Incredible Views of an Incredible Place
This was my first hike in the Big Sur area, and it won't be my last by a long shot. Big Sur is the spectacular area south of Carmel, CA with mountains dramatically rising from the Pacific Ocean to form some of the most scenic spots in the state. Highway 1 crosses the area typically right next to the ocean, and is widely known as one of the classic drives in the country. This hike starts at the Ventana Inn just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park off of Hwy. 1.
Walk uphill from the dirt parking lot towards the inn until you see a dirt road branching off to the right just past the wedding area to an electric gate with some signage and a pedestrian walk through. This gate keeps out the riffraff, but allows access to the sporadic residences along the Coast Ridge Road which is what you're hiking on. The first half of this hike is basically all uphill, but it's not a tough grade. Continue up the semi-maintained dirt road with the posh grounds of the Ventana Inn on the left and views of Hwy. 1 and the coast way down on the right until the road enters a nice redwood grove. This spot is about 40 miles north of the coast redwood's southernmost limit, but surprisingly there are a few old growth specimens. A canyon gains prominence on the left with a few of these giant trees rising from the bottom far below to a hundred feet above the trail. Most trees are second- and third growth, however.
The Coast Ridge Road crosses the creek at a small marble stalagmite waterfall around the 1 mile mark then continues uphill through coastal chaparral which provides incredible views to the north. Enjoy views of the deep Big Sur Gorge spilling into the Big Sur River valley before reaching the sea to the northwest. The road switches back to the south around the 2 mile mark where the views are spectacular. The Pacific Ocean spreads out to the west as far as the eye can see, the Big Sur Gorge lies an even more impressive 1,800' below to the north, and Manuel Peak's massif looms over the gorge.
However, the most impressive sight may be that of Ventana Double Cone in the heart of the Ventana Wilderness. This prominent mountain would look at home in the Sierra Nevadas, but its journey began closer to the Sierra Madre in Mexico. Plate tectonics transformed sediment that was deposited on the west coast of what is now Mexico to travel almost 2,000 miles north its present location. Ventana Double Cone does not look like a stratovolcano as one might expect, but just a jagged, rocky prominence on a high ridge.
The dirt road now heads south then east for about another mile with stupendous views to the south of the Pacific. The road is now close to the top of the ridge that hides views of the high peaks. This hike basically ends at the upper trail head of the Terrace Creek Trail about 4 miles in at the top of the ridge. There are a few residences here, but they are unobtrusive. There are nice spots for breaks about 0.5 mile past the trail head and 0.25 mile back down in open spots on top of the meandering ridge.
Return the way you came, and enjoy the ride home.
This hike passes about a dozen homes so please respect private property rights.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.