Junipero Serra Peak (aka Pimkolam Peak), located about 40 miles southeast of Monterey, is the highest peak in the Santa Lucia range, commonly known as the Big Sur area of California, and the high point of Monterey County. This peak, surrounded by the Ventana Wilderness, is centrally located off of US-101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles making it a popular winter destination for hikers in both locations. It is also a good example of the type of terrain and wildlife that one can expect in the Big Sur / Ventana Wilderness area including wildflowers such as lupines, goldfields, and paintbrush that are typically in bloom during April. While excellent panoramas are available from this summit it should be noted that other coastal peaks and ridges block the view of the Pacific Ocean. If you are seeking views of the ocean, recommended trips include Cone Peak and Mount Manuel.
The 6.2 mile Santa Lucia Trail from Memorial Park (2090 feet) is the shortest and most popular route to the summit. There are two peaks (bumps) on the broad, relatively flat summit, with the higher one being on the east. The almost 4000 feet of relief makes it popular for winter training when the Sierras covered in snow. The middle of winter (late December to early March) often offers interesting hikes as the top portions of this trail can be covered in snow often covering branches as well as bending and freezing branches together onto the trail. See the When to Climb section for more information.
There is also a summit tower which tops out at 5910 feet. This has been out of use for some time and the building on top has either collapsed or been torn down. If you want to relax up here, you'll also want to bring a closed-cell foam pad or something else as there are numerous exposed rusty nailheads to avoid (often with the head 1/4 inch out).
Note on ticks: Many people have reported ticks on this mountain so be diligent.
MEMORIAL PARK FROM NORTH (About 3 hours from San Jose): Take US-101 south to the Jolon Road exit. This is 0.8 miles north of the first King City exit (Broadway) where you can get supplies. Continue on Jolon Road (aka County Road G14 at this point and while north of Lockwood), south passing the town of Jolon and reaching the intersection with Mission Road in 17.3 miles where you will see the Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation. Turn right onto Mission Road to enter Fort Hunter Liggett and drive towards the Mission San Antonio do Padua. In 4.8 miles, before you reach the Mission, turn left on to Del Ventura Road (this turn is poorly marked). Del Ventura Road will become Milpitas Road and in 12.0 miles from the Mission Road intersection you will cross Rattlesnake Creek and enter the Los Padres National Forest (signed). Continue 4.5 miles to the trailhead and dirt parking lot on the righthand side. The small lot is enough for about 6 cars. Distances Ref: backpacking_for_jesu.
Going about 0.5 miles further on the road will take you to the Santa Lucia Memorial Park Campground.
COP WARNING from jbright: The road from King City to Ft. Hunter Liggett has a 55 MPH speed limit and is very heavily patrolled. Just on my coming (May 28, 2005) and going (which was a total time of 40 minutes) I passed 7 police cars, 2 of which had people pulled over, so be careful.
CREEK WARNING from backpacking_for_jesu: There are two places along Del Venturi Road where the road dips down into creekbed. If the rainfall is heavy, the gate on the road just after the turn from Mission Road will be locked, prohibiting entry. But, if the gate is not locked, it is still important to proceed with caution. If the creeks are running especially strong, I would imagine that it is possible that they could sweep your vehicle off the road. I had no problems crossing the creek in January after some pretty good rains a few weeks before. jbright notes on May 28, 2005, "the river crossings were about 3-6 inches deep, easy, and coming back to the last crossing I saw in front of me 2 large trout swimming and jumping across the road."
MEMORIAL PARK FROM SOUTH: Take US-101 north to connect with Jolon Road (aka County Road G18 at this point south of Lockwood) at the town of Bradley. Continue northeast towards Lockwood where the road will become County Road G14 heading towards Jolon at which time you should take Mission Road into Fort Hunter Liggett. Follow directions above after this point.
None. As of May 2004, the Monterey Ranger District no longer requries an Adventure Pass to hike trails in their district (Ref: gfelsman).
The best time to hike this peak is between mid-November and April. The primary reason for this is that it's much cooler during the winter time and much of the lower part of the trail is exposed to the sun making for a sweltering summer hike. On June 26, 1999 it was hot and sticky at the trailhead with lazy flies all over the place (Ref: John). If you come between late December and early March you should be prepared for snow on the upper parts of the trail. During heavy snow periods, lightweight snowshoes are also recommended if you don't want to be postholing several feet into lots of snow covered branches ;-) Also, during the winter, don't let the sun in the lower part of the valley fool you. Up above on the backside of the mountain, there can be significant amounts of snow under the cool shade of trees - so a long sleeve t-shirt, etc. is useful.
There are formal campgrounds up the road from the trailhead at the Memorial Park Campgrounds. Otherwise you can just pitch your tent at the trailhead. Just to the left of the trailhead are some interesting rock formations where it would be fun to sleep out under the stars.
Use the following resources to check route and weather conditions on Junipero Serra Peak:
MONTEREY RANGER DISTRICT
Los Padres National Forest
406 S. Mildred
King City, CA 93930
Tel: (831) 385-5434
Santa Lucia Trail Conditions Report - Ventana Wilderness Alliance