Big Sur After the Big Slide: What Travelers Need to Know

Highway 1 is cut in two where a massive landslide obliterated the road north of Ragged Point in Monterey County in Big Sur. Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

After being torn apart by winter storms and landslides, Big Sur is open for business — sort of. Pfeiffer State Beach, Julia Burns State Park, and Sykes Hot Springs, some of the most iconic places in the region, are closed alongside big sections of Highway 1. “We’re kind of fighting a war on three fronts at these three locations to try to come up with a plan to get the highway reopened,” says California Department of Transportation spokesperson Colin Jones. The short of it: You might want to book your vacation elsewhere. Then again, if you’re determined, you just might benefit from a less crowded year — you’re just going to have to overcome some mud, rough roads, and damage from the storms. 

What’s Closed

Three closures on Highway 1, the scenic route that stretches between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the California coastline, leave many places in the area isolated. Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, for one, is scheduled to open again on September 30, and Paul’s Slide is scheduled to open on July 4 for at least one lane of traffic. There’s no word yet on when the damage at Mud Creek will be repaired.

Then there are the state parks in the area, hit with one of the most expensive forest fires to fight in history last year and the rainiest winter on record. The famous Pfeiffer State Beach is closed since it is in the construction zone for Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. Also known as “Purple Sand Beach” because of the purple glaze on the sand created by rock sediments, its views of light shining through a keyhole rock formation in the ocean is usually a huge draw for tourists. Many trails at Pfeiffer State Park are also closed, including the Pine Ridge trail. That means Skyes Hot Springs is also off-limits.

South of that is the now-closed Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where tourists used to be able to watch McWay Falls spill into the ocean. Roughly five miles north of Pfeiffer, Andrew Molera is closed, too. Huge logjams on the Big Sur River caused the river to redirect through the campground there. 

What’s Open

There are some small areas of Pfeiffer State Park that are open. Supervising Ranger for Big Sur State Parks Matthew Khalar says if you were to hike all the open trails there, it would take roughly 40 minutes. Hikers can loop around part of the Big Sur River and stop for lunch at the River Inn. Some chairs are outside on the river so travelers can dip their feet in the water as they eat. Visitors at Pfeiffer can still drive up north to the Point Sur Light Station and see the lighthouse, old blacksmith shop, and stables on a guided tour.

Getting your car there, however, is another matter completely. The bravest drivers can take the winding mountain road Nacimiento-Fergusson, also being used by construction vehicles, to access a 10-mile strip to Highway 1. If you want to take the narrow route, caution is advised. “Personally, I wouldn’t drive that road this summer,” says Khalar.

Across from Plaskett Creek, accessible by that 10-mile stretch, surfers can ride the waves at Sand Dollar Beach. If narrow mountain roads aren’t for you, another spot to hang out on the beach is at Garrapata State Park, more than 20 miles north of Pfeiffer. Only the park’s side to the west of Highway 1 is open, but there are dirt turn-offs and trails down to the beach so people can enjoy the ocean.

For tourists desperate to stay at the Post Ranch Inn and try one of the landmark Nepenthe Restaurant’s ambrosia burgers, helicopter rides are available. Starting at $4,291 for a couple for two nights, the “Escape Through the Skies” package offered by the Post Ranch Inn includes a round-trip helicopter ride, room, dining, and other included activities.

But those still planning to do it the old-fashioned way and drive along Highway 1 are advised to check Google Maps and QuickMap on the CalTrans website. Khalar estimates the 60 percent of people who come to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park daily say they were unaware of the closure signs. Coming from the north, drivers are recommended to get off at Monterey, drive to Salinas and take Highway 101 until it reconnects with Highway 1 at San Luis Obispo.