Big Sur is arguably one of the most beautiful places in California, if not the entire United States. With its dramatic cliffs, breathtaking ocean views, colorful wildflowers and towering Redwood forests, it is definitely worth a visit. Camping is a great way to make the most of your Big Sur experience, but it’s not always as easy as just showing up and pitching your tent.
Most of the public land in the Big Sur area belongs to State Parks, which only allow camping within developed campgrounds. This can make finding a free dispersed campsite a little tricky. Fortunately, there are tons of great free camping areas within Los Padres National Forest’s Monterey Ranger District, which is in the heart of Big Sur.
In this post, we’ll share everything you need to know about dispersed camping in Big Sur, as well as our favorite dispersed campsites in the area. Let’s get started.
Big Sur Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas in Big Sur
- Need-to-Know Information
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The Best Dispersed Camping Areas in Big Sur
We’re excited to share our favorite free dispersed camping areas in Big Sur. It’s important to note that many of these areas can only be reached by rugged roads. We don’t recommend attempting to access these campsites unless you have a 4WD vehicle.
Check out the map below to get a sense of where each dispersed camping area is located:
Even though it’s free to camp at Prewitt Ridge dispersed camping area, you’ll be amazed by the million dollar views! Situated in the southern part of the Monterey Ranger District, Prewitt Ridge is well located for exploring all that Big Sur has to offer. There are also a few steep hiking trails near the campsite. Alternatively, it’s a good place to set up camp and stay put, as you’ll experience quintessential Big Sur ocean vistas right from your campsite.
The road to access Prewitt Ridge is considerably rugged and should only be attempted by experienced drivers in 4WD vehicles. Despite its hard-to-reach location, this is still a popular spot and you can expect to share the area with plenty of other campers. There are no amenities anywhere nearby, so it’s essential that you come prepared, bring enough water, and pack out all waste. Before you head out, it’s a good idea to check for any recent road closures that may make it impossible to access Prewitt Ridge.
Plaskett Ridge Road
This is another great dispersed camping area that’s challenging to get to, but will reward your efforts with fantastic views of the Big Sur coastline. The narrow road travels high up along Plaskett Ridge, with several good campsites located throughout. It can be hard to snag a spot in this very popular area, but those who do will likely enjoy a bit more privacy than at Prewitt Ridge.
As far as disclaimers go, Plaskett Ridge Road comes with plenty. First, the road is very steep, narrow, and rugged, so please only attempt it with proper equipment and experience. Additionally, some parts of Plaskett Ridge Road pass through private property, so pay close attention to your map when choosing a campsite. Finally, USFS closes the road from time to time, so be sure to check for any current closures before heading out.
Alder Creek Campsite is a lovely place for dispersed camping in Big Sur, with a nice creek flowing through and views of the ocean. The are a handful of free, first-come first-served campsites with picnic tables and fire rings, plus several more sites along the road. You can reach the Alder Creek Camp by turning onto Will Creek/Burro Road at the junction near the Treebones Resort.
It’s important to note that this campground is tucked far back into the wilderness and requires driving on some very rugged roads to reach it. There are no hiking trails in the immediate area, so it’s a good option for those who want to hang at camp or stick to exploring the dirt roads. The creek flows seasonally, so make sure to bring enough water in case it’s dry when you visit.
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San Carpoforo Creek Beach
If you’ve ever wanted to camp on a beach, this is your chance! San Carpoforo Creek Beach is located on the southern end of Big Sur, just below Ragged Point. Parking is available in the small lot and along the road. You’ll need to walk down the trail towards the beach to find your campsite. There are sites on the way down, and it’s also possible to camp on the beach (be aware of changing tides though). The beach itself is rugged, secluded, and absolutely beautiful.
This dispersed camping area is just off Highway 1 and is accessible for all vehicles. However, you will need to walk a short distance to reach a campsite and carry in all of your gear. There are no services nearby, so come prepared and make sure to leave this amazing place more beautiful than you found it!
Los Burros Road
Los Burros Road is another great dispersed camping area that is located quite close to the Alder Creek Camp. To reach it, you’ll take Will Creek Road from Highway 1 and turn right once you reach a junction. The road starts off relatively tame, but becomes increasingly rugged as you make your way up Los Burros Road. The road follows an impressive ridgeline, providing views of the ocean and surrounding mountains.
There are no official campsites along Los Burros Road, so you’ll need to just find a pull-off area large enough for your vehicle and camping setup. It’s illegal to block the road in any way, so be careful about this in order to avoid a potential ticket. It’s also important to note that the roads in this area become impassible when wet, so don’t attempt to camp here if it’s been raining or if there is rain in the forecast.
If you’ve made it this far and read the campground descriptions in this post, you’ve likely realized that dispersed camping in the Big Sur area is not for the faint of heart. The lack of services and rugged landscapes add to the beauty of this special place, but they also make it a bit more challenging for campers. It’s essential that you come prepared to be self-sufficient in this incredible wilderness. In the following sections, we’re sharing all of the basic information to help you get ready for your Big Sur dispersed camping trip.
What to Bring
As we mentioned above, most of the dispersed campsites in Big Sur are remote and lack services. As such, you’ll need to come prepared to be self-sufficient and not rely on the amenities often found at developed campgrounds.
Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.
Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?
Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.
When to Go
Spring (April-May) and Fall (September-November) tend to be the nicest times for dispersed camping in Big Sur. You’re likely to get pleasant temperatures and less fog than at other times of year. Summer is also a great time to visit, although it can get very hot inland and fog is common on the coast. We don’t typically recommend dispersed camping in Big Sur in the winter months because the high probability of rain combined with the rugged nature of the backroads in Los Padres National Forest can create unsafe driving conditions. However, if you get a few dry weeks in a row, go for it and enjoy having the area to yourself!
California has experienced several devastating wildfires in recent years and it’s more important than ever that everyone do that part to prevent future destruction of this amazing area. The first way you can do this is by checking the current fire restrictions before heading out on your dispersed camping trip.
If no restrictions are in place and you plan to have a campfire or use a gas stove, you’ll need to obtain a permit in advance. This is a relatively simple process that involves entering your information, watching a short video and completing a quiz about fire safety. The permit is free and can be printed or saved to your phone.
Generally speaking, pets are allowed throughout Los Padres National Forest and should be kept on a leash at all times. Dogs are not allowed on San Carpoforo Creek Beach. When preparing for your Big Sur dispersed camping trip, be sure to bring enough food and water for you as well as your furry friend!
Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping in the Big Sur area is to follow Leave No Trace principles. The wilderness here is fragile and it is our responsibility to minimize our impact and keep the forest open to future campers.
Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
- Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
- Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
- Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
- Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet
Our free printable cheat sheet outlines how to find the perfect dispersed campsite for your next trip.
Have a Great Trip!
As you’ve seen in this post, dispersed camping in Big Sur is a true backcountry adventure! As long as you come prepared and don’t push past your comfort zone on rugged roads, you’ll be just fine. There are some unforgettable free camping areas tucked into the amazing Big Sur wilderness and we can’t wait for you to get out and explore them!