Wilderness Areas by Ranger District

Ojai Ranger District

Sespe Wilderness 219,700 acres* (includes Sespe Condor Sanctuary) was established 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act.

The Sespe Wilderness is predominately located in the Ojai and the Mt. Pinos Ranger Districts. One popular destination is the hot springs about 16 miles from Lion Camp (this campground is presently closed). The Sespe Wilderness is mainly a chaparral covered environment with rock cliffs in various sites. There is a beautiful area called Piedra Blanca, just off highway 33 along the Piedra Blanca-Gene Marshall Trail. The Sespe Condor Sanctuary is also in the wilderness. This site, closed to the public, was established to promote the propagation and growth of the California Condor.

Matilija Wilderness 29,600 acres was established 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act.

In the Ojai Ranger District, the Matilija Wilderness is 12 miles from the town of Ojai. Chaparral is prevalent with poppies plentiful in springtime. Fishing in Matilija creek is possible at certain times of the year. There are 2 hiking trails; 1 trail has campsites along it.

Mt. Pinos Ranger District

Chumash Wilderness 38,150 acres was established 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act.

The Chumash Wilderness is situated in the Mt. Pinos Ranger District and is also near the town of Frazier Park. It includes Mt. Pinos which was an integral part of Chumash life and is still extremely important to the local Chumash residents. The vegetation is mainly pine forests in the northern portion and a combination of badlands and chaparral in the south. Hiking and camping are among the many recreational opportunities. Snow in the winter provides opportunities for winter recreation.

Dick Smith Wilderness* 64,800 acres was established in 1984 by the California Wilderness Act. Refer to the description under the Santa Barbara Ranger District. This wilderness is approximately 1/2 in the Santa Barbara Ranger District (northeastern part) and 1/2 in the Mt. Pinos District (southwestern part).

Sespe Wilderness* 219,700 acres* see description under Ojai Ranger District since this wilderness overlaps the Ojai and Mt. Pinos Districts.

Santa Barbara Ranger District>

Dick Smith Wilderness* 64,700 acres was established in 1984 by the California Wilderness Act. Deep within the Santa Barbara Backcountry lies a knot of mountains topped by Madulce Peak. The Dick Smith Wilderness Comprises 64,700 acres of diverse topography with elevations ranging from 3,700 to 6,541 feet. While chaparral is the predominant vegetation, the Madulce Peak area has some of the most beautiful stands of mixed conifers found in the Forest. The Rancho Nuevo area is more open with massive sandstone rock formations, chaparral, big cone Douglas fir and Great Basin sagebrush.

San Rafael Wilderness* 197,380 acres. In 1968 the San Rafael became the first primitive area in the Nation reclassified as wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964, additional acreage added in 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act.

The San Rafael Wilderness is located in the San Rafael and Sierra Madre Mountain Ranges in southeastern Santa Barbara County (northern part of Santa Barbara District and Southern part of Santa Lucia District). This wilderness is mainly covered by chaparral, which consists of chamise, buckthorn ceanothus manzanita, scrub oak and yucca. You will also find potreros (grassy meadows). The two main corridors into the wilderness are the Sisquoc River and Manzana Creek. Most trails follow the creeks and rivers. These areas are called riparian zones and provide food, water, and shelter for most species of wildlife. In the water are rainbow trout, western pond turtles, and aquatic garter snakes, to name a few. Bordering the water you may find the western toad or hear the call of the pacific and California tree frogs From April through June you can hear the many songbirds that nest in riparian zones, such as the yellow warbler, house wren, orange-crowned warbler, and plain titmouse. Further from the creek, up in the brush, you will hear the scrub jay, California quail, and mountain quail.

Other points of interest include the Manzana Schoolhouse and the standing ruins of homesteads along the Sisquoc River. These sites are all that remain of a vigorous farming community that settled the flats along the river around the turn-of-the-century. The South Fork Cabin is a historic Forest Service line shack that has sheltered generations of backcountry rangers. The Dabney Cabin, nestled on a small terrace above Manzana Creek, was built in 1914 as a retreat for the family of Charles Dabney.

Santa Lucia District

Santa Lucia Wilderness 18, 679 acres; established in 1978 by the Endangered American Wilderness Act.

This wilderness is located inland from Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo. Chaparral-covered peaks and streamfed valleys. The vista of Morro Rock and the Seven Sisters. These scenic images are part of the Santa Lucia Wilderness experience. This wilderness offers numerous trails for hiking, hunting and fishing. Solitude and recreation await you, just ten minutes from San Luis Obispo.

Garcia Wilderness 14,100 acres was established 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act.

The Garcia Wilderness area offers an abundance of panoramic views, solitude and a variety of lush wildflowers in springtime. Located on the Santa Lucia Ranger District. The terrain ranges from chaparral covered mountains to grasslands and abundant creekside vegetation. There are several trails leading into the area. Two hiking trails cut through the wilderness and there are 3 designated campsites.

Machesna Mountain Wilderness 19,760 acres was established 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act.

Twenty-five miles from the city of San Luis Obispo, this wilderness boasts high peaks, chaparral, oak woodlands and conifer forests. Prairie falcon and tule elk live in this wilderness. Camping, hiking, are the main types of recreational uses. There is a 1500 acre Research Natural Area, dedicated to study on a unique strain of Coulter Pine.

San Rafael Wilderness* 197,380 acres* see description under Santa Barbara Ranger District

Monterey District

Please note:
Sudden Oak Death -
An aggressive disease called "Sudden Oak Death" (SOD) is killing our native oaks in many areas along the California coast, including Big Sur.

Warning! Dead trees or trees weakened by Sudden Oak Death have been known to topple suddenly and without warning. Be on the lookout, when visiting coastal California for trees that may be affected!

Silver Peak Wilderness 31,555 acres
This wilderness was established in 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act. On December 19,2002 the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002 added 17,055 acres to the existing wilderness.

Dramatic scenery, steep terrain, coastal redwood groves. The Silver Peak Wilderness is located in the southwestern portion of the Monterey Ranger District and along the famous Big Sur coastline. Hiking is available on moderate to strenuous trails, wildlife is present in more remote areas Photographic opportunities abound. Access to parts of the backcountry is by dirt roads and is open subject to weather conditions.

Ventana Wilderness 240, 026 acres
This wilderness was established in 1978 by the Endangered American Wilderness Act, first addition was in 1978 by the Endangered American Wilderness Act, second addition in 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act. On December 19,2002 the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002 added 33,967 acres to the existing wilderness.

Topography of the Ventana Wilderness is characterized by steep-sided, sharp-crested ridges separating V-shaped youthful valleys. Most streams 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. 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.

Marked vegetation changes occur within the Wilderness. These changes are attributed to dramatic climate and topographic variations coupled with an extensive fire history. Much of the damage to vegetation is only temporary, since fire is an integral part of this Wilderness as it is of other areas of the Forest. Much of the Ventana is covered by chaparral. This brushy vegetative cover is typical of that found throughout Southern California' fire susceptible mountains. The contrast of annual grass meadows and open pine stands may be found throughout the Wilderness. Deep narrow canyons cut by the fast moving Big and Little Sur Rivers support virgin stands of coastal redwood. Small scattered stands of the endemic Bristlecone Fir may be found on rocky slopes.

Area of LPNF in Wilderness 875,000 acres

Percentage of LPNF in Wilderness 48%

Total area of LPNF 1,764,000 acres

* Wilderness areas that are located in two Ranger Districts. Acreage's given are total for the entire Wilderness.

How is Wilderness Managed?

The Forest Service manages wilderness to:

  • Perpetuate for present and future generations a long-standing system of high quality Wilderness that represents the natural ecosystems found in the National Forest System.
  • Provide opportunities for public use, enjoyment and understanding of a wilderness experience.
  • Maintain plants and animals native to the area by protecting complete communities of plant and animal life. Maintain watersheds in a healthy condition.
  • Protect threatened and endangered plant or animal species.
  • Maintain the primitive character of wilderness as a bench mark for comparison with lands that have been developed.

Practices that alter the natural qualities of wildernesses are not permitted: e.g. motorized or mechanical transport. Mountain bikes are also prohibited. (Wheelchairs are permitted in wilderness.) Exceptions may be granted for some administrative uses, including wildfire suppression or search and rescue operations.

For information on backpacking or hiking in a wilderness area, or for a map of trails, campsites and trailhead parking areas, contact the Ranger District Office responsible for the wilderness area.


  • The San Rafael Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest was the first wilderness designated in 1968.
  • California has the second largest number of acres of designated wilderness while Alaska has the most.
  • California has 52 designated wildernesses and 10 of them are located in the Los Padres National Forest.
  • Four agencies that have designated wilderness areas are: US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.


Things to Consider When Visiting the Wilderness


Campfire permits are required year-round in the Ventura and Santa Barbara County portions of the National Forest, and from May 1 thought the end of fire season in Kern, San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties. The permit is free and can be issued by any Forest Officer. The permit allows open campfires as long as the following terms are met:

Clear flammable material away from fire for a minimum of five feet to prevent escape.

Have a shovel, hand trowel or tool available to prepare and extinguish the fire.

Abide by fire restrictions that may be in effect (call the area you plan to visit ahead of time).

Restore the campsite to its original condition after making sure your campfire is Dead Out!

Fire restrictions go into effect during the summer. When planning a trip during summer months, check with the district office or the forest headquarters. The news release announcing fire restrictions will always be listed in the "News and Events" section of the website.

Adventure Pass
This pass is required if you are parking your car at some trailheads in the southern Los Padres National Forest (Ojai, Santa Barbara and Santa Lucia Ranger Districts). Contact the ranger stations in these areas to find out if the Adventure Pass is needed.

Protect the Wilderness Areas
Wilderness is federal land designated by congress. It is a place "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not re main. which is protected and managed to preserve its natural condition."

In wilderness, preservation of the land; its natural processes, native vegetation and wildlife is the first priority of management. Human use is secondary. The natural environment is a fragile system which is slow to recover once disturbed.

Safety Issues

Plan ahead
Facing the Elements
Stream Crossing
Winter Travel
Travel with a Friend
Getting Lost
Drinking Water
Keep Water Clean

Preservation Guidelines

Mode of Travel. Travel is restricted to foot or horseback only. All means of mechanical transportation are prohibited in wildernesses. Wheelchairs are allowed.
Stay on Trails. To preserve plants and prevent erosion, please don't take shortcuts.
Horses. Horsemen, pack in feed; move stock frequently to minimize damage to groundcover and soil.
Smoking. No smoking on trails. You may smoke in a designated campsite.
Hunting. Hunting is allowed in the Wildernesses. Check with the California Department of Fish and Game for seasons and regulations. Lead bullets have been banned for hunting in historic condor range which encompasses all or portions of 13 central and southern California counties and seven different deer hunting zones, including the Los Padres National Forest.
Refuse. Litter and garbage must be packed out.
Waste. Bury human waste 8' deep. Keep all human and water waste 200' from water source.
Groups. Travel in groups of 25 or fewer people.
Stock. Pack and saddle stock can severely damage soil and vegetation, avoid tying them to trees. Use a picket line instead. Bring a supply of ration pellets. Use quality feed to avoid noxious weed establishment. It may be necessary to bring water for the stock. When breaking up camp, repair pawed-up areas, scatter manure, remove extra feed and salt blocks and redistribute duff and litter.
Right of Way. Horses and other stock have the right-of-way. When you encounter them on the trail, avoid scaring the animals. Step off the downhill side of the trail and remain quiet until the stock have passed.

For detailed wilderness information visit www.wilderness.net.