Most of Big Sur’s parks and trails are closed until further notice

The secluded beaches, forested canyons and hiking trails that define the Big Sur experience are almost all closed right now, having been thrashed by the heavy storms that battered the California coast for the past month.

Mudslides, flooding, road damage, intermittent power outages, downed trees, washed out trails and other issues have befallen the 70-mile stretch of mountainous, undeveloped coast between the Monterey Peninsula and San Luis Obispo County.

On Thursday, Highway 1, the main artery in and out of Big Sur, was open to drivers coming from Monterey but closed at the region's southern end, 4 miles north of San Simeon. Many of the businesses that cater to visitors — including restaurants and lodging providers — are open in varying capacities, but most of Big Sur's natural splendor is off-limits for at least the near future.

"It's an absolute mess right now and kind of sad," said Andrew Madsen, public affairs office for Los Padres National Forest, which envelopes Big Sur, speaking about the region's vast backcountry.

President Joe Biden is touring heavily damaged areas in Santa Cruz County on Thursday but wasn’t expected to venture as far south as Big Sur.

Upwards of 85 inches of rain fell across portions of Big Sur, and the Forest Service announced this week that Los Padres will be closed through March 14 , until "conditions and recreational access improves." Los Padres contains hundreds of miles of trails, such as the scenic Pine Ridge Trail leading to Sykes Hot Springs, as well as the Salmon Creek Falls area further south.

Madsen said the Forest Service was just beginning to assess the damages on the ground and would aim to reopen popular recreation areas first — possibly in the next couple of weeks.

Several state parks there are closed until further notice , including Point Sur, Andrew Molera, Pfeiffer Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer Burns and Limekiln — hubs with campgrounds and hiking trails that are popular with families and campers. The scenic overlook at McWay Falls is closed as well.

At the north end of Big Sur, Garrapata State Park and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve were partially open.

Detailed damage assessments for each park weren't immediately available. Brent Marshall, superintendent of the Department of Parks and Recreation's Monterey District, said it's possible that some parks could reopen next week for limited day use "but it's unlikely that we'll return to normal in the next seven days."

"We're trying to find safe recreational things for people to do," Marshall said.

Monterey County is heavily dependent on tourism, and the December-January storms caused a countywide 34% drop in hotel occupancy, said Rob O’Keefe, chief marketing officer for the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau, "which is huge." Anecdotally, he said, bookings are starting to come back now that the storms have subsided.

Rick Aldinger, general manager at the Big Sur River Inn, said Thursday that business "is incredibly quiet for this time of year" but could pick up again now that the storms have passed.

Gregory Thomas is the Chronicle's editor of lifestyle & outdoors. Email: Twitter: @GregRThomas