Maps & Trail Guides

Due to the somewhat spotty character of trail signage in the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas, heading out into the backcountry without a trail guide is at best adventurous, while venturing forth without at least a map is courting disaster. And needlessly so, as both are readily available. Any of the guides and maps below, when used in conjunction with the VWA's Online Trail Conditions Page, should go a long way toward helping plan an enjoyable wilderness visit.


TRAIL GUIDES

The backcountry traveler has his or her choice of three different trail guides covering the region. All are good, all have strengths and weaknesses.

A good solution to the problem of packing a bulky trail guide into the backcountry with you is to photocopy the pages you want to have with you in the field, saving weight as well as wear-and-tear on your book. Even more weight savings can be realized by using a double sided copier, cutting the number of pages in half when compared to a single-sided job.

Sierra Club Trail Guide for the Los Padres National Forest (Northern Section)
7th Edition (2003)

This long-time guide to the area backcountry, in a new 7th Edition published in 2003, covers all of the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas. The trail descriptions are a little on the terse side, at times covering many miles of ground with a single sentence. This leaves big room for the all-important feeling of adventure and discovery, but for an area novice could lead to occasional confusion. It comes packaged with the latest Sierra Club 1:126,720 Trail Map (see below), which is well done but lacks topographic information and contains the occasional innacuracy.

Price: $14.95 including Trail Map
Source: The Sierra Club guide and map are currently available online from REI and Amazon.
The website Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club has a list of local outlets which carry the guide at http://santalucia.sierraclub.org/trail.html.

Hiking & Backpacking Big Sur:
A Complete Guide to the Trails of Big Sur, Ventana Wilderness, and Silver Peak Wilderness

by Analise Elliot

This is the newest trail guide to the Big Sur Area, published in January 2005 by The Wilderness Press as an update to Shaffer's outdated guidebook (see below). Although this book is not without flaws, it covers trails south of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road including the Silver Peak Wilderness Area, which Schaffer's book does not. The "Trips by Theme" section is also a useful feature.

The guide includes:

  • Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns state parks, Ventana Wilderness, Silver Peak Wilderness, Point Lobos, State Reserve, Carmel River and Garrapata state beaches, and more
  • Trip descriptions with length, trail condition, highlights, and difficulty ratings
  • A handy section listing Big Sur events, and the eateries, lodgings, campgrounds, and art galleries of Highway 1
  • A "Trips By Theme" section that highlights the best trips for your desires: waterfalls, wildlife, fishing, or swimming
  • Updated topographic maps for each trip

List Price: $19.95
Sources: Wilderness Press, Amazon.com

For those of you who want to buy online but prefer to support independent booksellers, you can find both new and used copies at Powell's Books in Portland, OR (the world's largest independent bookstore, with excellent online search and ordering facilities), or at abebooks.com or bookfinder.com, online bookstores representing a wide range of both large and small independent bookstores.

Hiking the Big Sur Country: The Ventana Wilderness by Jeffrey P. Schaffer

This Wilderness Press publication was first brought out in 1988 and is in need of some timely updating. A by now out-of-date update can be found at the Wilderness Press website; the freshest source of trail conditions is still the VWA Trails Page . Nevertheless, Schaffer's step-by-step trail descriptions leave little to chance (or discovery) and might be a good choice for the Ventana first-timer. It is a little larger in size and weight than the Sierra Club guide, but includes fairly in-depth introductions to the local flora, fauna and geology, as well as excellent and highly detailed topographic maps based upon the USGS 7.5 minute quads which, after reduction, weigh in at 1:42,100. The glaring downside to Schaffer's book is that it totally omits everything south of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, which includes the Silver Peak Wilderness Area.

List Price: $15.95
Sources: Wilderness Press, Amazon.com

For those of you who want to buy online but prefer to support independent booksellers, you can find both new and used copies at Powell's Books in Portland, OR (the world's largest independent bookstore, with excellent online search and ordering facilities), or at abebooks.com or bookfinder.com, online bookstores representing a wide range of both large and small independent bookstores.

The Natural History of Big Sur by Paul Henson and Donald Usner

While a highly informative book, as a trail guide The Natural History of Big Sur lacks the portability of the alternative guides. The LPNF trail information included in the book accounts for about 50 pages out of 400, and is well written and fairly up-to-date. The obvious problem is that one must carry along the other 350 pages as well, which may not be a bad idea if learning about the land through which one walks is important to the walker. It includes lightly detailed maps of the area with minimal topographic information.

List Price: $18.95
Source: University of California Press, Amazon.com

For those of you who want to buy online but prefer to support independent booksellers, you can find both new and used copies at Powell's Books in Portland, OR (the world's largest independent bookstore, with excellent online search and ordering facilities), or at abebooks.com or bookfinder.com, online bookstores representing a wide range of both large and small independent bookstores.


AREA MAPS

USFS Maps

The USFS Los Padres National Forest, Monterey and Santa Lucia Ranger Districts (1996) is a good, fairly up-to-date map in 1:126,720 scale that shows the entire Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas. All of the depicted trails are clear and concise and with a few exceptions accurate, but it lacks topographical contours.

Price: $6.47

A six-image digital version of this map is now available at the LPNF website. It's pretty low-resolution but useful if you don't have the printed version.



Source for USFS maps:

USFS Map Sales, or

Los Padres National Forest
Monterey Ranger District
406 South Mildred
King City, California 93930
(408)385-5434

SIERRA CLUB

The Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club has produced a good map of the area that is included with its Trail Guide. It is based upon, and very similar to, the USFS LPNF 1996 map, and unfortunately shares that map's occasional inaccuracy and lack of topographic information. It is crisp and delightful to study, however, and in conjunction with some USGS 7.5 quads serves quite well. Revised in 2004.

Price: $4.95 by itself; $14.95 with the Trail Guide
Source: The map is available by itself from REI. It is also available in combination with the Trail Guide: see the links following the Sierra Club Trail Guide description.

USGS 7.5' Topographic Quadrangles

The entire Monterey Ranger District is covered by the USGS 7.5' 1:24,000 quads, with the most useful maps for the recreational backcountry traveler being these:

  • Big Sur 1995
  • Burnett Peak 1995
  • Burro Mountain 1995
  • Cape San Martin 1995
  • Carmel Valley 1995
  • Chews Ridge 1995
  • Cone Peak 1995
  • Junipero Serra Peak 1995
  • Lopez Point 1995
  • Mount Carmel 1995
  • Partington Ridge 1995
  • Ventana Cones 1995
  • Villa Creek 1995
  • Zigzag Creek 1995 (formerly Tassajara Hot Springs)

Price: $6.00 - $9.00 per quad
Source: Almost any good outdoor store in the region will carry the USGS quads listed above. If they are not available in your area, try the USGS' map dealers list.

Quads can also be ordered directly from the USGS online Map Store at $6 per 7.5' 1:24,000 quad + $5 handling per order.

DIGITAL MAPS

Topo! San Francisco Bay Area, Wine Country, and Big Sur

This is a delightful map program on CD-ROM that covers all the ground mentioned in the title. For our concerns, though, only the Big Sur area is applicable. It covers the entire Monterey Ranger District including the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas, and displays it all on 5 different scale levels:

1:500,000
1:250,000
1:63,360
1:24,000, and
1:12,000

It is comprised of USFS and USGS maps scanned and pasted together digitally, allowing the user to scroll almost seamlessly all the way through the entire region, which can be areal kick with a fast CD-ROM drive. The program also allows the user to draw routes on the maps, for which it calculates distance as well as elevation change and compiles elevation profiles in a matter of seconds.

Price: $24.95 if you purchase online; price in stores can vary.
Source: http://maps.nationalgeographic.com/topo/

Online Topographical Map Resources

Also check out the following links for online access to USGS 7.5' topo maps:

MapTech MapServer
Maptech is mostly known for its collections of maps on CD, but the company now offers seamless topographic and nautical maps for free on its server. A terrific Resource for online USGS topographical maps. Fast-loading, easy printing and download.

TerraServer
Microsoft has added topographic map coverage to its extensive database of aerial photographs. You can switch between the two with the click of a mouse. This is an excellent resource for trip planning - the aerials show details that the maps don't.

TopoZone
True topo map coverage on the web for the entire U.S. (except for Alaska). You can view 1:24k and 1:100k maps in two scales each, control the map size, and scroll around. An excellent site, although, like TerraServer, it can be slow going over a modem connection.

The Free Topo Foundation
This excellent site (formerly TopoWest) is your source for downloadable scanned topographical maps. You can download maps in two formats: high-resolution Digital Raster Graphics (DRGs) in TIFF format - about 9 megabytes each - or low-resolution (25dpi, ~110KB) and mid-resolution (100dpi, ~1.5MB) PNG images. The map database is searchable by index map, quad name, index list, or by placename. 400dpi-resolution printed maps may also be ordered online on regular or waterproof paper ($4.00 and $6.00, respectively). A great resource.