Los Padres National Forest

An adventurous journey with 10+ mile hikes
Trek into the wilderness and sleep in the backcountry
Pups are welcome at camp and on hiking trails

Venturing to Ventana Camp in Los Padres National Forest

Venturing to Ventana Camp in Los Padres National Forest

Venturing to Ventana Camp in Los Padres National Forest

Venturing to Ventana Camp in Los Padres National Forest

Venturing to Ventana Camp in Los Padres National Forest

Designed by Yvonne Leow

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Last updated
March 8, 2022

Trip · 3-day backpacking trip

For · Friends and intermediate backpackers

Vibe · Challenging and hard

Distance  · 10 miles round trip and 3,038 feet of elevation gain

Permits · No wilderness permits, just fill out a CA campfire permit.

Drive · 3 hours from SF

Ideal dates · September to November or March to May (for wildflowers!)

Pets · Welcome at camp and on trails

Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) has 10 designated wilderness areas within 1.75 million acres of public land: Ventana, Silver Peak, Santa Lucia, Garcia, Machesna, San Rafael, Dick Smith, Matilija, Sespe, and Chumash. Ventana Wilderness sits above Big Sur, CA's famous central coastline, and features steep ridges, narrow canyons, redwood forests and stunning coastal views. Like most national forests, you can bring your doggos into Ventana's backcountry as long as they're leashed. There are also designated backcountry campsites with pit toilets in Ventana, but you'll have to pack out your trash. Every trek requires a climb from HWY 1 in Ventana, but once you make the journey, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of Big Sur.

Official Forest Service Website

Latest Forest Alerts and Conditions

Directions to Trailhead

Main image credit: Dave Hoefler

Stuff to know

  • You don't need a wilderness permit to backpack in Los Padres National Forest, but you will need to apply for a CA Campfire permit online. Print it out before your trip!
  • Overnight parking costs $10 a day per vehicle. Pay at the Pine Ridge Trail trailhead!
  • As of January 1, 2022, backcountry campfires are allowed in Los Padres National Forest. Make a fire ring to contain the flames and fully extinguish your campfire before you sleep. Check current fire restrictions for the latest!
  • Ticks are a thing in Ventana Wilderness. Wear long hiking pants and spray your clothes with Permethrin. Bring tweezers in case you do get bitten so you can safely remove a tick.
  • Black bears have recently been spotted so hang a bear-proof Ursack or use a bear canister to store your food overnight.
  • Look out for poison oak too! Wear long sleeves and pants, and void walking off-trail when you can. Here's how you treat a poison oak rash.
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Pine Ridge Trail in Ventana Wilderness
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Itinerary

Day One

Ventana Camp in Los Padres National Forest
Ventana Camp in Los Padres National Forest

Leave SF by 9 AM and swing by Big Sur Bakery for lunch

  • Diners love their fresh ingredients and baked goodies
  • Located at 47540 California 1 in Big Sur
  • Open Wed. to Sun. from 9 AM to 3 PM
  • Last pit stop · Chevron - 47047 CA-1 in Big Sur

Drive to Big Sur Station Visitor Center and park at Pine Ridge Trailhead

  • Overnight parking costs $10 a day per vehicle
  • Drinking water, restrooms, and trash cans are available at Big Sur Station Visitor Center

Hike along Pine Ridge Trail to Ventana Camp

  • Pine Ridge Trail (PRT) reopened in April 2021 after a five-year closure. It's the trail that accesses the popular Sykes hot springs, but during the winter season, the creeks run rapid, deep and are dangerous to cross. This is an intro backpacking trip along PRT, but you can extend or shorten your trek however you'd like.
  • It's a five-mile hike with 1,519 feet of elevation gain to Ventana Camp, a beautiful designated campsite in the backcountry.
  • This portion of the trail is mostly exposed so wear a sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and fill up your water bottles

Arrive at Ventana Camp and cool off by the river

  • Find a campsite near the river and dip your toes into the river

Prep dinner and set up camp

  • YAY! Chow on some dinner and s'mores, and enjoy your first night in Ventana Wilderness!
  • Fully extinguish your campfire before you head to bed and store all of your food and scented items in a bear canister, not your tent!

Car to camp - 5 miles with 1,519 feet of elevation gain - 3 to 4 hours

Los Padres used to be named Santa Barbara National Forest, but locals complained about it referencing a single county, so they changed the name in 1936

Day Two

Pine Ridge Trail
Pine Ridge Trail. Credit: AllTrails

Make brekkie, pack a lunch, and choose your own adventure along Pine Ridge Trail

  • Fill up on water, bring your water filter, snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hat, bug spray, down jacket, a book, lunch and a headlamp just in case!
  • ​Leave any food and scented items in the bear canister back at camp
  • Return to Pine Ridge Trail and go on a day hike towards Terrace Creek or Barstow Flat campsite. It's a 7.3 mile round-trip hike, with 2,661 feet of elevation gain, to Barstow Flat Camp so make sure you head back to Ventana Camp before it gets too dark!
  • Find a cool mid-way spot for lunch and chill for the rest of the afternoon

Return to camp and prep dinner

  • Clean up from the day hike

Enjoy a sunset dinner

  • Savor your last evening in the wild and spend the rest of the night stargazing around the campfire. More s'mores, plz.

Camp to camp - 7.3 miles with 2,661 feet of elevation gain - 4 to 5 hours

Thousands of years ago, the Ohlone, Esselen, and Salinan tribes were the first inhabitants in Ventana Wilderness. They lived a nomadic life, migrating to the coasts during winter

Day Three

Coast Big Sur Gallery and Cafe
Coast Big Sur Gallery and Cafe. Credit: Yelp

Cook up breakfast, pack up, and hike back to Pine Ridge Trailhead

  • It's a five-mile hike, with 1,503 feet of elevation gain, back to the trailhead and parking lot

Return to your car and grab lunch at Coast Big Sur Gallery and Cafe

  • Diners love their local, organic ingredients, and soft-serve ice cream!
  • Located at 49901 Highway 1 in Big Sur
  • Open Thursday to Monday from 11 AM to 4 PM

Head home!

Camp to car - 5 miles - 1,503 feet of elevation gain - 3  hours

Los Padres means "the Fathers", which refers to the Catholic missionary priests who lived in the area around the 18th and 19th centuries

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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Recommended gear

Essential Items

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