Waking up after a “ cozy” nights sleep, we corrected ourselves from our sleeping position twisted together like the bottom of a wicker basket. Since I had mistakenly brought the one person tent the opening where your head goes was almost wide enough for both of us quickly funneled down to space scantly adequate for one person. After wiggling out of the tent we eat and pack up.
We spent most of the day hiking and exploring the coast in Andrew Molera and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parks, also checked out a possible alternative route to the hot springs we were backpacking into tomorrow. We finished the day with dinner at Big Sur River Inn which also happened to be our accommodations for the night.
Having seen multiple “no camping, $1000 fine” signs all along the coast, I believe it would have been worth the risk if you made it a night before getting caught. If you had to pay the fine you would’ve come out ahead if you were staying in any of the glamping sites, inns, or resorts available. This is where my thought on getting the SUV rental as mentioned earlier in part 1 comes to mind. I feel it would have been feasible to risk paying the fine to camp in a vehicle. We went during shoulder season and had a hard time finding our accommodations. It would be totally worth paying the fine every two nights.
Waking not tied into a pretzel, but sprawled out in bed probably three times the size of the tent I brought, we got ready and had breakfast on our porch lounging around, slowly packing our backpacks. After scouting the alternative trail to the hot springs we decided to take the route that went through our first campground.
Hiking up the ridge was fairly drab with the brown and olive being the main colors with a touch of black char left on the forest from the 2017 Soberanes Fire. There were occasional pops of color the higher we hiked from the poison oak turning from green to bright red for fall. The hike in was overcast and mostly in the shade due to the sun position and foliage. I can see how this could be a brutal hike in the sun. We had a few options for camping along the trial on the way to the hot springs. We decided to push through the 10 miles and just shy of 4,000 ft elevation gain since we had gotten to our second possible camp site, napped, and had a lot of day light remaining.
We passed a couple, which I heard way before we saw them. From inadvertently listening to the conversation (since she was shouting at him) and by our brief interaction when we hiked by, I surmised they were on a date and hadn’t been together very long. I think he was going too fast for her. When I walked into his line of site, “oh look people”, he said, trying to distract her. No such luck! If it was our first date, I wouldn’t have a second. Reaching Sykes Camp at about 2:15 we set up then went in search of the hot springs.
We had a little trouble finding the hot springs since the map had them on the wrong side of the river, but it didn’t take long to figure it out. Sykes Camp was severely damaged and completely destroyed in several places. The man-made improvements that captured the hot springs in pools were removed by the high-flowing river. The trail was blocked by multiple washouts along creeks and dozens of fallen trees across the path. The trail was closed indefinitely. It was officially reopened in 2023, though it was passable at the time of our hike.
In our research for the trip we had trouble finding information about the condition of the trail and hot springs. I believe this was due to the over use and trying to protect the resource. I found this excerpt giving you an idea of the condition. The challenging trail to the camp from the coast has been littered with abandoned backpacks and tents, bras, jackets, food wrappers, water bottles, and toilet paper. The campsite and hot springs were at times very crowded, especially on holidays and weekends. Over 200 people have been counted camping near the river, although there are only seven officially designated campsites and a single pit toilet designed to support 20 visitors. Some visitors reported that unburied human feces were readily visible. Many visitors to Sykes are unaware that unlike state parks, the wilderness camp site does not provide garbage service. Unprepared for the difficult hike, they abandon trash and gear at Sykes, which encourages others to do the same. Richard Popchak of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance reported that, “The U.S. Forest Service is woefully underfunded and understaffed. In the Monterey Ranger District, they have not employed a Wilderness Ranger since the 1980s.”
The area was not nearly as trashed as the above mentioned excerpt details, but I did see a ton of toilet paper all along the camping areas. The information we found from the above mentioned Ventana Wilderness Alliance stated the trail was closed and the man made tubs were torn down. They also published the map we purchased which has the hot spring marked in the wrong location.
In the morning everyone had left so we did a soak then hiked to Redwood Creek Camp to explore the area. When we returned we had another nice soak before returning to camp. I slept outside to give Ally room since the tent started to spring a seam from both of us in it. By the end of the trip the zipper on the door failed completely.
Waking up we noticed that one other group had arrived, so we enjoyed the springs one last time before hiking back to where we had napped on the hike in. We decided to stay there that night and had an easy hike out in the morning. Leaving Terrace Creek campsite early we made it back to the car with time to go to Capitola Village for dinner on the Ocean to celebrate our first year anniversary!