You may have heard stories about a fantastical place in the Ventana Wilderness with redwoods, a clear-running mountain stream and magical natural hot springs. That’s all true. But another truth is that human visitation at Sykes has a profound impact on this special place. We need your help to keep Sykes from being “loved to death.” Everyone who hikes to Sykes needs to commit strongly to Leave No Trace ethics to help protect this fragile place.
Please consider the following before you decide to go to Sykes:
- Sykes is a very popular camp. Over 200 people have been seen camping there on holiday weekends, despite the official capacity of only seven campsites. This overuse is not compatible with wilderness values.
- The 10-mile trail from Big Sur Station to Sykes is strenuous. Elevation gain and loss is considerable, and trees often fall across the trail making passage difficult.
- Be prepared to cross the chilly Big Sur River numerous times to get to the camp and hot springs, and always use caution. The river can become impassable during winter and spring due to high, swift water.
- As for the “hot springs,” several small tubs (maintained in violation of the Wilderness Act) averaging 102 degrees Fahrenheit can be found downstream from camp. Each tub can hold 4-6 people. It is quite likely that the tubs will be occupied when you arrive, especially on weekends.
Practice these Sykes-specific Leave No Trace principles:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- “Know Before You Go.” Check the US Forest Service site for the Los Padres National Forest or call (831) 385-5434 for current fire restrictions in the Los Padres National Forest. Click this link to secure a Campfire Permit which is required for both fires AND stoves.
- Check the VWA’s Trail Conditions page for the Pine Ridge Trail prior to departure. Post a trail report upon your return.
- Allow approximately 6 hours of hiking time to get from Big Sur Station to Sykes Camp.
- Keep your group size to 4 people or fewer if possible.
- Bring food you can cook with a stove (not a fire).
- Avoid visiting Sykes on a weekend. The US Forest Service recommends a one-night-only stay at Sykes due to the large number of visitors.
- Alternate camps to consider include Barlow Flat (3 mi. before Sykes) and Redwood (2.5 mi. past Sykes).
- There is no reservation or permitting system for camping in the Ventana Wilderness. Sites are available on a first come, first served basis.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Camp at least 20 feet away from the water’s edge.
- Do not camp directly across from the hot baths.
- Do not alter the camp sites and fire rings.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
- During Fire Restrictions (usually from June thru October) campfires and smoking are not permitted ANYWHERE in the wilderness, and during extreme conditions even stoves are not permitted. (See "Plan Ahead" section above on obtaining a Campfire Permit.)
- Help to minimize impacts by only using existing fire rings. Do not build up fire rings or create new ones.
- Keep fires small. Use only sticks found on the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Use water (not rocks or dirt) to put your fire DEAD OUT. Test your ashes with your hands to make sure they are cold.
- Even when campfires are permitted, consider reducing your impact by not having one.
- Protect wildlife and your food by securely storing rations and trash.
- Never feed or handle wildlife.
- Please consider leaving your dog at home. If you do bring your dog, please use a leash.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect the wilderness experience of others and let nature’s sounds prevail.
- Keep your campsite small and focus activity where vegetation is absent.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Do not add sandbags and other materials to the hot springs.
- Avoid loud voices and noises.
- Playing amplified music on the trail or in camp is simply not acceptable. Please let nature’s sounds prevail.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- The Big Sur River is designated by Congress as a Wild & Scenic River. Please help to protect this special waterway.
- Whatever you pack in must be packed out. There is no garbage service in the Wilderness. Consider leaving Sykes better than you found it by packing out trash left by previous visitors.
- Use the wilderness toilets provided. They are the only appropriate places to defecate.
- Pack out all hygiene products (including toilet paper). Disposable towelettes are NOT biodegradable, and toilet paper causes the toilets to fill more rapidly. Bring a dedicated plastic bag to pack out these materials.
- Do not put soap of any kind (even biodegradable) into the river or tubs. Wash yourself and your dishes as far from the river as possible.
Leave What You Find
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Do NOT build structures or furniture or dig trenches.
- Do not stack rocks.
Thank you for planning ahead for your trip! Thank you for practicing Leave No Trace ethics in the backcountry.
Be sure to report any inappropriate or illegal backcountry behavior when you return to Big Sur Station.
Following are some great alternate choices for a wilderness experience in the Ventana region.
Barlow Flat Camp and Redwood Camp provide space and solitude not found at Sykes.
Carmel River Camp provides a wonderful river experience.
Pico Blanco Public Camp is renowned for its amazing waterfall and grotto.
Pat Spring has a wide angle vista of Pico Blanco, the Pacific Ocean and the Ventana opening out to the east.
Pine Valley is a rare treat with its expansive meadow, beautiful cliffs and ponderosa pines.
Excellent Big Sur/Ventana Mapping Tools: http://bigsurtrailmap.net/
Big Sur Station to Sykes Elevation Gain/ Loss Profile - See a graphic representation of the up and down nature of the 11 miles to Sykes.