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Los Padres National Forest

Expansive wilderness extending from sea to ridge-top

Photo by blackwing, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by blackwing, Flickr Creative Commons

Park Information

HIGHLIGHTS: Extending from Ventura to Monterey, the Los Padres National Forest includes five major mountain ranges and 10 designated wildernesses.

ACTIVITIES: Beach walking, hiking, backpacking, bicycling on some trails and roads (not in wilderness areas), birding, botanizing, camping in tents and cabins, climbing, fishing, horseback riding, hunting, swimming, picnicking.

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 with various length limits. To check availability or make a reservation, go to recreation.gov (external link) 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 (external link) website. For current trail conditions, consult Ventana Wild (external link).

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 70 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.

FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Restrooms, picnic areas. In the redwood range, Santa Lucia District has two campgrounds with accessible sites. 

DOGS: On leash or under voice control.

ENTRANCE FEE: At campgrounds and $10 for day use at Pfeiffer Beach.

MORE INFORMATION: Contact the Los Padres National Forest (external link), the Ventana Wildlife Society (external link), or the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (external link).


Trip Ideas from Our Staff and Friends

EAT: Christine Aralia, Land Project Manager, suggests the Big Sur Bakery (external link) for to-go treats and Nepenthe (external link) for drinks and dinner!

Regan Ranoa, Outreach Manager, suggests a stop in at Fernwood Tavern (external link) for live music and a good beer.

STOP: Regan recommends trying Esalen’s hot springs (external link). Esalen only opens their hot springs to the public in the summer from 1-3 a.m. 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 (external link).

FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Los Padres is expansive, so you can fish, hunt, cycle, horseback ride, swim, and hike to your heart’s content.

Tell us your favorite stops, hikes, places to eat, and more when visiting this park!


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