Machesna Mountain Wilderness
Guide

Introduction

The 19,700 acre Machesna Mountain Wilderness became part of the National Wilderness System in 1984. The wilderness region is located in the State of California's, La Panza mountain range and contains chaparral, grasslands, oak woodlands, pine stands at higher elevations, and rugged terrain with rocky crags. A 1500 acre research area is part of the Bureau of Land Management wilderness and is preserved for the study of a strain of Coulter Pine that is present in the region. Elevations in the area range between 1600 and 4063 feet at the summit of Machesna Mountain. Magnificent views from the top of the mountain allow you to make out the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada in the distance.

American Canyon provides major drainage in the area that supports a variety of wildlife. Unique wildlife in the region includes the prairie falcon and tule elk. Recreational activities in the wilderness area include backcountry camping and hiking on the two major trails in the American Canyon and to the summit of Machesna Mountain. Temperatures in the daytime during summer reach 85 F and cool off significantly at night at the high elevations and during the winter freezing temperatures result in snow cover over the area so be prepared for temperatures fluctuations and frigid conditions in the offseason.

Nearby national and state parks within a couple of hours driving distance that make additional destinations for RVers include Los Padres National Forest to the south and Pismo State Beach to the west. Explore the area in an RV, check out Santa Maria RV Rentals to get started exploring this wonderful wilderness area.

RV Rentals in Machesna Mountain Wilderness

Transportation

Driving

Machesna Mountain Wilderness is located about 25 miles from San Luis Obispo. To access the American Canyon trailhead at Machesna Mountain Wilderness take Highway 58 to Pozo Road, proceed on Pozo Road past Pozo to Avenales Road and turn right. Travel seven miles to the sign for the American Canyon Campground and turn left. The campground is 1.2 miles down and the trailhead is located at the upper end of the campground. Access to this trail is limited to six weeks a year during August and September which coincides with deer hunting season.

To access Machesna Mountain Trail pass the Pozo Summit and Queen Bee Campground to reach the Chester Springs entrance. From the Chester Springs entrance use the Pine Mountain Road which is a 4wd road and is not appraise for RVs and tow vehicles. The trailhead is located 1.5 miles down this access road. This is the most common access point to the wilderness and is available most of the year.

During the winter, the region is snow-covered and the access road may not be passable. Highways in the area can be treacherous during and after recent snowfalls, with sub-freezing temperatures and icy conditions. Winter tires will help mitigate slippery conditions, ensure you break and execute turns cautiously to avoid skids during icy conditions.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Machesna Mountain Wilderness

Campsites in Machesna Mountain Wilderness

First-come first-served

Primitive Campgrounds

Primitive camping is permitted in the Machesna Mountain Wilderness as per regulations on Bureau of Land Management public lands. Campers are encouraged to use previously occupied sites to minimize disruption to wildlife habitat and utilize “Leave No Trace” principles. There are also some primitive campgrounds in the wilderness area that provide designated camping sites and road access.

The American Canyon Campground has 14 sites with dirt surfaces. This campground is only open seasonally during deer hunting season in August and September. It may be difficult to get to with an RV or tow vehicle, but does accommodate vehicles up to 25 feet in length. You need an Adventure Pass or Interagency Access Pass to use the campground. Vault toilets are available on site.

The High Mountain Campground has 11 sites tucked into a grove of oak trees and can accommodate recreational vehicles up to 16 feet in length. It also requires an Adventure pass and has vault toilets. This campground also is best suited to high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles. Picnic tables and fire pits are situated at campsites.

The Queen Bee Campground provides sites, but no services or amenities, although there are several hiking trails leading from the campground. There is no trash collection at campgrounds and trash must be packed out.

Seasonal activities in Machesna Mountain Wilderness

In-Season

Wildlife Watching and Photography

The scenic, pristine wilderness and variety of wildlife species in the area are ideal for wildlife enthusiasts and wildlife photography. The American Canyon provides drainage and water sources with grasslands, and the rugged terrain provides protections and habitat for wildlife.

Mammals you may spot in the area include deer, elk, mountain lions, and black bears. Give large herbivores and predators a wide berth! The area is especially known for providing important habitat to the endangered California Condor and rare prairie falcon.

Pismo Beach

Take a 90-minute drive west to the beach! Pismo Beach is the only beach in California that allows motorized vehicles on the sand, so you don’t even have to haul all your beach-going gear out on foot. Enjoy sunbathing, swimming, surfing, beachcombing, and a sunset drive down the beach in the evening. There is a strict, 25 mph speed limit, so go slow and watch for other visitors out strolling on the sand and playing in the surf.

Rock Climbing

The rough wilderness terrain surrounding Machesna Mountain Wilderness provides plenty of opportunities for rock climbing. Check out local outfitters who can show you the best spots and provide lessons and guidance on rock climbing techniques and routes.

Outfitters can also provide you with the necessary equipment to complete your expeditions safely. Several excellent rock climbing locations are situated to the south of the San Padres National Forest. Be sure to follow all safety precautions for successful and safe ascents and descents!

Off-Season

Hunting and Fishing

Hunting and fishing on BLM lands is permitted in accordance with state regulations and BLM guidelines. The American Canyon Trail which provides access to the wilderness area is open for six weeks in late August and September to allow rifle deer hunters access to the region during the hunting season.

Be sure to have a valid hunting or fishing license for the State of California, observe limits, and have any required tags and permits. Use caution in this wilderness area and ensure that the wilderness area is disturbed as little as possible while conducting fishing and hunting expeditions.

Hiking

This is a remote wilderness area and trail use in the area is light, so hikers can enjoy solitude and the pristine wilderness area. There are two main trails in the Machesna Mountain Wilderness, the American Canyon Trail, and the Machesna Mountain Trail. The Machesna Mountain Summit Trail is the most frequented and is about eight miles in length. The American Canyon Trail is a five-mile moderate hike.

There are numerous other trails in the region that range in length and difficulty. This is rough terrain and you should have sturdy hiking boots and plenty of water for your treks. Watch out for ticks and rattlesnakes which can be found in the region. During the fall season, cooler temperatures are better for strenuous hiking activities, ticks are less active, and access to the American Canyon Trail is also available.

Snow Sports

Downhill skiing and snowboarding activities can be enjoyed at the numerous ski resorts to the south and east of the Machesna Mountain Wilderness. Groomed runs allow winter snow sports enthusiasts to get out on the hills and enjoy a crisp winter day.

Ski resorts have amenities and nearby accommodations and can provide ski and snowboard equipment rentals. Be sure to gear up for warmth with layered outdoor wear, and helmets, to enjoy downhill activities safely.