Monterey Section 13

Upper Vicente Flat Trailhead, Cone Peak Road, to Pacific Valley, Highway 1

Monterey Section 13

Upper Vicente Flat Trailhead, Cone Peak Road, to Pacific Valley, Highway 1

This southern leg of CCT's Big Sur high route returns to the Ventana Wilderness to descend into Hare Canyon, passing through a wonderful redwood grove around Vicente Flat, then contours across steep slopes before descending to Highway 1 opposite Kirk Creek Campground. While the Forest Service's Ventana Wilderness map shows it as the Kirk Creek Trail, that's really a misnomer since the trail never touches Kirk Creek nor enters its canyon. We still recommend that map for its updating of the outdated USGS topographic maps.

Sadly, once you reach the Coast Highway, CCT is forced to follow the highway shoulder south for this section's final 3 miles. Be forewarned that services are no longer available at Pacific Valley. The nearest services to Kirk Creek Campground are 2 miles north at Limekiln State Park, which has a very small and limited store, and almost 10 miles south at Gorda, where the store is small but crammed with goods. Gorda has a good restaurant, gas station and lodging as well.

WILDFIRE UPDATE: Large fires regularly burn Ventana Wilderness including Vicente Flat area and along Stone Ridge and Gamboa Trails. Fire damage may have affected trail, but extent of damage will not be known until after publication. Before you go, call Monterey Ranger District for more information and to make sure trail is open.

The access point and upper trailhead is not specifically identified, but can be distinguished by a plastic "WILDERNESS BOUNDARY" sign and a wooden bulletin board. From the Upper Vicente Flat Trailhead (3190 feet) on the west side of the road, follow the Vicente Flat Trail on a short ascent southwest to a ridgetop, then climb it south to a saddle beyond ⅛ mile. Drop past charred snags to contour to a nearly invisible junction beyond ⅜ mile. The historic and overgrown Girard Trail which went southwest from here is no longer visible or maintained, so veer right and descend the Vicente Flat Trail by twelve short switchbacks. Beyond ⅝ mile the trail descends steeply northwest with views across steep and deep Hare Creek Canyon to towering Cone Peak, passing Coulter pines amidst hardwoods.

Your steep drop ends at ridge at 1⅛ miles. Descend moderately across a steep slope by five switchbacks to meet Hare Creek beneath redwoods at 1½ miles. Descend along the creek, fording it around 1¾ miles. After angling away from the stream briefly, the trail drops to a second ford before 2 miles. Your trail descends southwest along Hare Creek, crossing it seven more times before 2⅜ miles. Follow the stream south from the last ford, crossing a seasonal side stream from the north.

Reach Vicente Flat Camp at 2⅜ miles, passing upper sites beneath redwoods near the creek to enter a spacious meadow at 2½ miles with more camps. From the clearing, take the trail on the right for 400 feet to the junction with the Stone Ridge Trail, which ascends west. CCT veers left on the Vicente Flat Trail, dropping south to cross many forked Hare Creek on a fallen redwood log identifiable by its scuffed bark.
After a last campsite, the trail climbs moderately south up a ridge. When your trail turns southwest beyond 2¾ miles, contour above steep cliffs in Hare Canyon, coming to a surprising ocean view at 2⅞ miles. Your trail contours through several gullies before topping out at 1860 feet beyond 3⅝ miles. Cross a grassy ridge with another ocean view, contour southeast to cross another gully, then climb to a redwood-lined stream, the last reliable water source before Highway l. In the next ¼ mile, you round a ridge and dip through a small gully to reach Espinosa Camp (1700 feet) perched on small ridge before 4⅜ miles.

CCT crosses a redwood-lined gully, then descends gently west and southwest, a gaining a ridge with a panoramic vista around 4⅞ miles. You look north to Cone Peak and its sister Twin Peak (4843) and up and down large chunk of coast. a You can see the tread of the historic Girard Trail dropping west down the ridge. That unmaintained trail becomes overgrown and obscure as it drops into lower Hare Canyon to end in Limekiln Canyon.

Follow the lower Vicente Flat Trail as it makes a steady, well graded descent south with abundant coastal views interspersed with mixed forest. Leave forests and the wilderness behind around 6⅜ miles to crest a ridge (1000') with the last expansive coastal view. Descend south through grasslands and chaparral, then switch back toward the highway. If you've traversed the wilderness route of the last three sections, when the switchbacks end around 7⅜ miles and you look straight down on nearby Highway 1, allow yourself the flood of mixed emotions usually brought on by completing a remote 43-mile backpack. On the one hand, you feel strange to be returning to the world of cars and crowds. On the other hand, you want to know where to find the nearest hot shower and/or cold beer or ice cream. You can shower if you pay to camp at Limekiln Redwoods 2 miles north. Prepared, refrigerated treats might be found at the campground's tiny store, or farther north at Lucia Lodge, but to the south not until Gorda.

Reach the lower Vicente Flat Trailhead on Highway 1 at 7⅞ miles. Kirk Creek Campground across the road has pleasant blufftop sites with flush toilets and cold running water but no showers. The campground has two trails providing coastal access to a narrow beach, the southern one at the mouth of Kirk Creek. At low tide the two trails link for ⅞-mile loop.

From lower Vicente Flat Trailhead, the CCT turns left to follow the highway shoulder south, crossing the Kirk Creek bridge and the west end of NacimientoFergusson Road. Climb over rise, then descend to the Mill Creek bridge. Before a the bridge, a spur road on the right at 8⅜ miles descends to Mill Creek Picnic Area and a short coastal access path to a sandy beach just north and the rocky mouth of Mill Creek to the south.
CCT continues along Highway 1, climbing over a rise before dropping to cross the Wild Cattle Creek bridge at 9½ miles. Ascend the highway to another high point at 10⅝ miles. Here the land between the road and the coastline, which has been steep, brushy and rocky to this point, fans out into a broad marine terrace covered with grasslands and only isolated brush. However, brush and a fence here hamper access to the terrace west of the highway. Walk the shoulder to 10⅞ miles where a hiker's ladder crosses the fence from a broad turnout west of the highway, just south of Milepost 16.0. This is the start of Section 14.

ALTERNATE ROUTE: See Alternate Routes for Section 12.

SUGGESTED ROUND TRIPS & LOOPS: It's a steep but mostly easy hike down to Vicente Flat Camp but a very steep climb back out. For a challenging, view-rich loop, turn north at Vicente Flat Camp and follow the Stone Ridge Trail and the Gamboa Trail to Trail Spring Camp, then follow the CCT along Cone Peak Trail and Cone Peak Road to return to the upper Vicente Flat Trailhead, a loop of 15½ miles, not including the ⅝-mile side trip up Cone Peak. The hike up from Highway 1 to Espinosa Camp at 3½ miles and on to Vicente Flat around 5⅜ miles offers a generally more maintained trail with better grades.

Distance: 10⅞ miles (17.5 kilometers).

Open to: Hikers. Dogs and equestrians in wilderness, bicyclists on highway.

Surface: Trail, highway shoulder.

Access point: Upper Vicente Flat Trailhead on Coast Ridge/Cone Peak Road.

How to get there: Drive Highway to southern Big Sur. Just south of the Kirk Creek bridge at Milepost 18.9, turn east on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road and drive 7.2 steep winding miles, then turn left on South Coast Ridge Road also known as Cone Peak Road and go 4.1 miles to the unmarked upper Vicente Flat Trailhead at a saddle with a wide spot in the road. Trail climbs southwest from south side of saddle and a small dry camp is just north.

Other access: Kirk Creek Campground or the lower Vicente Flat Trailhead across the highway, anywhere south on highway for three miles to Pacific Valley.

Difficulty: Hard

Elevation gain/loss: 690 feet+/3720 feet-. Trail portion: 450 feet+/3440 feet-. Strenuous for trail portion, easy for highway leg.

Cautions: Cone Peak Road may be closed to vehicles during periods of bad weather or extreme fire danger. Call first. If you park on Cone Peak Road, the Forest Service currently requires that you have a "Forest Adventure Pass," available for purchase at Los Padres National Forest offices. Wildfires burn area around Vicente Flat regularly, call before going for updates and closure information.

Further information: Los Padres National Forest, Monterey Ranger District (831)385-5434.

Facilities: None until Kirk Creek Campground which has restrooms and water. Phone, restrooms, picnic tables and water at Sand Dollar Beach parking area on next section.

Campgrounds: Trail camps at Vicente Flat Camp and Espinosa Camp. Car camping at Kirk Creek Campground (developed, no showers) and Limekiln State Park (2 miles north, developed, showers) on Highway 1 and at Redwood Springs Camp (primitive) .6 mile up Cone Peak Road.

Lodging: Nearest lodging on Highway 1 at Lucia north of Kirk Creek or Gorda to south.

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