Trail Report: Partington Cove Trail, Big Sur California

Featured Image Description: View from Partington Cove Trail, looking out to sea. A narrow path follows the cliff side. Cliffs reach out into the ocean, forming a cove.

Spoon Rating: Four spoons. A steep 1 mile out-and-back trail with 280 feet of elevation change.

View down to the beach from the level rest stop. A cove lined with boulders, cradled by cliffs on either side.

The Big Sur coast is lined with trails that start at pull-offs from Highway 1. Partington Cove is one such trail. The trail starts at a metal gate on the ocean side of the highway, and descends steeply down the hillside. It is an old dirt access road, and many of the guides I found suggested that the trail is well maintained, but at my visit in January 2020 I encountered deep ruts from runoff. I had to step widely or hop across some of them, and generally found myself zig-zagging my way down the trail. There are incredible views of the surrounding mountains and coastline from the trail.

View from midway on the trail. At the right is the level area to stop before continuing down. At the bottom to the left is the creek trail, to the right is the ocean trails. You can just see the Partington Cove trail going to the left, the beach spur continuing to the right.

The trail descends about 3/10 mile to a level area at a sharp curve overlooking the sea – this is a good place to stop and take in the view, but there are no places to sit — and then descends steeply again for another 3/10 mile before leveling out. Here the trail forks. Straight ahead is a level 1/4 mile spur trail along a redwood-lined creek that was very peaceful. To the right is access to the ocean; follow this path briefly before coming to another junction.

At this junction, the right spur leads to a very short, steep and potentially slippery path to a beach. The beach is lined with boulders and waves crash into the cove; it was a thrilling experience, and there are many rocks to sit on, but be aware of potential wave danger.

The left path leads to Partington Cove. Cross a bridge over the creek and then the trail curves and enters a 60-foot-long tunnel – the tunnel is over 6 feet high and 7 feet wide, the level path covered with packed gravel. Exiting the tunnel, you will be on a narrow trail high on the cliff with a wooden barrier on one side. Look down and slightly behind you to see the place where boats would land in the cove. Follow this path for about 100 feet; at the end is a bench and open exposure to the cliffs, coastline, and sea. The views are quite remarkable. This area is all rocky cliff side, so be careful about venturing too far if you don’t have sure footing.

When you’re ready, head back through the tunnel, over the bridge, take a right at the junction and then a left at the next, and start the climb back up the hill.

Land Acknowledgement: The land known as Big Sur is home to the Esselen people of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation. This land was colonized by Spanish and European settlers. The Esselen have been fighting for land rights and federal recognition, and recently received a grant to purchase ancestral lands near Big Sur.

View from along the creek. A boulder is in the foreground, with a green covered hill to the right, an oak rising in the mid-frame, Redwoods and other trees fill the background.

Cell Reception: None. Reception along the entire Big Sur coastline is spotty at best.

Pass/Entry Fee: None.

Getting There: Partington Cove is located at mile marker 38 on Highway 1, at a broad curve with a metal barrier. Parking is in pull outs located on both sides of the highway. While there is room for lots of cars, it can still fill up quickly. By 11am on a January weekend, the pull outs were getting full. There were no restroom facilities or water sources.

Map with terrain lines showing the the trail highlighted in red with elevation profile below.
Map of Partington Cove Trail from AllTrails. Note the elevation is not entirely accurate.

Last Updated January 2020

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