Sykes Camp / Sykes Hot Springs


Effective June 14, 2020 virtually all trails in the Monterey Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest are OPEN. 

The following trails remain CLOSED:

- The Pine Ridge Trail from Big Sur Station to Terrace Creek, Barlow Flat, Sykes and Redwood Camps remains CLOSED. 

- The Terrace Creek Trail from Coast Ridge Road to the Pine Ridge Trail remains CLOSED. 

Most Developed Recreation Sites are now OPEN as are most US Forest Service roads in the Monterey Ranger District. 

The following roads remain CLOSED:

- Palo Colorado Road from "the Hoist" to Bottchers Gap remains CLOSED

FIRE RESTRICTIONS: USDA Forest Service has instituted the following fire restrictions for the Los Padres National Forest (which includes the Monterey Ranger District) effective 05/12/2020. This means:

- No open fires, campfires or charcoal fires

- No smoking except in a vehicle

- Stoves are allowed with a valid California Campfire Permit

 Note: Sykes Camp remains closed. Here is an update dated January 2, 2020. 

Please read the official US Forest Service press release announcing the Forest Closure.

sykes map and brochurepdfClick to download a Sykes map and brochure (5 MB). Prints best on legal size (8.5 x 14) paper.


You may have heard stories about a fantastical place in the Ventana Wilderness with redwoods, a clear-running mountain stream and magical natural hot springs. That’s all true. But another truth is that human visitation at Sykes has a profound impact on this special place. We need your help to keep Sykes from being “loved to death.” Everyone who hikes to Sykes needs to commit strongly to Leave No Trace ethics to help protect this fragile place.


Please consider the following before you decide to go to Sykes:

  • Sykes is a very popular camp. Over 200 people have been seen camping there on holiday weekends, despite the official capacity of only seven campsites. This overuse is not compatible with wilderness values.
  • The 10-mile trail from Big Sur Station to Sykes is strenuous. Elevation gain and loss is considerable, and trees often fall across the trail making passage difficult.
  • Be prepared to cross the Big Sur River several times to get to the camp, and always use caution. The river can become impassable during winter and spring due to high, swift water.
  • Regarding the hot springs, wildfire and heavy winter storm damage in 2016-2017 completely wiped out the trail to Sykes Camp, as well as the hot tubs themselves. Since Sykes is in federally designated Wilderness and within a protected Wild & Scenic River corridor, the tubs were illegal impoundments and a developed structure inconsistent with Wilderness character. When this location was accessible, the hot tubs provided an attractive nuisance that drained precious USFS and VWA resources due to the need for visitor education, enforcement of fire restrictions, and the constant clean-up and packing out of (literally) hundreds of pounds of trash and abandoned gear. For these reasons, “Sykes Hot Spring” needs to become nothing more than a distant memory. When access is re-established, visitors must learn to enjoy this protected area without the man-made tubs. 


Practice these Sykes-specific Leave No Trace principles:


optionsPlan Ahead and Prepare

  • “Know Before You Go.” Check the US Forest Service site for the Los Padres National Forest or call (831) 385-5434 for current fire restrictions in the Los Padres National Forest. Click this link to secure a Campfire Permit which is required for both fires AND stoves.
  • Check the VWA’s Trail Conditions page for the Pine Ridge Trail prior to departure. Post a trail report upon your return.
  • Allow approximately 6 hours of hiking time to get from Big Sur Station to Sykes Camp.
  • Keep your group size to 4 people or fewer if possible.
  • Bring food you can cook with a stove (not a fire).
  • Avoid visiting Sykes on a weekend. The US Forest Service recommends a one-night-only stay at Sykes due to the large number of visitors.
  • Alternate camps to consider include Barlow Flat (3 mi. before Sykes) and Redwood (2.5 mi. past Sykes).
  • There is no reservation or permitting system for camping in the Ventana Wilderness. Sites are available on a first come, first served basis.


surfacesTravel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Camp at least 20 feet away from the water’s edge.
  • Do not alter the camp sites and fire rings. 



campfireMinimize Campfire Impacts

  • During Fire Restrictions (usually from June thru October) campfires and smoking are not permitted ANYWHERE in the wilderness, and during extreme conditions even stoves are not permitted. (See "Plan Ahead" section above on obtaining a Campfire Permit.)
  • Help to minimize impacts by only using existing fire rings. Do not build up fire rings or create new ones.
  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks found on the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Use water (not rocks or dirt) to put your fire DEAD OUT. Test your ashes with your hands to make sure they are cold.
  • Even when campfires are permitted, consider reducing your impact by not having one.


wildlifeRespect Wildlife

  • Protect wildlife and your food by securely storing rations and trash.
  • Never feed or handle wildlife.
  • Please consider leaving your dog at home. If you do bring your dog, please use a leash.



considerateBe Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect the wilderness experience of others and let nature’s sounds prevail.
  • Keep your campsite small and focus activity where vegetation is absent.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
  • Do not attempt to rebuild the hot springs.
  • Avoid loud voices and noises.
  • Playing amplified music on the trail or in camp is simply not acceptable. Please let nature’s sounds prevail.


disposeDispose of Waste Properly

  • The Big Sur River is designated by Congress as a Wild & Scenic River. Please help to protect this special waterway.
  • Whatever you pack in must be packed out. There is no garbage service in the Wilderness. Consider leaving Sykes better than you found it by packing out trash left by previous visitors.
  • Use the wilderness toilets provided. They are the only appropriate places to defecate.
  • Pack out all hygiene products (including toilet paper). Disposable towelettes are NOT biodegradable, and toilet paper causes the toilets to fill more rapidly. Bring a dedicated plastic bag to pack out these materials.
  • Do not put soap of any kind (even biodegradable) into the river or tubs. Wash yourself and your dishes as far from the river as possible.


leavewhatyoufindLeave What You Find

  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Do NOT build structures or furniture or dig trenches.
  • Do not stack rocks.



Thank you for planning ahead for your trip! Thank you for practicing Leave No Trace ethics in the backcountry.


Be sure to report any inappropriate or illegal backcountry behavior when you return to Big Sur Station.



Following are some great alternate choices for a wilderness experience in the Ventana region.


Barlow Flat Camp and Redwood Camp provide space and solitude not found at Sykes.

Carmel River Camp provides a wonderful river experience.

Pico Blanco Public Camp is renowned for its amazing waterfall and grotto.

Pat Spring has a wide angle vista of Pico Blanco, the Pacific Ocean and the Ventana opening out to the east.

Pine Valley is a rare treat with its expansive meadow, beautiful cliffs and ponderosa pines.

Additional Resources:

Excellent Big Sur/Ventana Mapping Tools:

Big Sur Station to Sykes Elevation Gain/ Loss Profile - See a graphic representation of the up and down nature of the 11 miles to Sykes.


Leave No Trace!

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