So you want to go to Sykes Hot Springs? Well, you probably have heard amazing stories about a fantastical place in the Ventana Wilderness with redwoods, a clear-running mountain stream and magical natural hot springs. That’s all kinda 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”.
Important Notice: Level IV Fire Restrictions are in effect as of July 23, 2013. See this link for more details. Until these restrictions are lifted, campfires, the use of cooking stoves and smoking are not permitted in the backcountry.
Please consider the following before you decide to go to Sykes:
Sykes is a very popular camp. Over 200 people have been seen returning from Sykes at the end of a holiday weekend. The camp has an official capacity of 7 sites. We hope you will appreciate how important it is that we make as little impact as possible on this treasure of a camp. The 11-mile trail from Big Sur Station is a strenuous hike. Winter storms, Sudden Oak Death and erosion often cause large oaks and redwoods to fall across the trail to create a hiking challenge.
Be prepared to cross the chilly Big Sur River numerous times to get to the camp and hot springs. The river can become impassable during winter and spring storms due to high swift water. Always use caution when crossing rivers and streams.
As for the “hot springs” … the two small tubs downstream from the camp average about 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Each tub can hold 4-6 people. It is quite likely that the tubs will be occupied when you arrive at Sykes, especially on weekends.
Before you go to Sykes, please review the Sykes-specific Leave No Trace information below:
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 and to obtain a fire permit which is required for both fires AND stoves. NOTE: Level IV Fire restrictions are in effect as of July 23, 2013. See this link for more details. Until these restrictions are lifted, campfires, cooking stoves and smoking are not permitted in the backcountry.
- Avoid visiting Sykes on a weekend. The Forest Service recommends a 1-night only stay at Sykes due to the heavy volume of visitors.
- Check the VWA’s Trail Conditions page for the Pine Ridge Trail prior to departure. Allow approximately 6 hours to get from Big Sur Station to Sykes Camp.
- Nearby camps to consider include Barlow Flats (3 mi. before Sykes) and Redwood Camp (2.5 mi. past Sykes) Keep your group to 4 people or fewer if possible.
- Bring food you can cook with a stove (not a fire).
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Try to 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.
- Avoid short-cutting the trail.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Check with the US Forest at www.fs.usda.gov/lpnf/ or by calling 831-385-5434 for current fire restrictions in the Los Padres National Forest and to obtain a fire permit which is required for both fires AND stoves.
- During Fire Restrictions (usually from June thru October) campfires are not permitted anywhere in the wilderness. NOTE: Level IV Fire Restrictions are in effect as of July 23, 2013. See this link for more details. Until these restrictions are lifted, campfires, cooking stoves and smoking are not permitted in the backcountry.
- Help to minimize impacts on this heavily-used area by only using existing fire rings. Do not create new ones or add rocks to fire rings.
- Keep fires small. Use only sticks found on the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Use water (not rocks or dirt) to leave your fire dead and out. Test your ashes with your hands to make sure they are cold.
- Consider not having a campfire- you’ll have a better view of the stars at night!
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Please leave your pets at home.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect the wilderness experience of others. Allow for solitude.
- 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.
- Consider camping somewhere other than Sykes.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- The Big Sur River is designated by Congress as a Wild & Scenic River. Human impacts are degrading the unique characteristics of this river. Please consider camping elsewhere in the Ventana to protect this special river.
- Whatever you pack in must be packed out. There is no garbage service in the Wilderness.
- Consider packing out trash left by previous visitors.
- Use the toilets provided. They are the only appropriate places to defecate at Sykes.
- Pack out your toilet paper to preserve the life of the toilets. Pack out all hygiene products. Disposable towlettes are NOT biodegradable. Bring a dedicated plastic bag to pack out these materials.
- Wash yourself and your dishes as far from the river as possible.
- Avoid putting soap of any kind (even biodegradable) into the river and tubs
Leave What You Find
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Do NOT build structures, furniture or dig trenches.
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:
Vicente Flat Camp for its beautiful views of the coastline and spacious wooded campsites.
Carmel River Camp for a wonderful river experience.
Pico Blanco Public Camp with its amazing waterfall and grotto.
Pat Spring for the wide angle vista of Pico Blanco, the Pacific Ocean and the Ventanas.
Pine Valley for the expansive meadow, beautiful cliffs and ponderosa pine trees. Access is best from the Pine Ridge Trail starting at China Camp.
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.
Yelp Page for Sykes - Read posts from folks who have made this journey.
Sykes Hot Springs Trip Description - A fairly concise overview of the experience.