles farther south to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to check out the famed McWay Falls or the Ewoldsen Trail, which takes you to the Canyon Falls.

Big Sur hiking
View of the valley and the distant ocean from the viewpoint at the end of the Valley View trail. Photo by Hailey Hill.

Pfeiffer Big Sur has something to offer for all experience levels, even if the falls are inaccessible. A good starter trail would be the Valley View trail, a 2.2 mile loop up the hillside through redwoods and oak trees that ends with a stunning view of the valley and the distant Pacific Ocean. The trail is rated as “easy” in Robert Stone’s hiking guide, “Day Hikes around Monterey and Carmel.” At the bottom of the trail, you may find banana slugs among the redwoods and as you move up the trail, you will find oak trees and small wildflowers.

Slightly more experience is needed for the Buzzard’s Roost trail, which is 2.5 miles roundtrip and is rated “easy to moderate.” This trail is steeper with narrower, more slippery terrain; good hiking shoes are certainly recommended. This trail offers similar views to that of the Valley View trail and winds through the redwoods and up onto an open ridge.

Big Sur hiking
Standing alongside the Big Sur River. Photo by Gabe Mercado.

For a real challenge, there is the Mount Manuel trail. This trail sees an elevation gain of 3,200 feet, can take up to six hours to complete and is 10.4 miles round-trip. Experience is absolutely necessary to reach the top, as it is rated “very strenuous.” This challenge is exciting for many avid hikers and the views are rewarding. The trail mostly covers exposed hillside, so it is crucial to stay hydrated on the hike, as you will be in the sun for a majority of the hike.

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