group photoA 300-plus mile trail system, constructed at considerable public expense, once offered hikers, backpackers and equestrians opportunities to experience the Big Sur backcountry with relative ease. Nowadays, the lapse of Forest Service funding has rendered the vast majority of these trails barely passable. Ever-more frequent wildfires produce deadfall, vegetative re-growth and erosion that continuously add to the maintenance backlog. Loops and through-hikes in the Big Sur backcountry often involve extensive stretches of brushy, difficult and even outright dangerous trails.

timelessIn conjunction with the US Forest Service, the VWA has instituted the Partners in Preservation – Archaeological Site Steward program. The purpose of the program is to train and deploy volunteers to monitor existing sites in the Los Padres National Forest and report signs of degradation from human, animal and weather abuse so that steps can be taken to preserve them.


The mission of the Youth in Wilderness (YiW) program is to inspire, educate and motivate future generations of central California's wilderness advocates and stewards. 

In recent years, YiW leadership has realized the urgent necessity to leverage the program's resources and position of privilege to address issues of justice, equity, inclusion, and diversity in the outdoor field. While the program serves all young people of Central California, we prioritize serving those from surrounding communities of color who, through historic and systematic inequities, have faced increased barriers to accessing outdoor spaces and outdoor education opportunities.


Who we are / What we do:

We are an outdoor education program that specializes in introductory wilderness immersion experiences for young people. We offer overnight backpacking trips and single-day nature walks (Outings) for young adults of central California. All YiW Outings travel to the Ventana and Silver Peak Wildernesses, ancestral homelands of the Ohlone, Esselen, and Salinan people.

Supported by preparatory workshops, YiW organizes, outfits and leads young people in central California on single-day nature walks and overnight wilderness backpacking trips. These life‐changing Outings are provided at no cost to participants - all outdoor leadership, essential gear, and Outing meals are provided by the program through hard-earned grant funding and individual donations. Click HERE to learn more about YiW Outings.

The experiences, mentioned above, are provided by the YiW team, and are informed by the following YiW Core Values:


  1. Opportunity: we recognize that there are many who have yet to reap the benefit of time spent in nature (due to myriad historic and systemic reasons) and prioritize providing opportunities for these individuals to do so.
  2. Empowerment: we aim to empower participants by helping them feel at home in nature.
  3. Connection: through intentional and compassionate guidance in outdoor spaces, we help participants form their own personal connections to the land, themselves, and each other.
  4. Service Learning: through service learning experiences, we teach participants about the value of public lands stewardship.


Click here to learn more about the YiW team's Guiding Strategy.



Since its inception in 2008 through December 2021, YiW has led 3,752 local young people on 198 nature walks and overnight backpacking Outings. Over the years, YiW Field Instructors have engaged with participants on over 20,000 hours of customized outdoor education and contributed over 10,000 hours of volunteer wildlands stewardship.

To learn more about the program, please contact YiW Program Manager Daniela Cervantes at  or call 831-423-3191.  You can also follow us on Instagram (@youthinwilderness) for periodic program updates!

marijuana cleanup2Marijuana cultivation on California’s public lands by illicit commercial growers continues unabated. These commercial grow sites and the environmental degradation they cause is an ongoing problem in the Ventana region. When law enforcement personnel eradicate these sites, their first responsibility is to remove the contraband marijuana plants. Agency personnel do not always remove the trash generated by months of occupancy by the growers including foodstuffs, camping gear, irrigation tubing, garden tools, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and rat poison.

vwrimageforsiteThe VWA partners with the US Forest Service to organize, train and outfit Volunteer Wilderness Rangers. These dedicated volunteers hike the trails, clean up trash and impart Leave No Trace principles to backcountry visitors. Patrols are focused on the most heavily-used trails and camps (such as the camps along the Pine Ridge Trail), especially over holiday weekends.

big haul crew willow creek1The VWA effort to restore the wilderness character of the Willow Creek drainage is an excellent example of the organization’s ability to embrace and successfully complete large-scale stewardship projects. The project began in 1999 with the “discovery” of approximately three tons of trash by VWA volunteers who were surveying the area for possible wilderness designation. That wilderness designation became a reality with passage of the 2002 Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act which included the 8,400 acre Willow Creek addition to the Silver Peak Wilderness Area.