QUICK TAKE: Ventana Wilderness, California
DRIVE TIME: Ventana Wilderness is on the California coast roughly 130 miles (2 hours) south of San Francisco.
THE WAY: The various coastal trailheads into Ventana Wilderness are all on or near CA 1 between Carmel and the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road.
TRAILS: Trails total 260 miles. Week-long trips are possible. Weekend-size trips include: 23-mile Pine Ridge Trail from China Camp to Big Sur, an exceptional bisect of the wilderness that requires a long shuttle; 25-mile Kirk Creek-Vicente Flats-Cone Peak-Goat Camp loop, a great three-day jaunt.
ELEVATION: Almost sea level to 5,862-foot Junipero Serra Peak.
CAN’T MISS: The view from Cone Peak sweeps in a vast chunk of the Central California coast, including the better part of Big Sur and on very clear days the southern Sierra.
CROWD CONTROL: Avoid the Sykes Camp area on weekends. The hot springs there is the worst kept secret in the state.
MAPS AND GUIDES: The Forest Service’s 1:63,360 Ventana Wilderness topo map is the best choice and is available at the address below ($4.25, make checks payable to “BSNHA”). Jeffrey Schaffer’s Hiking the Big Sur Country: The Ventana Wilderness ($15.95, Wilderness Press, 800-443-7227) is an excellent resource.
PIT STOP: Stop and have lunch at Nepenthe’s south of Big Sur. The view of the coastline from the outdoor deck is classic to the point of clichß.
WALK SOFTLY: Campfire permits are required from May until the first big winter rainstorm-usually in November. Be very careful with fire here.
MORE INFORMATION: Monterey Ranger District, Los Padres National Forest, 406 S. Maldred, King City, CA 93930; (408) 385-5434. Wilderness permits are not required, but parking in the forest costs $5 per day.