Road Trip: Big Sur

My oldest sister lives in Monterey, California and by about mid-March I feel a strong urge to escape the gray clouds and rain of Seattle and get some sunshine and sister time. This year my husband and I both made the trip and my sister and her boyfriend took us car camping in Big Sur. We arrived early on a Saturday morning, crammed our stuff into the already jam-packed SUV and stopped at Trader Joes to stock up on food. Now the vehicle is officially at max cargo capacity. I’m comfortably snuggled between old cook pots, paper towels, my backpack and Trader Joe’s wraps and honey wheat pretzels as we cross the Bixby Bridge and wind down the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most beautiful highways on the planet.

Bixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway, California

We set up camp at Ventana nestled in the shadows of giant redwoods along a babbling brook. My jaw drops at the shear size of the tent that will be our home for two days. I’m even more blown away by my sister’s nylon palace that dwarfs her 6 foot tall boyfriend. I realize later that these tents are actually smaller than average based on the mega tents we see popping up in other spots. My husband blows up our queen size air mattress (!) that fits with room to spare in the tent while I check out the nicest outdoor bathrooms I’ve ever seen and with showers (!). We northerners are not used to such luxuries.

Lupine and oak trees along the Ewoldsen Trail

By now the clouds are burning off and it’s time to explore. We first head to McWay Falls, the classic overhead view of a majestic waterfall crashing onto the beach of a aqua blue cove. We then head across the street to the Ewoldsen Trail. The wooded trail follows a small creek up to an open meadow overlooking the ocean with orange and purple wildflowers. Some young spring breakers catch up to us and yell to each other, “we NEED to go down to that meadow!” They run down the spur trail and we watch as they take selfies in the flowers. Another girl passes us carrying a beautiful crown of fresh lupines. We continue along the trail now through a high stand of gnarled  oak trees interspersed with the tops of redwoods and return to the creek, the coolness of the water refreshing us. That night the guys made us tri-tip steak with fresh salad and a fancy delicious red wine. Later we sipped cold beers, roasted marshmallows and ate at least three s’mores a piece.

Poppy and lupine on the Ewoldsen Trail

The next morning it was raining and we slept in. Upon finally rolling out of the tent my sister had coffee and chocolate chip cookies waiting for us from the Big Sur Bakery. She made us a delicious egg scramble with sharp cheddar and avocado and then we hit the trail. The day’s goal was the Tin House, an abandoned house made of tin perched high up on the jagged mountains. The house was built in 1944 and was apparently abandoned after one night because the tin was too noisy. But like most of these kind of hikes, the journey was more exciting than the destination.

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We climbed through a redwood forest recovering from a burn in 2008, the trail lined with sorrel, red columbine and starflower, plants I recognized from the northwest. Somehow we got on a wrong trail and climbed higher and higher through increasing brushy terrain to an old homestead. We couldn’t see the views since we were in a rain cloud, but I bet they were spectacular. We retraced our steps and found the main trail to the tin house. The collapsing and burnt structure is really an eye sore but it provided shelter while we ate our Big Sur Bakery chocolate chip cookies. Someone left a journal and a pencil for visitors to leave notes. We thumbed through, contributed some words and continued on the trail.

Hiking through the fog in the redwoods on the Tin House loop trail.

As we descended it began to rain again, the redwoods mysteriously standing guard in the fog seemingly protecting us. As we get farther down the rain let up and the sun began to poke out of the clouds. We turned a corner and the trees gave way to stunning views of the coast line.

Views of the Pacific Coast Highway from the Tin House loop trail.

To close the loop we crossed the highway and stopped to rest at a pull-off parking lot. As we nibbled on snacks a giant of a bird flew down toward us and soared right over our heads. I pointed out the clearly visible number on its wing as a nearby tourist told us it was a California condor. The condor went extinct in the wild in 1987 but have since been reintroduced and now over 200 live in California.

A giant redwood with evidence of a burn in 2008.

We stumbled back to the car after a long day of hiking. We showered and went out for a nice dinner at the Big Sur Roadhouse complete with champagne toasts. We skipped dessert though, we still had more s’mores to make over the campfire. They sure do know how to camp in California. I fear that our humble lightweight backpacking tent and sleeping pads will disappoint us on our next car camping trip. But when we grow too weary of our meager set-up we will return to the redwoods to be pampered once again.

Up high on the Ewoldsen Trail.

More info about Big Sur:

Hiking in Big Sur


Hikes Featured in this Post:

McWay Falls, Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park

Ewoldsen Trail, Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park

Tanbark Trail & Tin House, Big Sur

2 Replies to “Road Trip: Big Sur”

  1. Great post, photography is stunning!! Will include the link on our Facebook this evening! Teri

  2. How rare and lucky you were to see a California condor in the wild, when there are only 200 out there! And what a cushy camping trip, I can handle that! Driven that stretch but never stopped to hike, on my list now.

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