Salmon Creek offers some of the southernmost trails in Big Sur with several great options for quick elevation gain and backcountry camping. The trailhead begins on Highway 1 at a horseshoe bend, where a large sign indicates the distances to Spruce and Estrella Camps.
The trail splits shortly up the path, with the left branch going to Salmon Creek Falls and the right continuing up the base of Mount Mars. The walk to the falls is a short diversion from the main path with covered greenery and light rock scrambling. It’s the funnel point of the Salmon Creek Watershed and a worthwhile diversion. Be mindful of all the poison oak near the Salmon Creek Falls.
Head back to the main trail and continue to climb almost 1,000 feet within the first mile. You will zigzag up this steep mountainside and in and out of tree cover while enjoying amazing views of bare hills and deep valleys. Keep looking back as you traverse the side canyons and enjoy sights all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Spruce Camp is located 2 miles up the trail at the intersection of Salmon and Spruce Creeks. It has a few picnic tables and camping spaces and can be a great turnaround spot for those only interested in the big views at the beginning of the path.
Continue on the trail adjacent to the Salmon Creek to push your cardio through large grassy areas and beguiling oak forests. The Estrella campsite is 3.25 miles up the trail with a large fire pit and a spacious camping area. Heading down to the stream will also offer a few nice places to relax and enjoy the sounds of wildlife. If you would like to add more to your journey, this trail goes on to climb another 3 miles to the Coast Ridge Road, though it may involve some bushwhacking.
Mountains along the Big Sur coastline can reach 5,000 feet within the first 2 miles of the ocean. They represent the oldest rocks in the Santa Lucia range with metamorphosed schist, gneiss, granofels and marbles. The Salmon Creek Trail is just one of many rewarding hikes along the coastal highway, and it’s a great stop for those looking to explore some of the perennial streams and valleys of this magnificent region.