Big Sur, a stretch of coastline in Central California, is a hiker’s paradise. Here, you can stroll along white sand beaches, explore windblown rock cliffs, and climb through towering redwood trees. The forested mountains rise steeply from the Pacific Ocean, creating challenging hikes and views for days. Best of all, there’s no need to worry about complicated directions from most local Big Sur vacation rentals — all of the region’s day hikes are situated off of Highway 1, which is a scenic experience in itself.
1. Ewoldsen Trail
When it comes to Big Sur scenery, the Ewoldsen Trail is the complete package. This challenging, 4.6-mile trail starts off in a redwood forest, providing up-close views of the majestic giants. Climb past bizarre, moss-covered rock formations in McWay Canyon, and rest at the top to take in the thrilling ocean views; if you’re lucky, you might see a California Condor hanging out on the cliffs. The remainder of the loop crosses a steep, exposed ridge, so if you’re bringing kids, turn around at the top for a safer out-and-back hike. Expect to spend about three hours round trip. Access the trail from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which sits about 13 miles north of Lucia.
2. Soberanes Canyon Trail
Head deep into an otherworldly redwood canyon on the Soberanes Canyon Trail, a challenging route in Garrapata State Park; the trail is an easy drive from vacation rentals in Carmel. Here, enormous redwoods soar overhead and the air is filled with the sounds of wildlife and the rushing Soberanes Creek. Hike to the end of the trail and hop on the Rocky Ridge Trail as it loops back down to the coast; along the way, enjoy views of the mist-shrouded coast and the Carmel Valley. The full loop is approximately 4.7 miles long and takes about three to four hours. With its many steep climbs, the route is inadvisable for small children.
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3. Andrew Molera State Park
Combine four different trails into a challenging but stunning hike in Andrew Molera State Park, which sits about 40 minutes south of Carmel. Starting from the park’s parking area, wade across the Big Sur River and head down Creamery Meadow Trail to the Ridge Trail, which climbs steadily; be sure your camera is charged and ready to capture the views of the bluff, ocean, and mountains. After a rest at the top, hop on the Panorama Trail as it winds through pygmy redwood forest and connects to the lovely, easy Bluff Trail. The full loop is 9 miles long, and takes approximately 6 hours. If you want to bring children, skip the Ridge Trail and the Panorama Trail and opt for an out-and-back stroll along the flat bluff.
4. Valley View Trail
Valley View Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Big Sur, and for good reason; the trail winds through giant redwood trees and ends with stunning views over the mountains and the Big Sur River gorge to the Pacific Ocean. A side trail leads to Pfeiffer Falls, an enormous, rocky waterfall with a perfectly positioned viewing platform. Both routes are wide and well-maintained, so they’re accessible for kids; other than a single short, steep climb, most of the route consists of a gentle uphill. With the side trip to Pfeiffer Falls, expect to spend about one and a half hours to cover 2 miles. Find the trailhead in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, just across from the famous McWay Falls.
5. Vicente Flat Trail
For the adventurous hiker, the Vicente Flat Trail offers some of the most awe-inspiring vistas in all of Big Sur. Be prepared for a continuous, strenuous climb for the first 1.5 miles; the panoramic views of the ocean and forests make the climb worthwhile. After 1.5 miles, the trail turns into Hare Canyon. If you want a shorter hike, turn around there for a 3-mile, 2-hour round trip. For a serious day hike, continue on 3.5 miles through the canyon to Vicente Campground, where you’re rewarded with the sight of Cone Peak and the surrounding canyons. For the full 10-mile round trip, allow a minimum of six hours. Both options are safe for experienced kids, but small children may have trouble with the elevation gain.
6. Limekiln Trail
Get a history lesson with your hike at Limekiln State Park. The lovely Limekiln trail leads you 1/2 mile through the redwood forest and over the river to several huge, abandoned furnaces that once processed local lime. On the way back, take the short spur out to Limekiln Falls, which sends water cascading 100 feet into Limekiln Creek. With the trip to the falls, the round trip hike is less than 1.5 miles, and is easy to manage with small children.
7. Jade Cove Trail
Experience Big Sur’s legendary rocky cliffs with a hike along the Jade Cove Trail, which starts from the Jade Cove pullout in the southern part of the region. Stroll along the flat trail as it heads out to the cliffs and parallels the coastline before looping back. Although the entire loop is just 1.5 miles long, allow at least an hour; the breathtaking views from the bluff make for beautiful photos. If you have time, it’s worth heading down the water access path near the parking lot to explore the beach. The trail is easy enough for kids, but due to the steep drops, it’s a good idea to carry little ones in hiking backpacks.
8. Soda Springs Trail
When you want a kid-friendly trail with spectacular views of the Big Sur coast, Soda Springs is the perfect choice. This lovely, wooded path winds through a canyon along Soda Springs, offering plenty of opportunities for little ones to play in the forest. There are some steep climbs, but nothing that an active child can’t handle. Hike out to the start of the Buckeye Trail and back for an easy 1-mile round trip, or continue along the Buckeye Trail for a longer excursion. The trail starts from the Soda Springs pullout on Highway 1, about 6 miles south of Gorda.
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