Sykes Hot Springs


After an awesome adventure run down the Carmel River last week, I returned to the Ventana Wilderness to see the famous Sykes Hot Springs with a variation on the return trip to see the lush redwood grove at Terrace Creek and expansive views from the Coast Ridge Road (22 miles total). The Pine Ridge Trail to Sykes Hot Springs is one of the most popular destinations in the Ventana and without the cumbersome brush and routefinding issues characteristic of most trails in the region, this trail is like a highway. Since the hike to the hot springs is nearly ten miles one way, most people do it as a backpacking trip and everybody we saw on this day was spending the night in the wilderness.

Map, photos, and more trail descriptions after the jump!

The Pine Ridge Trail begins by skirting on the hillside above the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground and then ascends above the rugged Big Sur Gorge. The vegetation alternates between shady old-growth redwoods in cool canyons and drier ridge lines composed of madrone and oak. There are often great vistas of the wild and scenic Big Sur River canyon below and the Santa Lucia Mountains above. In particular, there are grand views of the rugged Double Ventana Cone. Since this section of the Pine Ridge Trail is entirely on a north facing slope, the route is almost entirely in the shade this time of year due to the low angle of the sun. The trail descends down to the Big Sur River for the first time near Sykes Hot Springs, which are located about 500 meters downstream from where the trail crosses the river. From here, you can either use a use path to skirt above cliffs and stay dry or cross the stream a couple times. The hot springs are located in an amazing setting perched above the cascading Big Sur River and surrounded by a lush redwood forest. It’s a remarkable place to take a soak and relax. There are three small pools: the upstream pool can fit two people, the downstream pool is basically a one person bath, and the pool about 50 feet up the hill is the largest and can hold four visitors comfortably.

Big Sur River by the hot springs

On the return trip, I diverged from the Pine Ridge Trail at the Terrace Creek Trail junction. I took the Terrace Creek Trail up to the Coast Ridge Road, which was taken down to Highway 1 and section on the highway back to the trailhead. This return route adds about 2.5 miles, but it’s worth the extra mileage and elevation gain in my opinion. The Terrace Creek trail is steep and entails over 1,400 ft of climbing in less than 2 miles, but the forest service crews recently completed a thorough overhaul of this trail. The fantastic job of the crew drastically improved the tread and removed all brush and impediments. The Terrace Creek canyon is one of the highlights in my opinion. Featuring numerous small waterfall steps, the creek is aptly named, and features a spectacular grove of old growth redwoods with a plush carpet of redwood sorrel and ferns.  While the climb up to the Coast Ridge Road is unforgiving, the reward is a spectacular 360 degree view from the top, including Ventana Double Cone, the Santa Lucia Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and the Big Sur coastline. From the highpoint, the well-graded Coast Ridge Road is taken down to the Ventana Inn and Highway 1 with sweeping views of the ocean and coastline accompanying virtually the entire way. The final 1.7 miles is along the highway, but it is all downhill and took me only 10 minutes to run. Total mileage for the trip was nearly 22 miles.

Gorgeous views from Coast Ridge Road

Historical fires stormed through most of the Ventana Wilderness in 2008, but crews have done an amazing job rehabilitating the trails and removing deadfall. It was also amazing to see the resiliency of the forest. In particular, it appeared that few of the naturally fire-resistant redwoods succumbed to the flames. While the outer shell of the trunks was often black, the trees seemed healthy and new growth was emerging from everywhere. A ranger I spoke to said the fire was long overdue and it was beneficial and necessary for the health of the forest. Only eighteen months after the fires, the scars are already fading.

Another great trip to the Ventana Wilderness and I look forward to more in the future!

Ventana Double Cone from the Coast Ridge Road
The Big Sur River Canyon (the red trees are madrones adorned with copious red fruit)
Manuel Peak and the Big Sur Valley
Lush forest along Terrace Creek
Large redwood with rock wall background
Redwood Sorrel
Small waterfalls along Terrace Creek

3 Responses to “Sykes Hot Springs”

  1. Buzz Says:

    I love Sykes. It’s a perfect one-day run/soak, long enough to keep the day-hikers out, but short enough to leisurely enjoy during the short days of winter, with dinner at Nepenthe an added bonus. Its become a well-known destination, but just 10 years ago it was known only to locals.

    Great job as usual on the excellent photos and maps.

  2. Interval training Says:

    that waterfalls looks so relaxing:)

  3. alisyn Says:

    This was a helpful recap as I plan to run this next weekend! Beautiful pictures!

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