Considered by many hikers as a rite of passage, Sykes Hot Springs has all the enticements of a good pilgrimage. It is a grueling journey that involves self-discovery and tribulation and ends with a mythical destination and inner peace. As many stories there are of success, there are equal amounts of failure in which people hike the Pine Ridge Trail ill-prepared and turn around before ever reaching the hot springs. If you do your research and come prepared, you will be rewarded with your own personal hot tub in the middle of nowhere.
Approximately 22 miles round-trip, it helps to be in shape. One way should take 4-6 hours depending on your speed. The trail is often only wide enough to travel single file with a pack. The trail offers sparse coverage from the sun, poison oak and switchbacks with steep climbing. Hiking poles also help on what has been nicknamed the elevator trail because of the many ups and downs. On hot days, flies will often follow you and mosquitoes are prevalent near water sources and the campsites. On holiday weekends and during the summer the trail can be overrun with hundreds of people. During the winter you run the risk of the trail being closed because of downed trees and washed out trails. April through October is typically the best time to go depending on current weather conditions.
There are three campsites along the Pine Ridge Trail; Barlow Flats, Terrace Camp and Sykes Campground. Some people strategize by camping at one of the first sites in order to avoid carrying their pack the whole way, but if you make it all the way to Sykes, the hot springs are more accessible. Campsites are on a first come first serve basis. The campsites on the opposite side of the stream often have less traffic then those that are along the same side as the hot springs. The campsites are primitive with logs and stumps that serve as seating and tables. There is fire pit, but you are required to have a permit and there are no campfires allowed during the summer. Always check restrictions before going because sometimes cooking stoves are also not allowed. There are wooden pit toilets near the campgrounds that are completely exposed and offer no privacy.
Assuming you can bring enough provisions, at least two days during the week is ideal. Bring a water filtration system so you don’t have to worry about having enough water, there are waterfalls, streams and a river to collect water. As is with most hot springs expect nudity. The hot springs are located about 10-15 minutes to the left of when you reach the campground by wading through the river. There are two obvious pools at you can climb up to that fit about 4-6 people. There is also one above the other two that is smaller and one lukewarm one that falls in under one of the tubs and mixes with stream water.
To start your journey, turn into the Big Sur Ranger Station from Highway 1 along the Californian coast and pay for your parking permit, about $5 a day, it is good until 3 PM the next day. There are bathrooms and a map near the trail head. With eyes wide open and good planning, you can have an amazing adventure.