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Limekiln State Park

Limekiln Trail

To Limekilns is 1 mile round trip

Inspiring redwoods, a sandy beach, and a trail into Big Sur history are some of the attractions of Limekiln State Park. The park opened in September of 1995 after the state acquired a privately held campground and 716 acres of land in southernmost Big Sur.

The isolated coastal canyon was named for its 1870–80s limekiln operations. Quarried limestone was “kilned” (smelted) in four huge wood-fired kilns. The product—powdered lime—was packed into barrels which were then attached to cable that was strung from the canyon wall down to the beach and some 50 yards out into the Pacific Ocean. Schooners slipped into tiny Rockland Cove, as the landing was known, and loaded the lime. The lime, a primary ingredient in cement, was used to construct buildings in Monterey and San Francisco.

The backwoods industry was hard on the woods. Surrounding redwoods were chopped down to fuel the limekilns and to make barrels to store the lime.

Much of Limekiln Canyon, however, escaped harm from this early industry and, after a quiet century, nature has healed most of Limekiln Canyon’s wounds. Today the canyon shelters some of the oldest, healthiest, largest and southernmost redwoods in Monterey County. Some scientists speculate that these redwoods, along with those in other nearby steep canyons, may prove to be a special subspecies or variety of redwood that differs slightly from more northerly stands.

Not everyone thinks these southern redwoods are so unique. In 1984, a private landowner wanted to log the redwoods along the west fork of Limekiln Creek. Thanks to conservationists from around the state and the local Big Sur Land Trust, the trees were spared, and their habitat preserved in the public domain.

Limekiln Canyon is one of the Pacific Coast’s steepest coastal canyons; it rises from sea level to more than 5,000 feet in elevation in about three and a half miles. This abrupt gradient means a tremendous diversity of flora. Botanists have identified twelve different plant communities within the confines of the canyon.

When the California Department of Parks and Recreation acquired Limekiln Canyon, it made some facilities improvements, but not many. The park’s plumbing system remains problematic. Campsites are Big Sur funky, definitely not of the quality of those grand northern redwood park campgrounds designed by landscape architects.

Still, the park is very much undiscovered, and its family atmosphere and tranquil redwoods more than make up for any lack of facilities. The state park’s campground and small camp store is managed by California Land Management, a private concessionaire.

Hiking is limited to the half mile long trail leading to the limekilns. It’s possible that one day trail links will be developed to connect to the extensive trail system higher on Cone Peak.

Directions to trailhead: From San Luis Obispo, follow Highway 1 some 90 miles north to the signed turnoff for Limekiln State Park. The park is about 40 miles north of Hearst Castle, some 55 miles south of Carmel.

The turnoff is on the inland side of the highway, just south of the south end of the Limekiln Canyon bridge. Day-use parking is located just past the entry kiosk.

The hike: Walk through the campground to the first of three bridges and join the signed trail. Amble creekside to the next bridge where you’ll spot a signed, right-forking side trail that leads one-eighth mile to a pretty little waterfall.

The path continues among the tall redwoods and within sight of some lovely pools and cascades. After crossing a third bridge, the path ends at the limekilns. Four towering kilns, partially engulfed by the recovering redwood forest, stand as peculiar monuments to a long-gone industry.


© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at