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).