This short, level hike in Big Sur’s Los Padres National Forest ventures to the end of a grassy point topped by a crown of spiked boulders. The bluff offers fantastic views of the coves and rocky sea stacks up and down the rugged coastline of Big Sur. The trailhead is conveniently located along Highway One, and at 1.1 miles round trip with 50 feet of elevation change, the views far outweigh the effort.
Find the trailhead on the west side of Highway One, about a mile north of the trailheads for Plaskett Rock Point and Sand Dollar Beach. Take the steps up and over a cattle fence and begin hiking west down a grassy trail toward the coast. Ahead you will see a jumble of tall boulders poking skyward near the end of the bluff.
Hike 1/3 of a mile, coming alongside the boulders, where you will find another fence with a pass through that allows hikers to continue heading west (a path to the right runs down along the fence for additional exploration up the coast).
Step through the gap in the fence and follow a worn single track for another tenth of a mile to a picturesque landing on the edge of the bluff. This is the hike’s premier view, looking north up the coast past a sandy cove toward black and tan sea stacks jutting into the surf. Farther to the north, green mountains of the Santa Lucia Range rise above the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. It is quite a sight!
The path continues from this fine viewpoint out to the west end of the bluff. Have a seat and watch the waves crash against the rocky shore below.
A use trail wraps to the left, heading south along the edge of the bluff. As you cross to the other side of the point, you will pass a survey marker and gain a new perspective south over more dynamic Big Sur coastline. A crescent shaped cove is speckled with dark rock pillars that break up the rolling waves.
If you continue down the path, you’ll come to a miniature sand dune where wind-carried sand has deposited in a pit on the bluff. From here there are views south down Sand Dollar Beach toward Plaskett Rock Point. The best option now is to return the way you came. However, it is possible to make a small loop around the end of the bluff. When continuing south down the coast becomes impeded, you may spot a large arrow pointing to the left made of stones laid upon the sand. The arrow will lead you to a narrow track that cuts through brush toward the north side of the point. The path is very overgrown and lined with poison oak, so you may wish to avoid it entirely and double back along the bluff, taking in a second helping of the great views.
However you get back, just head out across the grass field up the trail you came in on. While not as dramatic as the coastline behind you, the mountains to east are not bad to look at either. There is no fee or permit to required to hike Pacific Valley Bluff Trail in Los Padres National Forest. Dogs are permitted, but the short trail is not suitable for bikes. There are no bathrooms at the trailhead.
To get to the trailhead: From the south, drive up Highway One, 16.1 miles north of Ragged Point Inn (or 39 miles north of Cambria) and park along Highway One. The trailhead for Pacific Valley Bluff Trail is on the west side of the road, a mile north Plasket Creek Campground. From the north, drive 21.1 miles south from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (home of McWay Falls) to reach Pacific Valley Bluff Trail.
Trailhead address: Cabrillo Highway (Highway One), Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur, CA 93920
Trailhead coordinates: 35.932648, -121.468927 (35° 55′ 57.53″N 121° 28′ 08.13″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.
|Sand Dollar Beach |
This short hike to Big Sur's longest beach passes two scenic overlooks on the way to the sand for a hike of 0.5 miles (or more) round trip.
|Jade Cove and Plaskett Rock Point |
This 1.5-mile hike along an ocean bluff visits a prominent peninsula and a small cove.
|Salmon Creek Falls |
This short hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek Trail.
|Buckeye Trail |
This hike of 6.5 miles or more reaches incredibly ocean vistas and trail camps in the Silver Peak Wilderness. Connect Cruickshank Trail and Buckeye Trail for an excellent shuttle hike of 8.25 miles or more.
|Cruickshank Trail |
This hike into Silver Peak Wilderness starts with bold ocean views and crosses redwood groves to reach Upper Cruickshank Camp at a junction with Buckeye Trail, 5 miles round trip from Highway One.
|Hare Creek Trail, Limekiln Trail, and Falls Trail |
This 2.65-mile hike in Limekiln State Park explores a trio of trails along lovely streams in redwood-lined canyons, reaching Limekiln Falls and historic lime kilns.
|McWay Falls |
This 0.6-mile hike looks out on a stunning Big Sur waterfall that pours 80 feet right on to the beach.
|Canyon Falls |
This 0.9-mile hike heads inland up McWay Creek past a picnic area in a redwood grove to a lovely little waterfall.
|Partington Cove |
This 1.5 mile hike visits a cove and a secluded beach along the scenic Big Sur coast. The cove is accessed through a tunnel.
|Pfeiffer Beach |
This short walk reaches an absolutely stunning beach that's a classic feature of the Big Sur landscape.
|Big Sur River Gorge |
This half-mile off-trail hike ventures up the Big Sur River on a water-wading boulder-hopping adventure to a crystal clear pool that's a gorgeous Big Sur swimming hole.
|Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View |
This 2.4-mile hike is like two hikes in one, reaching a waterfall in a canyon of redwoods and a vista point overlooking the Big Sur River Valley.
|Nature Trail - River Path Loop |
This easy 0.55-mile loop explores woodlands along the Big Sur River and a redwood grove that includes the unique and impressive Proboscis Tree. The loop can be combined with the trail to Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View for a 3-mile trek.
|Ridge Trail - Panorama Trail - Bluff Trail Loop |
This 8.7-mile loop in Andrew Molera State Park crosses a coastal ridge, bluff, and beach that are packed with amazing Big Sur views.
|More Central Coast Hikes |
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
|Plaskett Creek Campground |
This 45-site campground in Los Padres National Forest is positioned across Highway One from Sand Dollar Beach and Plaskett Rock Point on the coast of Big Sur.
|Kirk Creek Campground |
This outstanding 33-site campground in Los Padres National Forest has enormous ocean views from a bluff along the Big Sur coast.
|Limekiln State Park Campground |
This small Big Sur campground at the bottom of Limekiln Canyon has sites along a creek through a redwood grove and near the ocean, with access to trails up Limekiln Canyon.
|Pfieffer Big Sur State Park Campground |
This large campground in the heart of Big Sur is spread out through oak and redwood groves along the Big Sur River.
|Andrew Molera State Park Trail Camp |
This trail camp is easy to reach (just a short walk in) with campsites in a meadow along the Big Sur River near Molera Beach.