Description - Spilling into the two scenic Southern California counties of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo is the Santa Lucia Ranger District. The variety of terrain, vegetation, and recreational settings attract millions annually. Los Padres National Forest provides diverse wildlife habitat and refuge for approximately 468 species of fish and wildlife, of which most are nongame species.
- Recreation areas on the District include a number of non-reservable campgrounds. All are first-come, first-served; all except Cerro Alto, which requires an Adventure Pass. Five developed areas offer a number of camping opportunities with day activities that center on hiking, hunting, viewing scenery, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, and swimming. The rustic accommodations include vault toilets, picnic tables, barbecues, and fire rings. Water availability varies greatly; be sure to check with Forest staff before venturing out. One of the best attributes to this ranger district is the access to scenic trails. Many sites serve as a major trailhead to the San Rafael Wilderness where hikers and horseback riders are welcome. Other areas offer access to mountain bike and off-highway vehicular routes. There are no designated group camps in the Santa Lucia Ranger District. No campgrounds on this district have equestrian facilities (corrals, troughts, etc.), but there are hitching rails at Nira Campground, Hi Mountain, and Gifford trailhead.
Picnic and day use areas include Catway, Cumbre, and Figueroa Lookouts. Sites are located in the Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area. Pino Alto is in the same area. It has five accessible tables and a paved half-mile trail suitable for wheelchairs. No piped water at any of these sites.
The Santa Lucia and Mt. Pinos Ranger Districts have the most OHV opportunities on the Los Padres National Forest. Routes are located in the Rockfront Ranch, Pozo-LaPanza, and Colson-LaBrea areas.
The San Rafael Wilderness is located in the San Rafael and Sierra Madre Mountain Ranges in southeastern Santa Barabara County. This wilderness is mainly covered by chaparral, which consist of chemise, buckthorn, ceanothus, manzanita, scrub oak and yucca. You will also find Potreros (grass meadows). The two main corridors into the Wilderness are the Sisquoc River and Manzana Creek at Nira Campground. Most trails follow the creeks and rivers. There are a number of trail camps (table and fire ring) along the scenic Manzana and Sisqouc rivers. The area is a riparian zone and provides food, water, and shelter for most species of wildlife. In the water are rainbow trout, western pond turtles, and aquatic garter snakes.
The Santa Lucia Wilderness is located to the east of San Luis Obispo. Chaparral-covered peaks and stream fed valleys offer trails for hiking, hunting and fishing.
The Garcia Wilderness is inland from Arroyo Grande and offers panoramic views and a variety of wildflowers in spring. Terrain ranges from chaparral covered mountains to grasslands and creekside vegetation. Access is limited - call district office for full description.
The Machesna Mountain Wilderness is 25 miles from the city of San Luis Obispo. This wilderness boasts high peaks, chaparral, oak woodlands and conifer forests.
There are many trails in the Figueroa, San Rafael Wilderness and Colson Canyon areas. The difficulty level of these trails ranges from moderate in and around developed areas, to strenuous as you proceed deeper into the San Rafael Wilderness. The Los Padres National Forest map (northern section) and other publications are available and very helpful in navigating the trail system.
Colson Canyon, LaBrea Creek, Figueroa, Rock Front, Branch Creek, Pozo, and LaPanza provide good hunting areas for deer and birds. Check with the State Fish and Game Department regarding hunting seasons and any restrictions that might apply.
Mountain biking is allowed on all trails except in Wilderness areas. There are a number of opportunities in the Figueroa Mountain, Cerro Alto, and Cuesta Ridge areas.
Recreation - Hiking, hunting, scenic views, mountain biking, horseback riding, along with a variety of camping opportunities are enjoyed throughout the year on the Santa Lucia Ranger District.
Forest visitors on the San Bernardino, Cleveland, Angeles and Los Padres National Forests of Southern California are required to purchase an Adventure Pass and display it on their vehicle when parked in the Forest. The cost is $5 per day or $30 per year and can be purchased in any Forest Service office or over 350 businesses throughout Southern California.
Climate - Climate on the Los Padres varies greatly with elevation and the amount of coastal influence. Areas with more coastal influence experience moderate temperatures year round with fog likely from June through mid-August. Plan your coastal visit in the late summer or fall to ensure the best conditions for viewing the scenery. Also, occasional clear days between winter and spring storms are incomparable. Areas further inland experience greater temperature extremes, with relatively cooler winters and hot summers. Inland areas often receive frost on winter nights. As throughout most of California most of the precipitation comes in the winter months, with April through October normally very dry.
Santa Lucia Ranger District is found in northern Santa Barbara County and southern San Luis Obispo County. The district office is located in Santa Maria along North Carlotti Drive.