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These are the 7 best hikes in Big Sur, according to the experts

The Big Sur coastline offers 90 miles of natural beauty — a wonderful, yet overwhelming, amount of land to explore.

With so many areas to explore, but only so much time, we wanted to know the must-see hiking trails in Big Sur.

So we had the hiking experts weigh in on the best of the best.

Jon Iverson, who lives in Atascadero, has been hiking in Big Sur since the 1970s and writes about his favorite trails on his website, HikinginBigSur.com.

Seth Smigelski, who lives in Portland, Oregon, but frequently visits his parents in San Luis Obispo, has documented more than 700 trails on his website, Hikespeak.com. And Carol Greenstreet leads trips and hikes through Big Sur though the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Here’s a list of some of best, must-see Big Sur hikes, according to these experienced hikers.

Bluffs-Panorama Ridge Loop Trail

Length: 9 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Directions: Andrew Molera State Park, 45500 Highway 1, Big Sur

From majestic redwoods and sparkling streams to coastal bluffs and beach access, this hike has it all.

“If you want the full Big Sur experience with mountains, oceans, (panoramic) views and beach, it’s the hike for that,” Seth Smigelski said.

Cruickshank Trail

Length: 6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Directions: The trail is located about 0.6 miles south of Villa Creek Bridge.

Here’s a moderate to strenuous hike for more experienced folks. The trailhead splits off into six different trails, but Jon Iverson recommends the Villa Creek Camp path, a 6-mile round-trip which leads to small waterfalls and pools of water.

The trail starts off with a steep incline that offers expansive ocean views, then continues on to oak forests, light redwood groves and river crossings.

IversonLimekilnHareCanyon.jpg
Courtesy Jon Iverson

Limekiln State Park trails

Length: 2.65 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Directions: Limekiln State Park, 63025 Highway 1, Big Sur

Limekiln’s short trio of trails create a classic hike through the redwoods.

The moderate hike is well-maintained and suitable for most hikers. The trails takes visitors through a redwood groove over a few creek crossings.

The trailhead splits into three different trails, for a choose-your-own adventure hike.

The classic Limekiln Trail takes you to four old metal lime kilns, which were used to calcify limestone about 100 years ago. Falls Trail will take you to a beautiful waterfall, and Hare Creek Trail offers more redwood and creek scenes.

All variations of the hike can be done in 2.65 miles.

“The scene is just gorgeous,” Iverson said. “It’s probably the best redwood hike close to us.”

salt
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is home to McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall that flows from McWay Creek into the Pacific Ocean. John Lindsey

McWay Falls Trail

Length: 0.6 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Directions: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, 52801 Highway 1, Big Sur

McWay Falls has been dubbed the most famous waterfall in Big Sur, for good reason.

The waterfall cascades down onto a sandy beach, which can be viewed from above — but not walked on.

The McWay Falls trail offers an easy way to view the famous falls without breaking the law.

Iverson recommends going in the early evening, when the viewing path is usually less crowded.

“If you’re going to Big Sur, you have to see McWay,” Iverson said. “It’s also one of the easiest to get to.”

Part of the trail may be closed for renovations, but the waterfall can still be viewed from the open portion.

Pacific Valley Bluff Trail

Length: 1.1 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Directions: The Pacific Valley Bluff Trail starts across from the Pacific Valley Ranger Station, which is now permanently closed, north of Sand Dollar Day Use Beach in Big Sur.

The level, round-trip hike is suitable for beginners and offers breathtaking views.

“It’s the kind of trial you’ve probably driven by and not noticed it,” Smigelski said. “But then you get out there and it’s really nice.”

The hike features views of offshore rock formations and coastal cliffs.

Salmon Creek Falls Trail

Length: 0.6 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Directions: The trail starts where Salmon Creek meets Highway 1. A small sign is visible from the highway.

According to Iverson, Salmon Creek Falls Trail is the closest true Big Sur trail to San Luis Obispo.

A short, quarter-mile walk gets you to a pool and 100-foot waterfall, but there are options to extend the hike farther into the canyon.

Don’t forget your swimsuit. Hikers can take a dip in the natural pool and under the waterfall. There are also rocks to climb over and around near the falls.

Timber Top Trail

Length: 7 miles

Difficulty: Strenuous

Directions: The trail starts 0.7 miles northwest of Torre Canyon Bridge at the Boronda trailhead.

This trail is Carol Greenstreet’s favorite hike in Big Sur.

“I often see California condors at eye level, and then there’s the ocean and hills,” Greenstreet said. “To me, to that’s Big Sur.”

This out-and-back walk, which has a 2,600-foot elevation gain and takes five to six hours to complete, offers outstanding views of the Big Sur coast. At the top, you’re rewarded for your efforts with 360-degree views out to the remote reaches of the Santa Lucia range.

What to bring and when to go

Hikers in Big Sur should bring layers, water bottles and look out for ticks and poison oak on the trails.

Iverson said Central Coast locals should try to visit during the week to avoid weekend crowds.

With the start of the coastline about an hour away from San Luis Obipso, Smigelski said the drive is worth it.

“There’s something magical about (Big Sur),” Smigelski said. “Going from San Luis Obispo, it’s a pretty short drive to a whole different world.”

As for which hike you should check out first, Smigelski said “you can’t go wrong.” “If you pick a trail you are prepared to do, it’s probably going to be pretty rewarding, he said.

While you’re in the area, be sure to hit up other Big Sur hot spots, including the Bixby Creek Bridge, Henry Miller Library, Nepenthe restaurant and Post Ranch Inn.

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