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Sykes Hot Springs Backpack
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R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Sykes Hot Springs on 06/14/2010 12:15:08 MDT Print View

Sykes Hot Springs is a popular backpacker destination located in the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur. The trek is ten mile each way. The hike starts at 400 ft elevation and hits a maximum of 1500 ft, but over the course of the trip you climb approximately 3000 ft and descended 2000 ft. The destination campsite has hot springs and a stream. There are a number of other campsites along the way. The Pine Ridge Trail mostly weaves through a cover of redwoods, pine and oak. The trail is typically well maintained and extremely easy to follow.

Lizard watching passing hikers at the Pine Ridge Trail head.

Ascending Pine Ridge Trail through sun baked chaparral.

Chaparral gives way to forest on the Pine Ridge Trail.

Terrace Creek Camp, 5.3 miles from the trailhead.

At the five mile mark you will come to Terrace Creek Camp. The area is nicely shaded with a stream for water. The stream can be easily crossed using stepping stones. Just passed the creek the trail has a slight climb as you exit Terrance camp. Around 6.5 miles from the trail head you will start down a series of moderate switch backs which take you to the next creek during which you’ll be passing many colorful wildflowers.




Barlow Flats Campsite.

Once you have passed the creek you are beginning the next up-hill section of this trip. At the seven mile mark you will see a turn-off on the left side of the trail for Barlow Flats campsite. Barlow Flats offers spacious camping on both sides of the river as well as some excellent swimming holes and trout fishing.

Barlow Flats Swimming Hole.

My first view of the morning sky.

I choose to sleep without a shelter as the skies were clear and the night time temperature dropped to a comfortable 50 degree’s. I slept well experiencing little attention from the mosquitoes and other biting insects.

Early morning start on the Pine Ridge Trail offers relief from the afternoon sun.

A short break at cool cascading creek and a chance to refill my canteen.

A small waterfall on the Pine Ridge Trail.

In the next miles or so the hike will get progressively steeper, but is still very pleasant. You know you are near the end of this section when you reach the tree to the right, at the bottom of a switch back. This is a nice place to stop and have a brief snack before climbing up this long switch back. Once you reach the top of the switch back you will have a pleasant mile or two as the trail slowly drifts down toward the river below. Shortly before you get to Sykes the trail will descend a set of steep switchbacks to the river below.

A refreshing swimming hole at Sykes.

Mysterious rock monument at Sykes.

My little camp under the big red woods at Sykes.

My new neighbor a Lady Bug at Sykes.

Chill'n in the Sykes Hot Springs.

To get to the hot springs, walk down stream. You will eventually come to a rock face sticking out from the side of the hill. Continue down the side of the steam until you see a trail heading up the hill. It will look like you could go a bit further than the trail near the river.. You will know you are close when you smell a slight sulfur odor. There is 3 soaking pools. One it typically up the hill, while two are down near the stream.


Edited by FastWalker on 06/14/2010 13:44:41 MDT.

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Sykes Hot Springs on 06/14/2010 13:46:50 MDT Print View

Gear List Attached

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Pine Ridge Trail on 06/14/2010 15:59:34 MDT Print View

Thanks for posting the trip report. I haven't been out on the Pine Ridge Trail since probably a year before the fires. I feared this whole area was burned out but it looks like the fire(s) spared the Big Sur River corridor based on your photos.

I might have to go visit this year.



Ben Crowell
(bcrowell) - F

Locale: Southern California
cool on 06/14/2010 16:14:49 MDT Print View

Cool trip report! My brother and I were a little north of there this spring, and some of the more remote parts of the trail system were nonexistent after the fire and regrowth of the vegetation.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Re: Sykes Hot Springs on 06/14/2010 17:48:00 MDT Print View

Hmm...what's going on here? There are no clothes in that gear list, nor on the soaking hiker in the that's dedicated SUL.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Pine Ridge Trail on 06/14/2010 17:56:58 MDT Print View

Like Nicholas, I thought this area was pretty burned out from the fire. I have seen post fire photos and it did burn much of the area. Though, I think it was more of the ground vegetation. Nice to see the trees are still there. This valley is quite pretty. I am going back there now. Thanks for the trip report!!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Pine Ridge Trail on 06/14/2010 17:59:49 MDT Print View

If you go, take along something for poison oak or else long clothing. It was thick when I was last there.

Also, it can get pretty hot there in Ventana. We backpacked in, starting at 9:30 p.m. and walked by headlamps while it was cool.


Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Nice pictures on 06/16/2010 06:38:48 MDT Print View

Beautiful report! I did this trip last November and I really enjoyed it. I didn't mind the burn ( other than thinking of the damage to people and property); I find it an interesting landscape..When we went, the madrones were so laden with berries that from afar they were so red they looked like some exotic maple. Since the trails had just reopened after a relatively long closure, the hot springs were quite crowded and we had to search for a spot to camp and wait our turn to get into the pools; how crowded was it when you went?

John Kinzer
(gardentrail27) - F
Nice shots! on 06/20/2010 06:16:39 MDT Print View

Thanks for the report and the great photos too. My wife and I did this trip in Early May. There's nothing quite like a rewarding soak in a hot spring after a hike. From what I hear it tends to get pretty crowded later in the summer. It wasn't bad on a weekday in May. We had the springs to ourselves for the first hour or more.

There was a large downed tree blocking the upper springs but that's probably gone now. Bring some camp/water shoes and be willing to see some flesh. That part wasn't all bad when we were there. ;)

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Sykes Hot Springs Backpack" on 06/20/2010 08:59:08 MDT Print View

Great report Roger! Loved the photos, you have beautiful land to explore in your neck of the woods.

Backpack Jack
(jumpbackjack) - F

Locale: Armpit of California
Re Hot springs on 06/22/2010 08:36:21 MDT Print View

Kat I sent you a pm if you didn't get it email me at Thanks Jack

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Sykes Hot Springs and Ventana trail conditions on 06/28/2010 21:09:59 MDT Print View

Thanks for the nice trip report write up and great photos.

Benjamin wrote "some of the more remote parts of the trail system were nonexistent after the fire and regrowth of the vegetation."

Sadly, the USFS has spent very little money on trail maintenance in Ventana Wilderness for several decades. The trail to Sykes is one of the few that is reliably maintained. Ventana Wilderness Alliance is working hard to address this:

They maintain a great website with info on current trail conditions. And they have trail maintenance work parties.

We send them a donation whenever we take a hike in Ventana Wilderness (aka Big Sur). We consider it to be the price of admission. I'd encourage other hikers to Big Sur to consider doing the same.

AmyL, Palo Alto

P.S. Jim and I had our first "date" in the Ventana Wilderness in 1983, a 3 day backpacking trip. The place has a particularly special place in my heart.

Edited by drongobird on 06/28/2010 21:23:20 MDT.

Michael Kaericher
(MikeCourt) - F
Great Hike on 07/06/2010 14:29:30 MDT Print View

My wife and I just did the hike out to Sykes over this past weekend, 7-2 to 7-3. Was a nice hike, not many bugs, and not to much PO. The springs were pretty warm and the crowds were not to bad when we were there. Fun hike worth going on. Thanks to the original poster for the trip report, gave me the idea to go.

Ben Crowell
(bcrowell) - F

Locale: Southern California
Re: Sykes Hot Springs and Ventana trail conditions on 07/06/2010 15:13:48 MDT Print View

@Amy: Aha!!!! Thanks for letting me know about the Ventana Wilderness Alliance and their web site. If I'd known about it a few months ago, it would have saved me and my brother a ton of trouble on that trip. They have a report showing that the place we tried to get through has been impassable since the fire.

Lee Strakbein
(leeroyboy1) - F
Sykes hot springs on 04/17/2011 18:59:03 MDT Print View

I just returned from a trip to Sykes hot springs and there have been a few changes since this original posting. There are only 2 pools now, but the lower pool is concrete and rock construction with a PVC ball valve to drain dirty water and refill in about an hour or so. The upper pool is larger, more shallow and cooler with sandbag and rock construction. Because of the abundant rainfall this winter, fresh downfall trees block a few more sections of trail, requiring some scramble above or below the blockage. The high water also has left significant driftwood tangles along the river so firewood is readily available for the moment. A campfire permit is required if you cook with a stove, but is free at the Big Sur station near the trail-head. Parking is up a buck to $5.00 per day in the trail-head lot which has toilets and dumpsters. At this time the water is still high, so the water crossing near Barlow Flats requires wading. However, water sandals are highly recommended for trekking from campsite to hot springs and back anyway. Everything is lush and the waterfalls are particularly big this year. The only negative I experienced was a couple with a dog, which is illegal in a wilderness area. When I informed them of the law, they pretended to be unaware of the restriction and continued on anyway. This is becoming an unfortunate trend and cutbacks do not give me hope that signage or enforcement will happen anytime soon. Allow 6-7 hours of hiking time to get from the trail-head to Sykes with a pack and consider stopping at Barlow Flats on the way in if someone in the group is lagging. The scramble down the river bank to the hot springs is particularly difficult with a full pack and rubbery legs. Thankfully, the length and difficulty keep some from getting there. Otherwise, it would surely be overrun and trashed.

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Sykes Hot Springs -- Dogs allowed on 04/18/2011 01:31:47 MDT Print View

Correct me if I'm wrong, but dogs are allowed in most designated wilderness areas. (California state parks and National parks have dog restrictions, but National Recreational areas, Wilderness areas, and National Forests generally do not.)

Dogs are allowed in the Los Padres National Forest and in Ventana Wilderness area. I've taken mine several times and received permission from the ranger at Big Sur Station.

In my view, the unfortunate trend is busybody citizens who want to regulate everything fellow backpackers do in the wild.

Edited by Rezniem on 04/18/2011 01:34:11 MDT.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Re: Sykes Hot Springs -- Dogs allowed on 04/18/2011 16:02:16 MDT Print View

Yep, dogs are allowed in all wilderness areas in the Los Padres. My dog regularly accompanies me on my trips.

Thanks for the updated trail report though. My dog and I will be in either the Silver Peak or Ventana Wilderness this upcoming weekend for a short trip. We'll be staying away from the craziness that is Sykes and the surrounding Pine Ridge trail camps though.


Dylan Skola
(phageghost) - F

Locale: Southern California
Re: Sykes hot springs on 05/03/2011 20:59:17 MDT Print View

>>However, water sandals are highly recommended for trekking from campsite to hot >>springs and back anyway.

Eh? This is BPL -- those quick-drying mesh trail runners you're wearing are pretty close to water shoes already. Just take your socks off.

Definitely do this hike mid-week. In August of 2006 my girlfriend and I only saw four other people at the springs and had the tubs to ourselves half the time. But as we were heading back Friday we passed dozens upon dozens coming the other way. It felt like we just escaped from an angry mob . . .