A Complete Guide to Camping in Big Sur

camping in big sur

Each year millions of travellers flock to Big Sur. A stunning stretch of Californian coastline, which is known for its incredible hiking trails, rugged beaches, redwood forests and its million dollar views. Big Sur enjoys 300 days of sunshine per year. So if you’re looking for the perfect location for your next trip out camping in Big Sur, continue reading to discover everything that you need to know about exploring Big Sur.


Big Sur offers 100 miles of rugged coastline and is located between Camel Highlands and San Simeon, in West California. Although it’s located within a stone’s throw of Monterey, it was founded 100 years later after Monterey. In the past, Big Sur attracted gold miners and jade miners due to its natural resources. However, today Big Sur attracts hikers, adventurers, and surfers.

The Best Time to Visit Big Sur

big sur camping

September to October

One of the best times to visit Big Sur is September, which marks the end of Big Sur’s peak season. Not only is a lot cheaper to explore Big Sur in September but you’ll also enjoy a more peaceful experience. As an added bonus, pods of orcas, blue whales and humpback whales are often spotted off the Coast of Big Sur in September.

October is also an ideal time to visit Big Sur. As not only are the temperatures cooler, than in the height of summer but hundreds of beautiful butterflies descend on Andrew Molena State Park each October. If you decide to visit Big Sur is October you’ll also get to attend the annual Big Sur Jade Festival. Where you’ll be able to pick up a stunning piece of locally sourced jade.

June to August

If you don’t mind contending with crowds, it’s still worth visiting Big Sur during summer. Which runs from June to August. As most of Big Sur’s state parks, such as Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, offer a wide variety of free activities. Such as guided nature walks.

Related: A Complete US National Park List

Big Sur Weather


From December to February, temperatures can vary from the low 40s to the mid 60s. So it’s a wise idea to pack light weight layers, which you can add and remove to suit the weather. Keep in mind that rainstorms are particularly common during the winter months.


While March is still fairly cool and rain is still common. However by April rainfall becomes less common and daily temperatures begin to reach 72 degrees.


The summer season takes place between June and August. During this period temperatures range from the high 40s to the high 80s. Keep in mind that the further you go inland, the hotter it gets.


From September to November temperatures range from the low 40s to the high 70s. So it’s definitely a smart idea to pack for cool warm weather as well as cool weather.

The Best Places to go Camping in Big Sur

Free Camping In Big Sur, California

Los Burros/ Willow Creek Road

If you’re not a fan of campgrounds and prefer finding free picturesque sites to pitch your tent, it’s well worth finding a suitable spot along Low Burros/ Willow Creek Road. From your free campsite you’ll be able to gaze out towards the Pacific Ocean and will have a view of the wildflowers which grow throughout Los Burros.

Fernwood Campground & Resort

Fernwood Campground & Resort offers tent sites as well as clean motel rooms and inexpensive cabins. It also features an on-site tavern, a general store and an espresso bar. 

Prewitt Ridge Campground

Prewitt Ridge Campground is an open grassy area, where you’ll find numerous spaces to pitch a tent. Better yet, it offers incredible views of Big Sur’s coastline. As it’s located 3,200 feet above Big Sur’s stunning beaches and coastal trails.

Ventana Campground

Ventana Campground is located in a picturesque redwood grove and offers traditional campsites which offer hot showers as well as a popular bar. The latter of which is a hot spot, due to its affordable happy hours.

If you’re searching for a more luxurious experience, Ventana Campground also offers glamping packages. Which feature a proper bed and a couple of lounge chairs as well as private fire pit. As a bonus you’ll also have access to a spacious pool, which you’ll be able to jump into for a refreshing dip, after an adventure filled day of hiking and surfing.

Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground

Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is located within the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and is nestled alongside the western slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Most of the campground’s most popular sites are located right next to Big Sur River. As well as offering regular campsites, Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground also offers large RV sites.

If you’re an avid hiker and plan on spending the vast majority of your vacation exploring Big Sur’s hiking trails, it’s well worth choosing to pitch your tent at Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground. Furthermore, the campground is abundant with wildlife and Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is home to bobcats, black-tail deer, squirrels, and raccoons.

If you’re sold and wish to book a campsite or RV site at Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground be sure to book your site early. Big Sur campgrounds are often booked out, several months in advance.

Riverside Campground & Cabins

Riverside Campground & Cabins boasts tent sites, RV sites, and comfortable cabins. Each of the campground’s wood cabins offers natural wood interiors and plush, queen-sized beds. Better yet, some cabins, even boast their own private deck.

If you have your heart set on getting the full camping experience and plan to pitch a tent, you’ll still have access to hot showers and clean restrooms. As a bonus, each campsite offers a picnic table and fire pit.

One activity which is extremely popular among the campgrounds’ guests is inner-tubing down the campground’s river.

The Best Hotels in Big Sur

Ventana Big Sur

Ventana Big Sur Hotel, photo via Ventanabigsur.com

Ventana Big Sur is a luxurious, upscale hotel that offers a farm to table restaurant, a modern gym, a rejuvenating spa and two, heated outdoor swimming pools. Both of which offer stunning views of Big Sums’ picturesque coastline and forests.

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature, you’ll love the fact that Ventana Big Sur is located on a sprawling, 243-acre property. As a guest of Ventana Big Sur, you’ll be able to take advantage of the property’s daily guided walks and complimentary binoculars and walking sticks.

Big Sur Lodge

Big Sur Lodge is conveniently located in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and is located within walking distance of a wide array of hiking trails. If the idea of staying in a comfortable lodge which is located in a beautiful redwood forest appeals to you, it’s well worth booking a stay at Big Sur Lodge. Some of the lodge’s on-site facilities include a seasonal outdoor pool, a coffee store, an outdoor bar and a restaurant, which uses organic ingredients.

Big Sur River Inn

Big Sur River Inn is a laid back lodge, which offers affordable accommodation. Its on-site facilities and amenities such as riverside restaurant, a burrito bar, and a general store. The latter of which sells fresh pizzas. 

Where to Eat


Nepenthe is one of the most popular eateries in Big Sur and is perched on the edge of a cliff. For the best views, ask for a table on the terrace. Whether you’re looking for a classic burger, a vegetarian meal or a seafood dish, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice. Nepenthe’s extensive menu offers something for everyone.

Big Sur Bakery

Big Sur Bakery offers scrumptious wood fired pizzas as well as fresh pastries. You can even request a pastry to go, to eat during a hike.

Sierra Mar

Sierra Mar is an upscale restaurant that offers floor to ceiling windows and modern Californian cuisine.

What to do in Big Sur

Learn how to surf

Search for Jade at Sand Dollar Beach

Sand Dollar Beach happens to feature the longest stretch of unbroken sand in Big Sur. While surfers flock to Sand Dollar Beach, you don’t have to be a surfer to visit Sand Dollar Beach. Especially if you’re interested in unleashing your inner child and treasure hunting for jade.

Head to the southern end of the beach, where you’ll find a group of rocks that contain loose pieces of valuable minerals. Such as jade and serpentine. It’s well worth finding a small piece of jade to take home as a souvenir of your big adventure or a gift for a friend or a family member.

Explore Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a natural treasure trove that offers picture-perfect beaches, hidden coves, majestic waterfalls, and peaceful redwood forests. If you’re a keen hiker it’s also well worth exploring all 7 of the park’s marked trails.

If you’re interested in scuba diving on your trip, you’re also in luck as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one of the only places in Big Sur which permits scuba diving.

Enjoy a Horse Trek in Andrew Molera State Park

The best way to explore Andrew Molera State Park is on the back of a friendly horse. As you’ll be able to ride through redwood groves and meadows as well as on the park’s world-class beaches.

Learn how to Surf

As Big Sur is a haven for surfers, it would be a shame to visit Big Sur without learning how to surf. Thankfully there is a wide variety of surf schools that operate in Big Sur.

Soak in Sykes Hot Springs

After a few days of camping and hiking, you’ll sigh with relief, the minute you step down into the hot water at Sykes Hot Springs. You may even want to camp beside the hot springs if you’re interested in the idea of freedom camping. 

Things to See

Bixby Creek Bridge

McWay Falls

McWay Falls is one of the most memorable waterfalls that you’ll ever see. As it’s an impressive 80-foot waterfall that falls straight onto an idyllic beach which is nestled against the Pacific Ocean. It’s well worth visiting McWay Falls during high tide when the waterfall turns into a tide fall and empties straight into the Pacific Ocean.

To get to McWay Falls’ isolated beach you’ll need to take a short walk from the public carpark. However, once you arrive at McWay Falls you’ll be treated to a panoramic scene that offers majestic sea cliffs, white sand, teal blue water, and a stunning waterfall.

Point Sur Lighthouse

Point Sur Lighthouse is perched at the top of an imposing, 361-foot tall rock and was originally erected in 1881. Free walking tours to Point Sur Lighthouse are available on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays and are run by local volunteers. Who are passionate about sharing the history of Big Sur with interested travelers. If you’re curious yes, Point Sur Lighthouse is still a working lighthouse.

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Creek Bridge is the most photographed bridge in California. Due to its unique design, which features a distinctive arch. If it looks familiar, Bixby Creek Bridge features in the opening sequence of the popular TV series “Big Little Lies”. 

Secret Spots and Hidden Gems

Salmon Creek Waterfall & Caves

Salmon Creek Waterfall & Caves

Unlike McWay Falls, which is one of the most visited sites in Big Sur, Salmon Creek Waterfall and it’s nearby caves are hidden gems. This is surprising as at 120 feet Salmon Creek Waterfall boasts a sizeable drop and cascades down an impressive rock face. If you visit make sure to explore the hidden caves which are located in the area surrounding Salmon Creek Waterfall.

The Calla Lily Trail

The Calla Lily Trail is one of Big Sur’s best-kept secrets. In fact, there are no signs which indicate the start of the trail. However, if you drive along the western end of Highway 1, you’ll come across a dirt road. Take this dirt road and park up to start your hike.

While the Calla Lily Trail is relatively short in length, it’s well worth exploring. As after just 0.2 miles, you’ll reach a staircase, which will take you to a secret valley. If you follow the Calla Lily Trail between January to April, you’ll be treated to an enchanting valley which will be packed full of gorgeous, white lilies. Which happens to be native to California’s coast.

Last Chance Falls

Last Chance Falls is a breathtakingly stunning backwater waterfall. To get to Last Chance Falls, be prepared to wade through a few creeks and to navigate challenging terrain. If you plan on hiking to Last Chance Falls it’s well worth starting your journey from either the Arroyo Seco Campground or the Last Chance Falls Campground.

The Best Hikes in Big Sur

Ewoldsen Trail

Ewoldsen Trail starts in a peaceful, redwood forest and climbs up a series of large rock formations until it reaches the top of a tall cliff. If lady luck is on your side you may manage to spot a rare California Condor. If you’re interested, Ewoldsen Trail is 4.6 miles and takes approximately 3 hours to complete. Due to the trail’s steep incline.

Andrew Molera Loop

The Andrew Molera Loop is an 8.8-mile trail that climbs over 1,100 feet in elevation. Although you complete shorter sections of the track if you have less time on your hands. During your hike, you’ll get to discover remote, isolated beaches and will enjoy spectacular views of Andrew Molera State Park’s coastal bluffs. 

If you’d like to camp in Andrew Molera State Park, you’re in luck as the park offers dedicated camping sites. Furthermore, the popular park also allows hikers to freely camp in some areas of the park.

Vicente Flat Trail

If you have a reasonably high level of fitness, it’s worth checking out the Vicente Flat Trail. A 10.2-mile hike that features steep, challenging terrain. However, your effort will be well rewarded as you’ll get to enjoy amazing mountain views, ocean views, and canyon views.

If you’re interested in camping out under the stars for a night, you’re in luck as you’ll be able to pitch a tent at the end of the trail. At the Vincente Flat Campground. Before hiking back down to your car, the next day.

Limekiln Trail

Limekiln Trail is a short, yet memorable trail which snakes through a redwood forest and through a river. At the end of the trail, you’ll find the remains of a few furnaces, which were once used in order to process locally sourced limestone. During your walk, you’ll also come across Limekiln Creek, which features a 100-foot tall waterfall. 

Valley View Trail

Valley View Trail features redwood trees, mountain views, a rocky waterfall and views of the Pacific Ocean. If you’re looking for a track that offers diverse landscapes, make sure to add Valley View Trail to your trip itinerary. 

What to Pack for a Camping Trip in Big Sur

A High Quality, Waterproof Tent

Make sure to pack a sturdy tent such as the Coleman Sundae Tent. A practical, 2 person tent, which includes a rain shield, a polyethylene bathtub floor, and factory-sealed seams. Which will make sure that you’re kept warm and dry, even if you end up camping in heavy rain or powerful winds.

If you’re thinking about camping on a clifftop campsite, it’s essential to pick a tent that offers such features. As in the evenings, the winds tend to pick up, on the Big Sur’s exposed sea cliffs.

A Warm Sleeping Bag

The Coleman North Rim 0 Degree Sleeping Bag, is a mummy-style adult sleeping bag that will keep you warm in temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It features a fully insulated foot box and a Thermolock draft tube. Both of which are designed to keep warm air trapped in your sleeping bag.

If you choose to visit Big Surprise during fall or spring, you’ll be able to keep your temperature regulated by unzipping the bottom of your sleeping bag, for extra ventilation.

A Comfortable Sleeping Mat

Just because you’re on a camping trip, doesn’t mean that you have to rough it. For a comfortable, peaceful night of rest, sleep on the top-rated Sleepingo Sleeping Pad. A durable, 2-inch sleeping mat, which can conveniently be packed into a small package. In fact, the Sleepingo Sleeping Pad can be folded down into a package which is the size of a drinking bottle. Better yet, it only weighs 14.5 OZ.

So if you’re looking for a portable sleeping mat that offers a high degree of comfort, it’s well worth packing your very first Sleepingo Sleeping Pad.

A Multipurpose Tool

Instead of carrying around a bulky tool kit, opt to pack the JAKEMY 9 Tools 15 Functions in 1 Multitool Portable Folding Pocketknife. As it offers handy features such as pliers, a screwdriver, a saw, a can opener knife, and a double-sided file.

A Powerful Torch

A powerful torch is a camping essential. No matter whether you plan on camping in a well-established campsite or pitching your tent off the beaten track. The Anker Ultra Bright Tactical Flashlight is a great choice as not only is it water-resistant but it’s also rechargeable. As a bonus, it also features five different light modes. Including a camping mode and a security mode. The latter of which will brightly light up your entire campsite.

A Reliable Power Bank

In order to keep your electronic devices fully charged on your camping trip, make sure to purchase a reliable power bank. As an example, the Anker PowerCore +26800 features Quick Charge 3.o technology, to speed up the process of charging your small electronic devices. It also comes with a bonus travel case, which is handy if you plan on taking your new power bank to Big Sur.

A Coffee Maker

When you’re camping in the great outdoors, there may be occasions where you don’t have access to a coffee shop. If you don’t feel alive until you have your first cup of coffee, each morning, make sure to pack a portable coffee maker.

The Bialetti Coffee Maker is an ideal choice as it can be used on a fire, grill or stovetop. If you plan on traveling to Big Sur with your friends and family, you’ll appreciate the fact that it can also brew 6 cups of coffee, at a time.

A Great Backpack

Instead of using a regular backpack, it’s well worth upgrading to a backpack which has been specifically designed for hikers. The Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack offers perfect-fit suspension, a load lifter strap, a ventilating back and a wide array of pockets. Such as zippered side pockets and a spacious front pocket. As it’s a top loader, you won’t have to worry about the security of your belongings.

Merino Hiking Socks

To prevent your feet from blistering during your hikes, invest in a pair of merino hiking socks from Danish Endurance. Danish Endurance’s merino wool socks are breathable and cushioned and will keep your feet warm in winter and cool in summer. The best thing is, that it is antimicrobial and antibacterial – it favors the formation of fungus and bacteria, which helps sweat to form. That means that you can use it for days or a week, without it starting to smell.

A First-aid Kit

One of the first items which you should pack for a trip to Big Sur is a first-aid kit. The Be Smart Get Prepared 100 Piece First Aid Kit, has everything which you need to clean, treat and protect minor injuries. 

Big Sur Safety Tips

Mountain Lion in Big Sur, California

Poison Oak

Avoid having any part of your skin touch Poison Oak. As it can cause your skin to develop irritating rashes. If your skin does brush past a bit of Poison Oak, rinse your affected skin with cold water and take an antihistamine pill. In order to lessen the symptoms of your rash.


As rattlesnakes like to sun themselves on rocks or on trail paths, make sure to keep a close eye on where you put your feet. If you come across a rattlesnake during one of your hikes, simply back away from the snake slowly. To prevent it from feeling threatened and lashing out at you.

Mountain Lions

From time to time, mountain lions which are also referred to as cougars, are spotted in Big Sur. While your chances of encountering a mountain lion are slim if you do find yourself face to face with a mountain lion, back away slowly. Make sure to maintain eye contact and to avoid bending bend or slouching, in order to decrease your chances of being attacked.

Black Bears

Thankfully black bears are even less common in Big Sur than mountain lions. However, it’s still a wise idea to keep an eye out for potential predators such as black bears and mountain lions. As it always pays to be safe, rather than sorry.


While ticks aren’t as threatening as a territorial mountain lion or a black bear, they are far more common in Big Sur. So ensure to check your arms and legs for ticks, during your daily hikes.


Avoid camping with high-value items as there are thieves who target tourists who travel to Big Sur. As an example, some thieves break into cars which are parked in the free public carparks which are offered by numerous parks. So be sure to hide your valuables in the trunk of your car. Or to carry them with you. 

Final Thoughts

If you enjoy the sense of freedom and adventure which camping offers, it’s well worth planning your dream getaway to Big Sur today. Big Sur offers breathtaking scenery and is one of the most awe-inspiring stretches of coastline in the US. Better yet, no matter whether you enjoy camping off the beaten track or glamping, you’ll be sure to make memories that will last a lifetime! 

Just be sure to make your Big Sur campground reservations several months in advance. In order to avoid disappointment. Especially if you plan on heading to Big Sur, during its peak season. 

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