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

Splashing in Salmon Creek Waterfalls in Silver Peak Wilderness

Splashing in Salmon Creek Waterfalls in Silver Peak Wilderness

Splashing in Salmon Creek Waterfalls in Silver Peak Wilderness

Splashing in Salmon Creek Waterfalls in Silver Peak Wilderness

Splashing in Salmon Creek Waterfalls in Silver Peak Wilderness

Designed by Yvonne Leow

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Last updated
August 22, 2022

Trip · 3-day backpacking trip

For · Friends and first-time backpackers

Vibe · Moderate and fun

Distance  · 12.1 miles and 3,862 feet of elevation gain

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

Drive · 4 hours from LA and SF

Ideal dates · October-May (for cooler weather and higher water levels)

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 Silver Peak Wilderness, which is supervised by the Monterey Ranger District, and covers 31,555 acres along the central coast. You'll walk through chaparral scrub to pockets of dense redwood forest—with seaside vistas and flowing streams. Did we mention there's a glorious waterfall too?

Official National Forest Website

Official Fire Restrictions

Directions to Trailhead

Main image credit: Wikipedia

Stuff to know

  • Bear-proof canisters and sacks are recommended in Silver Peak Wilderness. Pack up your scented items too.
  • Mosquitoes, horseflies, and ticks like to hang out during the summer. Bring yo' bug spray, or even better a bug net.
  • Watch out for poison oak, especially off-trail, and snakes during the summer.
  • 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, including toilet paper.

Resources

Check the weather
Salmon Creek Waterfall in Silver Peak Wilderness
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Itinerary

Day One

Salmon Creek Trail
Salmon Creek Trail. Credit: AllTrails

Leave SF in the morning

  • Last pit stop · Mini Mart and Gas - 19019 CA-1 in Ragged Point
  • Nearest grocery store · Linn's Gourmet Goods - 4241 Bridge Street in Cambria
  • Pick up a sandwich, cup of soup, and/or a slice of pie at Linn's!

Park at Salmon Creek Trailhead and hike to Salmon Creek Upper Waterfall

  • It's about a 2.3 mile one-way hike, with 1,278 feet of elevation gain, on Salmon Creek Trail to reach Salmon Creek Upper Waterfall
  • Power up on snacks, layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles (at least 1.5 L)
  • It's a steep climb with some scrambling so bring your hiking poles to keep your balance

Take a dip in Salmon Creek Upper Waterfall

  • Catch your breath and cool off in one of Big Sur's beautiful waterfalls

Trek to Estrella Camp and set up camp

  • It's only a 0.7 mile hike to Estrella Camp, a small backcountry campsite that's first-come, first-serve
  • If campsites are full, you can hike back down to Spruce Creek Camp, which is 0.4 miles from the upper falls
  • There's usually a year-round water source at Estrella, but check Hike Los Padres for the latest water source reports

Cook up dinner and chill

  • Woohoo! That was a steep climb and you made it. Enjoy your first night in Silver Peak Wilderness!

Car to camp: 3 miles - 1,562 feet of elevation gain - 3 hours

Silver Peak is named for "the silvery sheen of the chaparral vegetation that covers its slopes," according to the USFS wilderness map

Day Two

A sunset from Lion Den Camp
The view from Lion Den Camp

Make brekkie, pack up, and hike to Lion Den Camp

  • It's about a 3.1 mile one-way hike, with 1,736 feet of elevation gain, to Lion Den Camp
  • Nearby creeks are dried up during the summer so fill up on at least 2L+ of water before you leave Estrella camp
  • Sites at Lion Den Camp are first-come, first-serve so try to get there earlier in the day
  • There's a nearby creek once you reach camp so you can refill your water
  • Bask in views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Lucia Wilderness

Set up camp and hang out

Or if you're feeling ambitious...hike up Alder Peak

  • It's a 7.8 round-trip hike, with 1,634 feet elevation gain, from Lion Den Camp to the top of Alder Peak
  • Bring plenty of snacks, top off on water, sunscreen, sunhat, sunglasses, and bug spray! The hike is fairly exposed.
  • Backtrack 0.5 miles to take South Coast Ridge Road and take it all the way up to Alder Peak

Cook up a sunset dinner

  • Enjoy your last meal in Silver Peak Wilderness

Camp to camp: 3 miles - 1,736 feet of elevation gain - 3 hours

California has 52 designated wildernesses and 10 of them are located in Los Padres National Forest

DAY THREE

High Street Deli in San Luis Obispo
High Street Deli. Credit: Yelp

Pack up and leave camp by 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 6 miles back to Salmon Creek Trailhead

  • It's about a 6 mile one-way hike, with 564 feet of elevation gain, back to the parking lot
  • Take your time and watch your step, it's a steep and slippery descent at certain points

Drive to High Street Deli in San Luis Obispo for lunch

  • Diners love their sammies, beers, and burgers. They have soft-serve too!
  • Located at 1326 2nd Street in San Luis Obispo, about an hour drive from Salmon Creek Trailhead
  • Open Thursday to Monday · 11:30 AM - 5:30 PM

Head home!

Camp to car: 6 miles with 564 feet of elevation gain - 3 hours

California has the second largest number of wilderness areas in the nation (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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Recommended gear

Essential Items

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