Last weekend, Lara, Wiley and I found what's got to be the most beautiful car camping spot on god's green earth. If you have the ability to drive a car to Big Sur, read a map and cook over a fire, you can camp there too. Here's how.
The campsite is called "Prewitt Ridge" and while it's an officially designated campground in the Los Padres National Forest, it's "dispersed camping," meaning there's no reservations, no toilets, no running water or anything like that. Over the entirety of last weekend, we saw two other groups of people camping there and there's room for more than a dozen.
There's two reasons no one goes there. The first being Nacimiento-Fergusson road. You have to climb it to get to the fire road that allows access to the campsite and it's just not the kind of road that most people would consider...safe. One lane of badly-paved width runs over the mountains from the coast to the California interior, winding its way along too many switchbacks to count. Encounter a car coming the other way and, if it's a local in a beat up old pickup, they'll just try and run you over the cliff. If it's a tourist, they'll just panic and run themselves off the cliff. If it's a road pirate on a Harley, well, they're drunk and won't feel it when they hit the bottom.
Navigate that successfully and, when you reach the ridge, you turn south on the dirt road. Which is the other thing keeping the tourist hoards at bay. I'd never been down it before, but I found some reports online that suggested it was smooth going and things looked pretty maintained on Google Earth, so I decided to take the plunge and put in the five hour drive up from Los Angeles to explore.
Well, it's really Lara that decided to take the plunge, because it was her Jetta we drove up in. 10 months into this puppy business, I'm still bike-only. I really need to get around to buying an expedition truck, but in the meantime, being driven to various adventures by a gorgeous woman isn't exactly roughing it.
She's still sweet on me and hasn't figured out that I mostly make this stuff up as I go along, so trusted that I was making good decisions about taking her car down a dirt road. She drove while I shouted "gas, gas, gas," on every incline. Arriving at the campsite undamaged was quite a relief. But, this place has quite the power to lift all the stress off you. As soon as you pull in, you're greeted by a view of the Pacific Ocean from 1,000 feet up, above the clouds.
To find it, just turn south on the dirt road the top of Nacimiento-Fergusson and drive 4.5 miles to the one and only fork you'll have seen thus far. Follow it uphill, to the right, towards "Prewitt Ridge Camp" and you'll dead end at the cliff's edge.
Provided you're not driving a slammed Civic SI with cut springs and bad "ground effects" bodywork, your car can make it. That 288 GTO would have been a blast, but Wiley doesn't like powerslides. Make sure you take extra water (at least one gallon per person, per day) as there isn't any available anywhere near the campsite. There's a bunch of spaces available, most with epic views. Look for one with a metal fire ring and maybe even a picnic table and don't forget to bring your own firewood. Campfires are currently prohibited up there, just try and be responsible.
Look up the current sunset time and try and arrive with time to spare, you really don't want to miss it. I've never seen better.
My other pro-tip for camping in Big Sur is to try and reserve spots during Esalen Institute's public bathing hours, from 1am to 3am nightly. Budget an hour to get there from the campsite. You have to book day-of, with the phone line opening at 8am and the available spaces typically gone by 8:30. There's no phone service at this campsite, so this is a puzzle we didn't manage to solve. Good luck, it's the most transcendental $25 you'll ever spend.
I'm still getting used to this couple camping thing, but Lara has been hitting it full speed. She bought us a queen-sized air mattress and two-person sleeping bag. Being able to tuck in at night actually next to a girl, rather than in separate mummy bags, was a novel experience, as was sleeping on something nearly as comfortable as my Tempurpedic mattress. I'd like to think that I retained some ruggedness by insisting on blowing that air mattress up myself rather than buying a pump.
Oh, and I took the opportunity to test a new knife. At 16.5 inches long, the ESEE Junglas is sort of a cross between a survival knife and a machete. Total overkill, but man did that thing hack through a 10-inch thick piece of oak quickly and with little effort. The 1095 steel didn't take a singly ding in doing so, but I know from previous experience with my other ESEE knives that these things are easy to sharpen and maintain while outdoors. I'll do a full review after I've had a chance to use it in less than ideal circumstances like these. The whole idea is that, while it's not as ideal for chopping as an axe, it's multipurpose and easier to carry. Plus, you get to crack, "That's not a knife jokes" to your heart's content.
To make time, we drove up to Big Sur on the 101, all the way to Fort Hunter Liggett, which dumps you straight on the eastern end of Nacimiento-Fergusson. That way avoids the hoards of caravans and car drivers terrified of Big Sur's curves and is scenic in its own right, but lacks the drama of driving down the coast. So, we did that on the way back down, stopping at Elephant Seal Beach. It's mating season right now, so the 8,000lbs males were fighting over the cows at water's edge, making for pretty active viewing.
Last weekend was one of the most visually-stunning, but easy experiences I've had outdoors. I guess that's the beauty of car camping. Give it a try. If you see a half-wild dog roaming around, don't worry, that's just Wiley. We'll be back there soon.