Hikes in Los Padres National Forest
The Los Padres National Forest is an amazing area of topographic diversity and beauty awaiting your exploration. The second-largest national forest in California, Los Padres, occupies the coast and Transverse Ranges, offering hundreds of amazing trails. Explore the acres and acres of untouched backcountry, rugged coastline, and pristine beaches. There is no better way to appreciate the unparalleled beauty of the Californian coast than by exploring the Los Padres National Forest.
Stretching 220.0 mi from Los Angeles County to Monterey Country, the Los Padres National Forest encompasses nearly 2,000,000 acres of land and ten wilderness areas. The forest is home to over 120 named mountains, the highest of which is Mount Pinos, which stands at 8,847 ft. Enjoy the varied landscape of Los Padres characterized by soaring coastal crests, dramatic headlands, old-growth forests, dense communities of chaparral scrub, craggy canyons, rivers, hot springs, and beaches.
Boasting an extensive network of hiking trails, the Los Padres National Forest is undoubtedly a hiker’s paradise—though outdoor opportunities are abundant. Beckoning the exploration of adventurers year-round, the summer months see trekking, biking, and climbing experiences and incredible water recreation activities, such as surfing, swimming, and rafting. The areas of higher elevation offer epic snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities in the winter months. The impressive topographic diversity and comfortable climate boast the perfect hiking conditions no matter the season.
The 12 Amazing Hiking Routes in the Los Padres National Forest
Whether you are new to the trails or an experienced trailblazer, the Los Padres National Forest offers a wealth of routes to satisfy every type of adventurer. Tackle the technical mission of summiting Inspiration Point, or take it easy exploring the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. No matter the trail you choose, Los Padres exhibits the beauty of the area’s landscapes and the native flora and fauna diversity. So when planning your next trip to California, a detour into the Los Padres National Forest is a must.
As self-proclaimed adventure experts, we took it upon ourselves to curate a list of the best hikes in the Los Padres National Forest. Below you will find family-friendly nature trails, advanced missions, and everything in between. Enjoy!
- Seven Falls Trail - The Seven Falls Trail is a demanding yet highly rewarding adventure that travels through the serrated canyon of the Mission Crags. Indulge in idyllic swimming holes and the sights of mesmerizing waterfalls.
- Inspiration Point Hike - Admire the beauty of Santa Barbara, the Mission Crags, the Pacific, and on a clear day—the Channel Islands. The Inspiration Point Hike is an incredible adventure at the top of many adventurers hiking itineraries—make sure to add it to yours!
- Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Trail - The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Trail is a lovely, family-friendly adventure through the botanic garden abundant with the area’s native flora and several historic sites. You can easily spend the whole day exploring this incredible park.
- Salmon Creek Falls Trail - Located just off State Route 1, this family-friendly hike attracts dozens of adventurers every day, eager to enjoy the hypnotic scene of the 120 ft cascading waterfall. The Salmon Creek Falls Trail is a natural hidden oasis awaiting your exploration.
- Mount Pinos Trail - Hike up to the highest point in the Los Padres National Forest along the Mount Pinos Trail. This excellent day hike offers an incredible overlook of Santa Barbara, the San Andreas Fault, the Caliente Range, to name a few.
- Sand Dollar Beach Trail - Explore the pristine beach along the Sand Dollar Beach Trail. This fun family adventure exposes breathtaking vistas of the seashore bound by the crashing surf and dramatic headlands.
- Enchanted Forest Trail - The Enchanted Forest Trail boasts a magical experience, guiding explorers through the lush woodlands bisected by a meandering stream. This route is a local favorite—so you know it's a great hike!
- Figueroa Mountain Hike - Indulge in the scene of vibrant wildflower fields along the Figueroa Mountain Hike. This epic excursion culminates at the summit, which offers a fantastic overlook of the San Rafael Mountains and Santa Ynez Valley.
- Hot Springs Canyon Trail - Soothe your tired muscles in the idyllic sulfur hot springs nestled amongst the Los Padres mountains along the Hot Springs Canyon Trail. Offering an unrivaled experience, this route attracts plenty of adventurers eager to soak in the natural spa.
- Gaviota Peak Hike - Challenge yourself on the Gaviota Peak Hike. This heart-pumping adventure rewards tired trail-goers for their efforts with dumbfounding vistas of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
- Punch Bowls Trail - Confused about the name? You won’t be once you explore the punch-bowl-shaped swimming holes in the Santa Paula Canyon. The Punch Bowls Trail is a must add to your hiking to-do list.
- Rose Valley Falls Hike - The Rose Valley Falls Hike exhibits the area’s flora and fauna, as well as the mesmerizing scene of the seasonal cascade. This family-friendly adventure boasts an enchanting experience.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Los Padres National Forest?
Due to its geographic location, the Los Padres National Forest offers adventure pursuits year-round. The winter months along the coast see more rain and intense wind, and the areas of high elevation often see frigid and snowy conditions. On the other hand, if you head out in the summer, you can expect unbearably hot weather and crowded trails. We encourage visitors to explore in the spring and autumn for a more tranquil experience with comfortable weather conditions. No matter the season, the Los Padres National Forest will not disappoint.
Other Outdoor Activities in the Los Padres National Forest
The Los Padres National Forest is an oasis for adventure travelers, with plenty of outdoor pursuits and incredible hiking. Mountain biking and cycling are also popular sports in the forest—bike also a scenic roadway or tackling a technical mountain climb.
Anglers, swimmers, and surfers can also enjoy water recreation in the wilderness area. Additionally, the sharp-crested coastal mountains and craggy valleys propose ideal scrambling and bouldering for intrepid adventurers to enjoy.
In the winter months, higher elevation areas often see snow, providing opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Outdoor activities are abundant in the Los Padres National Forest, but the unrivaled beauty of the coastal environment is in and of itself a reason to visit the area.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Los Padres National Forest
Is the Los Padres National Forest free?
Most facilities and trails in the Los Padres National Forest are free—though some expeditions require an Adventure Pass or Day-Use Fee.
Can you drive through the Los Padres National Forest?
The Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway travels through the Los Padres National Forest.
Can you camp in the Los Padres National Forest?
Yes, there are over 55 developed campgrounds in addition to several backcountry campsites in the Los Padres National Forest.
Does it snow in the Los Padres National Forest?
Yes, it often snows in the winter at the higher elevations within the Los Padres National Forest.
Are dogs allowed in the Los Padres National Forest?
Yes, as a rule, the Los Padres National Forest is a dog-friendly wilderness area, though there are a few restrictions, including the state park in Big Sur.
Awesome Adventure Tours near the Los Padres National Forest
Sadly, we have yet to curate an adventure tour in the Los Padres National Forest. Don’t fret—we are constantly adding to our ever-growing repertoire of epic tours, and who knows, a Los Padres adventure may be the next addition. Until then, check out our other California Tours to satiate your wanderlust.
Find Other Amazing Hiking Regions in California
Best Hikes in Los Padres National Forest
Seven Falls Trail
Explore the Seven Falls Trail near Santa Barbara, and you’ll discover a collection of hypnotizing waterfalls and idyllic swimming holes bounded by the narrow sandstone walls of Mission Creek. Yielding an unparalleled experience, this revered hike attracts eager adventurers year-round.
Inspiration Point Hike
The Inspiration Point Hike is a scenic adventure in the Los Padres National Forest that boasts breathtaking panoramas of the city of Santa Barbara, the Pacific Ocean, and on a clear day—distant views of the Channel Islands.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Trail
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Trail boasts a magical experience that hikers of all skills, abilities, and ages can enjoy. Immerse yourself in the botanical garden abundant with a diversity of the area’s native flora, historic landmarks, epic overlooks, and the Mission Dam and Aqueduct.
Salmon Creek Falls Hike
Indulge in the mesmerizing scene of 120 ft cascades along the Salmon Creek Falls Hike. This family-friendly adventure is well worth the detour off State Route 1—and the crowds that congregate in the area are a testament to its beauty, enjoy!
Mount Pinos Trail
The Mount Pinos Trail is an excellent day hike in the Los Padres National Forest that can be enjoyed by adventurers of all ages and skill levels. Meander through chaparral brush and mixed conifers stands an epic overlook of Santa Barbara, the San Andreas Fault, the Caliente Range, and more.
Sand Dollar Beach Trail
The Sand Dollar Beach Trail is a must-visit when in the Big Sur. The long stretch of pristine beach boasts the ideal opportunity for sightseeing, beachcombing, surfing, fishing, and lounging. Explore the postcard-perfect seashore bound by the crashing surf and dramatic headlands—you won’t be disappointed.
Enchanted Forest Trail
The Enchanted Forest Trail is a local favorite that boasts a magical ambiance year-round. Explore the mixed-pine woodlands adorned with lush undergrowth, meandering alpine streams, wildflowers, and wildlife! This beautiful trail makes for a great day of hiking.
Figueroa Mountain Hike
The Figueroa Mountain Hike is a must-add to your adventure itinerary. This wonderfully scenic trail wanders through mountainside meadowlands abundant with vibrant wildflowers before culminating at the summit, which boasts 360-degrees panoramas of the encompassing landscapes.
Hot Springs Canyon Trail
The Hot Springs Canyon Trail is a unique adventure in the Los Padres National Forest that offers a natural spa treatment along the way. Meander through the forested canyon beautiful with lush flora and a river that offers a series of blue-hued hot springs for soaking. Get lost? Simply follow the smell of sulfur.
Gaviota Peak Hike
The Gaviota Peak Trail is a heart-pumping expedition in the Los Padres National Forest that boasts unrivaled views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Those seeking a challenging day-hike will enjoy this adventure.
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