U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Los Padres National Forest


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Forest Information

The Los Padres National Forest is located in southwestern California along the Pacific Ocean coast. The Forest is comprised of 1,754,780 acres. Of the 55 developed campgrounds, 27 meet the selection criteria. The Los Padres National Forest stretches along the Pacific Ocean from Carmel, California (just north of the Big Sur) to below Santa Barbara, California then across the mountain-tops and into the Salinas Valley. With its variations in topography, vegetation, and wildlife, the Los Padres National Forest offers its visitors a wide variety of recreation opportunities.

The 75-mile long stretch of Big Sur is one of the most spectacular coastal environments in the world. The Pacific Ocean, always moving, always changing, is a sight of wonder and beauty. Sea otters and sea lions, along with a variety of seabirds, provide endless hours of viewing entertainment. Is there anywhere that has sunsets more fabulous than found along this stretch of coastline? Set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, Kirk Creek campground offers an opportunity to enjoy it all - sunsets, wildlife and ocean. For long-range panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and coastline, drive to either Bottchers Gap or Ponderosa campgrounds. Not for the faint of heart, each route offers breathtaking vistas on the way to these pleasant little campgrounds popular with car and tent camping enthusiasts.

The Cuesta Ridge Trail, accessed from the Cerro Alto campground, offers hikers impressive vistas along a narrow 8-mile ridge to the top. San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Morro Rock, Atascadero hills, and the Santa Lucia Wildernesses can be seen from points along this trail. In addition to the magnificent overlooks found along this trail, hikers may have the good luck of seeing a wild condor gliding overhead. The high mountains of the Los Padres National Forest are a release site and sanctuary for numerous hand raised condors.

The southern section of the Los Padres National Forest offer a number of hot springs. Big Caliente Hot Spring, approximately a two hour drive from Santa Barbara, is a day-use only area. Little Caliente, Sespe, and Sykes Hot Springs are all hike-in and offer only the most primitive of facilities. Check with the Ranger District Office for maps and more information.

For those visitors who want to "eat dirt," there is an OHV area between the Figueroa and La Panza campgrounds. Trails are designated for a variety of off-highway vehicles. From the 4.5-mile motorcycle only Bear Canyon Loop Trail to the 7-mile four-wheel drive/ATV/motorcycle Pine Mountain Road, the area has something for everyone.

The variety of vegetation and topography found in the Los Padres National Forest provide excellent background for nature trails. The Wheeler Gorge Nature Trail, for example, is located adjacent to the Wheeler Gorge campground. It guides the visitor along a babbling creek that supports a cool, humid riparian zone, up through a transition zone and into a hot, dry chaparral environment. Red-tailed hawks, rabbits, lizards, and woodpeckers are frequently seen by hikers. Hummingbirds and quail can also be spotted by alert, quick-eyed hikers.

A drive from Ojai, California, over the mountains along scenic State Route 33, leads to a different environment. Here, on the eastern slopes of the Frazier Mountains and Chumash Wilderness, conifer trees grow tall and almost every ridge offers a vista. Winters find the area cloaked in a mantle of deep snow while summers bring warm daytime temperatures and pleasantly cool nights. Campgrounds, such as McGill, provide campers with an opportunity to stay awhile. McGill is the area's largest and most RV-friendly campground. Several hiking trails lead away from the campground, making exploration of the Los Padres National Forest's mountain environment easy.

Nestled among the pines and ridges in the area is a nice little, lupine-dotted tenter's campground called Chula Vista.. Only two miles from the top of Mt. Pinos, a sacred spot to the Native American Chumash people, Chula Vista's large parking lot is a gathering place for astronomers. Amateur astronomers, both young and old, can be found most nights intently studying the night sky with equipment that ranges from very basic to most elaborate.

The Los Padres National Forest has another very different environment to explore well to the north on the western boundary of the Salinas Valley. Here, a steady afternoon breeze followed by an evening fog rolls up the Valley from Monterey to cool the hot daytime temperatures. This is wine country, as is illustrated by the drive to the diverse Arroyo Seco campground, and the hot days and cool nights make some of the best known wines in the world. Acres and acres of grape vines cover the rolling hillsides which, from a distance, looks like Mother earth is sporting a corn-row hair-style. Though not convenient to the campground, the area has several wineries offering a chance to taste the product of their grapes.

However, once at the Arroyo Seco campground campers rarely venture out. There is simply too much to do. Two small lakes offer bass, crappy, and catfish fishing and limited boating. The day use area, next to the Arroyo Seco River, has some nice swimming holes. The 15.5-mile Santa Lucia Trail provides access to the Ventana Wilderness while the now closed County Route 3050 provides a means to explore the gorge that separates the two halves of the Wilderness. Add to this the flush toilets and hot showers and Arroyo Seco campground may be one of the Los Padres National Forest's better kept secrets.

The Los Padres National Forest, with its towering Ponderosa pine covered mountains in the east and sandy Pacific beaches to the west, offers a diversity in recreation opportunities making this Forest well-suited for either a family camping vacation or a long weekend of solitude. It is rare when visitors do not find something to meet their own likes and needs. From chaparral covered hills to those covered by vineyards and the delight of the Big Sur's Pacific Ocean to the solitude of inland mountain trails, there is lots to enjoy in Los Padres National Forest.

SUPERVISOR OFFICE 6755 Hollister Ave. Suite 150 Goleta, California 93117 805-968-6640 RANGER DISTRICT OFFICES Monterey 406 S. Mildred King City, California 93930 831-385-5434 Mt. Pinos 34580 Lockwood Valley Rd. Frazier Park, California 93225 661-245-3731 Ojai 1190 E. Ojai Ave. Ojai, California 93023 805-646-4348 Santa Barbara 3505 Paradise Rd. Santa Barbara, California 93105 805-967-3481 Santa Lucia 1616 N. Carlotti Dr. Santa Maria, California 93454 805-925-9538

Fred and Suzi Dow