Cone Peak is the most spectacular mountain on the Big Sur coast of California. It is the second highest mountain (Junipero Serra Peak
is higher) in the Santa Lucia Range. It has a dramatic setting less than 3 miles as crow flies from the Pacific Ocean, its average gradient from sea level to the summit is about 33%, which is steeper on average than the gradient from Owens Valley to Mount Whitney.
Cone Peak is a mountain of marble that has been sculpted by erosion to its present steepness. The three canyons of Limekiln Creek which flows from Cone Peak are spectacularly deep, with dense stands of coast redwoods. Cone Peak is not frequently climbed because of the remoteness of its trailhead, however, there is a trail that goes to the summit, and a fire lookout hut on the top.
The closest trailhead to Cone Peak summit is on Coast Ridge Road, trailhead elevation is 3800 feet. This dirt road has been closed since winter of 2011-2012 due to storm damage (road conditions here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/lpnf/alerts-notices/?cid=stelprdb5347980
). Walking this stretch of road adds one-way 5.4 miles to the hike, making the total one-way mileage 7.5 miles.
Directions from north
: drive California Highway 1 southward from Monterey/Carmel for about 60 miles. After you pass the town of Lucia and Limekiln State Park there is a turn off on the left for paved Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, the only road that crosses the high Coast Ridge to connect to Highway 101. Turn onto this winding road with spectacular ocean views for 7.1 miles to a saddle where it crosses Coast Ridge Road, a dirt road. The road is closed from November to May. Follow Coast Ridge Road north (left) for 5.4 miles. This part of the road is sometimes referred to as Cone Peak Road, but no such road sign exists. The trailhead parking area is on the left where there is a trail sign. Note that the parking area is not a saddle, but rather is blocked by a hill on the left. (There are two saddles before this point, with parked vehicles too and views of the ocean). There is only room for about 5 vehicles.
Directions from south
: Drive California Highway 1 northward from San Luis Obispo for about 60 miles. About 10 miles north of the town of Gorda you will see the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road turnoff on your right. Follow directions above to reach trailhead.
Directions from east
): from Highway 101 take the Jolon Road exit and proceed west toward Fort Hunter Liggett (subject to security checks by military police). Once you enter the Fort and are heading toward the Mission (Mission San Antonio de Padua), follow the signs for the Nacimiento Fergusson Road and follow it toward the Coast. The road passes through some beautiful country filled with enormous California Oaks. When you reach the top of the coast ridge, turn right on Coast Ridge Road. Follow the directions detailed above.
Follow trail for about 2 miles to Cone Peak.
An alternative trailhead is at Kirk Creek campground (~100 feet elevation) on Highway 1, a few hundred feet north of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road turn-off. From here hike east from Highway 1 on Vicente Flat trail, which takes you in 5 miles to the Vicente Flat, a back country camp site at elevation 1620 feet(water available). Continue uphill you will reach Cone Peak Road in 2.5 miles. Turn left and walk the road for 1.5 mile to find the regular trailhead to Cone Peak summit. Total hiking distance one-way from Highway 1 is 11.5 miles.
Cone Peak is located in Los Padres National Forest. Cone Peak is technically outside of Ventana Wilderness.
When To Climb
Most of the year except during the rainy season (November to May), when Coast Ridge road is closed. Although it is possible to reach the mountain without driving on Coast Ridge Road, the rainy season should be avoided to minimize erosion of the extremely steep terrain. Highway 1 is occasionally closed in winter or spring due to landslides, so check conditions before you go.
Santa Lucia Range is very dry and hot in early fall (September - October) and there is significant fire hazard. Spring and early summer are the best times to visit. The peak rises high above the fog layer so the view is majestic even on foggy days.
Back country camping in Ventana Wilderness does not require a permit. Developed backcountry campsites are recommended because availability of water can be uncertain elsewhere. From Limekiln Creek south for about 15 miles the coastal area along Highway 1 is part of Los Padres National Forest (there are signs on the highway), where you can camp for free on beautiful perches 300 feet over the ocean, or in redwood groves. This area has very steep terrain so there aren't many suitable spots, yet it's warm even in the middle of winter.
There are fee campgrounds along Highway 1, Kirk Creek and Limekiln campgrounds are closest to Cone Peak. There are also campgrounds on the Nacimiento Fergusson Road just east of the Coast Ridge Road (info by robertbixby
). They are open in the winter months and do not require reservations. They are both on a running creek.
About 15 miles north in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park there are two environmental campsites
(walk-in access ~500 feet; fee) perched on top of spectacular cliffs; these are frequently booked on summer weekends. These are the most beautiful camp sites I have ever seen, a few steps away from the spectacular McWay waterfall which free-falls 60 feet onto the beach in beautiful McWay Cove.
You can also stay in the resort town of Lucia
(just a motel and gas station, perched on spectacular cliffs over the ocean).
robertbixby - Mar 21, 2002 7:39 pm - Hasn't votedUntitled Comment
Cone Peak can also be reached from Highway 101. Take the Jolon Road exit and proceed west toward Fort Hunter Liggett. Once you enter the Fort and are heading toward the Mission, follow the signs for the Nacimiento Fergusson Road and follow it toward the Coast. The road passes through some beautiful country filled with enormous California Oaks. When you reach the top of the coast ridge, you will see the Coast Ridge Road. Follow the directions detailed above.
gordonye - Mar 22, 2002 9:11 pm - Hasn't votedUntitled Comment
It's absolutely fantastic country there through Fort Hunter Liggett. Many miles of pristine rolling hills, oak woodlands, vernal ponds, all totally devoid of any man-made alteration (aside from the narrow but well-paved road). The fort has been in army hands since the late 1800's, and agricultural activity has never been established on it.
I just drove this way a month ago, there was increased security check at both entrance and exit of the fort. The Mission San Antonio de Padua in the heart of the fort is also like a time-warp, restored to the condition of late 1800's when it was abandoned.
Diggler - Dec 3, 2003 7:35 pm - Voted 10/10Untitled Comment
There are a few really nice camp areas along the Cone Peak (dirt) Rd., en route to the trailhead. All located on the L side of the road (while headed towards Cone Peak), they are (in miles) as follows, from the Cone Peak Rd./Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd. intersection:
* .6: Nice, large, flat area under some nice trees.
* 4.2: Kick-ass site- nice pull-out around a large tree; one side has amazing view of the Pacific, the other, of the Ventana Wilderness & eastern half of the Santa Lucia range; shelter from elements possible by way of tree(s).
* 5.0: Flat pull-out has great ocean view, but is exposed to elements (is also @ ~3500')
* These sites have no available water (nor restroom facilities), so bring it with you
* There is a good chance that these sites will be occupied in the busy summer months (we went in late November, when there was presumably much less traffic)
* An "Adventure Pass" is required while in the National Forest (in which these lie), so get one ($5)- a ranger will call you on it if they see you (they did us)!
* no fires allowed
blmcclain - May 31, 2004 2:28 am - Hasn't votedUntitled Comment
As of 5/28/04 no adventure pass is required to hike the Cone Peak trail.
blmcclain - May 31, 2004 2:30 am - Hasn't votedUntitled Comment
The dirt road up to the Cone Peak TH has recently been grated and is in very good shape. I was able to maintain 20 mph on most of the drive up to the TH. This is compared to the 30 mph I was able to maintain on the paved windy road up from HWY-1.
skipshot - Apr 21, 2005 1:46 pm - Hasn't votedUntitled Comment
Climbing in the hot summer months is also Black Fly season, so it you go bring a brimmed hat with netting to keep the flies from buzzing in your face.
skipshot - Apr 21, 2005 1:51 pm - Hasn't votedUntitled Comment
Cone Peak is the home of the Santa Lucia Fir, considered to be one of the rarest fir trees in the world. The Cone Peak area has the highest density of the trees which grow naturally only in the Santa Lucia range.
homegrown - Aug 10, 2007 9:59 am - Hasn't votedAdventure Pass
Diggler is spot on with the camping suggestions. We spent the night of 8/5/07 (a Sunday) at the site 4.2 miles up Cone Peak Rd. There was a tent at the .6 site, but other than that and a lone truck we passed we saw no one either day. I was confused about the Adventure Pass requirement and found little help at the Los Padres website (surprise, surprise), so we stopped at Nacimiento Station (a National Forest Service fire station near the Cone Peak Rd turnoff) to ask. According to the folks there you don't need an Adventure Pass (nor any permit) to camp in the area or climb Cone Peak. (You DO need a fire permit for all fires, including camp stoves, but they are currently suspended do to dry conditions.) I'm not sure why they would say something different than a ranger - unless the policy has changed since 2003. Lastly, the road was in good shape, even for 2WD, however slightly more clearance than my Civic provides would have been welcome.
PhenomenalWoman - Apr 29, 2012 11:13 pm - Hasn't votedCoast Ridge Road
The gate at Coast Ridge Road is closed and according to a local I met on the trail has been for almost 2 years - and may never reopen. This will add almost 12 miles to your hike and you will need to be prepared with the appropriate supplies and allow the extra time needed.
gordonye - May 2, 2012 1:03 pm - Hasn't votedRe: Coast Ridge Road
Thank you for the new beta. According to my research the road is closed in recent years from November to May. I have updated the page to reflect this.
PhenomenalWoman - May 21, 2012 12:55 am - Hasn't votedRe: Coast Ridge Road
kennethwr - Oct 27, 2012 11:15 am - Hasn't votedCoast Ridge Road Gated
My understanding is that Coast Ridge Road (aka Cone Peak Road) will remain gated indefinitely. I was there in October 2011 and Otober 2012 and the road was gated both times. The local ranger at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park confirmed that the road will remain gated. Since the fires a few years ago the forest service no longer has a seasonal opening that allows the public to drive motor vehicles on this road. Mountain bikes are a good alternative.
mpjones - Feb 5, 2013 2:14 am - Hasn't votedCoast Ridge Road conditions
I found road conditions here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/lpnf/alerts-notices/?cid=stelprdb5347980 As of now it states: Central Coast Ridge Road (Cone Peak) is CLOSED due to needed storm damage repairs from winter 2011 - 2012
skipshot - Oct 17, 2013 4:38 pm - Hasn't votedCoast Ridge Road is open
As of Oct. 14, 2013 the Central Coast Ridge Road to Cone Peak is open to vehicles. I just drove it and it is in very good condition (for a dirt road). Expect it to be closed to vehicles from November to April. The roadside primitive camp sites mentioned in another comment are still there. I have biked the road on a cold February day and hiked to see a rare snow-covered summit of Cone Peak. Not mentioned about Cone Peak is that it is home to the Santa Lucia Fir, perhaps the rarest fir tree in the world. It's range is limited to deep, moist canyons or dry, rocky slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains mostly around Cone Peak.
dmbeaster - Jan 20, 2015 3:56 pm - Hasn't votedCone Peak Road open
Cone Peak road reopened on 1/6/15. It is not closed in winter, as I was up there on 1/19/15 and the dirt roads leaving Nacimiento - Fergusson roads north and south from the crest were both open. The road going north is known as Cone Peak Road, but there is no signage indicating such.