If you are looking for high-end, comfortable, and very civilized camping, then Big Sur Campground is awesome. This is not the place to go if you want to be alone in the rustic wilderness. But it’s the perfect place for what I call “luxury camping”, and I enjoy coming here every year.
The campsites are very clean and well-maintained. There’s a little store with a good variety of little camping-related items that you may have forgotten. (The store also has fresh-baked cookies and soft-serve ice cream.) The bathrooms are very clean and nice, with normal flush toilets, hot showers, and there is even a liquid soap dispenser at the sink. The staff steam-cleans the bathrooms a couple times a day. So, depending on when you take your shower, it’s pretty easy to be the first one to shower in a sparkling-clean shower stall. Each shower stall has a curtain and includes both the shower and a separate private changing area.
There’s a playground for the kids, as well as a basketball court. However, the main recreation is the river. It’s a gentle, shallow little river for mild tubing and wading. There is also a small beach, and a perfectly-calm deeper area where you can swim or jump off a large rock into the deep water. The water is pretty cold, but you can get used to it after a while. Alternatively, if you have a wetsuit and water-shoes, then you can be extra comfortable. The campground rents tubes, but I would recommend bringing your own. Sports stores sell much better tubes/rafts than what you can rent here, and in the long run it will be cheaper. The campground has an air compressor with hoses for filling your rafts/tubes, so you don’t need to bring your own pump or use lung-power.
There is a short little “rapids” area that empties into the campground’s main swimming hole (by the little beach and jump-off rock). I hesitate to use the word “rapids” because it’s extremely mild and great for little kids. It’s more like a “slightly-faster-flowing-area”, rather than what you would picture as actual “rapids”. It’s very tame and fun.
If you want a longer floating experience (which is also very mild), here’s what you can do: Walk with your tube/raft through the campground in the up-river direction until you reach a gate into the neighboring campground. Go through the gate, and then enter the river just below where that other campground’s driveway crosses the river. You can float from here down past the swimming-hole/jumping-rock/beach area mentioned before, and continue floating down to River Inn. You can’t miss River Inn. There’s a big grassy area by the river, and they usually have chairs sitting out in river for people to relax with their feet in the water (it’s very shallow). Anyway, when you reach River Inn, get out at the grassy area, and take the short walk back along the highway to Big Sur Campground. That’s a nice long float trip. You can actually walk even farther up-stream and launch above the neighboring campground’s driveway-crossing, but I don’t recommend rafting under the driveway-crossing itself.
Note that you can walk to/from River Inn without actually walking on the highway, but it’s not obvious where to go if you start walking at River Inn. I would recommend scouting out the route ahead of time starting from the Big Sur Campground end. Start from where the Big Sur Campground driveway meets highway 1, walk North. But instead of walking on the highway, walk down onto a little frontage road instead. This road quickly dead-ends, but there is a path which continues over a little stream to River Inn. That’s the preferred route to take back from tubing, but it’s hard to find on the River Inn side if you haven’t explored it already from the Big Sur Campground direction.
Speaking of the River Inn, there is a store there which is larger than the little store at campground, which is handy if the campground store doesn’t have what you are looking for. There is also a restaurant at River Inn, which might be nice if you get tired of cooking over your camp fire (although I have never eaten there).
I can’t get any cell phone service at the campground. They are pay phones, so you might want to bring a role of quarters if you need to make a bunch of calls. Calls are 25 cents a minute. Alternatively, I can get cell phone service if I drive 5 minutes South on highway 1, but that’s a lot of trouble.
Don’t leave food (for food-trash) lying around, or you will attract squirrels and birds during the day, and raccoons and skunks at night. Over the years, I have seen several skunks walk right through our campsite at night. Once a skunk grabbed a forgotten hamburger bun off the ground 4 feet from our camp fire and 8 feet from where we were sitting! That freaked us out a little! Another time I heard the people in the neighboring campsite complaining that the skunk stole their crackers. The skunks seem to be very accustomed to people, and very brave. That’s good, since a scared skunk is a bad thing. Honestly, I think it’s hard to imagine that you would actually get blasted by one of these skunks unless you chased it into a corner and grabbed it, but that’s just my opinion. No guarantees, but personally I don’t see the skunks as a cause for concern.
The store sells firewood and ice, but it’s pretty expensive. The ice can be handy since there’s a limit to how much ice you can bring with you, but I strongly suggest buying enough firewood ahead of time and bringing it along. Having said that, if you don’t have room, or you run out, then it’s great to have the store as a backup. Each fire pit has a built-in flip-over grill, but it’s understandably dirty. I like to bring my own little flat grill and just set it on top of the built-in one.
Checkout time is 11:00. That’s pretty early, considering that it takes a while to get things put away and ready to go. When we go every year for the weekend, I pay for Sunday night also. That allows us to enjoy the whole day there on Sunday too, and we pack up and leave after dinner Sunday night. This costs a little more, but it really adds a whole day of fun.
With respect to specific campsites, there is quite a variety. Some are great, and some are not-so-great. Here are my personal opinions about some of the different campsites, based on my own observations. (Your opinions and experiences may vary.) First of all, don’t expect to be alone in the wilderness. The campsites are small (some of them are VERY small). You might hear your neighbor snoring at night, or feel like asking him to reach over and pass-the-salt during dinner. Having said that, I don’t think that’s a reason to be discouraged about camping here. I go there every year, and we always have a great time. You just need to have realistic expectations. This place is packed with people in the summer time, but it’s packed for a good reason: the place is great.
Personally, I think the best campsites are numbers 4-8 (but see also my comments about sites 15, 17, and 19 later). Sites 4 and 5 have a great view of the swimming hole and the rock where people jump off, but they are pretty small. Sites 6 and 7 are a little bigger, and also have a pretty nice view.
Site 8 is my favorite because it’s very big, with great shade, and it has a good view. It also has direct access to the big rock by the swimming hole, which is both a blessing and a curse: It’s a nice place for you to be, but it’s also a nice place for other people to be. This site tends to have a lot of foot traffic with strangers walking through your campsite to get to the rock, or coming back out of the river. That really bothered me the first year I stayed there. However, since then I have mostly solved the problem, and it’s not really a big concern for me anymore. I park my truck at an angle in the campsite’s driveway, with the front bumper against the log on one side. Then I block off the rest of the driveway by tying a clothesline from the back of my truck to a tree, and I permanently hang extra towels (brought just for this purpose) from the clothesline to make a towel wall. With the campsite’s driveway completely blocked, the foot traffic through our site is greatly reduced.
(Just for the record, I cut through people’s campsites sometimes, and I definitely don’t mind a few people cutting through mine. That’s all part of camping. After all, this isn’t my living room! However, when too many packs of dripping-wet screaming kids brush past me while I’m trying to relax and read my book, it starts to affect my camping experience. Fortunately, this really isn’t a problem when I block the driveway with my truck and clothesline, so I’m happy.)
Sites 7 and 8 are right across the road from the bathrooms and playground. I like being close to the bathroom, and being close to the playground is perfect for families with little kids. The playground can get noisy, but it doesn’t really bother me. Some people would say that the sound of kids having fun isn’t really “noise” anyway. It’s a happy sound. :-)
For RV’s, I think the best sites would be 2, 3, 10, 11, or 13. I don’t have an RV, but if I did I would want one of those sites, especially site 10. It actually has a better view than site 8, and it seems less prone to foot traffic.
Interestingly, site 9 is between sites 8 and 10, but it’s not right on the river. Sites 8 and 10 touch each other along the river, and site 9 is land-locked near the road with no direct river view. You can’t tell that from the published campsite map! Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend site 9.
Sites 15, 17, and 19 are also really good, and many people might say that they are even better then sites 4-8. They are pretty big, next to the river, and potentially much quieter than sites 4-8. The trade-off is that it’s a longer walk to the bathroom, and you aren’t near the swimming hole. I personally like being near the swimming hole, but many people might prefer to be farther away due to the noise and activity. In that case, sites 15, 17, and 19 would be the best choices.
On the other side of the campground, sites 105-109 are also on the river, but I don’t really like these sites as much. They are smaller, with less shade, and they have a long walk to the bathroom. Having said that, I’m sure these sites would be fine, and I like them better than all the sites which are inland away from the river.
Also on that other side of the campground, RV sites 92-94 and 99-100 are on the river. Sites 92-94 are right by the front gate, and get a lot of traffic going by. I haven’t really looked at sites 99-100, so I can’t really comment on those, but my guess is that they are nice.
If you don’t mind being away from the river, and you want to be as secluded and quiet as possible, then my recommendation would be sites 37, 45, and 47. Of these, 37 has the most distance between you and your neighbors, and site 47 would be the largest. However, don’t expect isolated wilderness. Every site in the campground has neighbors and noise, particularly in the summer time when the campground is packed. However, even though these sites are not truly secluded and quiet, they are more secluded and quiet than others.
I think the worst campsite in the whole place is site 86. It’s surrounded by busy roads right by the front entrance, and it has a view of the maintenance area where they keep the garbage truck. Sites 84 and 88 aren’t Boardwalk and Park Place either, and should probably be avoided.
Make your reservations LONG in advance. They accept reservations as far out in the future as you want to book, and many people book their favorite sites at least a year ahead. Of course, a side effect of people booking a year or more in advance is that they do have cancellations because sometimes it’s hard to really plan that far ahead.
Anyway, overall this is a great campground, and I highly recommend it. We have a lot of fun here every year. Go and enjoy!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.