Mount Manuel (aka Manuel Peak), located on California's Big Sur coast just east of CA SR-1 (aka California Highway 1) near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, offers what some consider the most spectacular views of the Big Sur area when the coast is not fog bound. While the trailhead is easy to access and the trail is generally in good condition, Mount Manuel is not often climbed since the state park has many other attractions and those wishing to see a scenic view point often choose to climb Cone Peak
's 1.5 mile class 1 trail with a 1355' elevation gain vs. Mount Manuel's 4.5+ mile class 1 trail with a 3150' elevation gain. Cone Peak is also much taller at 5155'.
Mount Manuel is located in the Ventana Wilderness and the 4.0 mile class 1 Mount Manuel Trail is maintained by the USFS. This trail is accessed by the Oak Grove Trail which you can access one of four ways (all of which are shown and easily explained on the $1.00 Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Trail Map available at the State Park and Big Sur Station):
- 1 mile from State Park Nature Center: Take the Pfeiffer falls Trail for 0.1 miles before turning south on to the Oak Grove Trail, reaching the Mount Manuel Trail junction in 0.9 miles.
- 0.7 miles from State Park Parking Lot #3: Take the State Park road labelled "Picnics" until you reach a small turnout on the righthand side with a stone building and a wooden sign labelled "Oak Grove Trail" on the left. Take the 0.2 mile access trail turning to climber's left at the trail fork on to the Oak Grove Trail (not labelled well). Follow some switchbacks and reach the Mount Manuel Trail junction in 0.5 miles.
- 0.9 miles from State Park Trailhead / Softball Field Parking Lot: Take the State Park road labelled "Picnics" and pass Parking Lot #3 to the obvious parking lot overlooking the softball field. Follow the trail signs up the Gorge Trail 0.2 miles to the Homestead Cabin. Pass the cabin following the Oak Grove Trail 0.2 miles to a junction with a sign labelled "Parking Lot #3" at which time you will turn right and not descent to the parking lot. In 0.5 miles you will reach the Mount Manuel Trail junction.
- Pine Ridge Trail from Big Sur Station: This is the only approach/trailhead if you are backpacking and need overnight parking. Park at the Big Sur Station 0.25 miles south of the State Park entrance and hike south along the Pine Ridge Trail. When the trail forks, go left where you will cross a bridge over the Big Sur River and come to the softball field. From here follow directions for option 3 above.
Once you get to the 4.0 mile class 1 Mount Manuel Trail, you will make many switchbacks across many gullies working your way around to Mount Manuel's southeast ridge. Continue climbing until you reach the summit ridge where you will see a lone tree on a rocky outcropping. Continue north to the true summit. There are four more bumplets on the ridge with the highest being the second to last which has a flat area on top. After the fifth bumplet, the trail descends dramatically before continuing on 1.6 miles to Vado Camp. Most day hikers will turn around on the summit and head down the same way.
Some of the lower parts of the trail brushy so watch out for ticks which tend to be "in season" during the spring. Poison oak is rare on the climb up to Mount Manuel, however, can be plentiful on the hike down to Vado Camp.
Take CA SR-1 to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park if you are day hiking or to the Big Sur Station just 0.25 miles south of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park if you are backpacking. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is 26 miles south of the Carmel Valley Road junction in the town of Carmel and 28 miles north of the junction with Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Once you get to your parking area, follow the directions above to reach the Oak Grove Trail depending on where you are starting.
STATE PARK DAY USE FEE: There is a US $7.00 fee for entering the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park but sometimes this isn't charged.
When To Climb
November to April offer the coolest and most comfortable hiking opportunities with Spring and Fall often offering the best views since fog and rain are often common in the winter. Most people would be well advised to avoid this peak and many others in the Ventana from May to October because: (1) temperatures can get hot, (2) there is little shade, (3) or water on many trails, and (4) flies, there are just tons of flies during the summer to make for a miserable experience. "Ventana in summer is mostly a lot of bad news... :)" says snwburd
Generally, there is no need to camp on this peak since most people do this as a day hike, however backpackers can use Vado Camp 1.6 miles after the summit. There are numerous places on the summit ridge for camping as well. If you want to car camp, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has many sites near the trailhead.
Use the following resources to check route and weather conditions on Mount Manuel:
BIG SUR LODGE (at State Park)
P.O. Box 190
Big Sur, CA 93920
Tel: (831) 667-2171
Tel: (800) 424-4787
Note: Many people at the State Park climb Mount Manuel.
MONTEREY RANGER DISTRICT
Los Padres National Forest
406 S. Mildred
King City, CA 93930
Tel: (831) 385-5434
LOS PADRES NF HEADQUARTERS
Los Padres National Forest
6755 Hollister Ave., Suite 150
Goleta, CA 93117
Tel: (805) 968-6640
Fax: (805) 961-5729
Ventana Wilderness Alliance
- On-Line Trail Conditions Report for the Mount Manuel / Manuel Peak Trail