Big Sur: Hike to Little Sur River Camp

At the end of August, my friends and I decided to embark on a weekend road trip to Big Sur. Since last-minute reservations during the summer are nearly impossible, we decided to take our chances at finding a first-come-first-served campsite. The idea was crazy, but I have a weakness for spontaneous adventures.

Eight of us began the journey after work on Friday. We arrived at San Simeon State Park around midnight and lucked out with a campsite. Early Saturday morning, we continued our journey up the coast to Big Sur.

We turned off Highway 1 and drove 8 miles up a curvy road to Bottcher’s Gap. This US Forest Service campground offers a dozen first-come-first-served sites with views of the Big Sur backcountry and Ventana Wilderness. Quiet hours are strictly enforced by the camp host between 10pm and 6am, so this is not the best place to gather with friends over a few bottles of whiskey.

We paid the camp host, loaded our backpacks and began a 2.5-mi downhill hike toward Little Sur Camp, a small backcountry campground along the Little Sur River. A dirt road led to a narrow path overgrown with poison oak. Miraculously, we reached our campsite unscathed and met our friendly neighbor, who was skinny-dipping in the river.


The weather was pleasantly warm, so a few of us hiked downstream in search of a sunny swimming hole. Once we found the spot, we stripped down to our bathing suits and submerged as much of our bodies into the icy water as we could stand.


Trail Topo Camp Hat by Parks Project

Back at camp, we gathered around our imaginary campfire. Due to fire restrictions, we could not have a real campfire, so we got creative with our camp stoves, warming sausages and marshmallows over the flame.

As the sun went down, we drank whiskey and told stories around a lantern. I caught myself rubbing my hands together as if warming them by the fire.


After dark, I slipped into my tent and drifted off to dreamland, as my friends competed in a late-night upside-down twerking contest. Everyone seemed to be having a pretty good time. Thank you, Jack Daniels.

The next morning, we packed up our campsite and began the steep 2.5-mi uphill climb to the parking lot. Far from the coastline fog, the sun relentlessly beat down on us.


Back on Highway 1, we treated ourselves to brunch at the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant and explored the coast on our return to Los Angeles, stopping at McWay Falls and Jade Cove.

As someone who loves to plan every detail of a trip, spontaneous adventures present an interesting challenge for me. Looking back on Big Sur, I could not have asked for a better weekend. In fact, my goal is to schedule one such weekend trip per month, so stay tuned for the next adventure!

Special thanks to my friends from Shoestring Adventures LA for joining me on this epic weekend adventure!

Little Sur River Campground

  • About this Hike: 2.5 mi each way, down and back up
  • Time: About 1 hour each way (Depending on your pace)
  • Fitness Level: Intermediate (Due to steep return ascent)
  • Permits: No reservations; first-come-first-served; $12 self-serve overnight permit
  • Trailhead Address: Bottcher’s Gap, Palo Colorado Canyon Rd, Big Sur, CA 93920
  • Trailhead Directions: Located 8 miles inland, off of Highway 1 on Palo Colorado Road (18S05) inland, fifteen miles north of Big Sur and 11 miles south of Carmel.
  • What to Bring: Filter to treat drinking water from Little Sur River (downstream from a Boy Scout Camp); long pants to avoid contact with poison oak; bug spray to ward off flies and mosquitos during summer months; bathing suit or a birthday suit to swim in frigid waters.
  • Sources:

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