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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

Lace up your hiking boots, we’re heading to Los Padres National Forest. As one of the best forests in the Golden State, Los Padres boasts diverse landscapes, towering redwoods, ragged semi-deserts, ocean views, and lush meadows bursting with wildflowers; all of which are perfect for an early sunrise hike. Besides, most of the mountainous land along California’s coast—from Ventura to Monterey—is within the premises of Los Padres; imagine the beautiful adventures you can have! 

Of the nearly 200 trails for hiking in the Los Padres National Forest, we’ve compiled a list of the best of the best. Going from easy to hard, these Los Padres National Forest trails belong on your bucket list.

The Best Hikes In Los Padres National Forest

Rose Valley Falls

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.1 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

If you want an adventure that’s short and sweet, the Rose Valley Falls Trail is one of the best hikes in Los Padres National Forest you need to check out. The trail starts at the Rose Valley Campground and takes you along a 10 to 15-minute walk until you reach the base of the two-tier, 300-foot waterfall. If you’re intrigued to hike to the top of the falls after your arrival, keep in mind that the road leading up is unmaintained and quite difficult—but definitely not impossible. With enough experience and the right footwear, continue trekking this hike in Los Padres, but if you’re a beginner, you might want to stay back.

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Piedra Blanca Formations Trail

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.6 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

Another great trail for easy hiking in Los Padres National Forest, the Piedra Blanca Formations Trail is an awesome path to explore. Unique rock formations, lots of blooming wildflowers, and a beautiful rushing river are all featured throughout the trail, making for fun sights and surprises to see on every twist and turn. If you’re heading to the Los Padres National Forest with your children, the Piedra Blanca Formations Trail is a safe bet both in terms of difficulty and fun—we’d do it again and again.

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.

Matilija Creek Trail

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 9.5 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

The Matilija Creek Trail is one of the best hikes nearing Oak View. Moderate in difficulty and quite popular with local hikers, this Los Padres National Forest trail is breathtaking, to say the least. It’s not just the brilliant wildflowers that’ll wow you along the trail, but also the grand rock formations, the beautiful creek, and the cascading waterfalls. If you’re looking for an adventure that lasts longer than a one-day hike, you’ll be glad to know that this trail is frequented by Los Padres National Forest backpacking and camping enthusiasts as well. Just make sure you have your solo essentials on you for when you go off the grid.

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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