Don’t cancel your summer getaway to Big Sur just yet

Wave after wave of storm systems and record-breaking rainfall this winter have wreaked havoc on the breathtaking stretch of Highway 1 and beloved area of coastline encompassing Big Sur. After a mudslide damaged the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge (about a half mile south of Big Sur Station) beyond repair, the bridge was demolished, rendering a 24-mile stretch south of the bridge inaccessible. Planning for a replacement vehicle bridge is underway, and Caltrans projects completion sometime between September and December of this year.

Despite the current road closure, there’s still good news for travelers looking to plan weekend getaways and vacations to this part of this coast. Much of Big Sur remains open and many more businesses, parks, and campgrounds plan to reopen by late spring. Here’s the scoop on what’s open now, how closures might affect summer travel, and recommendations on how to visit Big Sur until the bridge is rebuilt. Just think of the coming months as “Big Sur: The Adventure Edition,” and get planning.

Californians are spoiled for choice when it comes to jaw-dropping campsites, yet landing one of the two spots inside this state park is considered the pinnacle of achievement for coastal campers. At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, take the aptly named Waterfall Overlook Trail to its logical end, where you’ll have a front-row seat to McWay Falls, an 80-foot cascade that pours from a granite cliff into the teal Pacific surf below.

 Getty Images

Big Sur from Northern California

All businesses, resorts, and campgrounds along Highway 1 north of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge are open, and the road has not been affected. Concerned Instagrammers can breathe one sigh of relief—the famously photographed Bixby Bridge is doing just fine. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Andrew Molera State Park, on the other hand, are closed due to flooding and storm damage, but both intend to reopen by late spring or early summer. Garrapata State Park, Point Lobos, and the Big Sur lighthouse (including tours) are open. Pfeiffer Beach remains closed until further notice due to flooding and road damage. Travelers should check the California Department of Parks and Recreation website for the most up-to-date information on park and trail closures. For now, eager hikers visiting the area can take the public trail connecting Big Sur Lodge and Fernwood Resort. Runners, keep training—the course for the Big Sur International Marathon on April 30, 2017, has not been affected, and the race will continue as normal. (The State Park system is working around the clock to try and open Andrew Molera State Park in time for the marathon.)

Some will question artist Francis McComas’s proclamation that Point Lobos is “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” But not after doing a grand-tour hike along Point Lobos State Natural Reserve’s shoreline trails. The roughly 5-mile loop hike (use the South Plateau Trail as a connector) shows off Point Lobos’s diverse beauty: China Cove’s jade-colored water, wind-sculpted Monterey cypress, and sea otters feeding in kelp beds. $10/vehicle; 3 mi. south of Carmel;

 Thomas J. Story

Big Sur from Southern California

While there’s no bridge collapse to worry about, SoCal travelers face road closures from multiple mudslides. Right now, Ragged Point (15 miles north of San Simeon) is as far north as they’ll get. (The stretch of Highway 1 from Ragged Point to Gorda is fully closed.) Caltrans hopes to have this area cleared up by May. But just to be safe, travelers are advised to check traffic conditions on the Caltrans website before hitting the road.

Big Sur from the East

From Highway 101, road trippers (RVs not recommended) can take Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, the only alternate route to a small open section of southern Big Sur. The single-lane, paved road may be narrow and windy, but it is open for business and ready for adventure seekers. From there, Highway 1 is accessible between Limekiln State Park and the town of Gorda. Limekiln State Park, Kirk Creek Campground, Plaskett Creek Campground, Sand Dollar Beach, Jade Cove, Gorda Springs Resort, and Treebones Resort are all open. 

Big Sur south of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge

The middle stretch of Big Sur has taken the biggest hit. Highway 1 and all businesses along the road remain closed—that includes Big Sur Bakery, Ventana Inn, Ventana Campground, Post Ranch Inn, Hawthorne Gallery, Nepenthe, Henry Miller Memorial Library, Deetjen’s, Coast Gallery & Café, Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Esalen Institute, Big Creek Cove vista point, and the town of Lucia. But local businesses are making the most of this disappointing news. Big Sur Bakery hosted a pop-up dinner at Il Tegamino in Carmel on March 29, and Ventana Inn is directing travelers to their sister resort Carmel Valley Ranch for the time being. The Big Sur Chamber of Commerce has said that they’re looking at late May for all of these businesses to reopen.

For more information on Big Sur access, check out the Big Sur Blog, the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce website, and the Big Sur Information Facebook page. Happy travels!

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