Big Sur – Exploring the Isolated Sections (Limekiln, Gorda, Kirk Creek)


Incredible view, just south of Limekiln. (Kirk Creek is in the fog)

I’ve been watching the Highway 1 drama for months now, feeling bad for the affected businesses and hoping to pay them visit. Kirk Creek campground was calling out to me, and I recently saw that the pedestrian trail around the damaged bridge in Big Sur was now open to tourists. Time for a road trip!

Background: at the current time, there are 3 closures, creating two “islands” with limited access. From south to north:

(1) The HUGE slide, just south of Gorda, called “Mud Creek” or the “Mud Slide”. This will take a very long time…

(2) A minor slide, just north of Limekiln State Park, called “Paul’s Slide”. This is expected to be open by the end of this month (July 2017)

(3) The bridge, currently being rebuilt, which splits the town of Big Sur in half. This is expected to be complete in September 2017.

Big Sur Kate, a locally well known blogger, describes the closures, too. Watch her site for updated access information and maps:

My first stop, was to head to the “island” between #1 and #2, which has vehicle access on the twisty and scenic Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Take it SLOW! Expect a construction or delivery truck in the middle of the road at every blind curve, especially weekdays. (I was there two years ago to climb Cone Peak


The bottom of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road,

I made the long and twisty drive down the road, and arrived at Kirk Creek at 5:00PM, on monday July 3rd. I was quite happy to find that there were 3 campsites remaining, without reservations. (These are usually impossible to get, without reservation months in advance.)


Kirk Creek Campground, site 2B


Fishing Boat


Lounging in the right lane

After paying $35 for one of the best campsites in California, I cycled about 1.5 miles north, to Limekiln State Park, and closure #2 listed above. Limekiln was full, but hardly any other cars on the road. (This “Paul’s Slide” (#2) closure allows limited access for local residents and delivery trucks, heading north towards Big Sur. It’s a LONG way, via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, but does allow supplies to get in to the residents and businesses.


Heading the other way, about 10 miles south of Limekiln, the road is blocked just south of Gorda. That’s the HUGE “Mud Creek Slide” that won’t be fixed this year. This completes the ~10 mile island between closures #1 and #2.


Gorda itself, has a cafe, gas station, and small store. They were all open, but staff outnumbered customers on the afternoon of July 3rd. I ended-up seeing a “Serving Dinner” sign. just north of Gorda, for the Treebones Resort.


Treebones Resort was hopping!

I wandered up the hill to look around and the parking area was full! It’s a huge effort to get here for tourists, but it was doing well. I looked at the menu, and spotted an awesome seat on the deck, overlooking the ocean, and ordered a beer and an appetizer.

(I later peeked at their lodging availability on the website. They do have availability, if you want to go. They’re doing much better than the other businesses in Gorda. I suspect that’s because they are a “destination” for most visitors, rather than relying on people passing by.)


The outside deck of Treebones, in Gorda, CA

The next morning, I headed back up N-F Road and Fort Hunter Liggett (…where you also may be delayed due to Army training exercises. Where else have you seen tiny bridges with an 80 ton weight limit?)


The top of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road


It’s a tough summer in the tourist business!

After a long drive north to Carmel, then south on Highway 1 to Big Sur, I arrived at the north end of closure #3. I parked the car a few miles before the end of the road, and got on the bicycle. At the end of the road, at “Big Sur Station”, I stopped in to ask about the pedestrian trail to the south. This would take me to the ~20 mile “island” between closures #2 and #3, that has access from the south for locals and delivery trucks.

The nice guy at Big Sur Station said my bicycle was welcome if I could “shoulder it”, as the trail was steep, with many stairs. My antique Specialized bike weighs only 17 pounds, so off I went! The trail starts at site #31 of the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground.


North end of the trail. Site 31 in Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground


About 400 vertical feet of climbing


A view from the trail

In the ~3/4 mile trail, I passed about 20 people heading the other way. They were a mix of locals and tourists. They were all friendly, except one grumpy lady who cursed at me for having a bike on the trail. I guess she doesn’t like tourists who spend money… (Oh, I had just passed two State Park Rangers, who greeted me!)

At the “Southside”, two friendly folks from Nepenthe  pointed the way to the Big Sur Taproom and told me that the number of tourists had greatly exceeded expectations!


South end of the trail, 1/4 mile from the Taproom & Deli


Some local residents’ cars


I stepped inside at about 3:00PM, and had the place to myself, except for 3 local residents, and one other tourist who arrived after I did. (WiFi, too!)


4th of July at 3:00PM

I reversed my course, and headed home! Great trip!


Next time, I would consider arriving earlier to Big Sur, and cycling, or taking the shuttle service to Nepenthe. It’s a unique opportunity to visit Nepenthe, while the tourist traffic is lower and they NEED your support.

When Paul’s Slide (#2) is finished later this month, it will be possible to drive to Nepenthe and the Taphouse, via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. A very long drive! I expect they will still be slow for the rest of the summer, until the Big Sur bridge is reopened later in the year.  GO!

About AlphaRoaming

Random outdoor roaming: hiking, cycling, camping, backpacking & plotting more of the above Grew up on the edges of the Adirondack mountains of New York, just a bit west of Vermont. Now living in Silicon Valley and venturing out when and where I can!
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10 Responses to Big Sur – Exploring the Isolated Sections (Limekiln, Gorda, Kirk Creek)

  1. CS says:

    Thanks for the trip report! Later this summer, I’m planning to take the hiking trail to bypass Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. My boyfriend and I are planning a multi-night bicycling and camping trip south of the closure.

    From what you could tell, would cars be OK parked for multiple nights, north of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge? We may spend up to 5 nights biking and camping in Big Sur in the road closure area, including a stay at Esalen.

  2. Dunebug says:

    Are you allowed to walk your bike on parts of the 3/4 mile pedestrian trail (and carry it on vertical parts) or do you have to carry it the entire 3/4 mile?

    Was just wondering since I will have panniers.

    Thanks for your great posts!

  3. Bikelady says:

    We will definitely try this this (Big Sur bypass with our bikes) weekend. Would be a shame to miss biking this road while it’s still closed! Thanks for all the infos!

  4. Steve Cooper says:

    Thanks for the write up! We’re heading down from Santa Cruz tomorrow, planning on doing the hike-a-bike on Thursday. Great info.

  5. Jeanne Hucek says:

    Highway 1: Open and Ready to Drive

    Highway 1 is now open from Cambria to Carmel. The iconic drive down California’s Coast is fully open. A public ribbon cutting at the Ragged Point Inn was held today at 11 am to officially open the scenic highway.

    Road trips may now resume thanks to the hard work of Cal Trans. The historic highway, celebrates 80 years this summer and is designated as one of 22 All-American Highways in the U.S.

    Join us in San Simeon as you drive on the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

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