Plan a Trip


Most of Los Padres National Forest is open to the public, though not all road access has been restored - updated June 1, 2023

US Forest Closure Orders have changed several times this year. Almost all of the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas are open. That said, some trails, recreation sites, and roads managed by Los Padres National Forest and/or the County of Monterey remain closed. See this link for the latest US Forest Service closure information. Here's a quick summary of what has reopened on the coast:  Please note that Kirk Creek Campground remains closed. This is to allow for CalTrans and contractor trucks to turn around there. All other Forest Service developed rec sites on the coast (Mill Creek DUA, Sand Dollar DUA, Willow Creek DUA, and Plaskett CG) are open.   

Roads: Closures of roads (federal, state, and county) have been the norm in 2023 due to storm damage. Though most of the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas are open for visitation, you still may not be able to drive to trailheads. For Highway 1, it is essential that you check Caltrans'  current Highway 1 conditions here before you drive the Big Sur coastIt is also smart to check this link for closures of rural roads maintained by Monterey County when planning a trip to other parts of the Monterey Ranger District. FOR EXAMPLE, Arroyo Seco Road is closed near the Arroyo Seco Recreation Area -- so it is closed.   

Current Fire Restrictions: Campfires are allowed in all areas of Los Padres National Forest (including the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas).  A free California Campfire Permit is required to use a campfireAlways take a trowel or shovel to remove ash from a fire ring. Do not build up fire rings.     

Roads with long-term closure to to vehicular traffic: Palo Colorado Road from the Hoist to Bottchers Gap, Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from Nacimiento Campground to the coast, South Coast Ridge Road from Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to the intersection with Prewitt Ridge Road, Cone Peak Road, Los Burros Road.

Know before you go: Call the USDA Forest Service, Monterey Ranger District office if you need more information at 831-385-5434

State Parks: Check with individual State Parks to confirm access and for additional information. 


weatherYou'll find here a number of links to some pretty informative internet weather sites relevant to the northern Santa Lucia backcounty traveler. They should be helpful in determining what the weather's going to do while you're out there. But regardless of what these folks say, it's always smart to prepare for the worst.

leave no trace signWe need everybody to commit to the Leave No Trace principles. This is an example of what happens otherwise.


The Big Sur backcountry is rugged and untamed. It is also quite fragile and easily impacted by the actions of humans. California’s population has doubled since the Wilderness Act of 1964 was signed into law. This growing population and the global popularity of Big Sur as a destination for outdoor recreation exert tremendous pressure on our public lands. The US Forest Service is the agency responsible for recreation management in the region. They are woefully underfunded and understaffed.

Resources for the Ventana Traveler


For those new to the region, heading out into the backcountry without consulting a trail guide is at best adventurous and venturing forth without at least a map is courting disaster. Thankfully, maps and books specific to exploration of the Big Sur backcountry are readily available. The publications and web resources listed below, when used in conjunction with the VWA's online Trails Conditions pages, should help in the planning of a wilderness visit.


Welcome to the best and most up-to-date information about the Pine Ridge Trail (PRT) and Sykes Camp. It is once again open to the public after being closed from 2016 to 2021 due to human-caused wildfire.

Keeping the PRT open requires the collaboration of multiple agencies, nonprofit organizations like the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, generous funders, and dedicated volunteers. You can help keep it open. It is up to all of us to enjoy this unique and wild place responsibly.  


Know before you go. Please consider the following before you decide to visit the camps along the Wild & Scenic Big Sur River:

  • To camp safely and responsibly, please learn and practice the minimal impact camping techniques outlined below.  
  • The best way to enjoy and protect this area is to keep your group size small (4 or fewer), not have a campfire (even when allowed), and pack out everything you pack in.  
  • Please complete a voluntary self-registration permit at the trailhead at Big Sur Station. 
  • Prior to the 2016-17 closure, Sykes Camp was overused by visitors due to the presence of natural sulphur springs that were impounded into tubs. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) does not permit human-made structures and impoundments in Wilderness. Scofflaws -- no doubt -- will rebuild impoundments. The USFS is committed to maintaining their prohibition through patrols, education, and removal. 
  • The 12-mile stretch of trail from Big Sur Station to Redwood Camp is strenuous. Elevation gain and loss is considerable, and trees often fall across the trail making passage difficult.
  • Be prepared to cross streams several times to get to the camps in rainy years, and always use caution. The river can become impassable during winter and spring due to high, swift water.
  • More about the sulphur springs: Wildfire, winter storm damage, and deadfalls damaged  the Pine Ridge Trail leading to its closure from 2016 to 2021. Since the natural sulphur springs at Sykes are in federally designated Wilderness and within a protected Wild & Scenic River corridor, tubs built downstream from Sykes Camp are illegal impoundments. Unauthorized structures are inconsistent with the Wilderness designation of the region. They provide an "attractive nuisance" that drains limited management resources due to the need for repeated visitor education, enforcement of fire restrictions, and the constant clean-up of trash and abandoned gear. Visitors need to learn to enjoy this protected area without structures like tubs to minimize overuse and protect natural resources.    


Practice these Sykes-specific Leave No Trace principles:


optionsPlan 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. Please self-register your group at the Big Sur Station trailhead. 


surfacesTravel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Camp at least 20 feet away from the water’s edge.
  • Do not alter the camp sites and fire rings. 



campfireMinimize Campfire Impacts

  • During Fire Restrictions (usually from May thru December) 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.)
  • When campfires are permitted, 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 (no thicker than your forearm) 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.


wildlifeRespect Wildlife

  • 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.
  • Bury or pack out your dog's excrement. It is poisonous to the wildlife that call this valley home.  



considerateBe 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 attempt to rebuild 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.


disposeDispose 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 the PRT better than you found it by packing out trash left by previous visitors.
  • Use the wilderness toilets provided. They are the best places to defecate to limit impacts on natural resources.
  • 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.


leavewhatyoufindLeave 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. When you do you destroy the homes of small critters and impose human structures upon a natural setting.  



Thank you for planning ahead before your trip. Thank you for practicing minimal impact camping techniques.  

Following are some great alternate choices for a wilderness experience in the Ventana region. 

Along the Pine Ridge Trail, Barlow Flat Camp and Redwood Camp provide space and solitude not found at Sykes.

Pine Valley is a rare treat with its expansive meadow, beautiful cliffs and ponderosa pines.

Additional Resources:

Excellent Big Sur/Ventana Mapping Tools:

Big Sur Station to Sykes Elevation Gain/ Loss Profile - See a graphic representation of the up and down nature of the PRT from Big Sur Station to Redwood Camp. 


With over 300 miles of trails and dozens of camps in the Big Sur backcountry, there is ample opportunity for recreation and solitude. Since we are so often asked for trip suggestions, we offer these five locales as a mere sampling of what the Ventana region has to offer.