At some 1.75 million acres, Los Padres National Forest is one of California’s biggest wooded spaces. In a state not short on natural wonders, it’s a striking array of coastal vistas, desert crags and rocky wilderness. It consists of two dramatic parcels of land, the most northern of which starts above Big Sur’s famous cliffs. The larger, southern section begins near the city of San Luis Obispo and extends almost to Los Angeles.
On the southwestern edge of Los Padres, the city of Santa Barbara has long been a popular gateway for exploring the heart of the southern section. In this area, the Santa Ynez river, like a rugged camping knife, cuts a sharp canyon through a broad section of the wilderness, with dense, bright greenery running on either side, encouraged by a compact, cool microclimate.