Almost 4 months after our return home and I have finally found a moment to publish my final post from our USA trip. It seems fitting that this part of the trip was one of my favourites, and capped off our time in our surf wagon cum camper van perfectly.
After driving through the night from Yosemite and a search through the darkness for an available campsite, we finally found a spot in the wee hours of the morning at Morro Strand Campground. A cool breeze across the ocean served as an unwanted alarm clock, and freshened us ready for a short drive to the utterly charming Cambria, where we spent a night at the super cute Bridge Street Inn (a converted Presbyterian church with all the fittings you might expect in your grandmothers house).
Now in a much more relaxed state, our drive took us further up the coast towards San Simeon, where our first pit stop was to check out the Elephant Seal Rookery. The beach and its huge population of furry friends had attracted plenty of visitors, and the seals themselves didn’t seem to mind their gawking onlookers (who luckily respectfully kept to the boardwalk). The seals return here every year (since 1990), the pregnant females having arrived some 2 months before us. This time of the year (mid march), the pups had been around for a few months, and most of the adults had returned to sea, save for the ENORMOUS dominant males, who stick around until the last female leaves. The weaned pups were mostly testing out the water in rocky tide pools, apparently building up muscles and reducing body fat. This facilitates their readiness to go out to sea themselves and to begin foraging before they return to the beach to moult and later breed. Not unlike human children, these guys were pretty loud and vocal, and were hilariously rustling for space on the beach. Observing their interactions could easily keep you occupied for hours, especially as you get caught up with anthropomorphising your favourite ‘characters’ amongst them.
Our walk for the day was a short but sweet walk up some of the Salmon Creek Trail. You can pretty much hike as long as you like until you run out of steam here, with a few options to turn around to rack up up to 6.5 miles.
We turned around after 1.5 or so, having soaked up some sweet views of the coast along Highway 1 and the waterfalls of Salmon Creek, and having amassed a cool collection of wildflowers along the way.
Our campsite for the night (Kirk Creek) was undoubtedly one of the best we had encountered (although I feel I may have allotted this title a few times over by now). It is hard to beat sleeping atop a dramatic cliff, the misty air perfectly framing the sunset. Having arrived early to secure a spot, we ended up wiling away most of the afternoon here, save for a short trek down to the beach to watch the sea otters go by.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park & McWay Falls provided the setting for most of the following day, and it did not disappoint. A huge backlog of cars were parked along the Highway here, mostly to check out the falls, which made us wonder how you would even approach visiting the region in summer when the crowds explode. Apparently the cascade previously flowed directly into the sea, however fires, landslide and highway construction works lead the beach to expand its reach. This means the water now falls amongst the sand, making for a pretty unique sight. A short (approx .7 mile) trail allows you to get a full perspective of the falls. You have probably seen the pictures before, but no harm in adding another to the mix.
Our goal was then to complete the Elwoldsen Trail, which kicked off from the other side of the Highway. This hike combined pretty much everything we hoped to gain from the Big Sur Coast. Plenty of old growth redwood forest is found in the lower reaches of the walk, and as you start to gain some elevation, you are rewarded withs weeping views across grassy meadows brimming with wildflowers.
Finally the ocean again becomes visible, before you descend again into the canyon. The walk totals 4.5 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet.
Our last day in this magical region was celebrated with some local beers and tasty pub fare at the Big Sur Taphouse, before we head off across the Bixby Bridge towards Santa Cruz and beyond before returning to SFO and finally back home.
It is probably apt to reflect upon the trip as a whole. I have to say the National Park Service and various state park services we encountered do a pretty awesome job of managing America’s natural assets. While having to pay sizeable amounts for entry into parks seemed pretty foreign to us, you definitely get value for money, as rangers are incredibly helpful and visitors centres provide a wealth of information. All the facilities we encountered were top notch. A definite goal for when we inevitably return some day will be to try some more backcountry hiking to escape the crowds and soak up even more of the country’s incredible beauty. Of course this would require much more planning which we mostly avoided on this trip, deciding on the bulk of our route as we went!
Time now to get down to recording some more hikes closer to home!
- Julia Pfieffer Burns S.P Brochure
- Elwodlsen Trail Street View
- Friends of the Elephant Seal (includes a live webcam of the seals)