Sykes Hot Spring

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Rating: B

The best thing about Sykes Hot Spring -- it's called a spring, even though there are a whopping six soaking pools there -- is how good you will feel enjoying its soothing waters after completing the 10 mile long hike to get there. Located high in the hills above the Big Sur River area, Sykes gets more visitors in spring than any other season. Other than the length and steepness of the trail, which is fairly open and sun-baked for the first few miles, and complaints about garbage, the main gripe heard at Sykes involves overcrowding. Once finally in the pools, after the long walk, visitors often linger, which tends to upset the other hikers waiting to use them. In fact, you may have to wait an hour or two to enjoy either of the two most popular springs.

Part of the Ventana Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest.

How to find it:

From Monterey, go south on Highway 1. Park at the Big Sur Ranger Station off Highway 1. Get a hiking permit and a map, then follow Pine Ridge Trail for about 10 miles as it winds along and roughly parallels the Big Sur River. After some switchbacks, the trail levels and goes downhill. It leads to the pools. Two campgrounds, Sykes and Pine Ridge, are in the area.

The beach:

The path will take you to various pools, including one that holds five people next to a fallen tree and large boulder and another on a riverbank.

The crowd:

In spring, expect lots of visitors, all of them most likely naked. But in summer, fall, or winter, you may have Sykes all to yourself.

Problems:

Wait often required to use springs; increased litter; varying water temperature (depending on season and year); steep and dry trail; fire damage in area.

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