Long before completion of famously breathtaking Bixby Bridge in 1932, Coast Road was the land route travelers used to go from Carmel to Big Sur. The single-lane dirt road still exists and makes for an incredible run from the north side of Bixby Bridge to Andrew Molera State Park, 10.5 miles to the south. As the road passes through private land (no trespassing!), be prepared to encounter the occasional property owner, cattle, four-wheeling tourists, cyclists and other runners or hikers.
Given that this is a point-to-point route, you’ll need to consider how you to get back to your car—either drop a car the southern end of the route and shuttle back to the start with a running partner, thumb a ride at the end or run the route in both directions for a burly 21-mile day.
Park in one of the pullouts on the north side of Bixby Bridge, and begin running at the intersection of Coast Road and Highway One, heading inland on Coast Road. Not only is the road easy to follow, there are distance markers, albeit at unusually frequent intervals, all along the way.
There’s a slight climb at the beginning and about half a mile in is a great view looking towards Bixby Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. From the initial arid and breezy conditions, the route drops down about 400 feet into Bixby Canyon, which is lush and humid.
After a brief flat section and passing over Bixby Creek, the road turns up, winding out of the Canyon between Sierra Hill and Bixby Mountain. The runnable incline is about three-miles long. There are glimpses of neighboring ridgelines through the trees, but the real show is the dappled light and diverse plant life including enough wild flowers, towering redwoods and giant ferns to make you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. Just before the top of the climb at 1,200 feet, there’s a massive, moss-covered rock wall to the left.
The road down into Little Sur Canyon is twisty, fast, exposed and also the rockiest section along the route. It flattens out at the bottom of Little Sur Canyon, for one of the longest level stretches—more than half a mile.
After crossing over Little Sur River, the road turns up again, passing through cattle and horse pastures and windswept, grassy meadows. It’s not as steep as the first climb, topping out just shy of 1,000 feet. If the weather allows, there are great views of Pico Blanco, so named because of its marble and limestone peak.
The road heads downhill, more or less, for the last two miles, passing through part of Los Padres National Forest, before ending at Highway One.