San Francisco to Big Sur, Hike-In Camping at Spruce Camp

Big Sur Travel Blog

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Hiking Up

The first time I saw Salmon Creek Falls in Los Padres National Forest, on Highway in the southern end of the Big Sur area, I knew I had to come back. Twin falls, divided at the precipice by a precariously perched boulder, tumble into a green pool surrounded by rocks.  It's not that tall, but enclosed by giant boulders, the spot feels incredibly enclosed and serene.

The first time I went, it was only as a stop over on the way down to the Channel Islands, so I really didn't get to stay. This time, we decided to hike up to a camp using a trail that started at the falls.

Starting Out, and That Stupid Lone Cypress

Sarah and I hit the road about 4 hours behind schedule after she hit the snooze button, I left my wallet at home and we spent way too much time at Safeway shopping for road trip food.

Coastal Views
We also made the mistake of thinking Highway 152 was a shortcut from 101 to the coast -- It's not -- we got stuck behind a truck full of hay on this winding pass.

We came down over Castroville and merged onto the Highway 1. The route takes you through Monterey and Carmel, where you can stop to the famous tree at 17 mile drive, a pay road full of fancy houses, golf courses, some very pretty scenery and one famous Lone Cypress. For some reason, this tree was a huge thing in my family when we were growing up -- as in up there with Lake Tahoe as a tourist attraction -- we had a coffee table book about it and everything. I've since come to realize that no one else really cares about the tree, but I've dragged several groups of people to see it just for nostalgia's sake.

sarah at the edge of the pacific
It's very picturesque, really, and makes for some good conversations when I'm convincing people to go on a road trip to Monterey with me:

  • Me: It's like the best tree ever
  • Dude: Oh, is it a redwood? Is it tall?
  • Me: No, it's pretty small
  • Dude: Is it really old or something?
  • Me: No... I don't think it's that old
  • Dude: Is it rare? Like an endangered species?
  • Me: No, it's just a cypress.
  • Dude: I don't get it.

(After many hours of driving...)

  • Dude: So... that's the tree, huh?
  • Me: It's very picturesque, really.

I think I once convinced a group that the tree was an analogy of the growth of America, clinging to the vast wilderness, fighting for independence amongst the rocks and waves, thriving against all odds, and various other BS.

Coastline

Highway One and the Big Sur River Inn

It was almost 2PM when we got to Big Sur proper. We stopped at the Big Sur River Inn for lunch. They have a really picturesque (OK, so I'm overusing that word, but it's very descriptive of a lot of Central Coast locations) spot on the river with big wicker chairs sitting in the water. See my review for more.

The road down highway 1 then runs along windy cliffs through several state parks and forests (Julia Pfeiffer, Limekiln, Los Padres). There are lots of places to stop all along the coast, including tons of hiking, beaches, camping, surfing and river activities. Salmon Creek is near the south end of the area, 8 miles past the little town of Gorda. The trailhead is right on the highway, on the inside side of the road, right past a ranger station.

Big Sur River Inn
There's a little pull-off where you can park.

The trip is free, by the way -- there's no parking fees at Salmon Creek. The campsite is also free, probably because it's a hike-in, so not alot of people get out there. Reservable, drive-in campsites in Big Sur are usually booked several months in advance.

Dudebro, Those Guys are So Extreme!

Since it was getting late, we skipped the waterfall on the way in and headed for camp. The first mile of the trail is climbs up 1,300 feet to the top of the ridge, with some pretty views of the ocean and the highway below. It felt like way longer than a mile carrying my gear,  but I have pretty bad smoker's lungs.

The second mile of the trail is much easier, generally flat and shady.

The Trail To/From Spruce Camp
As we made our way around a dried river, we heard voices in the distance. As usual, we were "lost" -- totally on the right path but convinced we had gone the wrong way -- so we stopped and decided to wait to ask whoever was coming if we were going the right way.

Out of from behind the trees come these big, tall, hardcore extreme looking dudes with big guns and dogs and giant backpacks. They were so extreme, one of them was wearing Gortex, the life-saving fabric. They were so extreme, their dogs were wearing ammunition caddies. It was awesome.

Turns out they were firefighters from Monterey on a deer hunting trip. They were very nice and told us that we were on the right way, and that there was a great place to camp further ahead.  I think they were as amused of us as we were of them.

We started a fire
 I was like the opposite of the one really extreme dude with the Gortex. He was well over 6 feet tall with bulging muscles and a shaved head, while I (5 foot 2) was wearing a purple rhinstone-dotted, lace-sleeved FOB shirt carrying a Jansport school backpack with sleeping bag gimmyrigged to the strap. We walked with them the whole way and had some interesting conversation.

  • Me: Watcha huntin'?
  • Dude: Dinosaurs.
  • Me: Is it dinosaur season already?

(later)

  • Me:I wish there were really dinosaurs.
  • Dude: No dinos, just deer.... But the Yetis might be out.
  • Me: Do they eat the deer?
  • Dude: No, they only eat purple things... and rhinstones.

I made them take a picture with me and they actually gave us a whistle.

I am so damn happy here

  • Dude: If you get lost, blow three times. Someone will come find you.
  • Me: This is so cool! I've always wanted a Rape Whistle!

They were headed down Spruce Trail, and pointed us the way down to the campsite.

We Have Fire!

At the bottom of a short but steep hill, Spruce Camp sits alongside a rocky creek, under lots of shady trees. It's a pretty spot, if a bit poison oaky. We thought this was the end of the trail, but apparently, the trail picks back up across the creek (we thought it just led to another campsite), and goes another mile to Estrella Camp, which is supposedly even prettier.

We mistakenly thought there was a swimming area by the creek (it was further down the trail), so we changed into swimsuits and skirts and headed for the creek.

Re-enacting the Blair Witch Project
Some dude-bros were there, cooling their beer in the river. One of them kept incredulously asking us if we hiked up and if we were hiking out or staying the night. I think he didn't realize we had changed, and thought we came up in skirts and jellies.

We scramble up the creek a bit and looked at some fishes before heading back to camp to start a fire. Luckily, I had taken about 9 matchbooks from the Big Sur River Inn, so we had more than enough. Neither of us had started a fire before (not counting the Duraflame kind), so it was really fun to gather leaves and twigs and firewood.

We must have got drunk off the success of our fire because we spent the rest of the night bizarely re-enacting the Blair Witch Project. In this video, I am rocking in a circular motion muttering about "The witch" while Sarah is rocking in a circular motion holding the camera and wearing her headlamp to make a strobelight effect. It was much funnier in person, but it's still kinda funny here. If you look closely, you can see I am still wearing my new Rape Whistle.

thenewextrememimi says:
totally extreme firefighter guys with guns and muscles wrapped in gortex, to be specific ;)
Posted on: Mar 25, 2008
carpefunk says:
I love Big Sur :) there's nothing better than meeting a couple of guys with GUNS on a trail eh
Posted on: Mar 23, 2008
thenewextrememimi says:
No guide needed. Those extreme-looking gun-toting dudes were the hunters we met on the trail.
Posted on: Oct 27, 2007
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Hiking Up
Hiking Up
Coastal Views
Coastal Views
sarah at the edge of the pacific
sarah at the edge of the pacific
Coastline
Coastline
Big Sur River Inn
Big Sur River Inn
The Trail To/From Spruce Camp
The Trail To/From Spruce Camp
We started a fire
We started a fire
I am so damn happy here
I am so damn happy here
Re-enacting the Blair Witch Project
View of Highway and Ocean
View of Highway and Ocean
Sarah at Spruce Creek
Sarah at Spruce Creek
Sarah chillin at the Big Sur River…
Sarah chillin at the Big Sur Rive…
Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant
Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant
Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant
Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant
Sarah and her camel
Sarah and her camel
Tent
Tent
We started a fire
We started a fire
Campsite
Campsite
Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant
Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant
Trail
Trail
Trail
Trail
Extreme friends
Extreme friends
Coastal Views
Coastal Views
Coastal Views
Coastal Views
Coastal views
Coastal views
Big Sur Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
The best thing about the restaurant at the Big Sur River Inn (you can get a room there, too) is the atmosphere of the location. Out in back, there's t… read entire review
Big Sur
photo by: Ann_Hells