Pacific Valley Bluff Trail Big Sur hike Los Padres National Forest Ocean view bluff hike

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.

Pacific Valley Bluff Trail
The start of Pacific Valley Bluff Trail

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!

Pacific Valley Bluff Trail
A cove north of the bluff
Pacific Valley Bluff Trail
Sea stacks along the coast to the north

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.

Pacific Valley Bluff Trail
A rocky point at the end of the bluff

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.

Pacific Valley Bluff Trail
Lookout south down the coast toward Plaskett Rock Point

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)

Trail Map
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Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.


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These photos were taken in February of 2013. Click to enlarge.
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Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
Nearby Campgrounds
Plaskett Creek CampgroundPlaskett 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 CampgroundKirk 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 CampgroundLimekiln State Park Campground
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Pfieffer Big Sur State Park CampgroundPfieffer 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 CampgroundAndrew 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.
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Tagged with · Big Sur · Free Trails · Los Padres National Forest · Ocean Views
Distance: 1.1 miles · Elevation change: 50 feet

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