For Big Sur riders inclined towards sleeping in the great outdoors, there are several campgrounds on the coast, including Pfeiffer State Park, Kirk Creek, and Plaskett Creek that are situated right off California Highway 1. They are popular and tend to be filled through much of the summer. I’m especially fond of Plaskett.
Some offer the opportunity to make reservations which would be recommended if you are a rider who plans your destinations.
However, even if you are a seat-of-your-pants motorcyclist, there is a tremendous chunk of Big Sur heaven tucked up higher in the mountains and Ventana Wilderness that cannot be reserved. Sublime motorcycle camping is the watchword here.
Most of the Big Sur region is encompassed within the larger Los Padres National Forest. Hence, there are a number of less accessible National Forest campgrounds nestled along remote and mostly dirt roads.
Of course the top of the mountains offer even more remarkable Big Sur vistas than those along Highway 1. For Adventure riders and Dual-Purpose riders, the heavenly views add one more element of off-pavement enjoyment along the Big Sur coast.
A primary point of back-country National Forest access is right in the middle of the Big Sur region: Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. (Kirk Creek campground on Highway 1 is very close to this easy-to-miss junction). This “road” with no painted lines is more of an asphalt deer path going from sea level to approximately 2700 ft in about 7 miles.
The top is where the pavement and off-pavement riders go separate ways. To stay on the asphalt, continue on down the other side of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Two more campgrounds are available at about 5 and 6 miles below the crest: Nacimiento and Ponderosa.
Back up at the crest of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, off-pavement riders will have a choice of two dirt roads heading north and south:
- Central Coast Ridge Road runs north 6 miles to Cone Peak Trail. Cone Peak itself is the tallest point along the Big Sur’s coast. Not only does it ascend nearly a mile from sea level (5,155 feet), it is also the highest coastal mountain in all of the lower 48 states.
- Heading south offers more adventure opportunities. South Coast Ridge Road is the main route and runs 15 miles to Los Borros Road, which is another dirt road that takes you 8 miles back down the mountain on to Highway 1 again (about 2 miles south of Plaskett Creek campground). This 23 mile stretch is easy riding on Dual-Purpose or Adventure bikes, since the roads are usually graded on an annual basis.
Along this southern loop are a number of marked and mostly unmarked camping sites. One of my favorite marked camp sites is Prewitt Ridge (3306 elevation), which offers about 180 degrees of unparalleled Pacific views. (Also a popular location for hang gliders who jump off the plateau and glide along the coastal breezes.)
I suggest keeping a detailed map handy in this area. (A Los Padres National Forest map of the Monterey & Santa Lucia Ranger Districts is a good one). There are a number of forest dirt roads that beckon for exploration as you head further south along South Coast Ridge Road.
A GPS would also serve well here, as there are unmarked forks that would take you a good ways to a closed gate. I checked with a National Forest Ranger to learn that South Coast Ridge Road and Los Burros Road are generally open all-year long (and that’s not the case for most of the Forest roads).
Be aware these roads are narrow. Many parts that wind through the mountain forest are lined with brush and trees so thick that you cannot see through the myriad of blind turns. The few vehicles you will share the road with tend to be 4-wheel drive light trucks. So if you encounter one while bouncing through these blind areas with too much spirit, you are apt for an unfriendly encounter.
Other sections have great, unobstructed views and are really fun for safely kicking up some dirt.
Some of the roads that fork off from South Coast Ridge Road and Los Burros Road can be more challenging. They are not afforded the luxury of an occasional grader to smooth things out and in addition to being quite steep in some areas, they may also contain some very heavily rutted-out sections. I was making an aggressive run up one incline (on Forest Road 23S01B) that was so rough my suspension bottomed out and the outer lip of the deep rut catapulted my bike and self off the dirt and into some good new/bad news.
The good news was that the brush was so thick that I was securely caught and didn’t go tumbling down the mountain. The bad news is that I was securely caught and couldn’t get the bike out. (Fortunately for me, there was a hiker nearby who helped me set things right). More bad news is that poison oak is prevalent in the region and I got to experience that first hand. (In fact the itching and red spots are finally subsiding as I write this).
By the way, since these are not “Off-Highway Vehicle” roads or trails, only street-legal vehicles are allowed. In other words, this is not a playground for pure dirt bikes.
This Big Sur region is truly heaven on earth for Street and Adventure motorcycle riders, and if you are into off-pavement enjoyment, you will not find a better place than along South Coast Ridge Road high above California Highway 1.