Big Sur Camping Unveiled: Where to Stay, What to Do
Big Sur Camping Adventures: How to Plan & Enjoy Your Trip
What makes Big Sur, California, so unique? Some say it is the most amazing place where land meets the sea. Known for its stunning coastline, dramatic cliffs, towering redwoods, and abundant wildlife, Big Sur is a popular camping destination for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a peaceful retreat.
Its rugged and picturesque region is located on the central coast of California, stretching from Carmel to San Simeon.
Camping Options in Big Sur
What are some good places to stay in Big Sur? This comprehensive guide to camping in Big Sur will provide recommendations for the best campgrounds, a packing list of essential items to bring, and tips for a successful camping trip, allowing visitors to fully experience the stunning natural beauty and outdoor activities available in this rugged and picturesque region on the central coast of California.
The Most Popular Big Sur Campgrounds
KIRK CREEK CAMPGROUND
Kirk Creek Campground is the gem of Big Sur Camping and boasts stunning ocean vistas and a seaside sanctuary atop a cliff. This peaceful retreat features 33 campsites, a secluded beach for aquatic activities, and captivating hiking paths through verdant forests and the occasional whale and her calf resting in the cove or California Condor flying above.
PLASKETT CREEK CAMPGROUND
Plaskett Creek Campground, a camper’s paradise, is nestled among majestic Monterey pine and cypress trees in the Los Padres National Forest. This picturesque, park-like campground is renowned for its large grassy sites, flush toilets, and family-friendly atmosphere. Just a short walk from Sand Dollar Beach, one of central California’s largest and most popular beaches, visitors can easily access the Willet hiking trail for outdoor adventures. Plaskett Creek is the ultimate destination for campers, surfers, spearfishers, and anyone seeking a super-relaxing getaway.
Limekiln State Park Campground, a legendary Big Sur coastline coastal gem, offers 29 picturesque campsites set amongst magnificent redwood trees along Limekiln Creek. The campground is divided into two distinct areas, with the Redwood loop (sites 13-29) nestled in a shaded grove along the creek and the Ocean loop (sites 1-12) featuring beach access and stunning ocean views. Two main hiking trails offer serene redwood forest exploration and awe- inspiring cliffside ocean vistas.
ARROYO SECO CAMPGROUND
In California’s westernmost national forest, Arroyo Seco Campground, Los Padres National Forest, offers a semi-rustic yet developed camping experience at about 1,200 feet. The campground is surrounded by abundant shrubbery and large oak trees next to the Arroyo Seco River. It features 40 spacious campsites that can accommodate any size RV, though no electrical, water, or sewer hookups are available.
The area boasts two small lakes for fishing, while the Ventana Wilderness provides ample hiking, swimming, backpacking, hunting, and horseback riding opportunities.
Discover the tranquil haven of Nacimiento Campground in Big Sur, a hidden retreat enveloped by natural splendor and calmness. With nine campsites on a first-come, first-served basis, surrounded by oak trees, the campground welcomes tent camp, campervans, and small RVs, while backcountry sites provide a more rustic experience for adventurous campers.
Nacimiento Campground is an essential destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers yearning for a scenic and refreshing getaway in Big Sur.
CHINA CAMP CAMPGROUND
China Camp Campground, situated at Chews Ridge, offers an array of shady campsites ideal for a peaceful retreat. Accessible via the rough Tassajara Road, it is recommended that visitors use 4-wheel drive and high-clearance vehicles to reach the campground. Hiking and biking trails are conveniently located within 10-15 minutes from the campground, including the Pine Ridge trailhead that starts across from the campground bulletin board.
Underused & Hidden Big Sur Campsites
BOTTCHER’S GAP CAMPGROUND
Ventana Wilderness is an unparalleled spectacle of nature’s beauty, and a visit to Bottcher’s Gap Campground will allow you to capture this essence in a profound, intimate setting. Offering an array of twelve rustic, first-come-first-serve campsites, it is an absolute gem in the wilderness and is an unmissable chapter in your Big Sur camping story.
An abundance of day hikes awaits from the camp, including the renowned 4-mile trek to Devil’s Peak. The Skinner Ridge Trailhead, a hiker’s paradise, is conveniently located at the campground, boasting exquisite views throughout the trail.
Immerse yourself in nature’s grandeur at the Ponderosa Campground. Nestled under a diverse canopy of Ponderosa, Pine, Oak, Madrone, and Sycamore trees, this haven provides 21 family- friendly campsites. The campground welcomes tent and RV camping (up to 35 feet). Located by the Seasonal Nacimiento River, Ponderosa Campground extends an invitation to indulge in various aquatic activities – Fishing, swimming, or the simple pleasure of relaxing in the water.
Half of the campsites operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, while the rest are reservable, offering flexibility to your planning. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your fishing gear, and visit Ponderosa Campground – an emblem of untouched beauty and unending recreation.
MEMORIAL PARK CAMPGROUND
Discover the untamed beauty of Memorial Park Campground, a rustic sanctuary nestled amongst oak and pine trees in the Santa Lucia Mountains. This peaceful retreat boasts eight campsites and an array of trailheads, all within walking distance, offering many adventures from hiking and biking to horseback riding.
Dive into the refreshing swimming holes of the nearby Arroyo Seco River, a hidden gem amongst the stunning rock formations.
This quiet yet lively campground is a haven for explorers, boulderers, and nature lovers, promising a memorable experience.
WHITE OAKS CAMPGROUND
Experience tranquility and breathtaking beauty at White Oaks Campground. Nestled just off Tassajara Road, this free, first-come-first-served camping haven presents seven well-shaded sites in a tight loop amidst a grove of towering trees.
The campground, perched high on a mountain, offers stunning views of rolling hills under a protective ceiling of majestic pine trees and shady oaks. The starlit nights here are second to none, offering an unrivaled stargazing experience.
Camping Equipment & Essentials
Big Sur’s unique allure lies in its stunning beauty and remote location. However, careful planning is essential due to the limited amenities along the coastline. Remember that Big Sur has no grocery stores, so stocking up on food supplies is necessary before your journey.
- Sturdy Tent
- Sleeping Bags
- Sleeping Pads
- Cooking Equipment
- Camping Chairs
- Water Containers
- Other items: firewood, matches, or a lighter
Tips for a Successful Camping Trip in Big Sur
Big Sur is a wildly popular destination, so make sure to reserve campsites months in advance with the famous sites, and if you are planning on the first come, first serve spots, make sure to arrive early to secure one.
Big Sur offers unique experiences throughout the year, making it a destination worth visiting in any season. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect during each time:
Summer: This is the busiest and warmest period in Big Sur, though it’s worth noting that it’s rarely “HOT” here—temperatures are very coastal and rarely exceed 80 degrees. You can expect exceptional beach weather, but plan well in advance as the area will be crowded. Additionally, if you’re visiting during June and July, you can catch a glimpse of the majestic Blue Whales in Monterey Bay.
Fall: Big Sur becomes less crowded with pleasant temperatures from August to October. It’s a comfortable atmosphere, and don’t miss the famous Big Sur Jade Festival if you’re there from October 8-10.
Winter: During this season, lodging prices drop and campsites become more available as tourism is at its lowest. However, it’s important to be cautious of potential road closures due to roadwork and landslides, which can be triggered by the weather. In terms of climate, winter can offer clear skies if it’s not raining.
Spring: As the weather improves and Spring Break approaches, the coast gets busier again. Enjoy the beautiful wildflowers during the super bloom, adding vibrant colors to the landscape. Regardless of the season, Big Sur offers diverse experiences and adventures that will keep you returning for more.
Activities & Attractions in Big Sur
What are some fun things to do in Big Sur? Big Sur is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with many activities and attractions catering to those who love to explore the great outdoors.
HIKING & NATURE TRAILS
McWay Falls Trail: This short but stunning trail within the Julia pfeiffer burns state
Park leads visitors to a picturesque waterfall that cascades directly onto the beach below.
Partington Cove Trail: This trail takes visitors through a historic tunnel and down to a secluded cove with stunning coastline views.
Andrew Molera State Park: This park offers a range of hiking trails, from easy walks along the beach to more challenging treks through the mountains.
Garrapata State Park: This park features a variety of hiking trails, from easy walks along the beach to more challenging hikes through rugged terrain and dense forests.
BEACHES AND WATER ACTIVITIES
Pfeiffer Beach: This stunning beach is known for its purple sand and scenic rock formations, making it a popular spot for photography and relaxation.
Sand Dollar Beach: As the largest beach in Big Sur, Sand Dollar is a popular destination for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing.
Andrew Molera State Park Beach: This secluded beach is accessible only on foot and offers visitors a chance to explore the natural beauty of Big Sur while enjoying the peaceful surroundings.
Surfing: Big Sur is a surfer’s dream, offering great waves, breathtaking views, and a relatively uncrowded lineup, making it an ideal destination for those seeking an exceptional surfing experience.
Kayaking: Kayaking is a popular activity in Big Sur, with many companies offering guided tours of the coastline and its natural wonders.
Whale Watching: Big Sur is a great place to spot whales, particularly during the winter months when migration is in full swing.
Scuba Diving: Scuba diving enthusiasts can explore the kelp forests and diverse marine life that thrive in the waters of Big Sur’s coastline.
It was here in Big Sur that I first learned to say ‘amen.’
~ Henry Miller