Sykes Camp / Sykes Hot Springs

THANK YOU FOR READING THIS IMPORTANT INFORMATION - updated September 23, 2021

The current Los Padres National Forest-wide Closure Order expired on Thursday September 23. The public is welcome back to their public lands. Please remember that Extreme Fire Danger restrictions remain in place! NO CAMPFIRES. NO SMOKING. 

These rules apply to all lands of the Monterey Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest which includes the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas. Just one campfire can destroy lives, property and precious natural resources.  Don't do it. Don't tolerate others doing it. 

The use of gas stoves with an on/off valve is permitted with a valid permit. You can secure a permit here. This permit does NOT allow for campfire use at this time despite its stupid name.

Roads closed to vehicular traffic: Arroyo Seco Road at Carmel Valley Road, Tassajara Road at Carmel Valley Road, Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, South Coast Ridge Road to Prewitt Ridge, Cone Peak Road, Arroyo Seco - Indians Road from Memorial Park to Escondido Camp

Know Before You Go: Call the U. S. Forest Service, Monterey Ranger District office if you need more information: 831-385-5434.  

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

 Note: Good news! The entirety of the Pine Ridge Trail is open effective April 13, 2021. 

The Pine Ridge Trail is once again open to the public after being closed for five years due to the human-caused 2016 Soberanes Fire and damage inflicted by the winter storms of 2017. The project to reopen the trail required the collaboration of multiple agencies, nonprofit organizations, generous funders, and dedicated volunteers. Let's 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 wildfire/winter storm closure, Sykes Camp was overused by visitors due to the presence of natural hot springs that were impounded into tubs. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will no longer tolerate human-made structures and impoundments. Sadly, scofflaws 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, and always use caution. The river can become impassable during winter and spring due to high, swift water.
  • More about the hot springs: Wildfire, winter storm damage, and deadfalls damaged  the Pine Ridge Trail leading to its closure from 2016 to 2021. Since the natural hot springs at Sykes are in federally designated Wilderness and within a protected Wild & Scenic River corridor, the tubs that were built downstream from Sykes Camp were illegal impoundments. Unauthorized structures are inconsistent with the Wilderness character of the region. They provided an "attractive nuisance" that drained 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. For these reasons, “Sykes Hot Springs” needs to become nothing more than a distant memory. Now that access is re-established, visitors must learn to enjoy this protected area without the tubs. 

 

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 November) 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 for your trip! Thank you for practicing minimal impact camping techniques.  

 

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.

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

Additional Resources:

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 PRT from Big Sur Station to Redwood Camp. 

 

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