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Where to Go Hiking In Los Padres National Forest
Health & Fitness

Where to Go Hiking In Los Padres National Forest

Of the nearly 200 trails for hiking in the Los Padres National Forest, we’ve compiled a list of the best of the best.

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5 min read

August 19, 2021

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Matilija Falls is a great hike that's a bit hard to follow in certain parts. Stay along the river and look for red arrows and you'll be okay.
Framed by tall, rugged ridges in the Topatopa Mountains, Santa Paula Creek slices through the rockbed of Santa Paula Canyon.

Santa Paula Canyon and Punch Bowls Trail

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6.5 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

Santa Paula Canyon is one of the best hikes in Ventura County, and it’s not a secret that many people agree. Heavily trafficked and loved by many, this Los Padres National Forest trail is ideal for a hot summer’s day. The trail features a number of swimming holes, most popularly known as the Santa Paula Punch Bowls. The main swimming hole, where most people stop and take a dip, has a beautiful 30-foot waterfall and is usually pretty crowded. For more seclusion and fewer crowds, continue further upstream and you’ll find even more swimming holes.

The Jesusita Trail passes through oak woodlands, avocado orchards, and even views of newly built homes.

Jesusita Trail

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6.8 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes

A moderate hike leaning more towards hard, the Jesusita Trail is a Los Padres National Forest treasure you’ll love to uncover. This easy-to-follow yet still quite physically demanding trail leads to Inspiration Point—it’s quite the perfect hike by textbook definition. The natural diversity along the way is astounding, to say the least. You’ll walk across a cool river, overhanging tree area, open chaparral, and desert rocks and sand. And who’d forget the phenomenal view of the ocean? This is what hiking in Los Padres National Forest is all about.

Romero Canyon Trail

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6 miles

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: On leash

The Romero Canyon is a popular trail for mountain biking and hiking in Los Padres National Forest. The first part of the trail takes you along a creek bed and a breezy forest, followed by a challenging climb over the Santa Ynez range to East Camino Cielo Road. Eventually, you’ll reach the summit on the Romero Canyon Trail, with fantastic views of Montecito and the Pacific Ocean. You’ll want to take a moment to stop and admire, but make sure to start the hike at a time that won’t leave you in pitch-black darkness on the way back down.

The Cerro Alto Trail Loop includes a lot of steep inclines but offers a great workout for those looking for a relatively challenging morning hike.

Cerro Alto Trail Loop

Level of difficulty: Hard

Distance: 4.5 miles

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: On leash

Feeling like none of the Los Padres National Forest trails will give you a good challenge? Wait till you trek the Cerro Alto Trail. A continuous uphill climb with a fair amount of steep inclines after, this is one of the best hikes in the Los Padres National Forest for experienced hikers. Besides being a killer workout, the Cerro Alto Trail also has breathtaking views on top, which will make your tiredness feel totally worth it.

If you’re going on this hike in Los Padres on a sunny day, make sure you have plenty of water and are lathered in sunscreen—the trail has little to no shade and you don’t want to get heatstroke. 

After a spring rain, the 100-foot Tangerine Falls blooms into the most beautiful waterfall in Los Padres National Forest.

Tangerine Falls Trail

Level of difficulty: Hard

Distance: 2.2 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

Here’s the Tangerine Falls Trail for you in a nutshell—great creek, 100-foot waterfall, rock hopping, and a shady cool path. Wondering what’s the catch with this hike in Los Padres? Well, it’s pretty hard to traverse. However, if you’ve been on enough hikes in your life, you should be able to power through till the end with not much difficulty. This is definitely one of those trails that’ll kick your butt; but will you come back again for another round not too long after? Yes, yes you will.

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