As you may have heard, there is a trail that the public can take to walk around the demolished Pfeiffer Canyon bridge in Big Sur. We took it recently and found that it works great, at least for people who don’t mind a short hike up and down a steep, well-built canyon trail.
Locating the trail head took a little time. We parked in the day use area (lot 4) of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and walked into the camping area by way of a small footbridge made out of two 2X12s. In other words, there is no visible landmark that you might expect when you think of “bridge”. My advice is to pick up a map from the ranger when you enter the park. We didn’t and we wasted a little bit of time getting our bearings, but it wasn’t a big deal. Signage in the park – at least in lot 4 – was minimal, at best.
The trail starts at campsite 31 with a gentle slope, but then quickly turns into an uphill march the rest of the way. It’s an excellent trail that is wide enough to let people easily pass going opposite directions. There are stairs and railings in all the places that seem to need them and the construction was well done. Don’t expect to be able to do it if you are not able to walk up and down several flights of stairs on your own.
The end of the trail is well uphill and comes out on a section of Highway 1 just below the Big Sur Center, which has the General Store, Big Sur Tap House, the post office and a few other businesses, including one renting electric powered fat tire bicycles. I recommend stopping at the store and the Tap House for a taste of Big Sur before making your way further up the road.
Who would think that walking on a road could be so enjoyable, but it was. Due to the lack of traffic from the bridge closure and the massive Mud Creek mudslide to the south, there were very few cars and no large trucks. There is a shuttle service and a few locals, but other than that, zippo. It’s like having the road to yourself for whatever you always wanted to do on a road, although there are other people walking and the few vehicles that you can hear well in advance. Walk at your own pace and take in the sights and sounds of California’s most iconic highway in a way that is impossible from the inside of a car.
After cresting the top of the hill, we descended down to Nepenthe and the Phoenix gift shop. There is no better spot on planet Earth for hanging out and taking life slowly. Watch the fog and clouds move in and out exposing and hiding views of mountain slopes, ocean and coastline, listen to and watch the birds above and below, soaring and flitting through the trees, see the moon come out from behind the mountains towering to the south, eat, drink, play chess or cornhole on their expansive patio. And for the time being, experience it without the noise and business of Highway 1.
The new Pfeiffer Canyon bridge is expected to be completed in the fall of 2017 and bay area travelers will be able to get to many of their favorite destinations throughout Big Sur, probably making it unsafe to walk the road. The Mud Creek slide is one of the largest ever to close a road in California and will take a lot longer than that to clear. The situation is definitely hard on the businesses there, but for tourists that want to see it at it’s most peaceful and restful state, this is the best chance you may ever get.