Puerto Suello Trail

Alan Harder
Posts: 7
Joined: Wed Nov 09, 2022 6:27 pm

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Alan Harder »

Date Hiked: April 28, 2024
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

I set out to do some maintenance here but spent most of the trip working on Carmel River Trail, leaving just a few hours to get started on Puerto Suello. But it was good to begin because there were two HUGE deadfalls right at the start. The first visible from Hiding Camp, completely hiding the existence of Puerto Suello Trail at all.. and if you managed to get around that, there was another one just 50 yards on. I was forced to reroute the trail here.. there's a small run coming down to the Carmel River right at Hiding Camp; the trail originally went up the left side a bit before crossing. Now it crosses immediately out of Hiding Camp and goes up the right side to join up with the original trail (where you immediately hit another fallen tree right at a switchback so you have to climb over it twice!). I put up several flag markers on the reroute.
From there I cleared brush and deadfall for about 0.4mi, or about halfway from Hiding Camp to the first creek crossing.
Based on what I found in this short stretch, if you hike this trail expect a significant obstacle every few minutes.. bring good gloves for pulling out smaller deadfall, tough clothing for bushwhacking around larger deadfall, and preferably some loppers to cut back brush.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by PaulS »

Date Hiked: November 13, 2022
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Trip overview:
2 night / 3 day loop, starting at Los Padres Dam, following the Carmel River Trail in southern direction until Hiding Camp (1st night), then Puerto Suelo Trail uphill in western direction, then Ventana Double Cone (VDC) Trail in northern direction until Pat Springs Camp (2nd night), then Big Pines Trail in eastern direction until it hits the Carmel River Trail again near the Los Padres Reservoir. Back on the Carmel River Trail to Los Padres Dam. I hiked alone.


Hiding Camp to Pat Springs Camp via Puerto Suelo Trail (and VDC trail):
Puerto Suelo Trail starts directly at Hiding camp and climbs out of the valley. The trail is very difficult and barely passable. The vegetation is extremely dense. It not only covers the visible trail in many parts completely, but the thick vines and abundant leaves make it physically quite difficult to move forward. In some places the trail has disappeared and is basically indistinguishable from the surrounding environment. Dead trees and branches block the trail very often and I had to remove my backpack several times to crawl under them. There are occasional red trail flags (thanks a thousand times to whoever put these there) that help tremendously at the most difficult parts where the creek is crossed. However, I found several of them on the ground, torn or ripped, so the markings are fading. Twice I completely lost the trail and only found it back after searching for some time among thorny bushes that blanketed entire areas. I would rate the trail as impassable if you need a somewhat clear path to follow, but it is ‘passable’ if you are prepared for hours of uphill bushwhacking and path finding. It took me 3 hours to get to the top and according to the gpx track I covered a distance of 3.6 miles including all the back and forth and trail finding and bushwhacking. At the top, the Puerto Suelo Trail meets the VDC trail, I didn’t see a signpost though. When I turned around to look at where I just came from, I couldn’t even identify the pair of bushes between which I had just emerged…
BG Rich
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2021 4:09 pm

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by BG Rich »

Date Hiked: November 2, 2021
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

We hiked the section of this trail from Hiding Camp to the Ventana trail junction on November 2 as part of our trip from China Camp to Ventana Double Cone. Generally speaking, I agree with the previous poster but it sounds like it is now more overgrown than it was in March. There is definitely a lot of ducking to dodge poison oak and scrambling to get over downed trees. A week later, we are still suffering the effects of head-to-toe poison oak gotten mostly on Carmel River trail but to a lesser extent on this one as well.
Alan Harder

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Alan Harder »

Date Hiked: March 28, 2021
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

The Puerto Suello trail has been restored.

It is now reasonably cleared and marked with flags at creek crossings and other spots in the middle section where it might otherwise be hard to follow. This is still a very difficult trail: plenty of logs to climb over, encroaching brush and several short sections that are very steep. However, the impenetrable walls between existing sections of trail have been cleared and are now passable.
Remick Letcher

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Remick Letcher »

Date Hiked: February 10, 2021
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

I am overjoyed that my first trip back in the Ventana after the Dolan Fire closures included Puerto Suello, as it is one of the most intense bushwhacking experiences I've had the pleasure to suffer. I approached from the Carmel River Trail and arrived at Hiding Camp at 3:00pm. Eager for vengeance, I snacked before heading up trail at 3:30. I was delighted to find the beginning section in much better condition than I had seen before, and made it to the creek with ease. My mind was utterly blown as I ascended the creek, following an obvious path surrounded by poison oak and blackberry bramble.

In no time I was halfway up the canyon, when trail became faint and a wall of brush halted my ambitious stride. I saw the rocky hillside was mostly free of brush, so I began ascending on the loose rocks. Big mistake. After gaining a few epic bruises on my shins, I found myself deeply established in the bush. I spent the next hour exerting maximum effort towards movement, sometimes crawling in the dirt, other times walking above the bush on fallen branches and jumping off to crawl in the dirt more.

Finally as last light approached I found a steep, grassy hill and was able to make good progress. At this point I was well out of the creek bed, so I did my best to aim towards the Ventana Double Cone Trail. Once it got dark navigating the bush was much more challenging, and when a lovely little patch of dirt presented itself, I laid down and slept under the stars. In the morning I found there were plenty of rocks to clamber upon, making the last section of ridge walking fairly easy. At last I made it to trail, and was so excited I actually started running.

I made it to the summit of Ventana Double Cone before noon and relished in the endless beauty of such a rugged and spiritual place. With all my worries and fears cured by bush therapy, I had nothing left to do but smile.
Alan Harder

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Alan Harder »

Date Hiked: August 2, 2020
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Firstly, I agree with other comments that you almost certainly do not want to venture into Puerto Suello. That said, I was able to make it all the way up and back so I thought I'd share as much detail as I can.

A) Hiding Camp to the creek in Puerto Suello canyon.

The trail for this portion is still mostly followable, but with many obstacles to go around or over. Two tricky bits were:
- Right after leaving Hiding Camp the trail crosses a small streambed, and was unclear after that; I scrambled up the hillside and found the trail ok. Coming back this part was easier.
- There's one switchback climbing up, about halfway to the canyon. Shortly afterwards the trail makes a 90 degree right turn. This is fine on the way up, but when coming down it very much looks like the trail continues straight, but then it'll disappear. Watch closely for a pile of sticks on the ground, and when you see them stop and look for a smaller gap in the bushes to your left.. that's the trail.

B) Lower canyon; heavy growth around and over the stream.

Heading into the canyon the bushes were mashed enough to get down to the stream, but then the trail ENDS. The bushes were so thick all around that there really wasn't much choice but to hike in the stream.. that was my plan anyway, since IN the stream is the best place to avoid all the thick bushes. Plants and trees were growing over the stream in this area, so a lot of it was like hiking through a tunnel.
So through this section I hiked in the stream until blocked, then bushwhacked my way out and hiked along the stream until blocked, then bushwhacked my way back into the stream. Each transition was tough, but this worked reasonably well.

There are several watersheds in the canyon, so GPS is helpful to make sure you stay on the correct branch of the creek (going up; going down is easy, everything is merging). The correct branch is the one shown on maps as solid blue (not dotted), so I was concerned when my path took me over a dry creekbed.. but GPS showed I was ok; strangely a bit later there was water in the creek again.

C) Middle canyon; more open.

It was great when the plants thinned out and there were no plants in or over the creek for a decent stretch. This lasts until the creek makes a right turn (now going NNW on map), the canyon narrows and there are bushes in the creek again. Hiking in the creek still works until shortly before the creek turns left again, back to the west.

D) Transition to upper canyon; challenging.

Here the creek is a wall of bushes, so I headed up the bank on the left side. I found faint tread here and there, but there were a lot of taller/thicker bushes to fight through. This section was tough.

E) Upper canyon; trail!

I tried to stay on the hillside near the creek (not straying too far from where there's a steeper drop down to the creek). After a while the faint tread became real tread, and a followable trail! A little tricky at a couple minor streambed crossings, but not too bad. Then the trail reaches a ravine that's mostly loose dirt. There was just enough tread to see it continuing along the right side (though with all the loose dirt I wonder if walking right down the middle would be better), and soon the trail crosses the ravine and from there the trail is well defined and only minor obstacles. Several switchbacks lead up to the ridge.

There is no trail sign at the ridge, but if you're looking for the trail from the top it's at a bit of a clearing and you can tell you're at a saddle point (ridge trail slightly uphill in both directions). There is a rock on the ground where the trail heads down.

I hiked north on the ridge trail a few minutes and then climbed to the top of Uncle Sam Mountain.. it was fantastic.

That's it! Don't go, but if you do be prepared to battle nature! The Puerto Suello trail took me 3.5 hours in each direction. Final tip: the trail line on Forest Service maps is totally inaccurate; if you're using map/GPS to find the trail in the upper or lower portions make sure you're using the trail on MapBuilder Topo / OSM.

[Ed: note that a more accurate trail route can be found on Big Sur Trailmap - though if semi-bushwhacking it is probably a moot point]
Remick Letcher

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Remick Letcher »

Date Hiked: July 26, 2020
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

I believe impassable is a very strong word, and I am pleased to say this trail may truly be impassable. The trail is incredibly overgrown, and I was unable to connect with the Ventana Double Cone Trail via Hiding Canyon camp. The hike is a mix between creek-walking and bushwhacking through poison oak. I reached a point towards the top of the creek where debris blocked the creek, and I was able to find trail and an old trail marker. Not far from there I ran into a wall of thick brush and poison oak. I was unable to find any remnants of trail, and imagining the steep accent to the ridge without trail, I decided to turn around.
I recommend this hike to only the stoutest of Ventana adventurers, who crave the insatiable itch of Ventana poison oak. I hope to return soon and have vengeance on this wicked trail, and reclaim one of the few access points to Ventana Double Cone.
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed May 08, 2019 7:50 pm

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by taylor »

Date Hiked: May 7, 2019
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

The Forest Service has posted a sign at China Camp indicating the Puerto Suello Trail is lost or impassable.
Andrew Carter
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Apr 22, 2019 2:22 pm

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Andrew Carter »

Date Hiked: April 19, 2019
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

As mentioned below, this trail no longer exists! At least at the top from its intersection with the Ventana Double Cone Trail. Do not attempt to take it! Impossible overgrowth. No discernible footpath anywhere. I wished I'd seen the post below before I tried to use this trail.

I was trying to do a multi-day loop hike from Los Padres Dam, counterclockwise -- Big Pines Trail, Double Cone Trail, Puerto Suello Trail, Carmel River Trail. I made it as far as the supposed Double Cone/Puerto Suello intersection. There is no discernible intersection! Nonetheless, I tried to find the trail using Gaia GPS, USFS topos, and National Geographic Trails Illustrated topos. The two topos show two different trail paths. I searched in both areas. I bushwhacked in both areas. Finally I tried bushwhacking down the water shed in between the two mapped trail paths. Huge mistake. The overgrowth was overwhelming, impassible. Finally I turned back. Of course, that meant trying to gain back at least 500 feet of altitude I'd already lost. After 4 hours of wasted effort, I made it back to the Double Cone Trail completely exhausted.

I learned the following lesson about ten years ago -- "Never try to bushwhack on the Central Coast. Way too much overgrowth." I ignored that advice on this trip. Shame on me.
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue May 29, 2018 1:38 pm

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by cmbetts »

Date Hiked: May 27, 2018
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

TL:DR Avoid this trail if at all possible. It is not a trail. It is an aspirational phantom line drawn on the map.

This is much less a trail than an invitation to spend hours bushwacking along a creek through solid chest high poison oak and blackberry canes.

My wife and I hiked this trail from the Double Cone Trail to the Carmel River Trail as part of a loop over the Memorial Day weekend (Coincidentally to the previous post, we regretfully had our dogs with us). The trail started out with very inconsistent flagging that didn't match the expected GPS coordinates despite intense searching. We later learned that trying to follow the trail by GPS was a Sisyphean task. The flags invited us down the canyon along a very light flowing creek. Soon after one of the flags, which I hope in retrospect actually intended us to change course, the creek turned the rocks of the canyon into a ~6ft slide and made it impossible to climb back up to the flag to look for other options. We pushed on only to find that we were trapped between the slide above us and a slick 10-12ft shear drop. We ultimately made the tough decision to belay down the rocks with our paracord and the help of some deadfall, as the GPS said that the real "trail" would be straight ahead.
We tried to follow the GPS coordinates for the trail as much as possible, but everywhere that should have been trail was solid poison oak and blackberry. We eventually ended up pushing our way through the bramble trying as hard as possible not to trip over the hidden boulders. Like the previous poster, we found that walking down the creek was often the best path and used it as much as possible.
About five hours and a mile in, we found another trail marker, but, not having budgeted time for such slow movement, made camp in the flattest spot we could find. Hopes high that we had finally the correct route, we set out the next morning only to find that there were only about four or five flags dead ending back in the bramble. It was incredibly slow going. Getting through the valley is a seemingly endless cycle of tromping through the brush until you hit a dead end, about every hundred feet, then surveying the topology ahead and finding the next bit you can push through. Without GPS, I'm not sure if we would have found the path leading out of the valley.
Once you've made it through the valley of nightmares, the trail leading to hiding camp is fairly similar to other trails in Ventana. There's a few switchbacks that are tricky to notice and lots of deadfalls, but nothing out of the ordinary and it feels like a dream after all you've just been through.
In total, it took us 9.5 hours to traverse this trail, and we were miserable every moment of it.
I feel like other posters have been reluctant to call this trail impassable because they've gone through it. This is wrong. The definition of impassable in the ratings is "completely overgrown or tread obliterated", both of which are an understatement for this trail. I can survive two weeks without food. That doesn't make starvation a "difficult" diet.

It's a dangerous disservice to anyone planning a hike to rate this trail anything other than impassable.
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