The Ventana Wilderness contains 167,323 acres straddling the Santa Lucia Mountain Range approximately 120 miles south of San Francisco and 90 miles north of San Luis Obispo. The wilderness is entirely within Monterey County and the Los Padres National Forest.
The Ventana provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore one of California's most diverse mountain ranges. Transversed with approximately 197 miles of trail, you can explore stands of redwoods to sub- alpine plants on bare rock mountain tops.
A unique area of rugged and beautiful coastal mountains, the Ventana Wilderness is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
It is hard to visualize the diversity of the Ventana. To experience the wilderness determination is the first requirement for travel. Crags and ridges fall vertically into rivers and creeks, shielding the interior from most of man's modern technology.
Topography in the wilderness is characterized by steep-sided, sharp-crested ridges separating V-shaped valleys. Elevations range from 600 feet where the Big Sur River leaves the Wilderness to about 5,750 feet at the Wilderness boundary circumventing Junipero Serra Peak. Effects of uplifting and massive faulting provide panoramas of reoriented rock formations. Individual rock outcroppings provide a contrast with a landscape of woodlands and chaparral. Most streams originating in the Ventana fall rapidly through narrow vertical-walled canyons flowing on bedrock or a veneer of boulders. Waterfalls, deep pools and thermal springs are found along major streams.
Water is largely responsible for carving the mountains into their present conformation. These mountains act as a "water bank" collecting, storing and dispersing rain from winter storms; giving water to the Big Sur, Carmel, Nacimiento and Arroyo Seco Rivers. The watersheds of the Ventana Wilderness produce approximately 500,000 acre feet of water annually. Crossing creeks and rivers in the wilderness may be refreshingly cool in the summer and fall but can be very dangerous in the winter and spring.
The Ventana Wilderness has a Mediterranean type climate with mild dry summers and cool wet winters. Precipitation falls primarily from November to April and ranges widely from 75 inches annually along the Coast Ridge near Cold Springs to less than 25 inches only a few miles inland. Snow occasionally falls at the higher elevations. During the summer coastal fog and cool sea breezes frequently penetrate up the major valleys to elevations of approximately 2,500 feet. Rarely does this maritime condition top the coastal ridges; thus most areas east of the divide are hot and dry during the summer. Remember to be well prepared in winter and spring for wind rain or even snow. Daytime temperatures may climb with nighttime temperatures dropping many degrees.
Marked vegetation changes occur within the wilderness. These changes are attributed to dramatic climate and topographic variations coupled with an extensive wildfire history. Much of the area is mantled by a dense cover of brush contrasted by annual grass meadows and open Ponderosa Pine stands. Poison Oak is abundant. Slopes that open to the Pacific's cool marine air create a favorable climate for the southern most extension of the Coastal Redwoods. Approaching higher ridges the redwoods and their community of plants sink to the stream and riverside. Oak and Madrone occupy the hillsides. The warmest and driest slopes become carpeted by a thick mat of Coastral Scrub or Chaparral. At still higher elevations pines cross the view; Coulter, Ponderosa, Sugar and Knobcone, Big Cone and Douglas Fir are encountered and on the steepest and seemingly rockiest sites, the rare Bristlecone or Santa Lucia Fir thrives. This spire-shaped species is native to Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties inside a range of only 58 miles long and 12 miles wide.
The Ventana Wilderness also provides a habitat for wildlife unmatched in Central California. Hunting and fishing is allowed in the wilderness. Deer, pigeons, doves, wild pigs and other wildlife can be hunted in accordance with California Department of Fish and Game hunting regulations.
There are several trailheads open to the wilderness traveler. The Pine Ridge trail is the most popular, hence the heaviest used, so the least likely route to travel in search of solitude. Other trailheads available include: Carmel River, China Camp, Arroyo Seco, Memorial Park, Bottcher's Gap, Cone Peak, Kirk Creek and Partington Ridge.
California Campfire Permits are required May-Nov. Wilderness permits are no longer required for entry into the Ventana Wilderness, however you should check with the district headquarters or local ranger station for current conditions and/or fire restrictions.