|800,000 acres of wilderness|
Spread out in chunks and parcels along the southern California coast, the Los Padres National Forest is the third largest in the state. And with 823,000 acres of wilderness, it offers backpackers more than 1,500 miles of trailsenough to keep even the most determined hiker or backpacker busy for several months.
Some of the best are found in the Monterey Ranger District at the northern end of the Forest just south of Monterey. Of 323 miles of trail, 224 are located in the district's two wilderness areasthe Ventana Wilderness, with 205,000 acres, and the Silver Peak Wilderness, with 14,500 acres.
Most of the trails link up with each other, offering hikers the opportunity to do short loop hikes or expeditions lasting a week or two. Two trails to check out are the Lost Valley Trail (16 miles) and the Marble Peak Trail (13.5 miles). More ambitious hikers can link these trails with a series of others and go all the way across the Forest, a four-day trip that includes Big Sur's famous jutting coastal cliffs and towering forests of giant redwoods.
Note: Bring long pants, because the brush grows fast heresometimes several feet in a matter of months. The Ranger District has some 300 volunteers, but even this determined force can't always keep up with the ferocious undergrowth.
Snowbird stats: Expect a Mediterranean climate, with nighttime temperatures in the mid-30s and daytime highs in the 70s. At higher elevations, of course, the temperatures are lower. Winter is the rainy season, but there's a big difference between the coast (40 to 100 inches of annual precipitation) and the rain-shadowed eastern side of the mountains. So if your visit coincides with a rainy spell, head to the trails on the eastern side. Heavy rains can cause swollen rivers that are difficult to ford. According to rangers, the water levels recede as quickly as they rise, so you can just wait them out if you bring a couple of days' worth of extra food.
Information: Maps and guidebooks: The forest visitors map is $5.00 (include shipping and handling). The Ventana Wilderness topographic map is $2.50. Contact: Los Padres National Forest, Monterey Ranger District, 406 S. Mildred, King City, CA 93930, (831) 385-5434.
Getting there: The winding highway down Route 1 is one of America's premier scenic drives. The Monterey District of the Los Padres National Forest is about 30 miles south of Monterey.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication