Los Padres National Forest

Los Padres National Forest is a swath of wooded mountains in the Transverse Ranges of Central California, touching the coast and stretching inland. More specifically, it is the forest just above Angeles National Forest, separated by California State Route 14. The forest comprises a whopping 1.7 million acres that stretch 220 miles from north to south.

Hikers in Los Padres National Forest
Hikers in Los Padres National Forest — Photo by Will Langenberg on Unsplash

About Los Padres Forest

Having acreage on both the coast and the mainland, this forest sees a diverse shift in habitat as it reaches from the pacific into the heart of California. This land includes marine habitats, grasslands, redwood forests, and semi-desert areas: talk about variety! This dynamic terrain is part of what makes the forest so popular with hikers and naturalists alike, who can both expect to tackle interesting terrain and observe remarkable wildlife: 468 different species, to be exact.

History of Los Padres National Forest

In 1898, President William McKinley established a forest reserve which was later combined with three other forest reserves, which president Franklin D. Roosevelt then renamed “Los Padres National Forest” in 1936.

The first settlers to claim land in the area arrived in the 1850s and 1860s, back when the land cost $1.50 per acre, you could have the land granted to you for free if you were settled on the property for at least 6 months. These homesteaders began in what is today called Big Sur and slowly spread southward along the coast. You can still see remnants of this history along certain trails and byways, for example, The Limekiln Trail of Limekiln State Park.

Hidden Feature Spotlight:

Limekiln State Park, located inside the greater Los Padres forest, is tiny (the Limekiln trail is less than three miles) but one of the most beautiful, hidden features of the forest. Deep into the trail, round a bend and look to your right to find three giant limekilns still standing since their heyday in 1887. They were built by a Lime and Lumber company that used the kilns to melt away limestone and refine the lime, which was then shipped away as building material across California. Unfortunately, by the time the limestone in the area was depleted, so was much of the redwood forest that the company had destroyed.

Limekiln State Park near Los Padres National Forest
Limekiln State Park near Los Padres National Forest – Photo by Lucas Myers on Unsplash

Ranger Districts

Los Padres has five ranger districts and one forest headquarters. You can contact them for information on current forest conditions, restrictions, permits, and events using the following information:

Supervisor’s Office
Phone: (805) 448-6487
1980 Old Mission Drive.
Solvang, CA 93464

Mt. Pinos Ranger District
Phone: (661) 805-1057
34580 Lockwood Valley Rd
Frazier Park, CA 93225

Ojai Ranger District
Phone: (805) 448-4710
1190 E. Ojai Ave.
Ojai, CA 93023

Santa Barbara Ranger District
Phone: (805) 448-3648
3505 Paradise Rd.
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Santa Lucia Ranger District
Phone: (805) 865-0416
1616 No.Carlotti Dr.
Santa Maria, CA 93454

Monterey Ranger District
(831) 242-0619
406 So. Mildred
King City, CA 93930

Big Sur Station Multi-Agency Visitor Center
(831) 667-2315 X 0
47555 Highway 1,
Big Sur, CA 9392

Recreation in Los Padres National Forest

Los Padres offers all the recreational activities typical of a wooded forest, such as mountain biking, fishing, big game hunting, rock climbing, and horseback riding, but it also offers every beach activity you can think of! Along the 99 miles of Cali-coastline, you can find cliffs and waterfalls, tidepools and sea critters, beachfront for lounging, and waves for surfing! All within walking distance of the redwoods, how cool is that?

 For information on saltwater fishing, give the Monterey Ranger District a call. Saltwater fishing is available in two areas, Sand Dollar Beach and Willow Creek Beach. Sand Dollar comes with picnic areas, restrooms, and $10 parking. Willow Creek also has restrooms and $10 parking, but does not include picnic areas. Both beaches are open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Tidepool - the Los Padres National Forest coastline has many.
The coastline along Los Padres National Forest has many tidepools – Photo by James Donaldson on Unsplash

Wilderness Areas

Wilderness areas are special sections of forest set aside to be preserved in their natural states, without any human residents, permanent structures, or taking of the natural resources. These quiet, out-of-the-way areas contain the best trails for birders and naturalists to catch glimpses of wildlife. In this particular California woodland, you can expect to see bears, eagles, elk, pronghorn antelope, wild boar, and all other sorts of extraordinary creatures! The ten wilderness areas of Los Padres are:

  • Sespe Wilderness: 219,700 acres
  • Matilija Wilderness: 29,600 acres
  • Chumash Wilderness: 38,150 acres
  • Dick Smith Wilderness: 64,700 acres
  • San Rafael Wilderness: 197,380 acres
  • Santa Lucia Wilderness: 18, 679 acres
  • Garcia Wilderness: 14,100 acres
  • Machesna Mountain Wilderness: 19,760 acres
  • Silver Peak Wilderness: 31,555 acres
  • Ventana Wilderness: 240, 026 acres

If you decide to stay overnight in any of these lovely, protected habitats, always remember to obtain the proper campfire permit first, practice bear safety with food items, and of course, leave no trace!

Visit Los Padres National Forest

Want to see some reviews and photos before deciding which section of this beach-redwood wonderland to visit first? Check out this page on Trip Advisor for advice from the people who have already been there!

Stay up to date with the latest alerts and notices from the USDA, and save TheNationalForests.com  to your reading list so you’ll always have a quick and easy connection to America’s national forests.

Have fun, be safe, and enjoy your California forests!

-By Heaven Morrow

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