A rugged adventure around Ragged Point
Tucked away between Big Sur and San Simeon is a bewitching wonderland of scenic hiking trails, hidden beaches, and towering waterfalls. Ragged Point is often featured as a stop along Highway 1, but it’s also a destination in and of itself. Begin at Big Sur’s Salmon Creek Falls, and follow Highway 1 to the historic Mission San Antonio de Pala. Spend the night at Ragged Point Inn overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and wrap up your adventure with a hike featuring “million dollar views.” Road closures from the spring 2017 landslide are currently affecting the area north of Ragged Point in Monterey County, but it’s easy to hop back on the road in San Luis Obispo County (SLO CAL) and continue the adventure.
Salmon Creek Falls
Start exploring the Big Sur beauty at Ragged Point with a quick hike out to Salmon Creek Falls. The 120-foot waterfall is only a quarter of a mile roundtrip from Highway 1. Set within the Santa Lucia Mountains inside the Silver Peak Wilderness of the Monterey National Forest, this is a quick hike that feels worlds away from the road. You can follow the sound of the rushing falls as you scramble over boulders and through lushly forested grottos, right up to the rocky base of the cascade.
Pacific Valley Bluff Trail
Highway 1 is most famous for its coastal views, so you’ll definitely want to take the chance to hop out of your car and stroll along the Pacific Valley Bluff Trail. This hike winds through a grassy field that ends at a cliff, where the landscape opens up to panoramic ocean views. The unique plant life here is unlike anything else; scrubby bushes and flowers dot the fields and tuck themselves away among the rocky coastline and cliffs. Take your time walking up and down the ocean’s edge, enjoying the breezes and scenery.
Ragged Point itself is an absolute can’t-miss for anyone cruising Highway 1. The cliffs tower 400 feet above the impossibly blue Pacific Ocean, and you can almost see forever. Whether you’re just stopping by for a photo op and to stretch your legs, spending the afternoon exploring the trails, or even staying the night at the Ragged Point Inn, this is one place that really highlights why Highway 1 is so special. Everything, from the trails to the Inn, is meant to highlight the beauty of the coast and set the scene for a charming, sun-soaked adventure along it.
Ragged Point Cliffside Trail
Another trail option around the Ragged Point area is the Ragged Point Cliffside Trail. This particular hike is a great option. It winds its way down the 400 foot cliff to the ocean, where it ends at a hidden black sand beach, right at the base of a waterfall. The trail is steep but well-maintained, and it’s short, with plenty of epic switchbacks offering new and changing views of the water. The small black sand beach at the base is a great place to dip your toes in the water, or you can continue on to Black Swift Falls. This 300-foot tiered waterfall is a hidden gem. Remember to plan your visit for low tide, when the beach is visible.
Ragged Point Inn and Restaurant
Roadtrippers should plan to at least poke around the Ragged Point Inn and Restaurant, if not grab a bite to eat or even stay the night. It was started in the 1950s by an adventurous couple who, while enjoying a drive along Highway 1, fell head-over-heels in love with the view from a tiny snack stand at Ragged Point. They bought the property and turned it into a two-room motel. Since then, it’s grown quite a bit, but remains an ideal spot for avid road travelers to stop and relax. The hotel (which now has 39 rooms) and snack bar have expanded, and a gourmet restaurant, gift shop, artisan jewelry shop, coffee bar, and mini-market have been added. Enjoy a glass of wine as you watch the sun set over the cliffs, grab an espresso to refuel for more driving, or cozy up for the night in a room with an ocean view. Whatever your experience, it’s sure to be unforgettable.
San Carporforo Creek Trailhead
Just south of the Ragged Point Inn is another stellar hike. The San Carpoforo Creek Trail leads to the spot where the San Carpoforo Creek reaches the Pacific Ocean. At low tide, it’s sandy and you can walk along the creek, and out to where it meets the ocean. It’s an easier hike that’s pretty short and flat, and it’s one that offers plenty of opportunities for swimming and exploring. It almost feels like a secret beach, since it’s tucked away between cliffs, and you’ll likely have the place to yourself.
Closer to the Piedras Blancas Light Station is one more excellent Ragged Point hike: Boucher Trail. This casual hike, which is about 3.8 miles out and back, is pretty flat, and, of course, comes with awesome coastal views. It’s also a great place to spot the elephant seals that Piedras Blancas is known for. There are some scenic lookout points that offer views of the wildlife, minus the crowds, and the trail gives you a chance to really explore this awesome portion of Big Sur coastline.
Piedras Blancas Light Station
End your adventure around Ragged Point with a tour of the iconic Piedras Blancas Light Station. The building was constructed in 1875, and although the top was removed in the 1940s after earthquake damage, the lighthouse remains standing tall. It’s still operating as a lighthouse, with an automated light, and serves as a historic park and wildlife sanctuary as well. You can access it on a guided tour. Tours are offered every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning year-round, and every day except Sundays and Wednesdays from June 15 – September 1. The tours cost $10 per adult, and meet at the Piedras Blancas Motel at 9:45 AM.
About a mile south of the lighthouse is the Elephant Seal Rookery, the largest on the West Coast, which offers a boardwalk for easy viewing.
Between all of the hikes, historic sites, and the Ragged Point Inn, exploring this tiny, special stretch of coast could easily take a full day. Explore the many trails, or just relax on the beach and soak it all in. Either way, Ragged Point is a destination that, no matter how long you spend visiting it, is a completely unforgettable slice of Highway 1.