I was preparing my own article on some of the trails and camps I went to last month in Big Sur, but then I discovered the wonderful http://hikinginbigsur.com. This site is beautifully designed with some breathtaking photos, clear, witty and concise hike directions, and well-drafted maps.
On my last trip I car-camped at Limekiln State Park, but we took a day hike to check out some of the walk-in campgrounds nearby in southern Big Sur. These are always handy if you want to camp out at a busy time of the year, or on short notice, since walk-ins rarely require reservations and are generally lightly used thanks to the hurdle of backpacking everything in.
We started off at the Salmon Creek trailhead, near one of my favorite waterfalls, and headed towards Spruce and Estrella campgrounds. Jon has a great description and map of the hike, and we checked out the camps along the way. The first one is Spruce, at around 2 miles up the trail, after some stiff climbing. It’s in a nice location, near the junction of two streams in a shaded grove. There’s some fire pits and flat areas for tents, but no other amenities. You’ll need a fire permit from the Forest Service to stay overnight at either of these campgrounds. It’s also a good idea to check in with a ranger station to let them know you’ll be staying overnight, and check on conditions. Here’s one of the fire pits:
About 1.5 miles further on is the second campground, Estrella. There’s a couple of steep, slippery sections that might be tough to navigate with a backpack, though it’s probably safe if you’re careful. It’s located under some firs in a small meadow, with a stream below. I couldn’t find out if this and the one at Spruce were year-round, but it seemed likely based on the strength of the flow in May, and seeing the Salmon Creek waterfall going strong in late summer. You should always bring enough water to get you there and back in case it is dry, but otherwise relying on treating the stream seems safe. Like Spruce, there’s a few fire pits scattered around, as well as some flat sites for tents.
If you want to find more hike-in campgrounds, check out the forest service maps. Here’s one for the Ventana Wilderness that we were hiking through: