This June, Shoestring Adventures took a weekend road trip to Big Sur, led by trip leader Heather! Located five hours north of Los Angeles on California’s Central Coast, Big Sur offers breathtaking views from the mountains and ancient redwoods to the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.
We met four first-time Shoestring Warriors at Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground on Friday afternoon and set up camp next to the Big Sur River. On Saturday, we hiked to 80-ft Pfeiffer Falls and spent the afternoon soaking up sun on the Big Sur River Gorge and Pfeiffer Beach, followed by tacos and campfire. Before returning to Los Angeles on Sunday, we visited McWay Waterfall and climbed the Ewoldsen Trail for a stunning view of the ocean. Overall, it was the perfect weekend getaway with great company.
If Big Sur is on your bucket list, here is a guide to help you plan your own adventure. Find out when to go, what to expect, how to score campground reservations, and what to pack. Better yet, let us guide you on a Shoestring Adventure in Big Sur!
Special thanks to trip leader Heather, co-leaders Canyon & Graham, photographer Ryan Tuttle and the Shoestring Warriors of Big Sur June 2016: Julie, Carissa, Jeff, Alma & Abbey!
Plan Your Visit
Best Time to Go
The most popular time to visit Big Sur is between April to October when the weather is warmest. Fog is common during the high season, but will often burn off in the afternoon. To avoid the crowds and fog, visit during the off season, but be prepared for rain showers!
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is about 5-6 hours drive from Los Angeles or 2-3 hours from San Francisco.
Reservations for Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground are recommended and can be made up to 7 months in advance. For more information on camping reservations, visit the official California State Parks website.
Amenities include flush toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, drinking water, showers and convenience store. Cellphone service is spotty and unreliable. Turn your phone on airplane mode to preserve your battery life and to remain as present as possible.
Each site has up to 2 parking spots, but only one vehicle is covered under your campsite fee. Additional vehicles must pay a $10 fee per night. Overflow parking available in Lots 3 & 4. Your campsite fee includes day parking access within the state parks.
Things To Do
Big Sur River Gorge (.5-mi RT)
Just steps from the campground, climb over rocks and logs along the Big Sur River to access the tranquil swimming holes. Relax and soak in the afternoon sun.
Pfeiffer Falls (3.1-mi RT)
Hike through the redwoods to a beautiful 80-ft waterfall. As the trail climbs, keep your eyes peeled for sweeping mountain views.
The short drive down a narrow road spotted with coastal cottages will bring you to the parking area for Pfeiffer Beach. The $10 day use fee is not covered by your State Parks Pass or camsite fee. Enjoy the famous view of Key Hole Arch from the purple sand beach.
McWay Waterfall (.64-mi)
The popular view of 80-foot McWay Waterfall cascading onto the sandy shore can be seen from Highway One. Walk along the paved trail to view the ruins of the old “Waterfall House” built by Lathrop and Helen Brown.
Ewoldsen Trail (4.5-mi)
The Ewoldsen Trail begins from the same parking area as McWay Waterfall. This hike will give you a taste of everything Big Sur has to offer — redwood forests, babbling streams and sweeping canyon and ocean views — and leave you wanting more!
If you want to elevate your camp cuisine, Fireside Provisions makes it easy to prepare a gourmet feast from your campsite. Just choose your menu, select your group size, then receive ingredients, recipes and checklists right to your door!
Instead of classic s’mores around the campfire, trip leader Heather taught us how to make Campfire Banana Boats stuffed with chocolate, marshmallows and peanut butter. Check out the recipe to try it out!
If you’re a car camping beginner, check out GetOutfitted, an online rental service that delivers premium camping gear directly to your doorstep.
Once you have the essentials, here are some additional items I recommend bringing that are not included on my Car Camping Gear Checklist.
Bring a compact camp chair to relax in the swimming hole. The Therm-a-Rest Quadra Chair folds up conveniently into a case.
The campground and trails in Big Sur were covered in poison oak. Yikes! Use Tecnu to cleanse areas of skin that may have brushed up against the plant’s oily leaves.
Bring a comfortable pair of waterproof sandals for hiking to the swimming hole.
Bring a bathing suit for swimming in the Big Sur River. When we visited in June, the water was very refreshing!
Bring a lightweight tech towel like the REI MultiTowel Lite to dry off after a swim. An old beach towel will work too, as the hike is less than a mile.
Don’t let a sunburn ruin your trip! Especially during the hot summer months, wear sun protection and lather up. My favorite lip protection is Banana Boat Sport Sunscreen Lip Balm – SPF 50.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item, Shoestring Adventures gets a small commission at no added cost to you. Thank you for supporting us with your purchase!
Photos © 2016 Ryan Tuttle