This region of California is perhaps best known for Monterey Bay, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and the Spanish missions. But it is also home to the campgrounds, hiking trails, mountains and wilderness areas of the Los Padres National Forest.
The forest covers nearly 2 million acres and is the third largest in California. It spans some of the most ruggedly beautiful landscapes in California, from the intertidal zone of the Big Sur coast to the semidesert of the Cuyama Badlands and the coniferous forests of Mount Pinos.
There are 1,542 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and off-highway vehicle travel.
The forest has 10 wilderness areas covering 823,000 acres.
The Dick Smith Wilderness, about 12 miles from Santa Barbara, is an extremely rugged area. Elevations range from 3,750 feet in the east along the Cuyama Rim to 6,541 feet at Maldulce Peak. There are eight trails totaling 49 miles and five trail camps. Bear, deer, mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes inhabit the area. Fishing is popular.
The San Rafael Wilderness Area in the mountains north of Santa Barbara contains 125 miles of trails. The best time to visit is in the spring, since much of the area is closed July 1 to Nov. 15 due to fire danger.
The northern section of Los Padres National Forest is in the Big Sur region. Here, the Ventana Wilderness Area offers 167,500 acres of woodlands, streams, wild boar and deer habitat and hiking trails.