Dog Friendly vacation in Big Sur
September 16, 2015 by Bryan
Jamie, Maxx and I went on a road trip “off the grid” to Big Sur. We also spent two days on the way up in Cambria. Before you ask, Jamie is about six months pregnant. This made the trip all the more exciting and challenging. We went on this trip as a much needed vacation, a last chance to get away before becoming very busy with a newborn, a dog vacation where Maxx got to walk or hike every day, a fitness/adventure vacation for us, and finally a chance to get some great photography in some of the premier destinations for landscapes in California.
The maps here detail almost all the locations we visited in case you want to visit them and see this amazing natural beauty for yourself.
Some other places we stopped at include:
Our first stop on our trip was to a dog friendly beach which also happened to be the site of a massive rock outcropping jutting out into the ocean in the form of Morro Rock. The formation functions as the northern tip of Morro Bay. We did a simple out and back walk along the beach, taking photos along the way. The first thing I noticed was the vast increase of birds on the beach compared to other more southern beaches. This would be a theme that continued right up the coast. Maxx had fun since it had been a long time since he went to a beach. There were a few off-leash dogs but none caused Maxx any trouble. The turn around in our walk was the point where dogs were allowed up to. The portion north of that point did not allow them. We were only at this stop for a short while but we managed to capture the birds and the rock itself.
This beach in Cambria allows dogs on the boardwalk but not on the beach below. This is fine because all the views are really best from above. The boardwalk runs the length of the beach and on any given sunset, it is crowded with photographers trying to capture the hues of twilight and the effect they have on the coastline. Jamie, Maxx, and I walked the entire length of the boardwalk at some point or another in our stay in Cambria.
Cambria was the location of our first night in a hotel. We stayed in Mariner’s Inn for two days which gave us time to walk right from the front of the hotel over to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Cambria is billed as the “Pines by the Sea” and Fiscalini embodies this with rich undergrowth leading into dense pine forest and then heading straight out into bluffs overlooking the shoreline. Here we saw more dogs and the only issue is the lack of shade on the bluff side of the trail. We saw more birds including the very common blue jay and some turkey vultures overhead. We also saw the very scenic coastline which repeats itself up for hundreds of miles. We made sure to bring plenty of water which was a good idea because even by the coast, the heat began to sink in and the one public restroom had the water shut off due to drought conditions.
I could have brought out the 5D Mark II but I opted to bring the newer SX 530 HS instead as it is much lighter in weight and can hang from my neck on a hike and not bother me. Basically it trades weight for quality in the optics and ISO capability. However it was a trade I was willing to make and it proved a good decision because most of the images from this “prosumer” camera still came out satisfactorily. Jamie shot with a borrowed G7x.
For this relatively short beach, I did opt to bring the bulkier 5D Mark II along with a borrowed 16-35mm lens. Again dogs are allowed on this beach on leash but they are not allowed on the pier. The beach is covered in all sorts of interesting driftwood and sits next to a sheer rock cliff in the distance. We didn’t stay here long but I did sit around long enough to capture an HDR shot via three exposures bracketed and also a long depth of field shot of some driftwood with the ocean and cliffs in the background. Hearst Castle is just across PCH from here but we didn’t visit it because I’m sure they don’t allow dogs on their tours.
Just up the coast from Hearst Memorial State Beach is a vista point which is extremely popular with the elephant seal population. It’s so popular that there is a permanent display there with information on every facet of Elephant Seal life you could ever want to know. The most important thing they do however is lay around in the sand.
On our way up PCH towards Big Sur, we passed the Salmon Creek trailhead and decided to make this the first of our tougher hikes. We slowly worked past many technical sections to the falls but neither of us went all the way up to them because the last 20 feet or so requires either scrambling up a sheer rock face or crossing the creek on a wobbly piece of metal set up for that purpose. We turned around and started up the steep trail. It is a mixture of wooded and full sun on the trail and we made it about 1 mile in before we turned around. The views of the valley even from 1 mile in are amazing and I’m sure it just gets better from there.
This trail is the almost entirely forest including many redwood trees. The parking for this trailhead is in a fee area. You fill out the envelope and stuff the money in the box yourself. Jamie did this and then we set out. The trail starts very adjacent to the campground for Pfeiffer State Park although on the other side of a small creek. We eventually crossed the creek and started the ascent. The trail narrows and becomes slightly technical as it ascends. Once past a certain point, the trail is almost entirely washed out. We decided to turn around here. I might have been able to get by but not with a dog and not with a pregnant hiker. The drop off next to the trail is extremely steep. Hopefully the trail is repaired soon because as it stands now it is impassable at this point. Even though we were forced to turn around, the trail is worth it even for the part that is hikeable. There are many interesting plants and trees on this trail and even a few locations where the breeze comes down in small draws in the hillside and provides cooling if you stand in just the right spot. We found one of these locations and took the opportunity to have snacks and give Maxx water. You can see the ocean from this trail through two different valleys.
Located off Rio Road across from the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum, this park was a small yet worthwhile detour on the way to Carmel-by-the-Sea. It is dense with a myriad of plant life and includes a maze of trails that can be as steep or as flat as you choose. Of course, I turned onto every uphill I could find. Dogs are allowed on leash and the environment is perfect for them because of the ample shade. I mostly photographed plants and berries at this park.
We parked near the Beach on Ocean Avenue. From there we traversed the whole dog friendly beach near the sand. There is a golf course right on the shore here and the start of the famous 17 mile drive is blocks away. This was probably one of the hottest treks we made on the trip as we made our way over to Carmel Meadows. By the time we made it, Jamie and Maxx were beat so they took refuge in the shade while I ran back across the beach again to the car to pick them up. Then I really worked up a sweat. This area is dominated by Pelicans and many of them spent a lot of their time resting in the lagoon that forms when the Carmel river does not have enough flow to make it all the way out to the sea. When they were not resting, they were hunting their next meal.
On the way back from Carmel-by-the-Sea we stopped at several vista points which overlook the Bixby Bridge. This bridge is very often used in every type of media you can think of. This is because the smooth arches of this bridge fit in perfectly with the landscape of the coastline it nestles in next to. Jamie and I took turns exiting the car to photograph at this extremely popular spot. I think about 10 cars must have come and go just the short while we were there.
This trail was extremely difficult and yet rewarding in so many ways. The trail is well maintained but also very narrow in areas with steep drop offs. Dogs and people alike will have to deal with stretches of full sun with nice shady areas mixed in. The views however are amazing and worth the ordeal. This trail eventually leads to a campsite exactly 5 miles in. Jamie and I turned around before that since we were doing an out and back day hike. This still took us above 1,500 feet starting at about sea level. The elevation gain is mostly up front on this trail and you quickly see yourself above the trees that just recently towered over you. The trail is not very technical despite the steepness.
Locating this beach is hard but it is famous for the rock formations that are smack dab in the middle of the coastline. Sycamore Canyon Road is unmarked and currently just has a sign that says “narrow road”. It is the only ungated road on the west side of PCH in the area however. Once on the road it narrows to one lane with turnouts. The 10 minute drive down this road is worth it because the beach is amazingly picturesque. In fact it is so popular despite being unmarked that parking usually fills up by noon. I took Maxx for a run on the beach and explored down the coastline to find a cache of cairns that somebody or more likely many people set up.
The rock outcroppings are full of holes that the water has dug out through them so that each time the water comes crashing in from the waves, they flood and shoot water out in every direction. Many people come here to photograph the sunset through the holes in the rocks.
One benefit of camping out on this beach was that my solar charger finally got enough sunlight to be useful. It was also good to have a more restful day at the end of our trip and hiking so much each day.
Just past the cairns was a small wooded section and I captured a photo that I quite like almost by sheer chance. The light was coming in at such an angle that it formed individual rays as it was broken up by the trees near the beach.
This campground allows dogs in some but not all of its sites. It is located down a steep one way road off PCH in a dense redwood grove. The map of the camp shows deer and that depiction is accurate as deer graze nightly down the sides of the Big Sur River. In the spring the river has enough flow to support tubing, when we went it was just strong enough to provide a constant flow of cool water to the area. We stayed in a tent cabin that had no electricity. Therefore it was a challenge to charge the batteries for our phones. Jamie quickly resigned to just having me keep my phone charged. I tried to supplement the car charging with a solar charger but the camp was just so shady that I only got a minimal charge this way.
Jamie and I had S’mores every night we stayed. Maxx enjoyed being able to be outside on a long lead instead of his short leash. Overall I would recommend the resort.
So that’s it. That is our trip and our photography from it. Check out a few additional shots we captured over in the gallery.