Sykes Hot Spring

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Rating: A

The hike to Sykes is a whopping 10 miles long, but you'll probably love soaking in one of its six warm pools. Various hikers have found the walk in can take as little as four hours from the trail head to as long as two days, if you want to stop in the middle and take your time.

But don't come in early or mid-spring -- the most popular times for visitors -- or the area may be overrun with people.Wait times at the soakers in spring can run two hours or more or, who knows, you may get lucky, especially if you come just before summer.Sarah, of San Francisco, waited until late spring (Memorial Day weekend) and posted on Yelp:"Never had trouble getting into the hot springs when we wanted to.""Because so many people do it as an overnight, around 2 p.m." the hot springs "were empty," reported Duncan, of Toronto, of his visit in late May this year.

Afterward, you can pick from a pair of campgrounds to spend the night.These attractions are located high in the hills above the Big Sur River.The walk isn't easy: it's moderately steep and, for the first few miles, fairly open and sun-baked."If this is your first time backpacking and you aren't in great shape and are a wimp, then this may not be a good starter trail for you," adds Sarah.Want to take your dog with you?A number of hikers bring their furry friends with them, often offleash.

Tip:It can be 85 degrees on the trail at 9am, so bring lots of water -- some hikers say they underpacked.

Legal status:

Part of the Ventana Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest.

How to find it:

From Monterey, go south on Highway 1. Park at the Big Sur Ranger Station off Highway 1. Get a hiking permit and a map, then follow Pine Ridge Trail for about 10 miles as it winds along and roughly parallels the Big Sur River. After some switchbacks, the trail levels and goes downhill. It leads to the pools. Two campgrounds, Sykes (12 miles from the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park trailhead) and Pine Ridge, are in the area."We brought a few beers each in our bags and used the river as a refrigerator," says Sarah.

The beach:

The path will take you to various pools, including one that holds five people next to a fallen tree and large boulder and another on a riverbank.

The crowd:

In spring, expect lots of visitors, all of them most likely naked. But in summer, fall, or winter, you may have Sykes all to yourself.

Problems:

Wait often required to use springs; extreme heat on the trail, especially in the afternoon; increased garbage; varying water temperature (depending on season and year); steep and dry trail; fire damage in area.

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