Hot Springs in Big Sur

Esalen Hot Springs

Nate Bolt / Flickr

Most visitors to Big Sur, California come there for the scenery, but the rugged mountains and the vast ocean view aren't the only attractions to this area. Big Sur is full of natural hot springs, perfect for soaking your tired muscles and relaxing. Soak in a natural pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean, enjoy a Japanese-style hot springs bathhouse at one of the nearby Zen monasteries, or hike to what's left of a remote outdoor mountain spring (pending trail opening). All of these offerings make for a bucket-list experience that will amaze your friends back home.

Only one natural hot spring exists in the Big Sur area, Sykes Hot Springs, and the trail is currently closed. Check trail conditions with the Los Padres National Forest before venturing out.

Hot Springs in Big Sur

Tassajara Zen Mountain Center Hot Springs

The Tassajara Zen Center is a Japanese-style Zen monastery located in the Ventana Wilderness, just inland from Big Sur. It is the first Soto Zen training monastery on the West coast offering daily meditation, retreats, classes, lectures, and workshops. During the winter, the 16-mile road to the monastery is closed and only residents remain at the site. But during the summer, it's "guest season" from May through mid-September when the facilities open to visitors. You can book a day trip to the monastery to enjoy their hot springs baths, practice meditation in their provided quiet space, access their scenic trails, and enjoy a gourmet vegetarian lunch in the dining room overlooking the creek. Bring your own towel and pack a lunch if you choose not to dine on-site.

Esalen Institute Hot Springs

The Esalen Institute offers a retreat space for artists, writers, dancers, theologists, sociologists, and anyone wanting to disconnect from a fast-paced life and reconnect with the natural world. The property, situated on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, has spring-fed hot tubs, ample lodging accommodations, including private houses and suites, a working farm, a restaurant, and an art barn. To access their on-site hot springs you must attend a workshop and be staying on the property.

The Esalen springs are situated on two levels with an outdoor massage deck and a living succulent garden. The minerals found in the springs themselves are said to heal many ailments, attracting tourists and local visitors.

The Esalen Institute hot springs can, currently, only be accessed by those staying on-site. Please check with the retreat center, as they may be open to the public again in the future.

Sykes Hot Springs

Sykes Hot Springs is the only natural backcountry hot spring in Big Sur. Unfortunately, the 2017 Soberanes Fire damaged the 18.9-mile Pine Ridge Trail that reaches it. Luckily, the Los Padres National Forest is working hard to restore the burned area and new trail openings should be announced in 2021 (estimated opening was sometime in 2020, however). The Pine Ridge Trail is a strenuous hike with a maximum elevation gain of about 1,000 feet that ends at the springs and a designated camping area. It takes about four hours to hike it one way. Current trail information can be obtained through the Ventana Wilderness Alliance.

When Sykes reopens, it is unlikely you'll find what's left of the original two stone-lined natural pools. The area, which sometimes housed up to 200 campers on a given weekend, will not be restored to its original state due to past overuse and abuse issues. That said, if you do venture to the springs, there may still be a way to bask in the 102° Fahrenheit water, and maybe even by yourself.

Hot Spring Tips

  • Be careful not to soak in the hot water for too long. Prolonged soaking can lower your blood pressure and make you feel dizzy or faint.
  • If you have a medical condition that might be aggravated by soaking in hot water, consult your doctor before enjoying hot springs.
  • Don't drink the water. Water from hot springs contains high levels of naturally-occurring minerals, which can include sulfur, calcium, magnesium, silica, lithium, and even radium. While the minerals may be healing to soak in, they could make you sick if ingested.
  • Always pack along extra water to drink. Cool water will help regulate your body temperature and rehydrate you after soaking.
  • Pack a towel (or a camping chamois) for drying off. If the weather is cool and overcast, you'll be glad to have it.
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