• Michael O'Keeffe

Backpacking Above the Pacific in Big Sur, CA

Last week Chyna and I had the opportunity to get in the first backpacking trip of the season in the always beautiful region of Big Sur on California's Central Coast. Big Sur is a particularly rugged portion of the California Coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise directly out of the Pacific reaching over 5,000 feet above sea level on the highest peaks. The dramatic prominence of these peaks make for some challenging backpacking coupled with the wild temperature swings and thick gnarly forests. The challenge of this area is cancelled out by the immense beauty of Big Sur with far reaching views of the Pacific, cool shady ravines, and even towering Redwood groves.

This would be my third backpacking trip in Big Sur, with this instance taking us to the southern portion of the range to the lesser known Silver Peak Wilderness. The trail was classic Big Sur starting right off of Highway 1 in a cool shady oak forest that gave way to a brutally hot exposed slope of thick prickly chaparral. Over the next few miles the trail climbed steeply switching between dry oak filled ravines and hot exposed open slopes. As we approached camp for the night we were over 2,000 feet above the ocean below, which was cloaked beneath a shallow layer of fog. At this elevation the oak forests and chaparral gave way to pine groves and wildflower filled grasslands. Given it was a weekday we saw few people on the trail so we were able to find an excellent camp spot overlooking the ocean far below.

We set up camp and enjoyed an incredible sunset as the clouds swirled below us. No matter how many times I see it being above the clouds is always such a surreal and rewarding experience. This time was no exception. After a colorful sunset, we enjoyed a quiet evening under the stars listening to critters of all shapes and sizes calling out across the vast mountain range. The following morning after a relaxing start to the day we packed up and headed back down the trail to the car. A challenging yet pleasant start to backpacking season. Check out the photos from this trip below!


Elephant seals California
Elephant seals rest along a foggy beach on the way to the trailhead.

Elephant seal California
A sleepy elephant seal on the beach.

Big Sur California
The Pacific Ocean sits beneath a layer of clouds.

Big Sur California
Gray pines cast shadows over the trail at sunset.

Big Sur California
Lupine bloom on a sun baked slope.

Big Sur California
Looking north towards some higher peaks.

Big Sur California
A mosaic of tree species.

Big Sur California
The marine layer would slosh back and forth against the steep slopes like ocean waves.

Big Sur California
Blue bonnets on a grassy slope.

Big Sur California
A surreal evening high above the clouds.

Big Sur California
Our camp with far reaching Pacific views!

Big Sur California
A close-up of the colorful cloud layer.

Big Sur California
Last light fades on the high peaks of the Santa Lucia Range.

Big Sur California
Our view from camp. Truly stunning!

Big Sur California
Soft evening light over the tangled forests of oaks, pines, and Redwoods.

Big Sur California
The last bit of light.

Big Sur California
Hiking back down the following morning. Still above the clouds.

Big Sur California
Closer to the marine layer, colorful lupine blooms.

Big Sur California
Reentering the fog made for dramatic lighting in the forest.

Big Sur California
The forest was eerie while in the fog.


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