Partington Cove Trail, Big Sur

Looking down the Partington Cove Trail

Big Sur. It’s one of those mythic places of California that everyone knows nothing and everything about. It’s a place of hidden beaches; stunning views where the land drops off into the ocean; and hairpin turns on the Cabrillo Highway (California Route 1). It’s a place of sun and fog and sudden winds; of wild animals, expected and unexpected; authors; and large mansions from a different era. The thing about Big Sur that no one ever talks about is the potential for traffic, and traffic jams. It almost seems incomprehensible that this remote and pristine area would have the same problems as say, downtown Los Angeles until you think about it rationally.

Bridge over Partington Creek

Most of the route through Big Sur, California Route 1 is full of hairpin curves, broken only by occasional bridges, lonely straightaways, steep coastal drop-offs, and is almost always a two-lane road. And, if you add in the key variable: beautiful ocean-front scenery, what you are left with is an equation that looks like this: two-lane road + beautiful scenery + tourists staring at said scenery = traffic jams and general slowing. (This is to say nothing of areas where road construction is currently ongoing as of 2012, where the two lane road becomes a one-lane road). Frankly, there’s actually nothing wrong with this situation – California Route 1 should be driven slowly to absorb the scenery; it’s just that one has to be prepared to view the country slowly. And, part and parcel of viewing the area slowly is knowing where to stop and explore. In this respect, the Partington Cove Trail is one of the best and easiest places to explore.

 Directions: While the trail isn’t marked, you’re going to want to look for a metal gate on the West side of Highway 1 – chances are there will be a fair amount of cars on either side of the road pulled out to hike the trail. The gate is roughly two (2) miles North of the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park; or roughly five (5) miles South of the Nepanthe Restaurant/Store complex. If you park on the East side, take care crossing the Highway 1, as there are frequent distracted drivers not looking for pedestrians.

From the metal gate, the trail is wide and flat down to the coast. Once you are down the hill, you will be by an interpretive kiosk, where the trail will fork off into three separate directions. The first will take you down towards a small cove where the trail dead-ends. The second will take you over a wooden bridge, through a forested grove, and through the tunnel to the remains of the pier at Partington Cove. The third will take you upstream along the Partington Creek. I’d recommend that one heads down to the smaller cove, before heading back to the trail junction and walking through the tunnel down to Partington Cove. At the cove, there’s a bench where you can watch the waves; and plenty of rocks to scramble around on depending on how high the tide is. ( If you’re looking around, you can also find the old eyebolts and moorings from the pier that used to exist here. Once you’re done exploring the area, return the way you came. While the hill isn’t that steep, this is where you will get somewhat of a workout. Roundtrip, you are looking at a little bit over one (1) mile.

 Partington Cove region

Tips: The tunnel through the rock to the old pier was initially used to carry out tanbark by mules; and was possibly used by bootleggers during prohibition. The tunnel is what really makes this an interesting hike in my book, as it allows one to imagine all sorts of interesting scenarios that occurred in this region. If you’ve got something to eat; the bench at the end of the trail at the cove is a great place to relax and watch the world go by. Lastly, while the trail isn’t technical in any way, nor that difficult, it can be a little slick at places, as your author found out. I had a very embarrassing moment when I slipped and ate it mid-way down – so much for those mountaineering skills right? But, with a little more attention and humility, I am sure you will be fine!

See you on the trail!

The infamous Partington Cove Tunnel - watch for smugglers!
























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