Hiking & Backpacking Big Sur

China Camp
By Analise Elliot
  |  Gorp.com
big sur interior
Ancient oaks stud rolling grasslands along the San Carpoforo Trail within Silver Peak Wilderness (Photo © Analise Elliot)

Excerpted from Hiking & Backpacking Big Sur by Analise Elliot

Nestled at 4,270 feet in a prominent saddle beneath a dense canopy of oaks and madrones, China Camp offers one of the easiest access points to Ventana's high country. There are also lower elevation routes off Tassajara Road, along the Church Creek, Horse Pasture, and Tony Trails. Tassajara Road may be closed during storms due to fallen trees or small mudslides. Two routes extend from China Camp: the westbound Pine Ridge Trail and the northwest-bound Miller Canyon Trail.

Although the Pine Ridge Trail is the most heavily used path in the backcountry, most people begin from Big Sur and never reach Pine Ridge. This eastern section of the trail is remote, challenging, and strenuous, offering a trek across diverse terrain with sweeping panoramas of the vast wilderness. The route from China Camp suffers from encroaching brush, and few people hike farther than Pine Valley, whose dramatic sandstone cliffs shelter a spectacular waterfall and pine-studded meadow. This is the most direct route to the recently restored Black Cone Trail, but be prepared for a heavily overgrown path from Divide Camp to the north end of the Black Cone Trail atop Pine Ridge. Much of this terrain is intolerable in summer, when nagging flies swarm and temperatures soar into the upper 90s Fahrenheit.

From spring through fall, the Carmel River and Miller Canyon Trails offer pleasant routes downriver, though both trails are cloaked with poison oak. The trailhead for the Church Creek Trail lies in the heart of the wilderness, five miles beyond China Camp along Tassajara Road. The only trail that ascends the Church Creek drainage, it takes in some of Ventana's most dramatic sandstone outcrops.

Directions: Heading south on Highway 1 from Monterey, turn left on Carmel Valley Road (County Road G16) in Carmel and head eastbound. In 11.7 miles you'll reach Carmel Valley Village, your last opportunity for gas, food, and supplies. Drive through the village and continue another 11.3 miles to the Tassajara Road junction.

Heading north on Highway 101 from Southern California, turn off on Route 101 Business, Greenfield's southernmost exit. In half a mile you'll turn left on Elm Avenue (County Road G16) and head southwest 5.8 miles to Arroyo Seco Road (County Road G17). The two roads merge for 6.5 miles and then fork. Take the right branch and continue 17 miles northwest on Carmel Valley Road to the Tassajara Road junction.

From the Tassajara Road junction, turn southwest and drive 1.3 miles to a fork with Cachagua Road. Take the left branch and continue 10.7 miles along Tassajara Road to the China Camp entrance. The pavement ends 1.8 miles from the junction, and 7.6 miles farther you'll pass White Oaks Campground (see below for nearest campground). From there it's 1.3 miles to the entrance road at China Camp.

To reach the campground, hang a sharp right off Tassajara Road and drive 200 feet. If you're not camping, park in the small lot across Tassajara Road from the camp entrance.

Visitor Center: Big Sur Station: 831-667-2315. The station is on Highway 1, 4.2 miles south of Andrew Molera State Park and just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the rest of the year. USFS Monterey District Headquarters, King City: 831-385-5434.

Nearest Campgrounds: Two small USFS campgrounds, White Oaks Campground (7.9 miles along Tassajara Road) and China Camp (10.7 miles along Tassajara Road), are open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis (7 and 6 sites, respectively; $5/night). Facilities include vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables.

Information: There's no fee if you park at the turnout on Tassajara Road directly across from the China Camp entrance. If you park at the campground, there's a $5/night fee. Fire permits are required for all stoves. Dogs are permitted and allowed off leash, except in designated campgrounds, where a six-foot or shorter leash is required.

Website: www.fs.fed.us/r5/lospadres

Phone: Los Padres National Forest Headquarters: (805) 968-6640

Article © Analise Elliot. All rights reserved.

Published: 22 Feb 2005 | Last Updated: 16 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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