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Hiking: Big Sur

Arroyo Seco Doesn't Live Up to Dry Name

May 25, 1997|JOHN McKINNEY

Don't be put off by the name. Big Sur's Arroyo Seco (Spanish for "dry creek") is anything but seco near its headwaters. Cascades, tiny waterfalls and inviting pools are some of the aquatic charms of the upper Arroyo Seco, which spills down a sometimes narrow, sometimes wide channel through the Ventana Wilderness.

The Arroyo Seco is a better-known destination downstream at Arroyo Seco Campground, where a developed campground, picnic areas and swimming holes are popular with visitors--particularly Salinas Valley residents who flock here to escape the broiling Central Valley summers. Few visitors, however, hike the upper watershed of the Arroyo Seco, which offers some of Big Sur's most intriguing back country. In the creek are many large sandstone boulders, diverting the waters into numerous pools and cascades.

Oak, sycamore, maple and cottonwood are part of Arroyo Seco's lush woodland, along with a scattering of incense cedar and the rare Santa Lucia fir. Crowding the creek in places are willows, ferns, blackberry bushes and plenty of poison oak.

Arroyo Seco Trail is a moderately graded ascent along the creek to the Forks and Madrone camps; beyond, the path climbs to the coastal crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains for excellent wilderness vistas.

Directions to trail head: From U.S. 101, about 30 miles south of King City, exit on Jolon Road (Monterey County Road G14) and follow it 16 miles to the hamlet of Jolon. Turn right (north) on Jolon Road, soon stopping at the Ft. Hunter Liggett entrance kiosk to check in, then continuing 5 1/2 miles to a junction with Del Ventura Road. Mission San Antonio de Padua is straight ahead, but you swing left, continuing to Milpitas Road, entering national forest land, and proceeding 17 1/2 miles to the end of the paved road at Santa Lucia Memorial Park Campground. Continue past the camp to a road fork. Park near the fork.

The hike: Follow the gated road on the left about 200 yards to cabins belonging to the Southern Monterey Sportsmen Assn. and the beginning of Arroyo Seco Trail. The path passes handsome sandstone formations known as the Rocks and travels a quarter-mile to Arroyo Seco. The creek here is sometimes deep and swift, so use caution when you cross.

After another 1 1/2 miles, the trail reaches oak-shaded Forks Camp. Two hundred yards beyond the camp, the trail forks. To the right, Rodeo Flat Trail (really a ridiculously steep, waterless, shadeless firebreak) ascends toward North Coast Ridge Trail.

Arroyo Seco Trail angles left, recrosses Arroyo Seco, climbs a bit more, then crosses the Arroyo Seco again. Three miles from the trail head is Madrone Camp, which boasts all-year water. From here, the path ascends through an area slowly recovering from the 1977 Marble Cone Fire. You get views behind you of the Arroyo Seco and Junipero Serra Peak, the highest summit of the Santa Lucias.

For a time, the path follows a line of burned World War II-era telephone poles, then reaches a junction with Cone Peak Trail at a saddle five miles from the trail head. Head northwest a short distance to enjoy the coastward and inland views. You can also walk southeast a mile along Cone Peak Trail to a junction with Cook Springs Camp Trail, an abandoned road that descends a short, steep half-mile to the pine-shaded camp.


Arroyo Seco Trail

WHERE: Arroyo Seco, Los Padres National Forest

DISTANCE: To Forks Camp is 3 1/2 miles round trip; to Madrone Camp is 6 miles round trip with 1,000-foot elevation gain; to Coast Ridge is 10 miles round trip with 2,000-foot gain.

TERRAIN: Headwaters of Arroyo Seco, lush riparian environment.

HIGHLIGHTS: Pools, pleasant creekside journey; good vistas from Coastal Ridge.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate to strenuous.

PRECAUTIONS: Plenty of poison oak on creek banks.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Los Padres National Forest, Monterey Ranger District, 406 S. Mildred, King City, CA 93930; tel. (408) 385-5434.

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