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.
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.
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
As of 5/28/04 no adventure pass is required to hike the Cone Peak trail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.