Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Winter backpacking a few hours south of the Bay Area
Display Avatars Sort By:
Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
Winter backpacking a few hours south of the Bay Area on 12/14/2011 11:00:11 MST Print View

I like to backpack in the winter, but I'll be honest, I do not much like it around here in the Bay Area. It's ideal for day hiking, but at night it's foggy and/or damp and you get chilled to the bone. With the really long nights, it just isn't pleasant.

Is there somewhere within a 5-6 hour drive south, that is not so goddang damp? I can handle cold nights. Is the Las Padres NF winter packable? Drivable from here?

I do know about the Ventana Wilderness...b-packed there a couple of times, but that was in the spring. What are the conditions there in winter?

- Elizabeth

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
Big Sur lovely in winter on 12/14/2011 11:24:25 MST Print View

Big Sur/Ventana is lovely in Winter. I'm assuming you have real rain gear, and that you are using a real tent, and that you have a sleeping bag/air mattress that is adequately warm, and that you are using layers that actually fit the climate/time of year, otherwise I'm somewhat mystified by your 'cold/damp' comments, I've done lots of winter backpacking in lower altitude Northern California, and neither cold nor damp are the first memories that come into mind, except when my gear was bad/worn out or otherwise insufficient. Point Reyes is really nice in winter too.

I'm also assuming you aren't following the advice to walk around with wet socks/feet because of not wanting to carry the few oz of weight a light pair of stream waders entails. Point Reyes has no streams to cross so that's not an issue there.

There's not a lot you can do about the length of day, maybe bring a decent headlamp and cook after dark sets, then read or something, I can't make any suggestions about how to spend the roughly 12 hours a day darkness, never bothered me much that I can remember. I personally like reading a very good book when backpacking, that's why I sprang for a good zebralight headlamp, all the better to read at night.

The high ridges in Ventana aren't going to be in the same climate zone as the lower redwood canyon/valleys, so that's something else to think about, you can access those either from Botcher's Gap, or by hiking past Sykes on the main pine ridge trail, or by driving in from the inland side, to China camp or thereabouts.

I'm actually itching to do these kinds of trips myself, all of the above would be nice at this time of year. Now that I think of it, a synthetic sleeping bag will help a bit if it's very damp / humid in the air, I haven't tried some of my new light gear in these settings yet, so can't say what works and what doesn't, regular weight gear is excellent in our winters though, that I know.

If there's wood and fire is allowed and safe, a campfire is another really nice way to spend a few hours at night, staring into the dancing flames, watching the embers shift and swirl... but I digress.

Edited by hhope on 12/14/2011 11:32:28 MST.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Winter Backpacking in Los Padres on 12/16/2011 16:29:27 MST Print View

Lots of great options in the Los Padres for winter backpacking. Outside of Big Sur, I'm not too familiar with what the northern parts of the LPNF have to offer around the San Luis Obispo area, but I'm much better acquainted with the southern (and central) portions of the LPNF behind Santa Maria/Santa Ynez/Santa Barbara/Ojai areas.

In fact, winter is my prime time for hiking in the LPNF: few or no ticks, no snakes, fewer people, more manageable temps (imo) and more reliable water. Winter temps can be all over the place in the LPNF: we inevitably get a few summer-like days with temps in the 80s and a few nights at the other extreme down in the teens, but most nights in the winter probably hover around freezing plus or minus about 5 degrees and most days probably are in the 50s or low 60s.

If you want the winter experience of snow, consider hikes along some of the higher points (Mission Pine Ridge, Cuyama Ridge, Pine Mountain area behind Ojai, or Mt Pinos area). If you want to avoid snow (other than maybe an occasional dusting if you happen to be out there during a storm), then stay lower and consider hikes along some of the river valleys like Manzana Creek, Sisquoc River, Santa Cruz Creek, Matilija Creek, Santa Ynez River or Sespe River.

Check out for trail reports, descriptions, etc. The woman who runs the site posts here on BPL as Piper. The Condor Trail is another great resource for LPNF inspiration; look them up on Facebook or at