The hike to Partington Cove is relatively easy and the perfect way to discover Big Sur and its
impressive coastline. A steep and narrow trail takes you through a forested area before leading
hikers through a narrow tunnel down to the cove.
Partington Cove is not only a beautiful hiking location but also a fantastic place to learn about
local history. In the late 1800s, the bay was used as a supply point for tanbark, and the trail and
its tunnel facilitated transportation up the steep cliffs.
This is a moderately difficult hike suitable for most experience levels. While the distance is only
around 1 mile, the path is steep in places, with an elevation gain of 280 feet.
• Length: 1 mile
• Type: Down & Back
• Difficulty: Moderate
• Path: Steep, good
• Elev. Gain: 280 feet
• Parking Fee: No
• Restrooms: Yes
Partington Cove Trail Map
Refer to this map to see the different trail options for the Partington Cove Trail. Note that the
beach and tunnel are not directly connected, and you will have to retrace your steps to enjoy
The Hike to Partington Cove
The start of the Partington Cove Trail is located on the coastal side of Highway 1, hidden in one
of the many bends. There is generally space for parking on either side of the road, although the
lot might fill up quickly on weekends during the summer or public holidays.
After parking, keep an eye out for a metal gate on the west side of the highway, which marks
the beginning of the trail. Head down the access road, which boasts stunning views of the
surrounding cliffs to begin your hike.
As the path straightens, you’ll arrive at the first junction of the trail. Before having to decide
which way to go, hikers can take a break at the little information kiosk that sits between the two
On the left, a short 0.1-mile path leads to Partington Creek and a little further until you
encounter large rocks and thick undergrowth. This is a stunning part of Big Sur and an excellent
place for those seeking some peace and quiet. While the trail is short, it’s worth exploring before
heading down the main path to the beach.
Back at the kiosk, visitors can obtain information about the local wildlife and nature. This is also
an excellent spot to rest on your way back up.
Retrace your steps to the main path, and after only a few minutes, you’ll reach the second
junction of the hike. The path to Partington Cove leads to the left, while the one on the right
takes hikers to a secluded beach. If you have the time and energy, it’s highly recommended to
Following the main trail, you’ll soon reach a narrow wooden bridge, one of the hike’s most
After a few hundred feet, you’ll arrive at the entrance of a 60-foot tunnel that leads you through
the hill and down to Partington Cove. It was constructed by John Partington in the 1880s to
transport materials made from the tanbark oak from the mountains down to the cove.
Despite the strong currents, ships could anchor here, making Partington Cove a critical access
point in the Big Sur area throughout history. Mules pulling sleds with wheels in the front and rails
in the back moved the bark up the steep trail, passing through the tunnel. The wooden passage
made the process significantly more manageable, and it is sturdy enough that it is still passable
The cove was once frequented by smugglers, who transported their goods up the steep cliffs
during the times of prohibition. Later, it was used as a supply point for construction equipment
used to build Highway 1. Today, little remains of these times apart from a viewpoint and a
variety of old stories.
After walking through the tunnel and snapping some photos along the way, you’ll quickly reach
Partington Cove. Enjoy the breathtaking view of the powerful waves smashing into the steep
cliffs. On calmer days, the water is a mesmerizing blue and crystal-clear. This is an excellent place for a picnic, although it can be windy. Bundle up warm if you’re visiting during the early
spring or fall. Take in the beautiful scenery one last time before retracing your steps back up the
trail and through the tunnel.
Once you’ve reached the junction, venture off the main trail and take a left down a narrow path.
This leads to the other side of the ridge to a small beach covered with impressive granite
boulders. Even though the main route to Partington Cove is very popular, fewer hikers venture
down this path, and you’ll most likely encounter fewer crowds.
While there is an absence of coastal views at this beach, it’s a pleasant and secluded spot to
explore. Pass by blackberry bushes and step out onto the narrow stretch of sand that frames
the cove. Swimming is not recommended, though, due to strong currents and sharp rocks.
Luckily, the ocean is just as beautiful in this part of Big Sur when admired from afar.
Partington Cove Facilities and Rules
There are modest restrooms available close to the bottom of the trail. The information kiosk at
the first junction will be happy to answer any questions you might have. Its opening hours are
sporadic, though, and it might be closed if you’re visiting during the off-season or early in the
There are no dogs allowed on the Partington Cove Trail. Remember to leave your furry friends
Cell phone service is not the best in this part of Big Sur, and it’s highly recommended to
download an offline map of the area around Partington Cove before you go. While the trail is
relatively straightforward, inexperienced hikers may still get lost, so make sure you are well
prepared for this adventure.
Alternate Exploring in Big Sur close to Partington Cove
While you’re in the area, take a few minutes and cross Highway 1 towards the mountains and
look for the start of the Tanbark Trail to the left of the guardrail.
A quick hike east will lead you to the verdant redwood grove along Partington Creek. Hike in as
long as you like, or consider doing the Tanbark Trail loop and visit the tin house if you have the
Getting to Partington Cove
The Partington Cove Trail begins right on Highway 1, making it easy and convenient to reach by
car. There is limited parking space, though, so you might have to park a little further away. It’s
best to arrive early to get a good spot.
The trailhead is located in a bend of the highway, close to a spacious pullout, approximately 2
miles from the turnoff leading to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s best to save the location on
your phone before going, as it can be tricky to find. On the west side, you’ll spot an access road
with a metal gate where the path begins.
When driving in the southern direction on Highway 1, the pullout is located approximately 9
miles from the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
What to bring on a hike to Partington Cove
Except for the small kiosk, there are no shops or break areas along the Partington Cove trail.
This means you’ll have to take everything you might need on your hike. Of course, you should
be carrying plenty of water to keep you hydrated. Even though the walk is short, it involves a
significant elevation change, so you’ll need to drink a lot.
If you’re hiking on a hot day, make sure to put on sunscreen. The weather in this area of Big Sur
can feel cool and windy, but the sun is still strong.
Finally, bring a little snack or a small picnic to enjoy when you reach the cove or beach. The
views are amazing, and you’ll want to rest for a bit before heading back up to the highway.
If you enjoy taking photos, don’t forget to bring your camera on your hike. There are lots of
beautiful vistas to capture as well as interesting plants and native animals.
Partington Cove Hike Duration
Experienced hikers can complete this route in around 45 minutes. The hike down to the cove
will be much quicker, while the return journey might take some more time due to the elevation.
However, if you want to take your time and enjoy the views, you’ll most likely take a bit longer.
Factor in at least an hour, maybe even two, for the entire journey, including a small picnic at the
Keep an eye out for interesting plant and animal species along the way, such as crabs or rare
birds. If you’re taking photos while you hike, you’ll most likely find yourself going a bit more
Partington Cove Hike Difficulty
The Partington Cove Trail in Big Sur is considered a challenging but manageable hike. While it
is short, the path is very steep in places, and you’ll be gaining a lot of elevation in a short period
of time. Those with a good level of fitness will find this hike easy to manage.
Luckily, you can always stop along the way and enjoy the breathtaking views as you take a
break. Just make sure to bring enough water and maybe a small snack to keep your energy
Links To More Information
• Where this trail lies along the Big Sur coast
• Aerial photos of the area