Flowing unimpeded from the northern Santa Lucia Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, the Big Sur is a relatively small river added to the federal system by Congress in 1992, as part of the Los Padres Condor Range and Rivers Act, which protected 84 miles of wild and scenic rivers and more than 400,000 acres of wilderness in California’s iconic central coast region. The river’s protected segment begins in the Ventana Wilderness and ends at the boundary between the Wilderness and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
The Big Sur possesses outstandingly remarkable values scenic, recreation, and ecological values. The river flows through interesting landforms and diverse vegetation. Alder, maple, and willow line the river, with an overstory of redwood. Its natural hydrological regime and largely undeveloped upper watershed have helped maintain a high level of ecological integrity. The river supports populations of endangered California red-legged frog, foothill yellow-legged frog, and Pacific giant salamanders. Threatened steelhead migrate and spawn in the river downstream of the protected segment. The Pine Ridge Trail follows much of the river to the popular Sykes Hot Springs, providing a popular access route into the Ventana Wilderness.