Review: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Lodge

By Darren

California is the best state ever. That’s just a fact. To wit:

  • We’ve got the ocean
  • Got the babes
  • Got the sun
  • We’ve got the waves

This is the only place for me.

Every time I think I’ve seen the best of what California has to offer, I turn around and find something else that awes me.

The Outdoor Types were recently in Big Sur for a weekend camping trip to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Lodge. Big Sur is roughly 300 miles to the north of Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway. Due to technical snafus, no one in our group managed to capture the beauty of Big Sur on film, but here’s a photo of the area I stole – I’m sorry, respectfully borrowed – online:

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Stunning. The whole area is like this. It’s mile after mile after mile of starring in your own car commercial.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Lodge

Nestled within redwoods and the Big Sur River is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Lodge. Shady and peaceful, the park has 172 reservable campsites.

Pfeiffer offers restrooms with running water, flush toilets, mirrors, electrical outlets and pay showers. There are also large outdoors sinks for washing pots and pans or filling coolers. The facilities are relatively clean.

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Tokens for the showers can be obtained for $1 either via dispensers scattered around the park or at the gatehouse.

And here’s where Pfeiffer takes its first hit: Certain showers take a particular coin size, but you have no way of knowing which coin until you take whatever token(s) you’ve purchased into the bathroom and attempt to activate the shower.

In my case, I put in $2 in the dispenser and received two different coins. The smaller of the two cleared the slot, but the larger one did not. So instead of a ten-minute shower, I had to settle for a very fast, not terribly relaxing five-minute version. No, you don’t need to shower while camping, but I figure, hey, if they’re going to offer such a thing, why not take advantage of it?

The campsites are generally large, but they are very close together. Some of the belongings of the campers next to us overflowed into our site.

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Fortunately, beyond our site toward the back was a clearing of trees just small enough to put our tents, and that allowed us a little more privacy and quiet than we would have gotten if we had pitched our tents near the picnic table and fire ring.

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Before we move on, a few words about our neighbors. Although these were not the loudest or most obnoxious people we’ve camped next to, we were next to a group of brahs, their lady friends and their jams.

Honest to god, people, what is it with you and your music? For me, camping is an escape. I live in a large city with a lot of people and noise and traffic, and when I find myself in the woods, I want to hear a gentle breeze blowing through the trees and the crackling of the campfire, not Jay-Z and his rapping.

Did I get any of that right? It is Jay-Z, right? And he raps?

But here’s where Pfeiffer earns back points: The park rangers are total jerks, and the Outdoor Types loved them for it!

Case in point, around 11 our first night there, we looked over to the site next to us to see the rangers getting out of a pickup with flashing red and blue lights on the roof.

“Whose car is this?” one of the rangers asked.

That’s when I noticed the black compact parked in the middle of the access road. Actually, it looked as if one of the brahs had pulled up at 40 or 50 miles an hour, come to a screeching halt in the middle of the road, jumped from the car and immediately started camping.

“Uh, that’s mine,” one of the brahs sheepishly replied. “Sorry; we’re from the city.”

“Oh, the city, huh?” the ranger asked has he pulled a small notebook from his back pocket. “They let you park like this in ‘the city’? Move it. Now.”

M-m-m! That’s good sarcasm!

About 15 minutes later, the same rangers drove by and noticing the brahs’ music, rolled down the window, pointed at the stereo and said, “That’s too loud.”

That’s how you enforce the rules, Wheeler Gorge.

Stuff you should know

  • The park is reachable directly from Pacific Coast Highway or more indirectly by taking the 101 and cutting over to PCH at I-46 to the south or going through Salinas to the north.
  • Wood is available for purchase at $10 per bundle. That sounds a little steep for firewood, but the bundles are pretty large, consist almost entirely of hardwood and come with a fire starter disc.

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  • Riverside campsites are available. Like this:

  • A lot of work has been done throughout the park. We saw new bridges, railings and tree plantings.
  • The park is within easy-ish driving distance of supplies: There are a few small groceries in the town of Fernwood, and a large Safeway and a CVS are about 45 minutes to the north in Carmel.
  • As the name suggests, there’s a small lodge, restaurant and store near the park entrance. However, the store is more or less a gift shop, and offers a bare minimum of goods. Think sweatshirts, $13 six packs of beer and travel size Combos.
  • Ticks! Check yourself for ticks! Within 30 minutes of setting up our gear, we found a big fatty of a tick strutting around on our water cooler like he was the Pope of Ticktown. To learn more about ticks, visit this Center for Disease Control site.
  • Poison oak! Check yourself for poison oak! It is everywhere, and You Know Who came home with a nasty case of it.

Here’s a tip, though: Bring Vaseline with you when you camp. Last year when I was ravaged by the poodle dog plant, a doctor told me to rub Vaseline on the affected areas as soon as possible; the petroleum evidently pulls the plant oils from your skin and traps them in the goo.

  • The fire rings are tall. It’s not a huge thing, but I spent our time around the campfire wishing that I had a booster seat so that I could actually see the flames.
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