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1. Kirk Creek Trail to Stone Ridge Trail, Ventana Wilderness

If you want a little taste of everything Big Sur has to offer, the Stone Ridge Trail is a strenuous backpacking trip you won’t want to miss. You’ll enjoy wild coastal views and old-growth redwoods characteristic of hiking in Northern California, moss-covered oak forests, meadows, and crystal clear streams. Set up a short car shuttle to do it as a 13.2-mile one-way hike or make it an out-and-back trip.

Dramatic coastline of Big Sur in a setting sun.
The Stone Ridge Trail is popular for backpacking, birding, camping… and coastal views. Photo by Saurish Srivastava licensed from Unsplash

How to backpack the Stone Ridge Trail

Start at Highway 1 near the Kirk Creek Campground. Take the Kirk Creek Trail (often called the Vicente Flat Trail) up above the ocean for an unobscured view of the Pacific (unless it’s foggy, of course). You have the option of camping at Espinoza Camp or Vicente Flat Camp. I prefer the latter, as it has more reliable water and flat spots among old-growth redwoods.

Cross the stream and climb from spooky moss-covered oaks to open high meadows. Descend on the steep and sometimes slippery Twitchell Elevator Use Trail through Limekiln State Park back to Highway 1. Along the way you’ll get views of grassy hillsides, with Cone Peak above, and the Pacific Ocean below. Note that you’ll come out on Highway 1 about 2 miles from the Kirk Creek Campground.

To avoid the knee-busting descent, turn the trip into an out-and-back after reaching the grassy meadow.

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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