In a wilderness that can be punishingly steep, overgrown with poison oak and trails that wash out in winter rains, the Pine Ridge Trail in Big Sur was a unique gem for its passability. Originating at Big Sur Station on Highway 1, the well groomed trail wandered up and down through redwood canyons to vistas, 11 miles to Sykes Camp, where weary hikers made a tradition of soaking in hot springs along the banks of the Big Sur River.
Even before the trail was closed in 2016 during the Soberanes Fire and the tubs installed at the hot springs washed out in the winter that followed, it faced a crisis of overuse, emblematic of challenges plaguing other wild places and other regions of Big Sur.
With too many people and too little space for them to spread out, the hot springs were littered with trash and human waste, and the feeling of solitude people seek in the Ventana Wilderness was nowhere to be found.
After a five-year closure, the beloved Pine Ridge Trail is set to reopen on Tuesday, April 13, with a chance at solving some of those challenges from 2016 and before.
One way to achieve that is through a new display at the trailhead, where visitors will be encouraged to complete self-registration forms. Those forms will help U.S. Forest Service officials and other forest stewards monitor use, and also include information for hikers about responsible recreation.
Another change is that U.S. Forest Service officials intend to enforce the definition of "wilderness area" when it comes to Sykes Hot Springs—there will be zero construction of tubs permitted, and anything anyone tries to build will be torn out. (That's also in keeping with the Big Sur Wild & Scenic River designation.)
"In the nearly five years it’s taken to secure the funding for our partners and volunteers to restore the trail for public use, we’ve reflected on the message of 'Responsible Recreation' that needs to be conveyed to all visitors, especially first-time [Pine Ridge Trail] hikers," Tim Short, district ranger for the Monterey Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest wrote in an email to stakeholder groups.
"Educating hikers on trail conditions, campfire restrictions, and wilderness ethics will prepare them to safely enjoy this magnificent area while protecting its natural beauty for future visitors."
The funding and labor to make the trail restoration happen is thanks to a long list of partners in addition to the Forest Service: California State Parks, nonprofits Ventana Wilderness Alliance and Los Padres Forest Association, the Community Association of Big Sur (CABS), the Nepenthe/Phoenix Corporation fund at the Community Foundation for Monterey County and National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance for funding.
Key points Short is encouraging the public to spread the word about as officials prepare to reopen the trail:
- Pack out all trash; "There is no garbage service in the wilderness and visitors are encouraged to leave these areas in better condition than they find them."
- Be aware of fire restrictions. During extreme fire conditions even stoves and cooking devices are prohibited. When fire restrictions are in effect, usually May-November, campfires and smoking are not permitted anywhere along the trail. When campfires are allowed, visitors need to secure a fire permit in advance.
- No construction of tubs at the hot springs site. "Structures of any type cause resource damage and are prohibited; violations will be taken seriously," Short wrote.
- Where do you poop? There are wilderness toilets, and that's the only appropriate place along the trail to leave human waste.
- Visitors are encouraged to register at the kiosk at the trailhead.
- Call (831) 385-5434 for information on current conditions, or stop by Big Sur Station.