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Big Sur Hiking Trails

Good trails and spectacular country. Not as high, but steeper than the Sierra, and more diverse. Big Sur and the Ventana Wilderness offers challenges. The broad biodiversity, newborn geology, and the closeness of the ocean combine to assault the senses in unexpected ways.

Our first featured hike is a pleasing encounter for Big Sur veterans, and first timers. Partington Cove, Creek and Canyon offers a great sampling of the incredible Big Sur Country, and ranges in difficulty from easy to a little more than moderate. So, we're in Big Sur. Let's Hike!

Our second featured hike is also in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Click this link to go to the Ewoldsen Trail

New Condor Photos

Partington Cove and Partington Canyon
Trail access is 36 miles south of Carmel
11 miles south of Big Sur
8 miles south of Nepenthe

1.8 miles north of the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park


Top of the trail - look out from Ewoldson


Short Hike to the Cove


Partington Cove on the south side of the point, trail from the tunnel.

Partington has two great hikes. First is a two mile loop to the ocean. It begins at an iron gate along Hwy One.

It is a fine trail down to the beach, but steep. The trail goes down to the Partington's graceful little exit to the Pacific Ocean. then you back track up the creek to a bridge (there's an outhouse nearby). Over the bridge you come upon a 100 foot tunnel to Partington Cove. This is like Fantasy Island. but, better, as this is real. Mules used to haul wagons of tanbark through here.

The picturesque little cove is home to sea otters and seals, very clear waters and a kelp forest. It is a wildly aquatic experience. On the point is an old hoist stanchion, used for loading cargo, lumber and tanning bark. The iron eyes for tying up the ships are still in place. You can imagine pirates and bootleggers rousting about.

Partington Creek comes down through the canyon as a rushing, wild river, then dips under Hwy One through a man made tunnel.

On the other side it enters another natural state.

Partington Creek comes down through the canyon as a rushing, wild river, then dips under Highway One through a man made tunnel. On the other side it enters another natural state.

Then, as a bucolic brook, it babbles down to granite pools where it lazes around in a whirl, then tumbles out onto the rocky beach and into the ocean.

Long Hike up the canyon

 

 

 

 

The second Partington hike begins on the east side of the road. Bring a flashlight and canteen. For the first third of the trail there is plenty of good fresh water. No so, later.

Initially, the trail can be confusing. If you start out going to the left of the creek, you will have a lovely saunter in the redwoods, and come upon an idyllic picnic spot --a boulder hanging over a wide sparkling pool, with a waterfall in a cathedral of Sequoia Sempervirens. But, this is the wrong trail. It dead ends at a cliff.

The real trail, the Tanbark, goes along the south side of Partington, and then up. It branches to the left in three spots, leading into forests deeper into the canyon. It stays right, ascending the canyon. there are a few signs. The Old Coast Trail crossed here, and surely the ghost of Robinson Jeffers is about.

In several places, particularly in the Swiss Camp area, you see arduous stonework made 70 years ago.

Gunder Bergstrom, who lived here in the 1920s, did the work, and it shows a deep love for the area. The stone bridge he built is like a little human cameo to accent a wish to preserve one of nature's finest settings. The bridge allows the place to be appreciated without offending it by tramping it.

You cross streams and pass springs that bubble up in fern groves, and out of the sides of the canyon. The trail switches back into sycamore, then tanbark oak and into unusual old growth redwoods.

The McLaughlin Memorial Grove, on a ledge, in a nook of the forest, high above the raucous creek, is awesome. The Grove is home to redwoods with spiraling bark.

The trail hugs the canyon slope in a chaparral studded with venerable Madrones and Manzanitas and piercing views of the sea, across to Partington Ridge, and up into the Santa Lucias. You ascend on a moderately steep gradient, about 12 to 14%. Continuing up until you are 2,000 feet above the ocean, and can see it through redwoods. It looks like another planet. On summer afternoons you can watch huge fog banks flow toward the shore far beneath.

Near the top you encounter a well graded road. This can be your return trip. It is considerably shorter, descending to Hwy One about three-quarters of a mile south of the point you started. So, you will have to hike up the highway to get back to your car.

At the top you feel you are at the top of the world. From here the coastal views are sweeping and the sea is endless. The view east is to the Santa Lucia high country.

Partington Canyon ridges tower thousands of feet above the Pacific. In the distance are Ventana Cones, each nearly 5,000 ft.
Along the trail are glimpses of the great Pacific. To look at the ocean, practically straight above it by a couple of thousand feet, while in a redwood forest is a rare experience.

Photo by Margie Whitnah

You find the Tin House at the top. It was built by Lathrop Brown, who lived in the grand home across the cove from McWay Falls. Brown was a high official in the U.S. State Department during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency. Oddly, the house up here was built of tin salvaged from gas stations before World War Two. Its design is weird, too. Even though it is situated atop a 2,000 foot mountain, practically on top of the ocean, with majestic views, it has no view from inside the house to the west.

More about the Tin House and the Browns

 

The Tin House at the top of the Partington Canyon Hike
Photo by Stuart and Julie Stair

Caution: Do not take this hike late in the day. At a moderate speed, with stopping, it is a 5 hour hike. If you return by the same trail, it will be longer.

If you descend by the fire road, it will be faster. But, the fire road down the mountain is very steep, dark and winding. It is not good to get caught there in the dark. You will hear sounds that may cause you to question your sanity for having started the hike too late in the day.

Partington sunsets can be outrageous and sublime. They should be enjoyed after you have hiked back down from the mountain. Hiking back down Partington Canyon in the dark can test one's nerves. These shots were taken at Partington Point close to the highway. Big Sur sunsets are nearly always great October through December.
 

Have a great hike, and please, leave no trace. Whatever you bring in, bring back out.

 

Member Comments about this hike

CalConi's Family Hike to Partington Cove

 

More Partington Description

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