Car Camping in Big Sur


Part 1: Beautiful Big Sur – A Car Camping Adventure

Rise and Shine
Although the previous night was spent adjusting our bodies frequently to get comfortable, we managed to sleep in until about 9 o’clock.  Getting ready proved to be as awkward as one can expect when you are out of your normal surroundings . Dressing in the car increased my contortion skills by 2 fold. Normal morning routine things, like brushing your teeth and putting in contacts, were put on display at the outdoor communal bathroom. The best decision we made about our mornings was our no cooking required breakfast. Cereal and fruit were perfectly fine for us.

Although packing my new hiking/camera bag proved to be somewhat of a game of Tetris, I was still able to fit all of our necessities (lunch, first aid kit, water and snacks).  How is it that when I purchase a new hike bag with more room we still end up filling it to the brim?

Hiking in Big Sur
Big Sur has hundreds of miles of hiking trails which can make choosing the ‘right’ trail challenging. Especially when you don’t have more than two nights in the area. We narrowed down our hike based on what we wanted to see.  And we wanted to see all the Big Sur had to offer, which was a tall order but we were in luck.  Fortunately, Andrew Molera State Park had a hike that provided a good overview of Big Sur’s diverse landscape.

Bluff and Panorama and Ridge Trails
Rather than just doing one trail in the area, we chose to hike the Andrew Molera Loop Trail, which consists of Bluff, Panorama and Ridge Trails. The hike itself is around 9 miles in total.  We chose this hike because according to my research this loop showed the diversity of Big Sur’s landscape. We also were excited to continue breaking in our new hiking boots. Which in retrospect probably wasn’t the best idea.  The hike ended up being more difficult than it really should have been and we were pretty exhausted with sore feet by the end of the day. Only a small price to pay to be out in the beautiful scenery. The landscape changed  about three – four times during the hike from meadow lands, to beach, to low laying shrubs and plants to forest. Keep your eyes open because you may see a deer or some other wildlife.  From the beach we saw a lone seal and a pod of dolphins. Someone was even diving off the beach.

Once we left the beach we started on Bluffs Trail. This trail takes you above the beach and into the wind.  Wind that was much appreciated on a warmer day. The plants were mostly shorter bushes and low grasses. The views were breathtaking.

Walking along the bluffs felt like getting blasted by one of the fans used in Psy’s Gangam Style music video every-so often.  We walked into this sporadic wind for about an hour until we reached where Bluffs Trail meets Panorama trail.  At this point there is a secret garden like trail to a secluded beach.   As we were walking down I had my doubts that we were in the right place because the trail was not well-used. Our balancing skills were put to the test while climbing over a huge pile of drift wood.  Ryan traversed this pile with lynx-like skill while I fumbled over it like a baby learning to walk. I’m convinced it’s because he has longer legs.

The beach is tucked into the bluffs, making it feel cozy. Although I did start thinking of exit strategies if a tsunami happened to barrel down on us whilst eating lunch. Since the beach is off-the-beaten path there was only one other couple on the beach when we arrived. I kind felt like we were trespassing, but once we were a safe distance from them all was well.  We set up shop on a big boulder and soaked in the views, ate some food and rested our weary legs.

Once we were back on the trail the landscape was changing once again as we climbed up a series of torturous switch backs and steep grades for an eternity (20 – 30 min). Our heart rate was up and so was the sweat factor so we took a break to unzip our handy knee vents in our pants and catch our breath. Within 45 seconds of sitting down Ryan got stung by a vengeful bee. I tended to Ryan’s sting with the handy dandy first aid kit I put together, complete with some sort of bug bite and sting soother. Gold star for me.

We finally made it to the top of Panorama Trail after another eternity or so. Panorama Trail is a misleading name, The trail takes you to a point in which you can see a panorama of the area, rather than seeing a panorama of the area the entire trail. The way down to Ridge Trail took us through dwarf Red Woods, which aren’t that small in reality.  Just small for Redwoods.

Walking along Ridge Trail was not the most fun we had on the trip.  At this point we were pretty tired and our feet hurt.  It didn’t help that we were going up and down small hills on a trail that was wide enough for a car to fit and that was in  the direct sunlight. Like Atreyu making his way out of the nothingness, we finally made it out of the loop and back to the car. But only after back-tracking to the beach on accident.

A Sweet Reward
On the way back to our camp site we stopped at a General Store and picked up a well deserved rainbow popsicle.  It’s shame I didn’t get a picture with the popsicle.  It was the best thing I had tasted that day. Many of the stores and stops along the road are in pull-out like areas, easy to get in, but dangerous to pull-out if you need to cross a lane.

When we got to camp we tossed on our flip flops and walked down to the river bed to soak our tired feet in the ice-cold water. It was a quiet moment of relaxation and watching a few deer eating nearby.

Winding Down
We fell into our previous night’s routine of Ryan preparing the fire and food and I the sleeping set-up.  We make a good team.  That night we feasted on veggie chili, rice, Doritos, s’mores and beer. That night I tried my hand at night photography again. Something that I have failed miserably at for a while, most recently on our trip to Haleakala on Maui, sad face. This time though I got something right! I was finally able to get something resembling what I have been looking to capture at night. I still have a long way to go but, for now and for this trip ,these photos are perfect to me. Ryan was very patient with me telling him not to move the picnic table and staying up just a few minutes longer to get some more shots.  The night was nearly bitch black, but from this photo you could barely tell.

That night those pesky rodents were back in full-force.  For some reason they loved the tire well by Ryan’s head. Poor guy didn’t get much sleep that night. Even banging the tire well didn’t seem to work. The next morning we lazily cleaned up our camp area, the car and continued along Highway 1  on our San Diego to San Francisco road trip.

Quick Tips for Car Camping

  • Make sure you have a car that is large enough for you to sleep in, duh.  A mid-size SUV worked well for us tall folk.
  • If you can buy it on your trip, save the space and do just that.  We bought inexpensive sleeping bags and cookware in San Luis Obispo.
  • Use a windshield heat reflector to provide privacy, or carboard.  Anything to block the windshield.
  • If you want to keep a window open, use mosquito netting to keep the bugs out.  We used netting that looked like a small tent to drape over our window.
  • Head lamp, that is all
  • If you don’t have room for a cooler, canned goods and no meats is the way to go.

Have you ever car-camped? Do you have any tips for car-camping?

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