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new backpackers planning trip near the central coast, ca
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Josh Potter

Locale: Central Coast, CA
new backpackers planning trip near the central coast, ca on 02/05/2013 00:53:58 MST Print View

Hey guys and gals!

First, many thanks for the great knowledge and advice and time that has gone into such a helpful community by all of you!

My wife and I just completed our first backpacking trip together last month, and did the Sespe Creek trail in the lower Los Padres to the hot springs. Lots of lessons learned, but an overall great trip.

I'm trying to plan our next trip that we will do in early March. We're looking for some input on an easier (9.5 miles in and a repeat the next morning was tough!) 3 day type backpacking adventure and have been researching some trails in the Ventana Wilderness, but am open to other suggestions. Try and search as I might, I'm having a tough time finding what we're looking for.

So here it goes... what the perfect trip looks like, in order of importance! Total distance of about 5-6 miles per day, maybe longer on the first and last with a shorter day to rest. Reasonably close to the Central Coast (San Luis Obispo area). Fishing... seems like barlow flats area may have some? And finally, a bit more forest type hike than we previously experienced. We're able to fiddle a bit with the nights out, maybe 3 nights 4 days, etc. Water sources are a huge plus as well, I just learned how heavy packing all the water can be! (and yah I know... there was plenty of water on our hike up a CREEK... but that falls into the lessons learned category!)

Thanks ahead of time!


David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"new backpackers planning trip near the central coast, ca" on 02/05/2013 08:17:12 MST Print View

Hello Josh -

I can't help you out with your request but I wanted to welcome you to BPL and backpacking in general. Prepare to get addicted! (To gear AND hiking).

As I'm sure you have already learned, there is a wealth of information available here. And many highly skilled contributors as well.

I'm sure someone will be along shortly to help you out, if not be sure to bump your post to the head of the line.


Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Trip Ideas around Central Coast, CA on 02/05/2013 10:16:26 MST Print View

Hi Josh,

Welcome to BPL. Lots of good info available on this site including some trip reports from around the central coast, mainly in and around Los Padres National Forest.

Given that you're new to this stuff, I've highlighted a couple of the more well known and well maintained trails for you to consider. There's 100s of miles of trails in the Los Padres but easy access and/or trail upkeep is often lacking, so these are a good place for you start.

Here's some ideas for you for possible trips...

In the Big Sur area, the most heavily used trail is the Pine Ridge Trail that leaves from the Big Sur Station just south of the big Julia Pfeiffer State Park campground. This trail will take you to Ventana, Barlow Flats, Sykes camps and beyond. It's well maintained, has lots of water and all of the camps are nestled amongst the redwoods. Barlow Flats might be a nice destination for you to base camp at and then dayhike up to check out Sykes on day 2. Sykes has hot springs but the area and the hot springs themselves have been overun with people. Ventana Camp used to be nice and has a great swimming hole; I haven't been there in years but I've heard the spur trail that takes you there from the Pine Ridge trail has been neglected since the fires. Not sure if this has changed or not. I believe fishing is allowed in the upper reaches of the Big Sur River but only from late May to October and only with barbless hooks; check with Fish and Game to confirm.

A little closer to you, are the trailheads at Salmon Creek Station (Buckeye Trail), and just north from there, the Cruicshank Trail to Villa Creek. Both of these are nice, easy trails with good views of the ocean and nice camp spots near creeks. Villa Creek camp is set amidst the southern-most stand of Coast Redwoods.

For any trail in Big Sur, watch out for PO and as we get into spring, ticks.

Down around Santa Barbara area, the trails in the San Rafael Wilderness accessed from NIRA camp behind Santa Ynez are nice and well maintained. You can follow the Manzana Creek Trail downstream to the Manzana Schoolhouse (about 9 miles each way; mostly flat) at the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River. You can also follow the Manzana Creek trail upstream to the Manzana Narrows and beyond. It's similar setting to the Sespe Creek Trail, but with more trees; not quite as desert-like. No fishing allowed here anymore.

Down closer to your last hike in the Sespe Wilderness, there's a couple of options to get into the Sespe high country and hike and camp amidst the Cedar forests along the Pine Mountain Ridge. You could access the area via Hwy 166 to Hwy 33 to Lockwood Valley Road and then head to the TH behind Camp Sheideck. There's some nice camps back there with reliable water set amidst the pines like Beartrap Camps and Haddock Camp. The trail continues all the way over the Pine Mountain Ridge and terminates at the Sespe River TH. The trail is generally in good shape too.

Here's some good resources for info:
Sespe Map: Tom Harrison Maps
Santa Barbara Backcountry: Bryan Conant Maps for San Rafael and Dick Smith Wilderness areas
Big Sur Trip Ideas:
Santa Barbara Trip Ideas:
Also check out the "Condor Trail" page on Facebook. Lots of good info there from all over Los Padres.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: new backpackers planning trip near the central coast, ca on 02/05/2013 13:55:11 MST Print View

Be careful with the trails in Big Sur. Just because a trail is listed on a map, doesn't mean that you are going to find a nice trail. Many of the trails out there are extremely overgrown and you could find yourself in a brutal bushwack. Some of the trails were carved into sharp drop offs that collapsed, making them dangerous. Always look up trail conditions.

Sykes is terrible place to camp. Barlow is a great camp. I haven't seen many fishing opportunities along the river. It's too shallow for anything beyond minnows.

If you want to have a really unique experience, try hiking up or down the big sur river. You can find all kinds of cool places that nobody ever goes to. Just be prepared to swim.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Trip Ideas around Central Coast, CA on 02/05/2013 13:57:46 MST Print View

Ventana Camp is still there. The first part of the trail down there is confusing and overgrown. When I was there a guy was working on the trail.

Edited by justin_baker on 02/05/2013 13:58:27 MST.

Josh Potter

Locale: Central Coast, CA
buckeye trail loop to salmon creek on 02/05/2013 18:09:30 MST Print View

Thanks for all of the quick responses and insight guys, and for the warm BPL welcome.

Justin, that river trek sounds really fun, but probably more for sometime this summer.

Nico, the links and pointing us the right direction for more info was incredibly helpful. Mellissa and i loved reading your post on the villa creek hike with bixby! We have two chocolate labs that may come with us. Looking at the ventana wild site you referanced and looking at the buckeye trail reports has me looking at the loop from buckeye cruikshank salmon creek loop. Have you ever taken this route? Any thoughts or pointers?


Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Cruikshank-Salmon-Buckeye Loop on 02/05/2013 18:53:06 MST Print View

Hi Josh,

Lots of folks have done that loop in the last year or so, you can find trail updates for the three specified trails on the Ventana Wild website.

Generally, the Salmon Creek trail is pretty clear and easy to follow up to Estrella Camp. Not as many folks go beyond and therefore the upper section doesn't get worked/cleared as often. Expect to have to do some bush whacking, route finding and possibly climbing over deadfalls or traversing sketchy sections where the trail has slid away once you're past Estrella.

Cruikshank is similar; the lower half or so is generally in good, clear condition. The upper section doesn't sound like it's currently as bad as upper Salmon Creek Trail but I'd at least expect to have some brush crowding in on the trail and the occasional deadfall. Signage up around the intersection of the Coast Ridge Rd and the Cruikshank trail is minimal or non-existent, so pay attention to where you're heading.

Buckeye Trail will be clear and easy to follow. Perhaps some encroaching brush, especially in the shady areas, but otherwise easy walking.

A couple notes about taking dogs on these hikes: Big Sur has a lot of poison oak and in the spring can have a lot of ticks. Walking the trails, even the clear ones, you will encounter lots of both. If you are allergic to PO (most people are), you will want to carefully consider whether to bring your dogs. The dogs plow right through the stuff and aren't affected but the nasty oils stay on their coat. They will inevitably spread those oils onto anything they touch (you, your clothes, your tent, your car, etc.) and then when you touch this stuff, you have a good chance of getting the itchy rash (similary, if you get the oils on your hand and then touch other parts of you, you can spread the rash).

Be sure to check your dogs over for ticks thoroughly throughout the hike. With the thick double coats on labs, you usually have a little time to find the ticks before they attach themselves. Lyme disease is supposedly rare in our area but at least a few cases have been confirmed. Consider putting your dog on some kind of tick treatment like Vectra; it will kill any ticks that try to bite your dogs, nonetheless, your best defense is a good offense; try to keep the dogs on the trail and out of the brush and pull off any ticks you find right away before they get too embedded.

Also keep an eye out for rattlesnakes once we get into the warmer weather. A lot of the trails are narrow in Big Sur and walking around an angry rattlesnake is not always easy. I'd recommend keeping your dogs leashed while hiking on the trails so as to hopefully better control their wanderings and avoid interactions with an angry buzzworm.