Located in Los Padres National Forest along the Central Coast of California (about 120 miles south of San Francisco) is the Ventana Wilderness. Established in 1969, with land added over the years, the Ventana Wilderness is located within the Santa Lucia Range and includes 240,026 acres. A visit to the Ventana Wilderness offers the chance to explore one of the most diverse mountain ranges in the state of California.
Within the Ventana Wilderness, you will find nearly 200 miles of trails, where you can travel among stands of redwoods through alpine plants and rocky peaks. Along with steep mountain ridges you will encounter rivers and creeks. Elevation within the Ventana Wilderness varies, starting at 600 feet where the Big Sur River exits the Wilderness to approximately 5,750 feet at the boundary of the Wilderness where it works its way around Junipero Serra Peak.
With a Mediterranean climate, visitors can enjoy mild dry summers within the Ventana Wilderness while preparing for rainfall between November and April. Regardless of the time of year one visits, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the Ventana Wilderness and its surrounding area.
From Monterey, Take the CA-1 S for 29.3 miles, turning left into the Ventana Wilderness. To get to the Ventana Wilderness from San Luis Obispo, take the CA-1 N for 102 miles, turning right into the Wilderness. The drive follows the California coast, offering excellent ocean views as you drive through coastal towns and make your way to the Wilderness Area.
Parking is available in the Ventana Wilderness.
It is possible to take the bus from Monterey to the Ventana Wilderness. Those seeking to take public transportation can get on the bus at the Mason/POM-Opposite Price Fitness Ctr and take it to Highway 1/Big Sur State Park. From there, it is about a half-mile walk to the Ventana Wilderness.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has a campground that is a quick drive from the Ventana Wilderness that offers a number of RV and tent sites that are located on or near the Big Sur River. As the campground is very popular, visitors will want to plan ahead and reserve a site; reservations get taken up to six months in advance.
Sites include a fire pit with a grill and a picnic table. No hook-ups are available at the campground. However fresh water, a dump station, hot showers, and toilets are available to campers, who can also enjoy evening programs at the campground's Campfire Center. RV’s and trailers of up to 39 feet can be accommodated.
When looking for a home base in the area of the Ventana Wilderness, Limekiln State Park, which is about 45 minutes away, is a great choice. The campground offers 29 sites that are split into two areas; sites 13-29 are along Limekiln Creek among a grove of redwood trees, while sites 1-12 are on the coastal part of the campground.
Each site offers a picnic table and a fire ring with a grill, and campers have access to a small beach and some short hiking trails. Restrooms, showers, and drinking water are available and while RVs and trailers of up to 29 feet can be accommodated, there are no hook-ups available.
Across Highway 1 from Sand Dollar Beach, Plaskett Creek Campground is in a great location for those looking to explore and play in the area. The campground offers 40 single campsites, as well as three group sites (for up to 40 people) and can accommodate RVs and trailers that are up to 45 feet long.
While there are no hook-ups available at the campground, sinks and drinking water are available throughout. Each campsite has a picnic table and a campfire ring with a grill. Flush toilets are available and the group area has vault toilets. Plaskett Creek Campground makes a perfect home base for adventures in the area.
With nearly 200 miles of trails, there are many hiking opportunities in the Ventana Wilderness for hikers of all levels. The most popular is the Pine Ridge Trail, which is 24 miles long and located in the Wilderness Area’s northern section.
There are trails from Little Sur River and Kirk Creek that are popular among backpackers, and day hikers looking for a challenge can consider the trail from Kirk Creek to Vicente Flat, which offers excellent views.
There are a variety of opportunities for fishing for those visiting the Ventana Wilderness. For example, the Arroyo Seco Recreation Area, which is located on the edge of the Ventana Wilderness, is a great option for freshwater fishermen, where anglers can catch bass, trout, steelhead, and catfish. Those seeking a deep-sea fishing experience can head to the nearby Monterey Bay, where they can fish for salmon, albacore, halibut, cod, and rockfish.
Named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns, who was a well-known rancher in the area in the early 1900s, the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park includes 3,762 acres and was established in 1962.
A popular attraction within the State Park is McWay Falls, an 80-foot (24 m) waterfall that flows into the Pacific Ocean. Visitors can also experience redwoods that are 300 feet (90 m) tall and over 2,500 years old.
A short drive from the Ventana Wilderness is Andrew Molera State Park. Big Sur’s largest park, Andrew Molera State Park is located on a dairy ranch and offers trails for hiking and to walk to two beaches. In addition to exploring the area by hiking (trails are less rugged and wild than much of Big Sur), visitors can relax on one of two beaches and enjoy the sound of crashing waves or join a horseback riding tour.
The largest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur is Sand Dollar Beach, which is considered to be one of the best places to surf in Big Sur, as well as a great location for fishing. Even more popular for visitors to the beach is beachcombing; visitors can find sand dollars that washed ashore along with rocks that have minerals like serpentine and jade. Visitors can take a short trail to a lookout point to relax and enjoy beautiful surroundings during their visit.
About 15 minutes from the Ventana Wilderness is the California Sea Otter State Game Refuge, a great place to stop while in the area to view these amazing wild animals, who prefer to reside in sheltered waters with a depth of 50-75 feet.
The refuge includes the area from Carmel River in the north to Santa Rosa Creek in the south. If you are looking to learn more about sea otters and the refuge, you can visit the Sea Otter Education Center, which is just east of Carmel.