Best Camping and Hiking in the Big Sur Area

big sur beach

Best Camping and Hiking in the Big Sur Area

Getting There

If you’re like us, you have been cooped up in your home due to the whole COVID thing.  We have taken little trips here and there but we were getting restless once again. 

We decided to take a trip up to the Big Sur area on the 4th of July weekend with absolutely no reservations.  Now, please keep in mind that we knew the circumstances and we were going to roll with whatever came our way and of course, it all worked out magically. 

We came up from San Diego, so you will see the parks and campgrounds coming from the South, Northward.  This is the Best Camping and Hiking in the Big Sur Area.

NOTE:  We departed on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.  We wanted to get in the area before the weekend travelers, so we arrived on Wednesday.  It was a super-good call.  

Limekiln State Park

Limekiln State Park Waterfall

This was our first attempt at finding refuge for our first night.  We arrived around Noon and asked, “Do you have a reservation cancellations?”  The ranger stated that if we wanted to get a spot for the night (one night) we would have to come back at 2PM for the lottery with anyone else looking to stay the night.  She said there were three openings.  

Melissa and I decided to walk the campgrounds to see what was available.  First, we went to the beach and it was small and noisy.  The bridge was directly overhead and there was no real charm to the beach camping, which was a shame.  

The Hike

We still had some time to kill, so we went on a hike to see the Limekiln Falls.  The hike was amazing!  You know a hike is good when you can’t walk ten feet without wanting to take a picture.  This was our kind of place.  Redwoods overlooking a moss-covered ground with waterfalls and small streams everywhere.  

We met a few other hikers and everyone was considerate and had their COVID masks on or at least they stepped off the trail to let us pass.  We really liked this park, however, it seemed a little small.  We had already done the major hike (about 2 miles) and instead of going for the lottery for a spot for the night, we just decided to risk it and travel further North to see what laid behind Door #2.  

Fernwood Resort

Fernwood Resort

Time was ticking by so we figured we needed to secure lodging (a campsite) for the evening.  We decided to check out Fernwood Resort Campgrounds.  

They said they had some vacancies and we could check them out.  They gave us three options and said if we liked something, we could grab it, and if we didn’t see something we liked, we could continue on.  We found a great campsite (Campsite #5) which had a great view of the Big Sur River.  We went up and paid for the spot and almost fell on the floor when they told us the price.  $80 for one night for a camping spot, with water only.  Whoa!  Talk about sticker shock, but we knew this is high-season, so we paid happily.  


Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins

Big Sur Campground scaled

We couldn’t check in until 2pm, so we drove down to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to hike the Buzzards Roost Viewpoint.  After obtaining our Day Pass for $10 (self pay/register at the kiosk) we headed to the trailhead, which is on the other side of river.  We walked over the bridge and began our hike.  It was a pretty hike straight up the switchbacks through a redwood forest and if it weren’t for the noise of the cars driving by on the highway, it would have been serene.  We summited and actually got some cellphone service.  We decided to take the trail down to continue our counter-clockwise loop route and it wasn’t as pretty as the hike up.  Oh well.  

We drove back to the Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins and checked in officially.  The campgrounds have access to the river which is really nice.  A lot of kids were jumping off the rocks into a beautiful pool of water having the times of their lives.  It was a very safe and friendly family campgrounds, with hot showers, laundry services and a small store, among other amenities.  

The Campsite

We backed our 4X4 up to the edge of our spot and off-loaded all our goodies.  We still had some time before sunset as it gets dark about 9PM in the middle of summer here, so we headed out to see if we could secure some cheaper site elsewhere. 

We drove down the road about a mile and stumbled on the Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins.  They told us they had a spot left that we could get for the next three days, which was perfect because we actually had reservations at The Pinnacles National Park Campground on the 5th of July.  

We decided to pay for the three nights (starting the next night) and we were set!  No more worrying about where we would be staying when all the weekenders came in searching for their own spots. 

The River

We went back to our campsite and just enjoyed the river running right by our site.  We took our chairs down to the rivers edge and had some drinks and laughed and talked about our fun day so far.

After a campfire and some dinner, we crawled into, “Blanco” our white Ford Explorer and slept under the swaying Redwood pines listening to the continuous cadence of the river flowing by. 

We woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to see what our next adventure was.  Before that happened though, I grabbed my coffee, walked across the campsite and found the stairs to the General Store at the top of the hill.  They have Wifi there, so I decided to check a few emails and get some quick business done, since there is no cellphone service in Big Sur.  

Andrew Molera State Park

Andrew Molera State Park

We really enjoyed our hikes through the Andrew Molera Sata Park.  Once again, due to COVID, the actual parking lot was closed and everyone parked on the street adjacent to the actual park, but as usual, we didn’t follow the crowds.  We found a great parking spot North of everyone else and we asked a local surfer for directions.  He told us to follow a “more local” trail which ended at the river and we had to wade across the river to get the to the beach.  It was epic.  We had so much fun.  Watch the video to see Melissa’s reaction.  :-). Later in the day we parked along the road at the South end of the park and hiked in and didn’t see hardly anyone.  Amazing that we could find solitude on a huge holiday weekend in Summer.  That’s how we roll.

Beyond Big Sur

If you’re going all the way to Big Sur, ensure you drive up the coast North (if coming from the South).  There are so many beautiful spots along the way and the Pebble Beach 17 Mile Drive is worth the small sum of an entry fee.  Beauty galore.  

Have fun, stay safe and tell us if this blogpost helped at all.  

Camping on the Coast - Santa Cruz to the Big Sur Coast

Map of Big Sur Campgrounds The Adventure Travelers

Camping on the Coast - Santa Cruz to the Big Sur Coast

For current information, contact the campground directly.  Use the map above for reference.

1. NEW BRIGHTON STATE BEACH (831) 464-6329*
RV and tent sites, showers. Located four miles south of Santa Cruz on Highway 1 in Capitola. Reservations are a must!

2. SEACLIFF STATE BEACH (831) 685-6500*
RV sites only (full hookup). Five miles south of Santa Cruz, take State Park Drive off Highway 1. Reservations are a must!

64 walk-in, tent-only campsites. Located 12 miles south of Santa Cruz. From Highway 1, take San Andreas Road, turn right at Sand Dollar Road, and veer left to the campground. Closed in winter, Dec. 1st – March 30th.

4. SANTA CRUZ KOA (Kampgrounds-of-America) (831) 722-0551
Privately owned. RV sites up to 90 feet (full hookups), tent sites, 50 cabin sites with electricity; bring your own linens. Located 13 miles south of Santa Cruz on San Andreas Road. Lodging with linens and bathrooms. 

5. SUNSET STATE BEACH (831) 763-7063*
90 campsites (fewer during the winter), showers. Located 16 miles south of Santa Cruz. Exit Highway 1 on San Andreas and follow signs.

6. MARINA DUNES RV PARK (831) 384-6914
Privately owned. 60 sites with hookups, 4 partial and 5 tent, laundry. Located west of Highway 1 between Monterey and Santa Cruz. Take Reservation Road in Marina and turn right on Dunes Drive.

7. VETERANS MEMORIAL PARK (831) 646-3865
40 campsites. RVs to 21 feet (no hookups). Dump station available. Take Highway 68 west from Highway 1. Turn right onto Skyline Forest. Drive and left onto Skyline Drive at the stop sign. Follow Skyline Drive into the park. 

8. LAGUNA SECA RECREATION AREA (Monterey County Parks) (888) 588-2267
RV and tent sites available. Some hookups, hot showers. Some seasonal limits. Located seven miles east of Monterey on Highway 68.

9. SADDLE MOUNTAIN (831) 624-1617
Privately owned. Tent and trailer sites, hookups and hot showers. Pets are permitted. Take Carmel Valley Road four miles to Schulte Road, turn right, and follow the road one mile. Turn left up into the park.

10. CARMEL-BY-THE-RIVER RV PARK (831) 624-9329
Privately owned. Hookups and showers available. Pets are permitted. Accessible bathroom available. Located below Saddle Mountain (above) at 27680 Schulte Road.

11. ANDREW MOLERA STATE PARK (831) 667-2315
24 primitive, walk-in campsites 1/3 mile from parking. Non-reservable. Located 21 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. No pets allowed.

12. BIG SUR CAMPGROUND (831) 667-2322
Privately owned. Tent and RV campsites, hookups, tent cabins and hot showers. Located 22 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1.

Privately owned. 34 sites, some hookups, hot showers and laundry. on Highway 1, 23 miles south of Carmel.

14. FERNWOOD CAMPGROUND (831) 667-2422
Privately owned. 60 campsites (38 hookups). Tent cabins, hot showers, store. on Highway 1, 26 miles south of Carmel.

15. PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK (831) 667-2315*
All-year camping, 189 sites, showers, laundry, no hookups. 27-foot trailer and 32-foot RV limits. on Highway 1, 28 miles south of Carmel.

16. VENTANA CAMPGROUND (831) 677-2712
Privately owned. 80 campsites, showers (no hookups). RV limit is 22 feet. on Highway 1, 30 miles south of Carmel.

17. LIMEKILN STATE PARK (805) 434-1996
43 tent and trailer sites. 15-foot trailer and 21-foot motorhome limits. on Highway 1, two miles south of Lucia.

18. KIRK CREEK— USFS (877) 444-6777
33 tent and RV sites (no hookups). RV limit is 30 feet. on Highway 1, 30 miles north of San Simeon. 

19. PLASKETT CREEK — USFS (877) 444-6777
44 tent and RV sites (no hookups). on Highway 1, 30 miles north of San Simeon. 

* For state park camping reservations, call
(800) 444-7275 or visit up to seven months in advance.

Map and Info above courtesy of California State Parks.  

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