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Is Big Sur Dangerous (Is the Drive Scary)?

Before I went to Big Sur for the first time, I noticed a lot of concern about driving along the coast on Highway 1 as some people consider it a dangerous trip. After research and experience from driving along the entire highway, I have more information. Here’s what I learned.

Some people think the drive to Big Sur on Highway 1 is dangerous because of its narrow and curvy roads along its foggy cliffside. However, when I drove to Big Sur, I found the roads weren’t scary as long as I was alert and taking the turns slower. During fog, I found focusing on the car in front of me worked best.

Keep reading for more details on why the Big Sur drive might be dangerous, and tips to be extra careful.

Our drive to Big Sur

Why Is Highway 1 Dangerous Near Big Sur?

Highway 1 (U.S. Route 1) is a major highway that runs along the coast of California. Most who travel to Big Sur take this route.

The main concern of driving this highway seems to be because of the sharp, curvy turns right along cliff-sides. Not to mention the fact that the whole highway is a narrow two-lane highway with no shoulders.

The unpredictable weather is another big reason why Highway 1 is seen as dangerous. It is important to avoid driving during storms, floods, or excessive fog.

As much of Highway 1 is built right on the cliff sides and sea levels are rising, this road is bound to have landslides, mudslides, floods, and debris flows.

Landslides occur when masses of rock, earth, or debris move down a slope. Mudslides, also known as debris flows or mudflows, are a common type of fast-moving landslide that tends to flow in channels.

California Department of Public Health

Mudslides seem to be more common in areas north of Ragged Point. There have been a few occasions where sections of Highway 1 in Big Sur are impassable due to mudslides after large storms.

In reality, mudslides are not common and if precautions are taken to be a safe driver, the driver should not have anything to be fearful of. Ironically, the inland highway that is parallel to Highway 1 (I-5) is #5 on the list of The 10 most dangerous roads in the U.S., while Highway 1 is not on there.

Some may find this trip scary if they have a fear of heights. The good news is that there are rail guards everywhere. When there aren’t guard rails, there is a decent amount of space between your car and the drop-off.

What’s the Most Dangerous Part of Highway 1?

Us along the cliffside on Highway 1
A photo I took along the cliffside in Big Sur

There isn’t a specific section of Big Sur that is identified as the most dangerous. Each section of Highway 1 has different dangers at separate times, depending on weather, terrain, and unstable roads. Not to mention, the entire road has sharp curves nearly everywhere.

When I went to Big Sur, I noticed most construction was north of Ragged Point, where roads are placed on more unstable cliffs, due to the higher elevation and bad weather. There was also some construction around Malibu, where sea levels are rising.

There is one spot north of Big Sur close to San Fransisco, on Highway 1 called Devil’s Slide, where the area is prone to accidents of vehicles falling over the cliff. This is likely due to the narrow road after a curve, right along a drop-off.

There are also times when it may be foggier in certain areas, making it more difficult to see the road. Fog can depend on the time of day and sometimes the area. When I went to Big Sur, it seemed that the further north we went, the foggier it was.

Recommended: Does Big Sur Get Foggy (& When)?

Tips When Driving to Big Sur

Bixby Bridge
  • Drive carefully
  • Take turns slowly
  • Avoid driving at night or during bad weather
  • Fill up on gas
  • Watch out for falling rocks and large cracks in the road

When you drive, be on high alert. It is okay to be a slow driver, especially on this route. If there are tons of cars behind you, it’s common courtesy to pull over and let them pass.

As the highway is one of the curviest roads I’ve ever seen, it’s a good idea to be extra cautious and slow when taking turns.

I would check the weather forecast before heading out on this road trip to make sure the conditions are okay. Heavy fog can make it harder to see the road while rain can be the cause of crashes or even mudslides. It’s also better to only drive while it’s daylight.

When I went to Big Sur, we first filled up on gas in San Luis Obispo. Good thing we did, because there was no other gas station until we got to Ragged Point at Mini Mart and Gas, right next to Ragged Point Inn. The next gas station after Ragged Point is not until Salinas.

My Verdict

Honestly, I can say confidently that I wouldn’t be worried about the drive. I felt safe the entire time, even when there was slight fog.

The drive to Big Sur along Highway 1 is not dangerous if you are cautious. Highway 1 has windy roads and is a narrow two-lane highway, but if driven with an alert, there is nothing to worry about. The road has experienced mudslides and debris flow, mostly after storms, but the likelihood of one happening is extremely low. Be sure to take turns slowly and not drive when weather conditions are bad.

It’s always important to take it slow driving if you don’t feel comfortable, especially around turns when it may be slippery, or a hazard may be ahead. Having the driver’s full attention on the road is a must.

The drive up Highway 1 is not one to miss. I recommend taking the time to enjoy the scenery. The chances of getting hurt on this road are the same as on most other roads.