On-trail Bushwhacking: Los Padres National Forest



Our destination: the peak in the middle

Los Padres National Fores, one of Luke’s favorite spots (Sharon’s not so much), is known for its rugged trails, the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, coastal views, and temperature extremes with varying micro-climates and ecosystems.

The Indians Ranger Station is closed due to budget cuts.


Rusty old tractor almost the color of the vegetation.

The hike to the top of Junipero Serra is a grueling, exposed 6 miles.


Sharon stepping over a downed tree on way up.

It took about 4 hours to do the 6 miles to Junipero Serra Peak. We lost the trial twice. The first time was almost right at the start. With lots of use-trail leading every which way, take your time to stay on the correct trail.

We spent half the hike fighting through the tangles of Manzanita and Shrub Oak. The latter, with its spiky leaves, made us feel as if though we were undergoing the torture of a million cuts and our shins had the scratches to show for it. Gaiters are good idea.


Snow and ice near the summit.

As we approached the 1785 meter (5875 foot) peak, the highest in the Santa Lucias, the temperature dropped drastically. The day started off chilly, but only got colder as we climbed. Due to snow, the trail can become obstructed with deadfall. Be mindful to keep on the trail.


The lookout tower.

The peak is supposed to offer views of both the ocean and the Sierra Nevada, clear across the Central Valley to the Easton a clear day.

Temperatures can dip below zero so check the weather forecast before leaving and be prepared.

The 1160 meters (3800 feet) down took under 3 hours due to dense shrubbery.

Even during the rainy season, water can be sparse.


Sierra Nevada-like peaks.

Though we didn’t see the ocean or the greatest of California’s mountain ranges, the views were spectacular, and in fact often reminiscent of the Sierras themselves. Jagged peaks and massive rock slabs made us feel as if though we were in Yosemite. We also managed to find solitude. Beside a couple hikers heading down as we started our trek, we didn’t see anyone until we were almost back at the trailhead. We’d say we reached Destination Isolation on this one.

For more national forest adventures, visit our U.S. Forest Service Agency Guide.