The Buckeye Trail will kick your ass. But it's totally worth it.
As Highway 1 bends around Salmon Creek, there it is, off the road on the right, past the horrendous mess that is people parking to gawk at Salmon Creek Falls and to the left of the old Salmon Creek ranger station.
Just park, squeeze through the wooden gate, and start climbing up a steep hill that weaves half a mile through chaparral habitat before it opens up to the first of many blue views of the Pacific Ocean and the winding road below. Of course, that winding road to the north of Salmon Creek is now covered in a giant pile of dirt thanks to the Mud Creek slide, but that's also pretty cool to look at. Plus, Caltrans crews are feverishly (that might be a generous term—it's probably more like "carefully," because the slide is apparently still settling in) working to rebuild a suitable route for California's famous highway.
In the spring, purple lupine, red paintbrushes, orange poppies, and white yucca paint the vision with even more color. If we get any sizeable chunk of rain this winter, the hills will regain their green sheen. For now, you'll have to be OK with the windy wave of golden grasses.
Continue onward and upward along the hillside to a gate where the Buckeye and Soda Springs trails meet, hanging a right to enter the Silver Peak Wilderness. But before you turn to head inland, flip around—the coastline stretches endlessly to the south, past Rocky Point and onward toward San Simeon and Cambria. Then you can slip into the oak forest, tracking across the seasonal flows of Soda Springs Creek on a leaf-covered trail with loose rock that will force you to watch your footing.
The trail winds ever higher to the Buckeye Camp, a 3-mile journey from Salmon Creek. It opens from shaded oak trees into sun-drenched hillsides and even more expansive views. Once again, you can gape at the Pacific with a path that persists in its incessant rise above the road below, through pine and oak forests, with each peek above the next "summit" giving more Big Sur coastline away. Less than a quarter mile from camp is a vista worth picnicking at. Last time I was up there, a guy had a hammock set up in the tree.
As you once again turn inland, you will eventually stumble into a great meadow with an equally great oak tree. There is a picnic table and a natural spring. You can continue about 2 1/2 more miles up to the Upper Cruikshank Camp for even more ocean and wilderness views. But for a day trip, this is generally where I've expended all the energy I want to spend. The 1,500-plus elevation climb is usually enough for my legs to tell me "no more!"
Next stop: Rocky Point Inn for a snack and a beverage and onto San Carpoforo Creek Beach for a sit by the ocean. Δ
A trail worth more than 10,000 steps is perfect for Editor Camillia Lanham. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.