The Los Padres National Forest is divided into two separate areas. The first is located along the Big Sur coastline while the second is Ventana Wilderness. It includes the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, the oldest sanctuary in the United States for endangered raptor birds. This forest contains three national recreation areas and 10 wilderness areas. The area, near Santa Barbara, California, is also a great place to see many of California’s endangered animals. From redwood forests to semi-desert ecosystems, this national forest is a beautiful place to visit.
Start your hike at the Cater Water Filtration Plant off of San Roque Road. Dip down into the canyon before starting the gentle uphill slope. Hike under the sycamore trees and splash in Jesusita Creek as you cross it a couple of times. Then, follow the trail through the oak forest and open meadows to reach Moreno Ranch. Wind your way through a series of switchbacks until you get to Inspiration Point.
Length: 6.7 miles
Park along the 1900 block of Las Canoas Road in North Santa Barbara to begin this hike through Rattlesnake Canyon. Cross the creek, and climb up the hills and back down again until you reach Lunch Rock. This large, flat rock in the middle of the stream is a fantastic place to watch for purple hummingbirds. Then, continue to Tin Can Meadow, named for the historic farmstead located there in the early 1900s. Finally, continue on the trail, and you will exit at Gibraltar Road after enjoying stunning coastal views.
Length: 2.5 miles
The Tunnel Trail is almost a loop trail, which starts at the end of Santa Barbara’s Tunnel Road. Follow the path as you climb to the top of La Cumbre Peak. Then, explore the old homestead area as the trail meanders its way back to the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens.
Length: 8.5 miles
Start this trail by an old locked gate on Romero Canyon Road near its intersection with Bella Vista Drive. Follow the creek bed until you start hiking through the chaparral. Then, continue following the ascent until you reach the end of the canyon. Once you get to the Camino Cielo ridgeline, walk northwest about 1.5 miles, and you will find a dirt road heading back down the canyon.
Length: 6 miles
Start this trail at the river in the Lower Santa Ynez Recreation Area. Follow the path along the creek and pass several swimming holes. At its end, you can walk slightly uphill and take the higher elevation road back to the starting point. This loop trail offers stunning ocean views.
Length: 7 miles
If you love to go steelhead trout fishing, then you must visit the streams in Los Padres National Forest. It is possible that all the species of steelhead trout in northern areas got their start in the place south of the Santa Maria River in this forest. Waters remain cool enough in most areas of this forest that trout love to come here to spawn and use the deep pools as their summer home. You can also go saltwater fishing at the Sand Beach Day Use Area, the Southern section of the Big Sur coastline.
Traditional geocaches have been hidden in the Wind Caves area of the Los Padres National Forest. Many of the geocaches in this area, like Bustin’ Out, requires some rock scrambling to get to it, although no technical climbing equipment is needed. Even if you do not find the cache, this is a fun area to explore with many caves. One of the caves is large enough that early settlers could have hidden wagons in it.
There are many fabulous places to go birdwatching and nature viewing in the Los Padres National Forest. Consider visiting the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, but be sure to stay on the 0.25-mile paths. Officials established this area so that California condors, which were once extinct in the wild, would have a place to be released by the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Take precautions so that you do not drop any food because it can hurt the chances for these birds, which now number over 300 in the wild, to survive.
There are fantastic stargazing opportunities in Los Padres National Forest, especially near Mount Pinon. The parking lot at the Chuchupate Ranger Station is a great place to watch the stars at night, but there are great roadside pullouts in this area. Another great option is the Lockwood Valley, between Lake of the Woods and Ojai. The Reyes Creek Campground is a fantastic campground to stay at while stargazing.
Address: Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center, 17017 Maricopa Highway, Ojai, California 93023
Fee: Entry fee $0
Anglers love to visit Los Padres National Forest because it is one of the few places where you can go saltwater fishing. The trout are often biting in the streams and rivers year-round. You can find fantastic places to go hiking and stargazing. The edge of this national forest is on Santa Barbara’s northern border, and the Big Sur coastline runs through this location. The best way to explore all this national forest has to offer is in an RV.