Best Hikes in Los Padres National Forest (CA)


Los Padres National Forest is located just north of Santa Barbara, CA and stretches 220 miles from north to south. Below Los Padres is Channel Islands National Park. The forest consists of two non-contiguous areas. The northern division is within Monterey County and northern San Luis Obispo County and includes the beautiful Big Sur Coast and scenic interior areas. The “main division” of the forest includes lands within San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Kern Counties. 

Los Padres National Forest is divided into 5 Ranger Districts:  with district offices as follows: Monterey Ranger District, Santa Lucia Ranger District, Santa Barbara Ranger District, Ojai Ranger District, and Mount Pinos Ranger District. Official Website.

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Nearest Metro AreaSanta Barbara, CA
Area1,950,000 acres
EstablishedDecember 3, 1936
Hiking Trails1,257 miles

Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Los Padres National Forest

  • Cathedral Peak Trail*** – 6.6 miles out and back
    • Beginning at the Inspiration Point/Seven Falls Trailhead, this challenging yet exceptional trail takes hikers up 3 great peaks near Santa Barbara – Arlington Peak, Cathedral Peak, and La Cumbre Peak. The crowd of hikers typically thins out after Arlington Peak as the entire way is not for the faint of heart. However, this is probably the most exciting trail in Los Padres National Forest.  
  • Cerro Alto Loop – 4.6 mile loop
    • Moderate hike to the highest peak near San Luis Obispo. The trail climbs steadily and the views at the summit are beautiful. 
  • Cold Spring Trail to Montecito Peak – 7 miles out and back
    • Difficult but rewarding hike up to the top of Montecito Peak after climbing more than 2000’ in elevation up Cold Spring Trail. Be careful on the trail as it is rocky and has a lot of loose dirt – the area was closed for a while following the 2017 Thomas Fire Closure. 
  • Ewoldsen Loop – 5.0 mile loop
    • The Ewoldsen trail starts from the Canyon trail and gains elevation through a redwood forest. This trail splits into a loop around the canyon after 1.5 miles. Pocket views of the coast can be seen from the western side of the loop. Be sure to also check out the nearby McWay Falls. 
  • Jesusita Trail to Inspiration Point*** – 8.2 miles out and back
    • Great trail in Santa Barbara front country. Switchbacks take you through dense chaparral until you reach Inspiration Point. From Inspiration Point, hikers have incredible views of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean below. 
  • Pfeiffer Falls / Valley View Trails – 2.0 miles out and back
    • A perfect, though slightly challenging hike for both kids and older folks, you get to walk among the giant redwoods and visit a rocky waterfall. Those looking for a bit more of a workout can hike up through the picturesque oak trees to the overlook bench, with expansive views of the Big Sur River gorge.
  • Rattlesnake Canyon – 4.3 miles out and back
    • Popular trail in the Santa Barbara area that gently climbs up to Tin Can Meadow and has great views of the area.

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