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Tanbark Trail to Tin House

Another awesome Big Sur hike, but true to Big Sur form, your not going to get those breathtaking views without a little work. I would consider this hike strenuous, meaning it is not for the faint of heart, with essentially 3 miles of straight up hill.


Access: The Tanbark trail is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, you can access the trail head right off of Highway 1, about 40 miles south of Monterey, check out the All Trails map here. The trailhead is on the east side of the road and is right across the highway from Partington Cove trail. If you get all the way to McWay Falls, you have gone too far.

Stats: About a 6.7 mile with a little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, a little under 4 hours (depending on how much time you spend at the Tin House).

Route: This is a loop hike, I recommend starting at the more northern entrance, across from Partington Cove, and hiking the loop clockwise. This way you are doing the strenuous uphill under the Redwood forest. If you choose to access the trail from the south, you're uphill hike will be essentially all exposed to the sun.

High difficulty: This is a difficult hike, with about 3 miles of straight up hill. On the bright side though, all the up hill is under tree cover for the most part, which can offer a little respite from the sometimes blarring Big Sur sun. Sometimes the downhill is just as hard for me and my old lady knees, with about 3 miles of steep, exposed downhill.

Warning: Be forewarned the last about 0.5 mile of this hike is along Highway 1, and honestly is a little sketchy as the should is not very great in parts.

Hiking Details

The trail starts on the east side of Highway 1 and quickly you are under the cover of the old Redwoods and oaks. The beginning of the hike is fairly easy, although you are already going uphill.

The trail follows nicely along a Partington Creek with many small cascading waterfalls. Partington Creek empties at Partington Cove, which has it's own interesting history, read more about this short hike that you can tag onto the end or beginning of the Tanbark Trail (huge props to you if your still up for it though).

Quickly you start to gain elevation, here comes the switchbacks. Focus on the beautiful views at about 2.5 miles and take lots of camera breaks.

I had not been on this trail since the fires. And although trail conditions are pretty good, signs of fire are everywhere with all the trees scorched. I couldn't help but think that this hike must be a fire ecologists dream. Unfortunately, I know very little about wildfires other than I would image some pretty cool wildflowers will probably come in nicely this year.

At about 2.6 miles in you will reach your highest elevation at just under 2,200 feet, but your not quite at the house yet.

At about 3 miles you will hit a fork in the trail, turn onto the fork and it will take you on a short offshoot trail to the Tin House (about 0.5 miles or less). But first, along this short offshoot, there is a small turn off for the Ewoldsen Trail Connector, make sure you check-out this trail entrance as it has some of the best views on the hike.

The Ewoldsen Trail is just above McWay falls and is a 5 mile loop hike, featuring views much like the Tanbark Trail. I have always wanted to make this hike into one larger epic loop, where you hike on the front end of Tanbark Trail to the Tin House, and instead of taking the fire road down from the Tin House, hop onto the Ewoldsen Trail connector and take Ewoldsen Trail down to McWay Falls. Unfortunately, you would need two cars to do this hike, so I was never able to fully coordinate it, and now the Ewoldsen Trail is closed, like many trails in this area still are, after the 2019 fire and then proceeding horrible winter.

Continue on the short trail and eventually you will get to the infamous Tin House. This house is home to many legends, one of the most infamous theories for the Tin House origins is that it was built as a getaway for FDR. But unfortunately, this is just a tall tail, the house was merely built in 1944 as an escape from the fog of the former owners of the property, former New York Congressman Lathrop Brown and his railroad heiress wife Helen Hooper Brown. They owned the Tin House, and the surrounding 1,600 acres of land that are now a Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park.

You can still walk through the house, although it is in pretty bad shape now-a-days, after sustaining irreparable damage in the 2008 Basin Complex Wildfire. I wouldn't be surprised if State Parks closes access into the house pretty soon. With broken glass all over the place and the roof caved-in in multiple places, I would image it is a pretty big liability to them at this point. Either way, there are definitely some ghosts living here, so be careful at night ;)

So the story goes, the Brown's didn't end up loving their coastal retreat and shortly after building the house abandoned it, supposedly the tin did not mix well with the wind, and being so high with the coastal winds the house was too loud at night to sleep.

After you have sufficiently rested at the house, now it's time for the hard part, with about 2 miles of straight downhill. But the scenery changes a little on this section of the hike, as you emerge out of the Redwoods and onto a fire road, which is more exposed but that always means better views. Alternatively, you can turn around here and take the same section of trail down. Honestly both are good options and it just kind of depends on what you are most comfortable with, since turning around would mean a longer hike, adding about a mile to your hiking total, but you wouldn't need to do the half mile along Highway 1, which can be pretty sketchy at times. If you choose to take the fire road, be thankful that you are doing this section of trail as the down and not on the front side where you would be going straight up.

Once you get to the bottom there is a nice pullout for cars along Highway 1, and a good spot to rest with some gorgeous views. Be careful on the last 0.5 mile along Highway 1, remember there are a lot of tourists on the road looking out at the coast and not expecting people to be walking along the road.

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