Big Sur Coast Trail Committee
and a Master Plan process

Our mission is to guide the planning and implementation of the California Coastal Trail through Big Sur, in a way that protects the ecosystems of the Big Sur Coast, and the Big Sur community, for the benefit of our visitors, residents, and landowners alike.

A Big Sur citizen initiative has developed a planning process for the California Coastal Trail through Big Sur.

It is a democratic, ‘bottom up,’ grassroots plan. With the exception of a couple of minor syntax questions, and inclusion of a statement from the State about environmentally sensitive habitat, the Plan is ready. Share it with your neighbors, friends and colleagues. Encourage their participation. That will be key to the effectivess of the process.

Our Committee met April 22 to give it a final review ingroup, and discuss the plan to place it before the whole Coastal Committee for approval.

It took us eight months and a lot of vigorous thinking and talking, but we have a plan that places trust in the Community to create a trail that “protects the ecosystems of the Big Sur Coast, and the Big Sur community, for the benefit of our visitors, residents, and landowners alike.”

We have forwarded the Plan to the State Coastal Conservancy for its review, scheduled a meeting with our Assemblymember, John Laird, to discuss how the State can support our proposed Master Plan process.

Here is the Master Plan process we developed for the California Coastal Trail through Big Sur.


Trail Story in Monterey Herald

Blazing a new coastal trail

Ambitious Mexico-to-Oregon path faces plenty of hurdles


Yes. I want to participate in the community process to discuss and determine the Big Sur Coastal Trail.

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Trail Information
Big Sur State Park Trails

“There’s something about Big Sur that puts people in their place. Something they have to come back to, because it does something to you. And it gives you a responsibility to keep it like this.”
Margaret Owings, author, artist, Big Sur resident


Thoughts for Planning Big Sur Steering Committee

and Big Sur Coast Trail Master Plan

We are Big Sur residents who act conscionably and passionately about this wondrous place. We believe that Big Sur-based knowledge is vital for responsible planning.

We think there are two sets of information that must be used for discussing and planning the Big Sur Coast Trail and the Big Sur Community Trail.

1 Natural and Cultural History Overview

We propose there be a community planning process for the system that incorporates a strong sense of the natural and cultural history of the region.

Natural History

About the Santa Lucia Coastal Mountain Range:

“…the mountains are a chaos of ridges and canyons bordering the Pacific Ocean …deep gorges, jabbed mountain peaks, and steep ridges seldom give way to gentle terrain anywhere in the range.”

“A single main ridge, the Coast Ridge, fronts much of the immediate coastline. The steep slope of this ridge is cut by numerous deep, narrow canyons that open onto the Pacific Ocean, creating the scenery for which Big Sur is most famous. Like fingers reaching for the ocean, narrow spur ridges perpendicular to the Coast Ridge separate the coastal canyons.” P10-11
Paul Henson and Donald J. Usner, The Natural History of Big Sur

Geologic conditions have created a place of rare biodiversity in the coastal side of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The range is geologically young. Soil and climatic conditions have conspired to create habitats for a multitude of flora and fauna communities.

Approximately 200 plants have their northernmost habitat in this range, and a similar number have their southernmost habitat here. Because of offshore currents and subterranean canyons of great depths, fog creates rain forest conditions where desert conditions should be. Thus, redwood forests prosper along side yucca whippleis.

This area is nearly a pristine wilderness. Big Sur began 35 million years ago, 14 miles deep in the earth off the coast of Mexico. Tectonic plates rubbing against each other moved these mountainous rocks north. Five million years ago they pushed up out of the ocean to form an island that is now Big Sur. The Santa Lucia range, which includes the Ventana Wilderness of today, is young and precocious. Because of the mountains’ steepness, the area has remained remote and accessed almost exclusively by a coastal north-south highway.

Big Sur is a refuge. Although Big Sur is at the apex of several enormous metropolitan population centers, it is remote. The unique geography of this coastal zone &endash; i.e., a 5,000 ft. mountain peak is within three miles of the ocean tide line &endash; has produced a protected place.

Many marine mammals have sought refuge here from slaughter. Some species have made a dramatic comeback from the brink of extinction. Others are being re-introduced to the wild.


Cultural History

Big Sur’s rugged terrain has played a major role in its dramatic human settlement.

Today, Big Sur is a coastal wilderness. It is as pristine as could be imagined for its 200,000 acres and 90 miles of California coast. It is a grand testimony to the human craving for appreciating this raw, bold beauty that it has been protected.

A highway was constructed in the 1930’s just to see this boldly beautiful natural setting. The road in this setting has come to define Big Sur for most people. But, the will of the pioneers to conserve the remarkable region has prevented its destruction by development.

Much of Big Sur is the fold-upon-fold of Santa Lucia mountain ridges and coastal canyons, rare biology, and incredible geology that most people do not ever see. Canyon hikes gives one an inside look at this area’s creation.

On a path of the trail system under study is a place of botanical wonder. Many tree species that were first described by scientists are here around a mountain within view of the ocean.

Spanish expedition from the south turned inland when they saw the coastal mountain range. Later in the north they referred to Big Sur as “El pais grande del sur,” translated, “The big country to the south.

Later it was shortened to Big Sur.

European and American pioneers ventured into Big Sur to live on the land. But they came to live of the land. A fierce ethic for stewarding the land and its cultural history evolved. California’s first land use plan was developed through a citizen process. It became a model for the California Coastal Land Use Plan. When movie stars and Hollywood moguls cast a covetous eye on the powerfully picturesque Big Sur, locals, writers and artists rallied to shame them away. When Monterey area politicians eyed Big Sur as a National Park, an anti-government “take over” outrage erupted to keep them away. The episodes have become a vivid local lore that marks the territory’s independence. Nowadays, as state and federal agencies acquire vast tracts of coastal land, the wounds of the past have become strong elements of the local culture.

But the culture is strongly conservation -oriented at the same time. Big Sur residents are very conscious of the spectacular yet fragile place they live. Caring for and protecting coastal habitats is a way of life in Big Sur.

In great parts this comes from a homesteader and artist heritage that knew its environment well. By sharing the rare physical place through their work, these people have placed a mark of reverence on Big Sur.

Our work for the Master Plan will observe the Cultural and Natural History forces that make Big Sur so interesting and rewarding to hike. During the scope of this project we shall engage the gatherers and protectors of this knowledge and design methods of interpreting and presenting it for the hiker.

A major challenge in designing a Big Sur Coast Trail Master Plan is how to share the natural wonders while achieving a trail system that residents will use and protect.

Existing Conditions

Historically, the Big Sur Coast Trail passed through homesteads along the ridge, with spurs to the east for communication with King City and to drive livestock.

The Coast Trail became famous among writers (California Coast Trails by J. Smear ton Chase) for its spectacular beauty.

There are hundreds of miles of trails in the subject area. We will collect all relevant data about the trails and evaluate the applicability of each. They will be ranked for further assessment. By their rank they will be further studied for inclusion in the trail system.

Areas of access will be evaluated by their opportunity and adequacy for parking, signage, trailheads, public transportation, and management.

Areas that provide access to uniquely Big Sur Coastal experiences will be sought. Data will be collected by Coast Property Owners Association (CPOA), Big Sur Arts Initiative, residents, hikers who belong to organizations such as Ventana Wilderness Alliance and Sierra Club, California State Parks, U.S. Forest Service, CalTrans, Monterey Regional Park District, Big Sur Natural History Association, Big Sur Historical Association, Big Sur Fire Brigade, Big Sur Grange, California Coastal Commission, Search and Rescue, and the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce.

Design Criteria for the Trail and Trail System will be developed by the team.


 This site was developed by PelicanNetwork – a volunteer information advocacy for cultural and natural history of the California Central Coast