With over 300 miles of trails and dozens of camps in the Big Sur backcountry, there is ample opportunity for recreation and solitude. Since we are so often asked for trip suggestions, we offer these five locales as a mere sampling of what the Ventana region has to offer.
Please note: Trail and camp conditions change constantly. Always research trail conditions before you head out and be prepared for the many perils associated with Wilderness travel. Apply information gathered at ventanawild.org at your own risk. VWA assumes no liability for the usage of this information.
The Buckeye Trail is arguably the most scenic trail in the entire Silver Peak Wilderness. With a long history of use dating back to the 1880’s under the name “Upper Coast Trail,” the Buckeye Trail was the main travel route to the Los Burros Mining District from points south along the coast. Today, the Buckeye Trail begins at the abandoned Salmon Creek Guard Station next to Highway 1 and winds its way north-northwest along the coastal slope, offering the traveler sweeping vistas of the Big Sur coastline. After passing above and within viewing distance of the Southern Redwood Botanical Area—the southernmost grove of naturally occurring Sequoia sempervirens in the world—it arrives at spacious Buckeye Flat, one of the more accommodating backcountry camps in Big Sur. From Buckeye Flat it continues north through Cruikshank Camp before dropping down to redwood-rich Villa Creek Camp, then climbs up and contours through the Alder Creek Botanical Area to reach its northern terminus at Alder Creek Camp. In conjunction with other trails such as the Cruikshank, Salmon Creek and Three Peaks,the Buckeye Trail makes possible some very enjoyable long weekend loop trips starting and ending at the Salmon Creek Station.
The Carrizo Trail is one of the most historically important trails in the Ventana Wilderness. Prior to the completion of Highway 1 in 1937, many of the south coast Big Sur homestead families, including the Harlans, Danis, Gamboas, and Lopezes, used the Carrizo Trail as their main connection with civilization at Jolon and King City in the Salinas Valley. Several times a year they herded cattle, pigs, goats, and even turkeys to market over the Coast Range via the Carrizo Trail, returning with the necessary supplies to sustain their remote existence.
The Carrizo Trail’s eastern terminus is at the scenic Wagon Cave Plains in the upper San Antonio Valley. Heading westward, it climbs steeply up to the coast ridge, passing through intriguing sandstone formations and oak forests before topping out at its juncture with the Coast Ridge Trail beneath majestic old-growth sugar pines. When combined with the Gamboa Trail, Stone Ridge Trail, and Vicente Trail, the Carrizo Trail allows backcountry travelers to make a complete traverse of the coast range from inland valley to the Pacific shore.
Stone Ridge Trail
The Stone Ridge Trail in the Ventana Wilderness offers hikers the quintessential “Big Sur experience.” This incredibly scenic trail takes backcountry travelers through deep old-growth redwood forests, over sunny, oak-studded ridges, through grassy meadowlands, and across babbling mountain streams, while offering some of the best coastal views to be found anywhere in the northern Santa Lucia Mountains. It also makes possible, in conjunction with the Vicente Flat and Gamboa Trails, a popular weekend loop trip that circumnavigates 5,155-foot-high Cone Peak.
From where it starts on Cone Peak Road, the Vicente Flat Trail descends to spacious, redwood-shaded Vicente Flat Camp before meeting the Stone Ridge Trail, which contours north across the coastal slope. It eventually crosses each and every fork of Limekiln Creek as well as its namesake—Stone Ridge—with its stunning views of the Big Sur Coast. Along the way to Goat Camp on the west fork of the creek, the trail passes through the Cone Peak Gradient Research Natural Area, offering not only exceptional recreational opportunities but important scientific research access as well.
Pine Ridge Trail
Completely traversing the Ventana Wilderness from 5,000-foot-high Chews Ridge to Big Sur Station, the Pine Ridge is the most popular trail in the Ventana Region. Built in 1916 by the Post family of Big Sur, the Pine Ridge Trail offers hikers and equestrians a complete array of backcountry camps to enjoy. The western half has streamside and redwood-shaded Terrace Creek, Barlow, Sykes and Redwood Camps, while the eastern portion of the trail offers montane conifer and mixed hardwood forested ridges and meadows at Pine Ridge, Divide and Pine Valley camps.
With the dedicated and secure parking area at Big Sur Station, the western Pine Ridge trailhead is the wilderness entry point of choice for many backcountry travelers. While many use it for access to the beautiful riverside camps along the wild and scenic Big Sur River, it also makes possible a number of outstanding loop trips in the Ventana Wilderness.
Ventana Double Cone Trail
Winter travelers in the Ventana Wilderness are particularly fond of the Ventana Double Cone Trail, due to the fact that its entire length runs along high, warm, sunny ridgelines rather than the deeper, cooler canyon alternatives. From the trailhead at Bottchers Gap, the trail climbs up and over Skinner Ridge and Devils Peak, passing through some of the most impressive madrone and black oak forest to be found anywhere. It follows the forested ridge between the Little Sur and Carmel River watersheds, passing by a number of excellent camps— Comings, Pat Spring, Little Pines, and Lone Pine— before arriving at its namesake, the summit of Ventana Double Cone. If any specific location could be considered the heart of the Ventana Wilderness, the Double Cone summit is it. With lofty views in every direction, including the vast Pacific Ocean to the west, this remote mountaintop was once the site of a fire lookout—and for good reason.