Trip · 3-day backpacking trip
For · Friends and first-time backpackers
Vibe · Moderate and fun
Distance · 21 miles and 2,592 feet of elevation gain
Permits · You won't need a wilderness permit, but apply for a CA campfire permit online and buy an Adventure Pass to park at Piedra Blanca Trailhead
Drive · 2.5 hours from LA
Ideal dates · January to May (before it gets too hot!)
Pets · Welcome on trails and campgrounds!
Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) boasts a whopping ten wilderness areas: Ventana, Silver Peak, Santa Lucia, Garcia, Machesna, San Rafael, Dick Smith, Matilija, Sespe, and Chumash. In total, the forest has a mind blowing 1.75 million acres. This trek takes you through Sespe Wilderness. The trailhead is accessible by driving along highway 33, a portion of which is considered a National Forest and State Scenic Byway. So whether it's the road trip or the hike itself, you'll witness beautiful natural landscapes in LPNF.
Official National Forest Website
Hike Los Padres Sespe River Trail Description
Main image credit: Yvonne Leow
All campsites in LPNF are first-come, first-serve, but even on the weekends (barring that it's not a holiday weekend), there are plenty of awesome backcountry campsites. Oak Flat has several established campsites, some are closer to Sespe River than others, but the one we recommend is a spacious group campsite further away from the river and closer to the mountain side.
Why? Because it has two picnic tables, plenty of shade, space for multiple tents, wooden benches, and a giant fire pit. It is an equestrian campsite so you have to deal with a bit of horse poo on the outskirts, but the picnic tables and benches are perfect for larger groups.
The name Sespe can be traced back to a Chumash Indian village, called Cepsey, Sek-pe or S'eqpe' ("Kneecap") in the Chumash language
Sespe Wilderness is also home to the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. It's not open to the public, but it was established to protect one of the most endangered animals in the world. What's a major threat to condors? Microtrash (i.e. bottle caps, broken glass).
California has the second largest number of wilderness areas in the country (Alaska has the most)
Don't leave the car without a first aid kit. Stuff happens out in the wild and you always want to be prepared.
They're expensive, but you can lean on these bad boys for river crossings and navigating all kinds of terrain.
Light as a feather and versatile enough to use for running, camping, and other nighttime activities.
It's a heavier, bulkier pillow for ultralight backpackers, but you're guaranteed a good night's sleep.
Add up to 14 degrees of warmth and keep your sleeping bag nice and clean with this mummy liner.
Handmade in Seattle, Washington, this sleeping bag is pricey, but you can count on it lasting for years.
A spacious sleeping bag that will help you stay warm for spring, summer, and fall camping.
Winner of the REI Editor's Choice Award, this bag is warm and light, coming in a little over three pounds.
This pack weighs two pounds, has 7 pockets, and has a built-in seat pad, but it can only carry up to 30 pounds.
If you're an experienced backpacker, this is the lightest full-size, full-featured, frameless pack made.
You won't be saving money, but you'll save space and weight with these camp sandals.
These comfortable, breathable, quick drying undies are designed for surviving long treks.
Made with 60% merino wool, these pricey socks are guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Lightweight, grippy, and breathable shoes made for navigating all kinds of trails and terrain.
These down pants will keep you and your legs warm in the chilliest of nights.
Never dig around your pack to find some hand sanitizer. Instead, hang this one on the outside of your pack.
Whether it's coffee or cocoa, bring a silicone mug like this one into the wild. Your tummy will thank you.
Don't let the backcountry stop you from enjoying a hot, quality drip coffee in the morning.
This lightweight pot is for backpackers who want to enjoy warm and cold soaked meals.
These bamboo utensils are designed for the backcountry, and conveniently comes with a travel pouch.
A popular, pricier backpacking stove that's an ounce heavier, but is reliable in the wildest envrionments.
Add a little magic to your experience by hanging these twinkling lights around your tent every night.
Leave your backpacking pack at camp, and use this sleek, compressible pack for day hikes.
Feel fresh, clean, and renewed after each hike with these thick, durable, aloe-infused wet wipes.
The more you backpack the lighter your shelter becomes, and the lighter it is, the more expensive it can be.
You'll always need to bring your hiking poles to use this tent, but it only weighs a little over two pounds.