Barlow Flats – Ventana Wilderness

After our 1st successful foray into the world of backpacking we were ready to venture back into the wilderness. We are busy preparing ourselves for our 1st big backcountry hiking vacation the Milford Track in Fjordland New Zealand at the end of November. We wanted another chance to get comfortable with our gear before we head out to New Zealand. So with that in mind I went in search of a moderately difficult weekend trip (7-10 miles one way) and within reasonable driving distance. With these constraints in mind Big Sur came right to my mind.

Big Sur is reasonably close to the Bay Area (2.5hrs) and the temperatures are quite nice in Fall.

Photo of the trail at Barlow Flats - Ventana Wilderness
Pretty trail along the way

With our destination in mind we elected to go to Barlow Flats. Barlow Flats is located on the way to the hugely popular Sykes Hot Springs, a natural hot spring about 10 miles from Big Sur Station up the Big Sur River/Creek. As per our Modus Operandi we left entirely too late and didn’t arrive at Big Sur Station until 2pm. Some advice if you plan on parking overnight at Big Sur Station plan on arriving well before lunch so you can grab a parking spot without hassle. Also make sure to have $5 cash as the parking is self pay and there are no attendants to get change. After nervously munching our lunch in the car in the 10 minute waiting zone we circled the parking lot like hawks trying to find parking. I was really nervous that we would have to park illegally along the road and get stuck with an expensive ticket. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity we found a day hiker who was departing and snagged his spot at about 230pm.

Photo of a stream at Barlow Flats - Ventana Wilderness

We rapidly threw on our packs and hit the trail a wee bit nervous that we might run out of light before we reached camp. The 1st mile of the trail is quite pleasant as you skirt the edges of the Big Sur campground. After a pleasant mile in the shade we broke out into a bounty of oak and chapparal as we made our way up the hill. I knew we were in for a furnace when we encountered an older gentlemen who mentioned that he didn’t “envy our climb”. Right after he said this we broke out in the sun and the trail got much much steeper. This would not be a good trail for summertime as its awfully exposed during the vast majority of the climb from the trailhead. We did stop to look back and if you strain your eyes you can make out the Pacific Ocean behind you. It’s a good 3 miles of climbing through exposed grassland before the trail gradually levels out. As the trail levels out you are treated to some great views of the Ventana Wilderness peaks. The scenery gradually changes from grassland to isolated evergreens and then full on forest.

Most of the people who left as late we did stopped at Terrace Creek. Be warned Terrace Creek has very limited campsites and can get overly crowded and noisy if a big group shows up. Even though it was getting late we decided to push on to Barlow Flats hoping for a less crowded camping experience. The trail goes up and down over a few streams but it’s only about an hour of quick hiking to reach Barlow Flats. There are several very good camping sites at Barlow Flats. We selected something right next to the river as it was one of the few left. It’s a much nicer spot to camp than Terrace Creek and since it was fall the trees were beginning to turn into a brilliant kaleidoscope of orange, reds, and yellows.

We quickly setup camp as the sun set just as we arrived and quickly got the stove boiling for our delicious Ramen meal. With full warm bellies we stargazed for a few minutes as we sipped some delicious Timmy Horton’s hot coco. Soon after it was time for bed and we got to try out our new sleeping bags from Feathered Friends. High quality down sleeping bags are the BEST!

We got a lazy start the next morning and hurried down the mountain for a late lunch in Big Sur. The Big Sur Roadhouse has pretty good Cajun style food if that’s your thing.

Photo of our campsite at Barlow Flats
Taking in the redwoods at the campsite one last time

Distance: 6.7 miles
Elevation: 1933 ft

Highlights
Feathered Friends 800 fill down sleeping bags are divine!
– This ramen recipe is a fantastic dinner meal while backpacking
Exped Air Pillows are a vast upgrade over a pile of clothes

For Next Time
– Leave early
– Bring cash for parking 🙁
– Check batteries in headlamps