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South Fork Trail

Trail Report

In the form below, enter a Subject line or title (optional), the date you hiked the trail, and a a rating as to the general passability of that trail then follow up with a more detailed narrative of the specific conditions or problems encountered. For the longer trails some folks like to segment the specific conditions part of their reports, reporting conditions in a serial fashion between landmarks such as camps or junctions. This is fine so long as the entire report is specific to a particular named trail.

Enter the code exactly as it appears. All letters are case insensitive.
Wilderness Freeway: Heavily used and well maintained.
Clear: No obstacles and tread well defined.
Passable: Some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident.
Difficult: Brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread.
Impassable: Completely overgrown or tread obliterated.

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Topic review

Expand view Topic review: South Fork Trail

Re: South Fork Trail

Post by RSIBryce on Sun Oct 01, 2017 9:20 am

Date Hiked: September 20, 2017
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

We took a peek at the South Fork trail, after having spent the night at Strawberry camp and before heading to Willow Spring.

View from the top, looking out to South Fork

Heading down

Downed tree

This trail had recently seen hard work by VWA stalwarts, so much curiosity surrounds its present condition after the fire and heavy rainy season. It seemed like this past year made a mess of things. We hiked down for about a half hour, and ended up turning around at a gully that was massively cut. About 5-6 feet across, some 15 feet deep, soil was all pretty loose.

Looked difficult to cross

Re: South Fork Trail

Post by Betsy M on Fri Jun 24, 2016 5:59 pm

Date Hiked: May 28, 2016
General Condition: Clear (no obstacles and tread well defined)

Adding to Jack and Trevor's reports. An additional part of this project was the effort by Jack Glendening to scout and flag the the entire South Fork Trail, including the 2.7+ mile section between Strawberry and South Fork Camps, that was really, truly impassible. Reports for the last 5 years have been calling this section impassable, and they were right! Some hikers were getting through but often by simply walking down the creek or the river. Even this was becoming more difficult with the passage of time and more trees falling.

In addition to Jack's mapping the impassable section, Jack and Maria Ferdin similarly explored the section between Rainbow and South Fork Camp. This section had been clear as recently as 6 years ago, but fallen trees and brush can do a lot of damage and there was one particularly difficult 400-foot section where the trail was just a mass of ceanothus and fallen trees, and it was impossible to even find the tread.

After our second trip, I would say the entire trail is clear. Some sections are more like freeway. Even the section Jack considers "passable to difficult" seems "clear" to me, after brush and fallen logs have been removed. [JG: this report includes additional work done after my report]

Some photos from the first VWA work trip showing mostly the trees blocking the trail. A couple shots show the brush, but honestly, photos don't do justice to the level of brush obstruction.

Part of the 400-foot section with fallen trees, before:
and after:

Another view of the 400-foot section with fallen trees, before:
, during:
tree mess before.jpeg
and after:

Crawling in the brush before we could even start clearing logs.

One way we knew we were on the original tread was the rockwork at this switchback.
rock wall.jpeg


Sawyers got to work as soon as there was room in the brush.
large log.jpeg

Enjoying Rainbow Camp
rainbow camp.jpeg

Re: South Fork Trail

Post by jack_glendening on Wed Jun 22, 2016 11:34 pm

Date Hiked: May 4, 2016
General Condition: Clear (no obstacles and tread well defined)

A short report because a more complete trail clearing report is at

The entire South Fork Trail (which for many years has been impassible) is now mostly clear, thanks to work spearheaded by Betsy MacGowan, VWA volunteers, and 2 ACE crew hitches. Much clearing, sawing, and brushing was needed to accomplish this feat. With Big Sur Trail now clear from Cold Spring Camp to the north end of the trail and the Marble Peak Trail clear from the south end of the trail to Arroyo Seco, now is a good time to experience the long lost South Fork Trail for yourself (or perhaps come autumn, when flies are fewer).

All crossings are marked. The one "passable to difficult" section, where some watchfulness is needed to follow the trail, lies between the two river crossings north of South Fork Camp - there tread is difficult to establish in an often swampy area with downfall, so the primary trail indication is flagging.


Re: South Fork Trail

Post by pantilat on Mon May 09, 2016 1:52 pm

Date Hiked: May 8, 2016
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

The South Fork Trail is "Clear" with the exception of a ~1 mile stretch north of South Fork Camp that is "Passable" to "Difficult" with some blowdowns and faint tread but prior and new (thank you Dr. Jack) flagging to guide the way.

Thanks to the VWA volunteer group that recently cleared out the massive compound blowdown near Rainbow Falls and reestablished the tread descending to the river. The trail is now clear and brush-free for ~1 mile south of Rainbow Camp.

Thanks to the ACE crew that did an amazing job restoring the trail from Strawberry Camp to South Fork Camp making for a very pleasant stretch of trail in this remote and beautiful part of the wilderness. It's evident that a tremendous amount of work went into this project. Excellent vistas at the rock outcropping about 1 mile from Strawberry Camp.

One of my favorite aspects of the South Fork Trail is the unique conifer biodiversity including redwood, incense cedar, Santa Lucia Fir, ponderosa pine and coulter pine.

Re: South Fork Trail

Post by jack_glendening on Thu Mar 10, 2016 5:01 pm

Date Hiked: March 2, 2016
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)


I did a dayhike to assess the possibility of backpacking from Rainbow Camp to South Fork Camp. I found the tread generally in good shape and followable, requiring searching at only a few places, with pink flags indicating river crossings.

HOWEVER the BIG exception is an apparent windstorm blowdown section roughly 400 ft in length, almost immediately south of "Rainbow Falls", where the trail descends down to the northern-most river crossing. Many, many large trees cover the tread, sometimes across one another - with ceanothus in between. Climbing up and over each tree was effort and time consuming - sometimes it was best to walk atop a tree to make progress. The northern (upper) 150 ft is especially bad - that took me 15 minutes to navigate. While almost anything can be done with enough effort, taking a large backpack across that section would be a time consuming and unpleasant experience.


Re: South Fork Trail

Post by pantilat on Thu Feb 19, 2015 1:58 pm

Date Hiked: February 14, 2015
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

This report only covers the section from South Fork Camp to Rainbow Camp since I accessed the trail by creek walking down Pick Creek, which meets the South Fork Big Sur River near South Fork Camp. This stretch of trail is in ok shape if you can find and stay on it. I lost the trail a couple times but was able to regain it. The most confusing parts are where the trail crosses the river at broad points in the canyon since recent flood events have rearranged sand bars making it difficult to see where the trail continues on the other side and flagging was absent (I will bring some flagging tape next time for these spots). Just upstream of the large mudslide area, there is flagging - flow the flags down to the river and across gravel bars to rejoin the trail (part of which was obliterated in this landslide). The point where the trail ascends above the river floor to Rainbow Falls is also difficult to spot. It seems that the trail used to make a gradual ascent across steep slopes but there has been a wash-out. At any rate, I missed this point where the trail leaves the river floor and instead climbed a steep slope to intersect the trail at a point when it was already about 100 feet above the river floor. Just before Rainbow Falls there is a section of many blowdowns that requires some crawling. The trail passes very close to the top of Rainbow Falls, but you have to go off the trail a few steps to really appreciate the beauty of this 55 ft falls in an extremely lush fern amphitheater. Beyond Rainbow Falls the trail is in great shape to Rainbow Camp. I also saw the infamous South Fork Wild Boar which has dug up portions of the trail and created other misleading trails. This section of the South Fork trail requires some navigation skills and also has its fair share of obstructions, but it is certainly passable. I really enjoyed the forest of incense cedars and Santa Lucia Firs in this beautiful canyon!

south fork camp.jpg
South Fork Camp
South Fork.jpg
A particularly pointy Santa Lucia Fir
Rainbow Falls.jpg
Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls3.jpg
Rainbow Falls from below
Rainbow Falls2.jpg
Rainbow Falls from above
incense cedar.jpg
Large incense cedar

Re: South Fork Trail

Post by SCrachelm on Mon Sep 30, 2013 7:18 pm

Date Hiked: September 27, 2013
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Lost the trail often between Strawberry and Rainbow camp. Fallen trees, hillslides, overgrown brush, hog trails...especially easy to lose the trail at side creek crossings overgrown with ferns, fallen trees, etc. I hiked at less than one mile per hour this 4-5 mile section. It was very frustrating and even freaked me out enough to think like a SAR team... Fortunately, the route parallels the creek for the most part (and often was easier to just hike in the creek), so you can't get too lost, but the trail is still in severe need of some TLC. Came across an abandoned tent and pink sleeping bag at one point when I was pretty sure I was lost. Can imagine someone set up camp, then couldn't figure out where it was on their way back from a trip to get water or something... looked as if the ground hogs had definitely had a field day with the gear (hopefully the hiker made it out okay).

Re: South Fork Trail

Post by RSIBryce on Wed Apr 17, 2013 4:34 pm

Date Hiked: April 12, 2013
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Section: From Strawberry to South Fork camp

The trail beings directly out of the Strawberry Camp and is good going initially until you begin dropping once cresting the divide and entering the South Fork river valley. The narrow valley is eroding away the old traces of trail and abundant overgrowth and deadfall makes the trail rather intolerable, esp. with abundant ticks now in the spring. After making our way to the other side of the valley and traveling a while on this difficult trail, we reasoned that travel along the creek itself was the most feasible. With low water flows we were successful in mostly walking rock to rock with occasional excursions out and around for deadfall or too narrow of sections. My trail partner Sam and I really enjoy this style of hiking, and with only daypacks, had a blast walking the gorgeous river and made it to South Fork Camp, a rather nice place despite some disturbance from Wild Boar.

Re: South Fork Trail

Post by JohnathanA on Mon Jan 07, 2013 11:21 pm

Date Hiked: January 1, 2013
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

So two friends and I put in at arroyo seco by way of the willow springs trail and connected the marble peak trail to the big sur trail to pine ridge trail and out through bug sur station. There are moments when the tread disappears. There are lots of hog tracks that can be confusing. There are lots of deadfall. Lots of brambles. Lots of ticks. Lots of near waist high river crossings. Lots of game trails. And lots of fun!! The tread was difficult to notice coming out of strawberry but only because of the amount of snow on the ground. There are ribbons marking where the trail has been diverted around some truly impassable deadfall. We lost the trail often and there were times when we were not sure if we were on game trails or on the trail. Either way we were following the river the entire way and we weren't hacking our way through chaparral so it was very enjoyable. It got hairy for us about 1/2 mile south of rainbow because of two massive landslides. Not sure how recent they are but they seem pretty fresh. Right in between them there is what appears to be the bathroom of a very large group of wild pigs. I draw this assumption by the excessive amount of feces and urine in this area. This served as a distraction and we opted to scramble across the remnants of the two slides as opposed to crossing the river and following the ribbons. We ended up having to cross anyway and lost light. After bivying that night we were able to pick up the trail again at first light which was deceptively hidden under som fresh fallen maple leaves and eagerly growing brambles. This part goes high up the valley side and crosses the waterfall. Next it drops into rain ow camp the later part of the trail is well established with minimal deadfall, although there was a part that required packs off and a crawl. Super fun!! We then joined the big sur trail and despite a hefty climb, some strategic deadfall, and slightly overgrown brush leads you to the north fork and all its madrone and redwood filled splendor. There is an abandoned rolling duffle with scattered and torn garments and what I will call a sad excuse for gear. I packed out a piece and if you go please do the same. As for to schmuck that left it I hope he made It out alive.

Overall I though this trail was great and with a little breaking of a stick here and removal of a big branch there it is navagable and quite the beautiful south fork of the mighty big sur river!!

Ps if you can't triangulate or accurately read a topo don't even think about it. Btw the printed trail maps and the nag geo tools are wrong! The topo is relative but the camps are destroyed and/or moved to different locations. If you aren't sure if your at the right place your probably not. Good luck and I love this trail. Just the way it is. They are far more interesting when they aren't superhighways and when they aren't littered with people and trash. I'll take a difficult trail like this any day!!

Re: South Fork Trail

Post by RobGularte on Tue Jul 03, 2012 9:15 am

Date Hiked: June 30, 2012
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

I think it is time to call the trail impassable. We hiked from the Arroyo Seco side and lost the trail 4 times, the three of us having to split up and search for the trail. At one point there we passed 2 blue markers, passed a pink marker, then ran into a complete dead-end, and hikers have gone several ways, all dead ends, so we ended up trail blazing from the West side to the East side of the creek, just because the East side was easier to trail-blaze. We eventually found the trail there. It took us about 3 hours to do the first 1.5 miles from strawberry.

The "tread" takes you through some areas that are being quickly eroded because of the steepness, that area is a real mess. I don't even know what to recommend about passage, just avoid it completely. Re-route your trip.

We went from Arroyo Seco to the coast via Marble Cone tr (Ed. note- Marble Peak Trail), South Fork, Big sur, and De Angulo. Big Sur tr. was pretty bad too, lots of trees down, lots of green brush hiding the trail, but we never lost the trail.

Thank you, VWA, for what appears to be an enormous task. It looks like for every tree fallen there are 5-10 that could fall any time. There were several times I wished I had packed a chain saw (Ed. note- chainsaws are prohibited in Wilderness & of dubious value in distant backcountry locales without stock support).