Backpacking Sykes Hot Springs

For Niki’s 30th birthday, we went backpacking in Big Sur to Sykes Hot Springs..

Happy Birthday to Niki, the intrepid hiker. Had an amazing weekend backpacking at Big Sur, Sykes Hot Springs, and a Carmel Yurt with my beloved.

It was amazing. We drove down to Monterey Thursday night after my OEC class to get a head start on the hike into camp on Friday. It was a good plan, although, we somehow didn’t manage to get to the trailhead at Big Sur Station until about 2pm. But, in reading reports online, I had estimated that the 10 mile hike would take about 5 hours. Turns out, the estimate was a bit optimistic, but it didn’t really matter.. it was an absolutely gorgeous hike. Hills? Yes. The Yelp reports of the trail being crowded and litter-strewn were grossly exaggerated. Granted, we hiked in on a Friday in late September, but we felt pretty comfortable with the handful of people that we encountered.

By the time we arrived at Terrace Camp (the halfway point) it was almost 6pm — and with the sunset weighing heavily on my mind, we decided to press on. I figured that maybe we’d hike two more miles to Barlow camp and make camp there, and possibly just hike without packs to the springs at night. Thankfully, Niki urged that we press on the whole way to Sykes. So, the sun set, and though the moon was full that night, it had not yet risen, so we did the last few miles of the hike lit only by our headlamps. Niki was quite the intrepid leader, fearlessly trailblazing our way through the inky darkness towards our goal.

As we finally descended into Sykes at around 8 or 9pm, we encountered a few people from Berkeley that we’d seen on the trail before, and luckily for us, one of them had been there before, and gave us the layout of the area. The springs were to our left, along the river, on the left bank. Someone had taken the primo campsite across the river from the springs, but everything else was pretty much open. Sweet. I was expecting to arrive at a fully packed campsite, and having to gingerly set up our tent amongst the crowd, but we were in luck. We found a perfect spot on the riverbank, complete with two trees from which Niki could hang her ENO hammock. And, just a short (although harrowing, in the dark) walk from the hot springs.


After setting up camp, and a cold dinner of turkey, mustard and lavash, and cold ravioli — the entire wilderness was on fire alert, so even stoves were not allowed — we donned our swimsuits and headed for the hot springs in the pitch black darkness.

Headlights lit our way as we climbed up and down the jagged rocks, in flip flops, and finally found the springs, led by the hint of sulfur in the air. The springs are four tubs built into the cliff wall by some benevolent previous spa-goers. Three of the tubs had folks in them already, but the fourth, a heart shaped tub that fit about two people was completely empty! We hopped in and had a glorious soak. Looking up through the forest was a clear sky, filled with stars and the milky way. Perfection. It was a great way to conclude a tough 10-mile hike.


After a good night’s sleep, we woke up and decided to walk back over to the springs for a morning soak, and.. to our pleasant surprise, we had the springs all to ourselves — all four tubs were empty and not a soul in sight. A few folks did finally join us after a bit, which was nice, since they could then take our photo at the springs.


We figured that Saturday would start to get crowded, so we got out of dodge and packed up camp to head for another site. On our way out, we probably passed 60 or so people coming in, and almost every single one asked us how crowded Sykes was — I think the issue of crowds weighs heavily on almost every camper’s mind. Makes sense, since having to wait in *line* to soak in the tubs seems like a sad thing to do in the middle of the woods.

Despite having two soaks in the hot springs, the hike out was still a little tough with sore muscles — thankfully it’s more downhill on the way out, so it goes a little bit more quickly. After being caught in a pretty big cloudburst, we made camp beneath two huge redwoods, that were kind enough to shield the area beneath them from the rain.

We went to bed early and woke up on the day of Niki’s birthday, refreshed and ready to hike out of the wilderness. But — we couldn’t return home just yet! I found a yurt on Airbnb for our final night of the trip. Nestled in the Carmel valley, the yurt was a relaxing end to our weekend. Our hosts, Peg & Pete, own the last remaining video store in the Monterey area, and were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I’d definitely stay with them again if I’m ever back down that way. Niki’s friends from SF joined us for dinner and cake, and after they left, Niki and I fell asleep to Annie Hall and The Darjeeling Express — movies graciously provided by our video store hosts.

It was an incredible weekend — it’s amazing how much you appreciate nature, life, and the people in your life after carrying yourself and your gear into the woods and back.

Happy Birthday Niki!

One thought on “Backpacking Sykes Hot Springs”

  1. Reports of the trail being crowded and litter-strewn were grossly exaggerated???
    No way. There is usually about a hundred pounds of trash all over the camp until some kind volunteer cleans it all up. And hundreds of people on the trails. You got lucky.

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