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Topic review

Expand view Topic review: Big Sur Trail

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by Betsy M on Tue Jun 01, 2021 8:35 pm

Date Hiked: May 31, 2021
General Condition: Wilderness Freeway (Heavily used and well maintained)

SECTION: between Cienega Camp and the North Fork of the Big Sur River: Wilderness Freeway. See previous reports for other sections of the Big Sur Trail.

After 3.5 days of hard work by Brian Robinson and Betsy MacGowan, with assistance from Joe Dirt, the .7 mile section of trail between Cienega Camp and the North Fork is clear. Joe continued on to Rainbow Camp and confirmed the dense ceanothus/poison oak corridor above the North Fork. We met hikers that made it over from Rainbow, but at least one group could not find the trail at the top of the ridge between the North Fork and Rainbow. They returned to the Pine Ridge Trail to hike back out. This route might be easier coming up the hill from Rainbow - at least you have the saddle to aim for, if you lose the trail. A GPS track from would be super helpful in this section.

Thank you to Joe Dirt for the assistance, and to Joe and hiker Kirsten for helping clear a redwood from the trail just above Cienega Creek.

The Big Sur Trail between Cienega and the North Fork is now a wilderness freeway. .
Brian tossing brush.jpg
Clear Trail Section.jpg

The Big Sur Trail beyond the North Fork will need brush cleared from 1.4 miles that currently look like this.
Big Sur Trail Above North Fork.jpg

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by joshuaroymiller on Mon May 17, 2021 9:54 pm

Date Hiked: May 16, 2021
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

After backpacking up the beautifully cleared Boronda Trail, I hiked East from Timber Top along Coast Ridge Fire Road with plans to descend from Cold Spring to somewhere along the South Fork of the Big Sur River to camp out for the night.

In the first stretch of the Big Sur Trail heading towards Logwood Creek I encountered quite a bit of fresh poison oak growing across the trail from both sides. Perhaps this was new growth following recent rains, as I see here that the trail was totally clear as of a month ago? I considered putting on my rain layers to push through but thought better of it and doubled-back to camp out at the lovely Timber Top site instead. (I've had bad cases of poison oak before--not something I care to repeat!)

I was very grateful to be able to stock up on water I filtered from the tank just above Cold Spring Camp. There were abundant wildflowers in full bloom along my entire route.

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by Betsy M on Wed Apr 21, 2021 12:34 pm

Date Hiked: April 18, 2021
General Condition: Clear (no obstacles and tread well defined)

Section: Ridge above Rainbow to the North Fork (Difficult)
I've been wanting to hike from the North Fork of the Big Sur River to the top of the Ridge heading to Rainbow, but dreading it at the same time. So today I finally did it. I kept thinking of this trail report:

Those 4-5 miles of "trail" were the worst of my life. The bushwhacking could only have been worse if the vegetation was replaced with thick groves of cacti. There's not much more to say other than it is indeed impassable. To give you a brief picture, I was forced to walk in the fetal position (yeah that doesn't even make sense but try it) due to the thickness of trees growing in the trail for 2 miles straight before I could walk upright again.

So now I understand. Between Cienega and the North Fork but especially from the North Fork to the top of the ridge, the ceanothus has grown tall enough that it completely closes in above where your head should be. And the dry, prickly side branches poke out into the center of the trail. In a lot of places poison oak tendrils reach out from one side, or both sides. If you stand upright the branches hit you in the face, so it works better to hunch over and travel head first through the brush. Watching for the poison oak so you can move your face up or down and avoid contact with bare skin. There is no way to avoid contact with your clothing. So just make sure you are wearing long pants and long sleeves.

With another hiker, I cleared about 10 of the worst sections on the ridge from the North Fork up. You probably want to have your GPS in case you miss a switchback. But if you are paying attention I think this trail is pretty doable.

Section: Cienega to the North Fork (Difficult? Passable?)

This is maybe not quite as bad, though it still has long sections with brush hitting you as you hike. Long stretches where you find yourself hunched over. And a LOT of poison oak. This poison oak has taken advantage of a few open areas to establish itself as a bush, where it can impinge on hikers, with multiple upright stems hitting against your legs. But I was able to clear all the worst sections so there is no more climbing over dead branches.

Section: Cienega to the Pine Ridge Trail (Freeway!)
There is one poison oak bush you should dodge. I cleared a redwood that had fallen across the trail. And made a washout passable just before Cienega Camp. There are sections where the blackberry vines are re-sprouting after trail work in January but for now it is easy walking. One section near Cienega Camp is a tight corridor of ceanothus but you don't have to stoop to get through. Only issue is the trail is kind of steep in a few places. Wonderful views of the North Fork drainage.

Cienega Camp
The camp itself is a mess. What was once a campsite as you come down the hill, had a redwood fall across it. Much of the tree burned, but the remains of the blackened trunk still stick into the camp area and block the trail where it continued down to the creek. There is space for maybe 1 tent here, or a couple of sleeping bags. Just below on the flat next to the creek, there might be space for several tents if you cleared out some vegetation. On the same flat, off to the right, you could also clear space, but the fire-damaged redwood that leans over this area would be concerning. If you cross the creek and meander through the ferns, there is another clearing just as the trail leaves the camp area. It has room for 1 tent also. If you wanted to carry water back up the trail, there is a nice clearing before the trail dives into the poison oak jungle. At least no redwoods up there that might fall on you. I wouldn't want to camp at Cienega Camp in any kind of a windstorm.

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by sdmirer on Mon Mar 29, 2021 4:02 pm

Date Hiked: March 23, 2021
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

This is really the tale of two trails...

As noted by others, Cold Springs to Rainbow Camp is brushy but passable. Definitely monitor for ticks, and I found myself going a bit slower than my normal hiking speed. But overall that section of the trail is fine.

I made the now regrettable decision to go from Rainbow on to Cienega, and thence to Pine Ridge Camp. Wow, that was hard/stupid. The tread is fine in most places, and thankfully GPS plus kindly placed flags made it possible to navigate. But most of the trail is very severely overgrown. As bad as I thought the climb from Rainbow was, the descent to the N. Fork of the Big Sur River was much worse. Really really miserable and slow.

To translate into metrics, Rainbow to Pine Ridge Camp was ~7.3mi in ~9hrs. By comparison, the following day from Pine Ridge Camp to Willow Springs Camp via Church Creek and Tony trails was 16.3mi in roughly the same time and with much less wear and tear (if you ignore the nasty poison oak along Willow Creek).

The Jan 15 '21 posting in this forum thread notes the section between Rainbow and Cienega is likely impassable, and I'd confirm that (despite having passed through it). That same posting suggested that Rainbow to the ridgetop is passable, which I think is an overly generous description. The Sep 24 '19 posting notes "Impassable it truly is. Unless you have a chainsaw and full body armor." Which I'd agree with -- it was insane to take that route.

Once past Cienega things got much better through to Pine Ridge Trail, and it was clear there was active trailwork underway (as noted in the Jan 15 '21 posting). Pine Ridge Trail was great for awhile, though quite brushy on the last stretch into Pine Ridge Camp (but that's another trail/thread).

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by driggsy on Sun Mar 28, 2021 6:57 pm

Date Hiked: March 26, 2021
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Attempted a trail run on this trail from Cold Springs to Rainbow Camp. It is pretty brushy in parts but easy to follow. Very hard to consistently run, but relatively easy to hike. Got 7 ticks. Little to no poison oak on Logwood Ridge and Devil's Staircase, however starting on the descent into Mocho and then also to Rainbow there was some PO, but not as bad as I feared thanks to the trail workers. Overall an absolutely gorgeous trail with big views, redwoods, Santa Lucia Firs, and nice creek crossings; definitely well worth your time. Just be smarter than me and bring some pants. Big thank you to all of the trail workers for keeping these trails passable! Next step is runnable and I would love to help the trail get there :)

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by BP22 on Sun Feb 07, 2021 6:06 pm

Date Hiked: February 6, 2021
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Big Sur Trail from Coast Ridge to Rainbow Camp. Trail is in good condition. A few minor blowdowns and some encroaching brush on Logwood Ridge and the Devil's staircase, but I was pretty impressed. Big thank you to Betsy and the VWA crews and the VWA volunteer rangers for keeping this important trail clear.

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by VWA_Ranger on Mon Jan 25, 2021 3:10 pm

Date Hiked: January 21, 2021
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

*** VWA/USFS Volunteer Ranger/Trail Crew Report ***

Forest/Trail Status: OPEN per Forest Order 05-07-51-21-02
Current Fire Restrictions: No Campfires allowed. Stoves are permitted in the backcountry with a valid Campfire/Stove Permit.


The Monterey Ranger District Forest has partially reopened, VWA/USFS Volunteer Rangers have been preparing for its reopening and are continuing their regular patrols. Today volunteer trail crew workers scouted from Cold Springs Camp to Rainbow Camp. They cleared three trees and did some minor brushing. The faucet at Cold Spring Camp is not functional.

Trail conditions are as follows:

Cold Spring Camp to Rainbow Camp. - Passable with encroaching brush and approx. 10 trees down in the first 1.5 miles.

DISCLAIMER: This report is for informational purposes only. Trail conditions may change at any time. The Ventana Wilderness Alliance assumes no liability for the use of this information.
The Los Padres National Forest Website can be found here:
To learn more about the Volunteer VWA/USFS Ranger and Trail Crew Programs visit

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by VWA_Ranger on Wed Jan 20, 2021 3:11 pm

Date Hiked: January 15, 2021
General Condition: Wilderness Freeway

*** VWA/USFS Volunteer Ranger/Trail Crew Report ***


VWA/USFS Volunteer Trail Crew workers have worked on the Big Sur Trail from the Pine Ridge Trail, clearing to just before Cienega Camp. We installed a new sign at the junction of the Pine Ridge Trail and the Big Sur Trail. From the Pine Ridge Trail to Cienega Camp is a wilderness freeway. Cienega Camp itself has virtually disappeared in riparian growth but there might be room for a couple of tents, and there is a fire ring on a bench up above the creek before you get to the original camp. The section between Cienega and the North Fork of the Big Sur River remains brushy but passable, with some slumping tread and small trees. We flagged a couple of spots. There was no obvious place to camp at the North Fork crossing, and it is difficult to locate the trail on the far side. Look for flagging upstream. The section between the North Fork and the top of the ridge heading to Rainbow is super brushy - we didn't even try this. From the ridgetop to Rainbow is passable. We hope to continue work on this section from the Cold Spring side. Unfortunately the one mile of very brushy trail probably means this section of the trail is truly impassable.

We installed a new sign at the junction of the Pine Ridge Trail and the Big Sur Trail.
Big Sur Trail junction sign.jpg
New PRT and Big Sur Trail Sign.

To learn more about the Volunteer VWA/USFS Ranger and Trail Crew Programs visit

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by taylor on Sun Jun 14, 2020 9:57 pm

Date Hiked: June 14, 2020
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

I hiked the five miles from Cold Spring to Rainbow. Tread was evident throughout, with the exception of the descent into Mocho Camp, where a deadfall and encroaching brush in two separate areas obscure the trail, but only briefly. There was also some trail erosion in this section.

There is no water flowing at Cold Spring, and tank is empty; however, if you hike about a quarter of a mile down the Big Sur Trail, there is a small stream with a very light flow, though it may not last long. Plenty of moving water at Mocho and Rainbow.

Biting flies were constant companions on the trail, but ticks were minimal. I made the rookie mistake of wearing trail runners, I'll don the dreaded hiking boots next time to keep the sharp hitchhikers from the grass out of shoes and socks.

Re: Big Sur Trail

Post by georged on Sun Feb 09, 2020 6:50 pm

Date Hiked: February 7, 2020
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Reporting on the southern section of Big Sur Trail to Rainbow Camp only, I continued onto South Fork trail and onwards. No real issues getting from Cold Spring Camp to Rainbow Camp, perhaps a couple deadfalls, some ticks, bugs, and some encroaching brush. Definitely not a fast trail, just a good amount of brush to push through. I am tall and I did not have to take my pack off or do any serious bushwhacking, tread was pretty much always evident if not there were helpful pieces of tape. Lovely piece of trail. Also, no update on the water situation at Cold Spring Camp, I waited for Rainbow Camp.