UPDATE March 2021: Campgrounds and dispersed camping are closed per Forest Order due to the Dolan Fire. Be sure to check the US Forestry website for updates. Large fines are imposed for camping in closed areas.
Fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean can be enjoyed from San Martin Top along the South Coast Ridge area in the southern Big Sur Wilderness. At an elevation of 3,098 ft., we had sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean being able to see the Piedras Blancas lighthouse to the south. The seawater was varying hues of blues and turquoise. We watched a helicopter flying along the coastline far below looking like the size of a small dragonfly.
How to get there
We drove our truck camper there via Willow Creek Rd, turning off of Hwy 1, just north of Gorda. There is a sign for Tree Bones Resort at the turn-off on Hwy 1. Keep left to avoid disturbing the resort. This becomes Burro Road, winding up the steep mountainside. Eventually, you will come to a large Y in the road with good signage for where to turn southwest to San Martin Top. San Martin is a network of steep dirt roads best driven with 4WD. This road would be impossible to drive when wet.
We use a map from the Los Padres National Forest Monterey & Santa Lucia Ranger Districts. You can buy a map or follow the links to download the map to use offline. We prefer a hard copy.
This is a popular camping area, dotted with secluded sites, so we had to look a bit to find a vacant campsite. We were rewarded with a spectacular vista of the ocean, later providing a glorious sunset and evening view of the Milky Way.
The fog rolled in over the ocean like a giant down comforter, blocking the view of the sea. On the mountain top where we camped, the skies remained clear with cool temperatures.
Poison oak was turning red, among trees with clouds of fluttering falling leaves. Pine trees glistened as the sunset. There are many nice walking trails in this area.
Good stuff to know
We were surprised to have some cell phone reception there. Also of note, the gnats or deer flies were swarming in clouds visiting our camp. We donned plenty of insect repellant so we could enjoy sitting outside.
We watched a dragonfly out our camper’s kitchen window as it perched on a branch to flit back and forth catching the little flies. There was plenty to keep our friendly pest controller busy.
The South Coast Ridge Road 20S05 is a long dirt route running between Willow Creek/ Los Burros Rd and the Nacimiento Fergusson Road. In places the road is only a single lane, so we were watchful for meeting an oncoming traveler as well as possible wide spots for passing.
Give yourself an hour or more to complete the length of this ridge route. There are many dispersed camping opportunities along the ridge with both wide turnouts and primitive campground areas like Alder Camp and Prewitt Ridge.
Alder and Prewitt camp areas
At Alder Camp, there is an abandoned mercury mine, where the creek water runs a rusty red color. The primitive areas usually have a picnic table and fire ring with little else. No water or toilets are available. Alder has shade and can get very warm in the summer months.
The Prewitt area and Alms Ridge offers sweeping ocean views. There are several “hilltop” campsites among the tall redwood and pine trees. We were once visited by a kit fox that was curious about us as we sat in our camp chairs grilling on our BBQ. This area can be very dusty, so finding a site well off the road from passing traffic is best.
San Martin Top trip photo gallery