Trip Report - Sykes Hot Springs

I’m just back and well worn from a trip to Sykes Hot Springs with the indefatigable Sara Gallagher. It was a great trip!

There are many details and campsites I wish I’d known before first attempting the trip several years ago. I’m putting them down here in case any of you want to try the hike.

The weather was with us, and we went with light packs, no tent, no stove. These choices worked well. There were other people at the springs, and at the campsites along the way, but not too many - maybe four other groups spread along the river. Every time we used the springs, we had them to ourselves, although you should be prepared to meet friends. There were several organized groups of students that started out and got partway in on Monday; Sunday night and Monday (between the weekenders and the groups) may be the times with the fewest people at the springs. There’s not a lot of camping space near the springs themselves, and it probably gets very busy on the weekends - might be best to avoid them then.

The springs themselves are great. The water is hot enough, and both functional tubs are large enough for 3-4 people. One is about fifteen feet above the river, ringed by fallen logs. Another by the riverside is fantastic - it’s set in a worn cup in a rock of smooth white-striped black granite, with a groove towards the back suitable for lizards and a cold river nearby for mammals.

A source 15’ upstream goes straight into the river - a backpack full of sandbags and a troop of motivated soakers could transform this into a tub.

The river bottom is lush and beautiful and gets good sun for much of the day. Bask on the log bridge.

The trail is tough for it’s length. Sykes is sometimes reported as the ideal hike - 10 miles in, to fantastic wilderness hot springs. But it’s actually 12 miles, or maybe 13 with the 3000’ of elevation gain-and-loss to the end, and that’s not counting the innumerable ups and downs - level stretches are rare. We passed several couples who were having trouble with the hike. Web reports are strangely mixed between ecstatic and very negative, probably according to hiking ability, time and preparation. River levels may vary. YMMV.


  • Pack as light as possible! Lots of ups and downs.
  • Consider 2 nights.
  • Avoid the weekend?
  • River shoes / sandals for Sykes and crossing the Big Sur River.

Seekrit spots and Spring Directions:

We found several great alternatives to the designated campsites. I’d recommend them to anyone thinking of going - especially over the first obvious campsite, ‘'’Terrace’’’, which has terrible feng shui. Some are visible on the topo.

The springs are on the way to ‘'’The Beach’’’, directions below.

‘The Feng Shui doesn’t Smell of Cold Poo’ - Near Terrace (6 miles in):

The trail goes around a bend and over a small hilltop/saddle flat spot before plunging into the dank dark pit of ‘'’Terrace’’’ camp. From the flat spot a ridge extends towards the river away from the mountain, going slightly upwards before heading down to the river. Turn towards the river, and bushwhack, and ‘‘keep bushwhacking’’ until the ridge obviously begins to fall away. You’ll find a good sheltered-but-open spot with a great view to the East, (including the better ‘'’Bald Spot’’’,) a fire ring and conveniently-placed boulder serving as a table. No trail there: very likely to be unoccupied.

topo map:

(Under the red ‘27.’ It should be marked with a little red cross on the topo.)

The ‘Bald Spot’ - near Barlow Flat (9 miles in)

The trail goes around a bend and over a ridge through a broad saddle, a hundred yards or so before the trail down to ‘'’Barlow Flat’’’ camp. At this flat spot, a narrow trail heads steeply up to the left. Climb up (120’ vertical!) to the top of this hill, a large grassy flat spot with panoramic views of EVERYTHING + sunset. Unfortunately, it was already occupied by two nice women from Santa Cruz :(

It’s well worth a stop, whether or not you camp there.

Another spot, shaded and smaller, with fire ring, is 50 yards further on past the bald sport. Water from the river at ‘'’Barlow Flat’’’ , or probably cleaner from Logwood Creek, a little ways back on the main trail.

The Springs (12 miles in)

The way to the springs is not obvious from the trail at ‘'’Sykes’’’. The main trail crosses the Big Sur river, and continues on on the other side. Stay on the South side, and head downriver, asking directions at the campsites you pass - about 150 yards. (You’ll pass a camp toilet in the first 50 yards, on your left, above the trail.) Remain confident. The log tub is just after the trail heads sharply uphill (after passing tepid trickles.) The riverside tub is below, but better approached from upstream.

The Beach - at Sykes (12+ mi in)

Soak. Head back upstream 20 yds or so, and cross the river on an enormous fallen log bridge. Head downstream until just after the last camp on that side, and cross to the original side again - you’ll get your feet wet unless the water is very low. Two great isolated likely-empty group-sized campsites are just downriver here, well past the throng and traffic. Just past that is a good beach that gets sun in the afternoon, a deep swimming hole, and a cliff that can be climbed from the water for cliff diving. (Cannonballs only, please.)

More Possibilities

Two more spots on the topo suggest themselves as analogues to ‘'’Good Feng Shui’’’ and the ‘'’Bald Spot’’’:

Slightly WNW of ‘'’Sykes’’’ Camp, the topo shows the trail going around a mountain ridge with a little rise of its’ own, uphill from the trail. Though this is somewhat close to ‘'’Sykes’’’ - maybe you’d prefer to shoot for ‘'’The Beach’’’ - it looks like a good place to check out, might be a good spot for a nap. Is there a view? The saddle just South could be flat, as well.

Further west is another similar rise, towards the river from the trail. Just far enough from ‘'’Sykes’’’ that it may be a good oshititsdark or letsgetagoodstart stop.

Enjoy - Mike