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3. Cone Peak Trail via Kirk Creek Trail, Ventana Wilderness

Climb the highest peak in Big Sur—in fact, with an elevation of 5,155 feet, Cone Peak is the tallest coastal mountain in the contiguous U.S.! Just three miles from the ocean, this should give you an idea of how steep of a climb it is.

(If you know your geography, Mount Olympus, one of the most impressive hikes in Olympic National Park, is 7,980 feet tall, but much further inland).

Earn a feather in your cap on this cone

I once backpacked this as a New Year’s trip and was surprised at how warm the summit was, even in winter. But when I visited again most recently this past February, there was snow on top; the mix of hot and cold, snow and sun give it almost a Cascades feel, like you get among the hikes of Mt. Rainier.

Summit photos on a snowy Cone Peak are considered a feather in the cap for many California hikers.

A creek in the foreground with a bridge overhead.
You’ll encounter several creeks along this quintessential hike. Photo by KC Welch licensed from Unsplash

How to backpack the Cone Peak Trail

Start at the Kirk Creek Trail on Highway 1 (aka Vicente Flat Trail, aka Vincente Flat Trail; signs may indicate either spelling). After a night at Vicente Flat Camp, take the Vicente Flat Trail north towards Cone Peak Road. Here, you’ll head west on a closed, wide dirt road along the ridgeline, with views of the hidden interior of the Big Sur mountains.

Turn left onto the narrow and sometimes brushy Cone Peak Trail to the Summit Trail. There’s a fire lookout at the top. From the peak, there are one-of-a-kind 360° views of the Pacific Ocean and the ridges and peaks of the Santa Lucia Range.

About the author
Professional hiker and guidebook author

Liz Thomas is thru-hiker and guidebook author best known for breaking the women’s self-supported record on the Appalachian Trail. She’s the author of the National Outdoor Book Award winning Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike, which won the National Outdoor Book Award in 2017. When she’s not backpacking, Liz is a motivational speaker who has presented on Capitol Hill, corporate retreats, national non-profit donor events, and colleges and universities including Yale and MIT. You can find her at or @lizthomashiking
and Facebook.

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