Vicente Flat Trail, Big Sur
- Type of trip: Weekender (depart Friday after work, return Sunday midday)
- Drive time to trailhead from San Francisco: ~3.5 – 4 hours (directions to Kirk Creek Campground which is right across the highway from the Vicente trailhead)
- Difficulty and total mileage: ~10–18 miles out and back (moderate). Expect a fairly merciless uphill with a few thousand feet of elevation gain on the first day. Vicente Flat Campground is 5 miles from the trailhead. You can opt for day hikes once you drop your stuff off at the campground. Daily mileage will be ~5–9.
- Crowds: Very light trail traffic (when we went in March). Non-competitive backcountry camping situation. There are two spacious spots earlier on the trail just after the it heads inland from the coast. If Vicente Flat is by chance full, you can cross the river and continue about a quarter mile toward Goat Camp, where the trail opens up into a wide grassy meadow.
- Temperatures: In the spring, when we went, temperatures stayed around 40–50 degrees with some light rain. Definitely more on the chilly, damp side. Go here for a current forecast.
- Permits: California fire permit (if you wish to have a fire). No camping permit required for Vicente Flat Campground
- Fire restrictions: None. Just be responsible and try to use existing fire rings if they’re around.
- Bears/threatening wildlife: No bears in Big Sur. There are ticks and large amounts of poison oak, so take heed. Also, beware the banana slugs! (jk)
- Water situation: In the first 5 miles there is limited water availability. There is a substantial stream of fresh mountain runoff at Vicente Flat Campground. Bring your filter.
Gear: Check out my temperate climate backpacking checklist for a recommended set of stuff to bring for this trip.
Food: We recommend bringing non-freeze-dried food. The trek is short enough that food weight shouldn’t be that much of a concern. We cooked up a set of 6 burritos: 4 x breakfast burritos and 2 x carne asada and wrapped them in foil. You can easily toss these in a fire to be heated by coals (but be aware that the flames themselves don’t consume your foil dinner! We’ve had this happen).
Campground accommodations: For Friday night, you can take a chance on one of the two first-come-first-serve spots at Kirk Creek Campground (which has an incredible coastal view) or continue down the highway for about 5 miles to Plaskett Creek Campground, which is what we did. We booked our night online, but there are also first-come-first serve spots available at Plaskett.
Depart San Francisco/Silicon Valley around 6:00pm and arrive at campground around 9:30–10:00pm. Bring a bottle of wine to pop in the dark when you get there and either sleep in your car (like we did) or pitch your tent in the campground.
After breakfast, head to Vicente Trailhead. Parking should be available on the road pullout beside the trailhead across from Kirk Creek Campground. Gear up, stow your valuables, and start your ascent to Vicente Flat Campground. There are several stellar viewpoints along the way that offer sweeping vistas of the coastline. The trail also weaves through rainforest-like copses of eucalyptus and redwoods.
Vicente Flat itself is set inside of a forested canyon. While beautiful in its own way, the campground doesn’t offer the same panoramic view of the ocean and coastline. After lunch, you can either backtrack on Vicente Trail for one to two miles until the coastal view opens up again, or cross the stream at the Vicente Flat Campground and follow the signs toward Goat Camp. Follow the narrow trail for 1.5–2 miles until you’ve found a stellar viewpoint.
Head back down to Vicente Flat for dinner.
Make breakfast and break camp. Pack out along the same route you came in.
After getting back to your car, be sure to stop by the Big Sur Tap House for a beer and something greasy. We highly recommend taking Highway 1 as far as possible on your way back home. It’s a crazily scenic drive.