A popular weekend destination for the avid hiker, the Sykes Hot Springs lie ten miles deep into the Ventana Wilderness. The pools are man made, but the water comes out natural from the cliff side itself. Below the hot springs runs the Big Sur River.
The trail to follow is the Pine Ridge Trail, entered via the parking lot at Big Sur Station south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (not to be confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which is south of Big Sur Station). Parking is under $10 per night; you do not need a backcountry permit; you need a fire permit, which you can get on the U.S. Forest Services website.
The trail runs from East to West alongside the mountains in a forest setting. In the first several miles, you can “see” Manuel Peak Falls and Mt. Manual Falls if you’ve got the eyes of a hawk. Tip: There is a rocky area on the trail where a boulder sits on the edge. Stand on the boulder and look straight across and you can see one of the falls. Below is a picture of me on the rock. Try to find the waterfall.
Campsites: There are three campgrounds that you get to before Sykes. The first one is Ventana Campground, which is a mile off the trail and down towards the river. The second is Terrace Creek, which is the half-way marker to Sykes. The third is Bartlow Flats at mile 7; if Sykes Campground is full, many people just camp at Bartlow and make the trek to the hot springs and back.
When you get to Sykes Campground, there are a few campsites to the left, and more on the right. The hotsprings are to your left past all the campgrounds. There will always be someone there to tell you where it is. There are three pools, all but one requires a small climb up the cliff (usually muddy).
Depending on when you go or the rainfall that year, you may come across several waterfalls or enjoy the abundance varieties of wildflower. Although, it may be a good idea to avoid school holidays since the area can easily become crowded with students.
The Ventana Wilderness is a hidden gem of Big Sur. Dogs are allowed within the wilderness and there are miles and miles of trails to be explored. For a list of possibilities, you can take a look at the interactive Google Map for this area. Funny enough, I don’t have any pictures of the hot springs themselves because I never bring my camera to the springs. =\