Big Sur River


Flowing unimpeded from the northern Santa Lucia Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, the Big Sur is a relatively small river added to the federal system by Congress in 1992, as part of the Los Padres Condor Range and Rivers Act, which protected 84 miles of wild and scenic rivers and more than 400,000 acres of wilderness in California’s iconic central coast region. The river’s protected segment begins in the Ventana Wilderness and ends at the boundary between the Wilderness and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There is abundant, rapid-flowing water, with pools, springs, and occasional waterfalls; a diverse tree canopy, including redwoods; and a combination of scenic features uncommon to central southern California.

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Designated Reach

June 19, 1992. From the confluence of the South and North Forks downsteam to the boundary of the Ventana Wilderness. The South Fork and the North Fork from their headwaters to their confluence.

Outstandingly Remarkable Values


The Big Sur River supports a healthy population of threatened south-central California coast steelhead trout.


The natural sulfur hot spring, the redwood riparian environment and the year-long water flows provide outstanding opportunities for primitive camping, swimming, fishing, picnicking and nature study. The Pine Ridge Trail follows much of the river to the popular Sykes Hot Springs, providing a popular access route into the Ventana Wilderness.


There is abundant, rapid-flowing water, with pools, springs, and occasional waterfalls flowing through interesting landforms and varied vegetation. A diverse tree canopy of alder, maple, and willow line the river, with an overstory of redwood. The river’s combination of scenic features are uncommon to central-southern California.


Most of the wildlife along the Big Sur is typical of the area—mule deer, bobcat, gray fox, striped skunk, gray squirrel, dusky-footed woodrat, great horned owl, red-tailed Hawk, scrub jay, roughskinned newt, and banana slug. However, the river supports populations of endangered California red-legged frog, foothill yellow-legged frog, and Pacific giant salamanders. The more unique species sighted in the area are the peregrine falcon, an occasional visitor, along with the ringtail cat and spotted owl, both rarely seen nocturnal inhabitants of the area.


Wild — 19.5 miles; Total — 19.5 miles.
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