Los Padres National Forest

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Los Padres National Forest
Los Padres National Forest.jpg
A northern view looking over-top Los Padres National Forest.
Location California
Nearest city Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Ojai San Luis Obispo, Solvang and Santa Ynez [1]
Coordinates 34°40′N119°45′W / 34.667°N 119.750°W / 34.667; -119.750 Coordinates: 34°40′N119°45′W / 34.667°N 119.750°W / 34.667; -119.750
Area2,970 sq mi (7,700 km2)
EstablishedDecember 1936
Governing body U.S. Forest Service
Website Los Padres National Forest
Salmon Creek Falls, near the Big Sur coast, just outside the Ventana Wilderness. Salmon Creek Falls2.jpg
Salmon Creek Falls, near the Big Sur coast, just outside the Ventana Wilderness.
Figueroa Mountain wildflowers, 2005 Figueroa Mountain yellow wildflowers.jpg
Figueroa Mountain wildflowers, 2005

Los Padres National Forest is a United States national forest in southern and central California. Administered by the United States Forest Service, Los Padres includes most of the mountainous land along the California coast from Ventura to Monterey, extending inland. Elevations range from sea level to 8,847 feet (2,697 m). [2]



The forest is approximately 1,950,000 acres (7,890 km2) in area, of which 1,762,400 acres (7,130 km2) or about 88% are public lands; the rest are privately owned inholdings.

The forest is divided between two non-contiguous areas. The northern division is within Monterey County and includes the Big Sur Coast and its scenic interior areas. This is a very popular area for hiking, with 323 miles (520 km) of hiking trails and 11 campgrounds (ranging from very rugged to suitable for recreational vehicles). [3] The Ventana Wilderness in this division includes the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, created in 1937, which is the oldest designated sanctuary for the large endangered birds.

The main section of the forest includes lands within San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Kern Counties, with a small extension into Los Angeles County in the Pyramid Lake area, between Castaic and Gorman. The Santa Ynez Mountains, which are within the Los Padres, rise above the Gaviota Coast, a series of alluvial plains along the last undeveloped stretch of the Southern California coastline. Other mountain ranges within the Los Padres include the Santa Lucia Mountains, La Panza Range, Caliente Range (a small part), Sierra Madre Mountains, San Rafael Mountains, and Topatopa Mountains; the highest parts of the forest are not within named mountain ranges, but are adjacent to the western San Emigdio Mountains and include Mount Pinos, Cerro Noroeste, and Reyes Peak. The forest is also adjacent to the Angeles National Forest, which is in Los Angeles County in Southern California and is nearby Carrizo Plain National Monument in eastern San Luis Obispo County. Forest headquarters are located in Goleta, California. There are local ranger district offices in Frazier Park, King City, Ojai, Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria. [4]

Many rivers in Southern and Central California have their points of origin within the Los Padres National Forest, including the Carmel, Salinas, Cuyama, Sisquoc, Santa Ynez, Coyote Creek, Sespe, Ventura, and Piru.

Several wilderness areas have been set aside within the Los Padres National Forest, including the San Rafael Wilderness, the first primitive area to be included in the U.S. wilderness system after the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Another large wilderness created in the 1970s was the Ventana Wilderness in the Santa Lucia Mountains. The Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act of 1992 expanded existing wilderness by 84,400 acres (34,200 ha) and designated 316,050 acres (127,900 ha) of new wilderness that provides habitat for the condor. A total of 48% of the total area within the forest has a wilderness designation. [1]

Wilderness areas

Recreation areas

Parts of the National Forest are designated as recreation areas. There are three recreation areas, [5]

Wildlife and vegetation

California condor soaring over Los Padres National Forest Gymnogyps californianus -Los Padres National Forest , California, USA -soaring-8.jpg
California condor soaring over Los Padres National Forest
Trees in the Sespe Wilderness Sespe.jpg
Trees in the Sespe Wilderness

Many threatened and endangered species live within the forest. Among them is the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), for whom the United States Forest Service established the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. Also present is the California mountain kingsnake, a California species of special concern. The American peregrine falcon is also entirely dependent on the forest for its survival. The mountain lion and California mule deer may be the most common large mammals. Bighorn sheep inhabit the Sespe Creek region of the forest. [6] American black bears browse on grasses, berries, and carrion. [7] Coyotes thrive everywhere in this forest. Bobcats can occasionally be seen in the more remote mountainous areas of the forest. Other animals found in this forest are raccoons, bluebirds, barn owls, red-tailed hawks, cottontail rabbits, bald eagles, jack rabbits, California quail, California scrub jays, and great horned owls. [8]

Many vegetation types are represented in the Los Padres, including chaparral, the common ground cover of most coastal ranges in California below about 5,000 feet (1,500 m), and coniferous forests, which can be found in abundance in the Ventana Wilderness as well as the region around Mount Pinos in northern Ventura County.

Researchers estimate the extent of old growth in the forest is 18,900 acres (76 km2). It consists largely of Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) forests, although old-growth coast redwood (Sequoia Sempervirens), coast Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii), and white fir (Abies concolor) are also found there. [9] In 2008, scientist J. Michael Fay published a map of old growth redwoods in and around Big Sur as a result of his transect of the entire redwood range. [10]

Resource extraction and fire prevention

The U.S. Forest Service decided in May 2020 to thin 755 acres (306 ha) of land to reduce wildfire risk most of which is within the national forest. The decision memo states the project aims to “to improve forest health by reducing mortality risk, provide safe and effective locations from which to perform fire suppression operations, to slow the spread of a wildland fire”. [11] The site is roughly 30 miles north of Ojai in the Reyes Peak area on Pine Mountain in Ventura County. Seven environmental groups, the city of Ojai and Ventura County filed three lawsuits in federal court in April 2022 to stop the brush clearance and logging operation. [12]


Condor Lookout on Hi Mountain, Santa Lucia Range. This is an old fire lookout, remodeled into a public Condor lookout and educational center. Condor Lookout, Los Padres NF.jpg
Condor Lookout on Hi Mountain, Santa Lucia Range. This is an old fire lookout, remodeled into a public Condor lookout and educational center.

Due to the fire risk, there are seasonal restrictions on building fires. Some portions of the forest are closed entirely to public entry during the peak fire season, which usually extends from around June 1 to mid-November.

A National Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking in most locations of the Los Padres National Forest, as well as other National Forests in Southern California. The pass is not required in the Monterey Ranger District including Ventana Wilderness and Silver Peak Wilderness.

Restrictions were put in place at times during the COVID-19 pandemic due to crowded conditions in which people were unable to social distance and also the resulting litter and human waste that was left behind. [13]


A US Coast & Geodetic Survey pack train, part of a survey team, in redwoods in Palo Colorado Canyon, 1932 Roy Bixby Palo Colorado Canyon 1932.jpg
A US Coast & Geodetic Survey pack train, part of a survey team, in redwoods in Palo Colorado Canyon, 1932

Los Padres means "the Fathers", referring to the Catholic missionary priests of the Spanish missions who proselytized in and around the area in the 18th and 19th centuries. [14]

Los Padres was named Santa Barbara National Forest until December 3, 1936, and was assembled from a number of smaller National Forests, including: [15]

After the consolidation of the forests, the name Santa Barbara Forest was resented by residents of the other counties for being too closely identified with just the one county. Amidst public pressure, administrators therefore changed the name to Los Padres to be more representative of the regional history. [14]


Due to the very dry summers, forest fires in Los Padres National Forest are always a risk. In 1965, a truck driven by country singer Johnny Cash caught fire, and burned several hundred acres in Ventura county. [16] In August 1977, the Marble Cone Fire burned 178,000 acres (720 km2) [17] within the Ventana Wilderness and other portions of the Los Padres Forest. In June and July, 2008, the Basin Complex Fire torched 162,818 acres (658.90 km2) [18] in the same region.

The Thomas Fire was a massive wildfire that traversed the forest within Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. It was one of multiple wildfires that ignited in southern California in December 2017. The unusually strong and persistent Santa Ana winds were the largest factor in the spread of the fire. The region experienced an on-and-off Santa Ana wind event for a little over two weeks, which contributed to the Thomas Fire's persistent growths in size. [19] At its height, the wildfire was powerful enough to generate its own weather, qualifying it as a firestorm.

The Forest Service conducts prescribed burns when favorable weather conditions are present; temperatures must be below 80 degrees, winds lower than 15 miles per hour and relative humidity needs to be above 20 percent. [20]

Marijuana grows

Illegal farming of cannabis in secluded areas has been a problem for a long time in the forest. The practice continues under legalization as the crops are produced for the unregulated market without testing for the illegal pesticides they may be contaminated with. These operations often use pesticides and leave piles of trash such as drip irrigation tubing. [21] [22] [23] [24]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Santa Ynez Mountains Mountain range of the Transverse Ranges in California, United States

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Topatopa Mountains Mountain range of the Transverse Ranges in California, United States

The Topatopa Mountains are a mountain range in Ventura County, California, north of Ojai, Santa Paula, and Fillmore. They are part of the Transverse Ranges of Southern California.

Sespe Creek

Sespe Creek is a stream, some 61 miles (98 km) long, in Ventura County, southern California, in the Western United States. The creek starts at Potrero Seco in the eastern Sierra Madre Mountains, and is formed by more than thirty tributary streams of the Sierra Madre and Topatopa Mountains, before it empties into the Santa Clara River in Fillmore.

Chumash Wilderness Protected wilderness area in California, United States

The Chumash Wilderness is a 38,150 acres (15,440 ha) wilderness area within the southern Los Padres National Forest. It is located in the Transverse Ranges, in northern Ventura County and southwestern Kern County in California.

Day Fire

The Day Fire was a devastating wildfire that burned 162,702 acres (658 km2) of land in the Topatopa Mountains, within the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County, southern California. As of 2020, the Day Fire is the 20th largest wildfire in modern California history as of 09-09-2020.

The Ventana Wilderness of Los Padres National Forest is a federally designated wilderness area located in the Santa Lucia Range along the Central Coast of California. This wilderness was established in 1969 when the Ventana Wilderness Act redesignated the 55,800-acre (22,600 ha) Ventana Primitive Area as the Ventana Wilderness and added land, totalling 98,000 acres (40,000 ha). In 1978, the Endangered American Wilderness Act added 61,000 acres (25,000 ha), increasing the total wilderness area to about 159,000 acres (64,000 ha). The California Wilderness Act of 1984 added about 2,750 acres (1,113 ha). The Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act of 1992 created the approximately 14,500-acre (5,900 ha) Silver Peak Wilderness and added about 38,800 acres (15,700 ha) to the Ventana Wilderness in addition to designating the Big Sur River as a Wild and Scenic River. The Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002 expanded the wilderness for the fifth time, adding nearly 35,000 acres (14,000 ha), increasing the total acreage of the wilderness to its present size of 240,026 acres (97,135 ha).

Dick Smith Wilderness Protected wilderness area in California, United States

The Dick Smith Wilderness is a wilderness area in the mountains of eastern Santa Barbara County, California, United States, with a portion in Ventura County. It is completely contained within the Los Padres National Forest, and is northeast of the city of Santa Barbara and north of the city of Ojai. It is most easily accessible from two trailheads off State Route 33, which runs north from Ojai. It is adjacent to the large San Rafael Wilderness on the west and the Matilija Wilderness on the south. Across Highway 33 to the east, and also in the Los Padres National Forest, is the large Sespe Wilderness.

Zaca Fire 2007 wildfire that burnt in the Los Padres National Forest

The Zaca Fire was a wildfire that began burning in the San Rafael Mountains, northeast of the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, California. It was also the single largest wildfire of the 2007 California wildfire season. The fire started on July 4, 2007, and by August 31, it had burned over 240,207 acres (972.083 km2), making it California's second largest fire in recorded history at that time after the Cedar Fire of 2003. As of 2020, it is California's tenth-largest recorded fire in modern history. The fire was contained on September 4, 2007, with the fire being brought under control on October 29, 2007.

Silver Peak Wilderness Protected wilderness area in California, United States

The Silver Peak Wilderness is located in the southwestern corner of Monterey County in the Santa Lucia Mountains along the Central Coast of California. It southern boundary largely follows the Monterey County/San Luis Obispo County line. Its eastern boundary is defined by Ft. Hunter Liggett, while on the west it follows closely along Highway 1 and the Big Sur coastline. It is one of ten wilderness areas within the Los Padres National Forest and managed by the US Forest Service.

Pine Mountain Ridge is a massif of the Transverse Ranges located in northern Ventura County, and entirely within the Los Padres National Forest. The ridge is a large block of Matilija Sandstone, and reaches some of the highest elevations in the southern Transverse Ranges. The north slope of the ridge is part of the Sespe Wilderness.

Matilija Sandstone

The Matilija Sandstone is a sedimentary geologic unit of Eocene epoch in the Paleogene Period, found in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties in Southern California.

Sespe Wilderness Protected wilderness area in California, United States

The Sespe Wilderness is a 219,700-acre (88,900 ha) wilderness area in the eastern Topatopa Mountains and southern Sierra Pelona Mountains, within the Los Padres National Forest (LPNF), in Ventura County, Southern California. The wilderness area is primarily located within the Ojai and Mt. Pinos ranger districts of the LPNF.

Wheeler Springs is an unincorporated community that grew around a set of sulphurated hot springs in Ventura County, California. It is located 6 miles north of the Ojai Valley, within Los Padres National Forest. It is named for Wheeler Blumberg, who founded the town in 1891, and the many natural hot springs.

Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act of 1992

The Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act of 1992 is a Federal law that established five new designated Wilderness Areas and three new designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Los Padres National Forest and Angeles National Forest in California. The law was sponsored by California Republican and Ventura County native Robert J. Lagomarsino while he represented California's 19th District in the United States House of Representatives. The legislation was cosponsored by Democratic and Republican representatives from districts representing the entirety of the Los Padres National Forest.

The Matilija Wilderness is a 29,207-acre (11,820 ha) wilderness area in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, Southern California. It is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, being situated within the Ojai Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest. It is located adjacent to the Dick Smith Wilderness to the northwest and the Sespe Wilderness to the northeast, although it is much smaller than either one. The Matilija Wilderness was established in 1992 in part to protect California condor habitat.

Ventana Wilderness Alliance

The Ventana Wilderness Alliance, founded in 1998, is a group dedicated to preserving and protecting public lands along California's Big Sur coast. Its mission is to protect, preserve and restore the wilderness qualities and biodiversity of the public lands within California's Northern Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur region.

Bottchers Gap

Bottchers Gap is a day use area, campground, and trail head. It is located 7.6 miles (12.2 km) from the Big Sur Coast Highway at the end of Palo Colorado Road on the northern border of the Los Padres National Forest and Ventana Wilderness. It is located between Mescal Ridge and Skinner Ridge. From Bottchers Gap, there is an 3.3 miles (5.3 km) long private access road that leads to Camp Pico Blanco. Beginning at Bottchers Gap, it is a difficult 14.7 miles (23.7 km) hike via the Skinner Ridge and Ventana Double Cone trails to the Ventana Double Cone, making it one of the more distant locations in the wilderness.

The Matilija Fire was a major wildfire that burned nearly 220,000 acres (89,000 ha) in the Santa Barbara National Forest of Southern California, during the autumn of 1932. The fire is named for Matilija Creek, near the location from which it originated.

Sespe Hot Springs Thermal springs

Sespe Hot Springs are a system of thermal springs and seeps that form a hot spring creek in the mountains near the Sespe Condor Sanctuary near Ojai, California.


  1. 1 2 Los Padres National Forest: Recreation and Visitors Maps
  2. "Mount Pinos". NGS data sheet. U.S. National Geodetic Survey . Retrieved June 29, 2009.
  3. SeeMonterey: Los Padres National Forest
  4. USFS Ranger Districts by State
  5. "Los Padres National Forest". Great Outdoor Recreation Pages. Archived from the original on November 4, 2013. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
  6. Graham, Chuck (May 15, 2014) "Expanding their range: A story of survival of the desert bighorn sheep in the county's Sespe Wilderness" Ventura County Reporter
  7. "Black Bear Population Information". California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  8. Orozco, Lance (November 18, 2019). "Los Padres National Forest Gets Land Donation; 800 Acres On Central Coast". KCLU News. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  9. Warbington, Ralph; Beardsley, Debby (2002), 2002 Estimates of Old Growth Forests on the 18 National Forests of the Pacific Southwest Region, United States Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region
  10. Fay, J. Michael (September 30, 2008), Redwood Transect-Big Sur Redwoods 2.0 , retrieved January 6, 2009
  11. Aron, Hillel (April 27, 2022). "Forest 'thinning' project on Pine Mountain in Ventura County challenged". Courthouse News Service. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  12. Orozco, Lance (April 27, 2022). "Environmentalists, government agencies rally against logging operation in Los Padres National Forest". KCLU. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  13. Money, Luke (August 3, 2020). "Ventura County trails to remain closed through September amid coronavirus concerns". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  14. 1 2 Brown, William S. (1945). History of Los Padres National Forest (PDF). San Francisco: Forest Service. p. 38.
  15. Davis, Richard C. (September 29, 2005), National Forests of the United States (PDF), The Forest History Society, archived from the original (PDF) on February 12, 2013
  16. Johnson, Brett (November 18, 2007). "Johnny Cash's first wife tells of romance, heartbreak — They walked the line". Ventura County Star. Archived from the original on February 28, 2009. Retrieved June 1, 2014.
  17. "Sequential Changes in Bed Habitat Conditions in the Upper Carmel River Following the Marble-Cone Fire of August, 1977", California Digital Library
  18. "Top 20 Largest California Wildfires" (PDF). CAL FIRE . Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  19. Joe Mozingo (December 31, 2017). "California's largest ever fire was a force that could not be stopped". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  20. Alley, Dave (February 12, 2019). "Prescribed burns planned for parts of Los Padres National Forest". KEYT. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  21. Carlson, Cheri (June 18, 2019). "Sheep, foxes, bears found dead after marijuana raids in Los Padres, other state forests". Ventura County Star . Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  22. de los Santos, Senerey (June 27, 2019). "Illegal pot farm cleanup in Los Padres National Forest to take place this summer". KEYT. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  23. Wenner, Gretchen (October 27, 2020). "Nearly 75,000 marijuana plants seized from illegal grows in Los Padres National Forest". Ventura County Star. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  24. "Authorities Remove 3,000 Pounds of Trash From Los Padres National Forest". NBC Bay Area. Bay City News. December 19, 2020. Retrieved December 20, 2020.