From Los Padres junction to Jolon.
50 miles, up 4800′, down 4300′. 15 miles is rough dirt road, including several hike-a-bike sections over old steep landslides.
This section begins at a junction where you choose between two alternatives. The western route passes through the wild a remote section of Los Padres National Forest via the old Arroy Seco-Indians Road and is the preferred route. The region burned in the 2016 Soberanes fire and although the old road forms the boundary of a post-fire closure zone the road itself is still open to hikers and cyclists.
At mile 12 the Arroy Seco Road crosses a bridge over the Arroyo Seco River; there is a USFS day-use area with bathrooms, water spigot, and access to the river.
Just west of the bridge is the USFS Arroyo Seco Campground. You could camp here, but there is a reasonable chance it will be noisy and there is excellent rough camping further on. There is trailhead parking in the area and one could start and end the trip here instead of in Paso Robles.
Arroyo Seco-Indians Road
At mile 12.5 there is a gate across the road and for the next 15 miles the route follows the old dirt Arroyo Seco-Indians Road. The Arroyo Seco-Indians Road, along with CPNM, is the most scenic portion of the trip.
The Arroyo Seco-Indians Road is closed to motor vehicles but open to hikers and bicycles. It is a non-wilderness corridor passing through the stellar Ventana Wilderness. It has been closed to vehicles since 1994 and has a complex history. By dirt road standards, this is a rough ride. By single-track standards, this is relatively straight-forward riding. We mapped an alternative for use by cyclists who want to avoid the Arroyo Seco-Indians Road; we have not ridden the alternate route and cannot offer a detailed description.
In March of 2017 we hiked the road from Arroyo Seco Campground to Escondido Campground to study conditions after the huge 2016 fire and the record winter 2016-2017 rainstorms. Prior to the summer of 2016, much of the Arroyo Seco Indians Road was rutted, had encroaching vegetation and had been covered by several slides. During firefighting effort for the huge Soberanes Fire, crews cleared and graded most of the road. A 1.5 mile stretch of the road was not accessible to bulldozers due to old slides, and it remains rutted, has some vegetation growing in the roadbed, and has numerous easy short hike-a-bike obstacles. There are two 2017 slides outside of that 1.5 mile corridor that require an easy hike-a-bike as well.
The road parallels the Arroyo Seco River, but it is high above the river in steep terrain, and the river is not reasonably accessible except as noted on the CalTopo map. If you ride in the winter or spring, there will be numerous springs and creeks, so water is readily available along the road. In late summer or fall, water will be limited, although some of the springs flow year-round.
Camping is permitted anywhere, although much of the terrain is mountainous and in many areas the only level place for a tent would be on the road-bed. The most scenic and remote camping is in the hanging valley at about 2750 feet between miles 21 and 22. A small seasonal creek crosses the road in this valley and there is a perennial spring nearby, marked on the CalTopo map.
There is a good description with photos of the road and the hike-a-bike sections in this trip report. The last paragraph in the report mentions us and has a link to our trip photos: “We saw a couple on loaded touring bikes today, and these people made the Arroyo Seco-Indians Rd. part of what must have been one of the greatest wildflower tours of all time.”
There are foot trails that branch off of the Arroyo Seco-Indians Road, and you could take time off for a hike. Ventana Wilderness is a special place, but hiking there can be a real challenge due to steep terrain, dense vegetation, and decades of inadequate trail maintenance. Many trails shown on the topo maps are difficult or impassible. If you are planning to do any hiking, get a copy of the Trail guide to Los Padres National Forest, Monterey Ranger District, and study Ventana Wilderness Alliance’s trail conditions report.
There is a permanently closed gate at mile 24, blocking vehicle access from the south. There is second gate at mile 27, seasonally open to allow vehicle access to USFS Escondido Camp at mile 24. USFS Memorial Park campground is located at mile 27. The road south from Memorial Park is paved.
Fort Hunter Liggett
For 18 miles starting at the USFS border at mile 32, the route travels through Fort Hunter Ligget on a beautiful quiet paved road. You are required to carry photo ID (passport or drivers license) while on this military property, and you are not permitted to camp or leave the designated roads. History buffs might find the history of this valley interesting, and there are two historical landmarks at mile 45 that are worth visiting.
- The Hacienda Milpitas, designed by Julia Morgan for William Randolph Hearst when he owned much of the property is now a small hotel. There is an outdoor spigot at the Hacienda, but no food (the restaurant closed in 2005). Rooms from $50 per night.
- The Mission San Antonio De Padua, built in 1771, is ~1/3 mile NW of The Hacienda.
This section ends at the military entrance gate at the junction with Jolon Road. It is at this gate where you would be required to show your driver’s license and proof of vehicle insurance if you were entering the fort via the normal route.