The Quick and Dirty
Location: Sespe Wilderness located within Los Padres National Forest, just north of Ojai, CA.
Distance: 10 miles out and back from Piedra Blanca trailhead to Pine Mountain Lodge. We stayed overnight at Pine Mountain Lodge campsite before heading back the next day.
Difficulty: Moderate, the peak is 6,000 feet with a 3,500 feet elevation gain over 3 miles.
Dogs Allowed? Yes, dogs are allowed on leash within Los Padres National Forest
Good to know: a National Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking at the trailhead. No backcountry permit is needed for overnight camping, however you do need a fire permit if you want a campfire or use your stove for cooking.
Spring is our preferred time to visit Los Padre National Forest because of several reasons:
- There’s not a lot of reliable water source in the summer! Due to the persistent drought the last several years in Southern California, water generally dries out by summer time. We have heard the water near the campground at Pine Mountain Lodge campground is suppose to be flowing year round, but with the recent years of drought, we did not want take the risk by going there in the summer.
- There’s not a lot of tree coverage making this area very warm to hike in the summer
- Limited camping spots in Southern California since there are access to a lot of the high Sierra Nevada trails are limited as roads near the trailhead are closed for the season
Itching to start the backpacking season, we decided on visiting Los Padres as our first backpacking trip in 2014. From the Piedra-Blanca trailhead, we headed north towards Pine Mountain Lodge campsite (the more popular Willett Hot Springs splits off towards the east).
The hike started off in an exposed area with lots of sandstone boulders a few feet away. It reminded me a bit of what Joshua Tree National Park looks like.
As we hiked north along the North Fork Creek, we saw some flow in the creek but it was no where near the normal flow expected during spring. We knew this is indicative of a dry summer that’s coming in a couple months.
It is a steady climb over more than half of the trail to Pine Mountain Lodge.
As we got higher in elevation, we started seeing small patches of the snow as the temperature got significantly cooler.
We experienced 25-35 mile per hour winds that night and had to improvise with rocks and guy out the tent for additional support. The tent stakes we had with us couldn’t hold the tent down with the high winds.
Since this was just a short overnight trip, we packed up the next morning and headed down towards the trail head.
Overall, this was a nice overnight backpacking trail. The uphill climb is pretty tough if you are not used to short distance elevation gain but the view is well worth the pain!