Los Padres National Forest
Home of the world's southernmost stands of coast redwoods
HIGHLIGHTS: Extending from Ventura to Monterey, the Los Padres National Forest includes five major mountain ranges and 10 designated wildernesses. It's divided into two sprawling chunks: one along the Southern California coast near San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara; the other along the Big Sur Coast in Central California. The Big Sur chunk boasts the world's southernmost stands of coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), which may be particularly well adapted to heat and drought. Save the Redwoods League helped expand the forest here, including some land that has never been logged.
ACTIVITIES: Beach walking, hiking, backpacking, bicycling, birding, botanizing, camping in tents and cabins, climbing, fishing, horseback riding, hunting, swimming.
VISITOR CENTER: In addition to ranger stations in its five districts, the Los Padres National Forest helps run Big Sur Station just off Highway 1. Here you'll find books, maps, restrooms and staff to help you plan and appreciate a Big Sur adventure. Call (831) 667-2315.
CAMPGROUNDS: Los Padres National Forest has numerous campgrounds. To check availability or make a reservation, go to recreation.gov or call (877) 444-6777.
TRAIL: With 1,257 miles of trails, the Los Padres' hiking opportunities are extensive. For a classic Big Sur experience, try the Vincente Flat Trail, which starts at Kirk Creek Campground just off Highway 1. It's a heart-pumping 10.8-mile roundtrip to Vincente Flat, with more than 2,300 feet of elevation gain. But the work pays off in redwoods, spectacular ocean views, wildflower displays in spring and early summer, and a good sampling of Big Sur habitats. For details, go to David Baselt's excellent Redwood Hikes website. For current trail conditions, consult Ventana Wild.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: In the heart of Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach lures visitors with a broad crescent of soft white sand framed by jagged rocks and sea caves. Day use only, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., $5 per car. A quarter mile south of Big Sur Station on Sycamore Canyon Road.
HIDDEN GEM: Los Padres National Forest is home to North America's largest bird, the California condor. There aren't many around-only 50 in Central California. But, with wingspans of up to 9 feet and weighing up to 29 pounds, condors are easy to spot. A good place to scan the skies is at Grimes Point, about 4.5 miles south of Big Sur Station. While you're there, you might also want to scan the water for sea lions, whales and dolphins.
Regan Ranoa, Outreach Manager, suggests a stop in at Fernwood Tavern for live music and a good beer.
STOP: Regan recommends trying Esalen's hot springs. Esalen only opens their hot springs to the public in the summer from 1am-3am for a fee. The fee is well worth it since the hot springs are located on a cliff, overlooking the Pacific ocean where you can sit and listen to the waves under the stars!
FAVORITE HIKE: Take a guided hike offered by the Brazil Ranch.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Los Padres covers 5 counties so you can fish, hunt, cycle, horseback ride, swim, and hike to your heart's content.
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