Los Padres National Forest

A cool experience with 6 to 10 mile hikes
Trek into the wilderness and sleep in the backcountry
Pups are welcome at camp and on hiking trails

Exploring a historic cabin and Pine Falls in Ventana Wilderness

Exploring a historic cabin and Pine Falls in Ventana Wilderness

Exploring a historic cabin and Pine Falls in Ventana Wilderness

Exploring a historic cabin and Pine Falls in Ventana Wilderness

Exploring a historic cabin and Pine Falls in Ventana Wilderness

Designed by David Yocom

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Last updated
August 10, 2022

Trip · 3-day backpacking trip

For · Friends and first-time backpackers

Vibe · Moderate and fun

Distance  · 12.1 miles and 3,179 feet of elevation gain

Permits · No need for a wilderness permit, just fill out a CA campfire permit online

Drive · 3.5 hours from SF

Ideal dates · October-May (for cooler weather and wildflowers in the spring!)

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 Ventana Wilderness, which is supervised by the Monterey Ranger District. This trek offers a tantalizing mix of ponderosa pines, sandstone monoliths, historic cabins, ancient ranches, gorgeous wildflower displays, and pristine waterfalls. The fact that such places remain so seemingly unknown is a wonder in and of itself.

Official National Forest Website

Official Fire Restrictions

Directions to Trailhead

Main image credit: Leor Pantilat

Stuff to know

  • Bear-proof canisters and sacks are recommended in Ventana Wilderness. Pack up your scented items too.
  • Bring a GPS device, download maps on your phone, and bring a battery charger. It can be easy to lose the trail in Ventana Wilderness.
  • Mosquitoes, flies, and ticks like to hang out during the summer. Bring yo' bug spray.
  • Watch out for poison oak, especially off-trail, and snakes during the summer.
  • Church Creek Trail is largely exposed so bring your shades, sunhat, and sunscreen.
  • Backcountry campfires are typically allowed, but campfire restrictions are in place until January 31, 2023.
  • Practice Leave No Trace! That means properly poopin' in the backcountry and packing out all of your trash.

Resources

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Pine Valley in Ventana Wilderness
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Itinerary

Day One

Jack English's Cabin. Credit: David Yocom

Leave SF by noon

  • Last pit stop · Chevron - 38 W Carmel Valley Road and Village Drive in Carmel Valley
  • Nearest grocery store · Jerome's Carmel Valley Market - 2 Chambers Lane in Carmel Valley
  • Pick up a deli sandwich or snack from Jerome's!

Park at China Camp and hike Pine Ridge Trail to Church Creek Trail

  • It's a 5.3 mile one-way hike, with 843 feet of elevation gain, to Pine Valley
  • Power up on snacks, layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles (at least 1.5 L)
  • The first quarter mile of trail was covered by high chaparral on both sides, but quickly opens up to views of the Church Creek Valley
  • This section of the Pine Ridge Trail is lively with critters, including alligator lizards, western fence lizards, whiptails, and snakes
  • Descend into Pine Valley, entering healthy groves of Ponderosa Pine, flanked on either side by a rock climber’s dream of sandstone formations

Arrive and set up camp in Pine Valley

  • Once you arrive, there are 4 to 5 sizable campsites pleasantly positioned between the headwaters of the Carmel River. Sites are first-come, first-serve.

Explore Jack English's Cabin

  • Once you reach Pine Valley, if you explore the area, you'll see Jack's Cabin on your right
  • Jack English and his family purchased a small parcel of land in Pine Valley in 1976 after having been enamored with the area his whole life
  • The cabin became a well-known staple of the Ventana Wilderness, as did Jack’s reputation as a kind, skillful and resourceful human being. Sadly, Jack died at the age of 96 in 2016, but the cabin remains.

Cook up dinner

  • You did it! Enjoy your first night in the Ventana Wilderness.

Car to camp: 5.3 miles - 843 feet of elevation gain - 3 to 4 hours

The Ohlone, Esselen, and Salinan are believed to be the first Native American tribes to live in the wilderness area.

Day Two

Pine Falls in Ventana Wilderness
Pine Falls in Ventana Wilderness. Credit: David Yacom

Make brekkie and day hike to Pine Falls

  • It's a 1.4 mile round-trip hike, with 315 feet of elevation gain, from Pine Valley to Pine Falls
  • Pack lunch, a water bottle, water filter, towel, sunscreen, bug spray, and a swimsuit
  • The hike down to Pine Falls is easy enough to follow, though it is semi-technical. The route climbs and falls, frequently requiring attentive grappling and a handful of creek crossings.
  • The water is cold and isn't deep enough to dive in, but you can do a playful jump off the ridge underneath the falls

Enjoy lunch by the falls

  • Relax and unwind to the sound of rushing water

Return to camp and make a meal

  • Cook up your last dinner in the Ventana Wilderness

Day hike: 1.4 miles - 1,138 feet of elevation gain - 2 hours

Jack English's cabin is located more than 5 miles from the nearest road so the foundation was completed in 1977 and the final stone was laid in 1980

DAY THREE

Church Creek Valley from the Pine Ridge Trail. Credit: David Yocom

Pack up and leave camp around 8 AM

  • Cook up brekkie, pick up any random pieces of litter around camp and save some snacks for the return trek
  • Layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles!

Hike 5.3 miles back to China Camp

  • It's about a 5.3 mile one-way hike, with 843 feet of elevation gain, back to the China Camp parking lot
  • Take Church Creek Trail back to Pine Ridge Trail and head towards the parking lot

Drive to In-n-Out Burger in Salinas for lunch

  • Diners love their burgers and milkshakes
  • Located at 151 Kern Street in Salinas
  • Open everyday · 10:30 AM - 1 AM

Head home!

Camp to car: 4.1 miles - 3 hours

California has the second largest number of wilderness areas in the country (Alaska has the most)

Packing List

Essential Items
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Clothing
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Personal Stuff
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Camp Kitchen
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Shared Gear
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