Camping in Big Sur | California
This morning I woke up to the jagged plurrt plurrt of the Stellar's Jay, a bright blue bird. It started with one shrill call and then built up to a chorus. After what seemed like half an hour, a different species of bird took over until dawn, when everyone else joined in. Their soft, sparse purrs, a forceful and loud burra cack cack and I even thought I heard the hoo hoo of an owl, but that could have been my half awake brain playing tricks on me.
We stayed in Pfieffer Big Sur State Park last night at a seasonally first come, first serve campsite off of Highway 1. The park and its campsites are in a canyon with the Big Sur river running through the heart. For $50/night, you can stay along the river and for $35/night a standard, non-riverfront campsite. All the riverfront campsites were taken by the time we arrived around 6:00pm (on a Friday night in January), so we took campsite 176, just across from a riverfront site. We could still hear the flow of the river from our tent, which was a nice way to fall asleep.
I had seen pictures of the Big Sur coastline before and thought that was the big draw to the area. To be sure, it is, but what was fantastically unexpected was that Highway 1 takes you along sheer winding cliffs one minute and then through deep redwood forest the next. Little Mom & Pop gas stations, dark wood cabin style inns, and a general stores show up every 1/2 mile. It feels slightly Route 66 - a highway passing through a classic tourist town, the way touristing used to be.
Although Big Sur is a little cooler in January and February, Jan and Feb are in the middle of whale watching and low season - two reasons that make it a great time of year to visit. In the summer, these campsites book up months in advance. On Saturday nights, they fill up even in winter months, but if you arrive on a Friday, you have a good chance at getting a spot. Andrew Molera is the place to stay if you want more seclusion. All sites at Andrew Molera are hike in (albeit a short hike) so you completely avoid car headlights shining into your tent.
In walking from our campsite at Pfieffer Big Sur State Park to the lodge, I passed a ranger on his golf cart (or rather, he passed me), a family from Salinas (I took their picture on a bridge), a man going to the lodge for breakfast (he asked if the coffee was any good - I replied I didn't risk it with the drip and went for a cafe au lait instead), and a family whose son greeted me with a "Hi!" from his stroller. I have to admit, I had forgotten about the camaraderie of camping. For some reason its so much easier to silently pass by people in a hotel setting, but when I was outside walking along a trail at a campground it only seemed natural to say hello. Maybe it's because we all woke up to the birds instead of an alarm clock? I'm not sure, but I'll be back again.
Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise and 1/2 hour after sunset | 831.667.2315
Not sure which GEAR to bring?
Check out this post by our friends over at Sports Fitness Advisor on Camping and Hiking that lays out how to shop for tents, the different styles, and what to look for when purchasing a tent, as tested by science, to help you with your tent purchase for your next outdoor adventure.