The Little Sur River is on the Central Coast of California. The river drains a portion of the Big Sur area, a thinly settled region of the Central California coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The South Fork and the North Fork both have their headwaters in the Ventana Wilderness, straddling Pico Blanco mountain, and lower portions are in the Los Padres National Forest. The forks converge about 2 miles (3.2 km) before the river empties into the Pacific Ocean.
Because the upper reaches of the Little Sur River watershed is entirely within the Ventana Wilderness, much of the river is in pristine condition. In 1973 the California State Legislature, recognizing the river's "extraordinary scenic, fishery, wildlife, (and) outdoor recreational values" and to protect its 'free-flowing and wild status,'added the river to the California Protected Waterways System.