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Ventana Hiking Route
Last Chance Falls

Sierra Club Hike Description - April 8, 2012 (with May 2018 update)
Jack Glendening, Hike Leader

The waterfall slows to trickle after rainy season - most impressive after rainfall, but after heavy rains Santa Lucia Creek crossings can be difficult with out-and-back along ArroyoSeco-Indians Fireroad being more viable than loop (after rains suggest starting loop in counter-clockwise direction, assessing flow of Santa Lucia Creek at bridge crossing on Arroyo-Seco Fireroad to decide between loop or out-and-back)


Photo credit: Paul Danielson.  My photo of Last Chance Falls, taken on my first hike there, remains in my camera somewhere in Santa Lucia Creek



   The goal of this strenuous hike for adventurous and experienced hikers is Last Chance Falls, the most spectacular waterfall in the Ventana Wilderness with Santa Lucia Creek free-falling 120 feet into a pool below.  But we will also hike through narrow Santa Lucia Creek gorge to view its waterfalls as well as the much wider Arroyo Seco gorge with its rapids and waterfalls.  And we will ascend to enjoy grand views at the ridgelines above both gorges. 

Our route is overlaid in magenta on the adjacent display from the on-line Big Sur Trailmap.  The hike begins near southern Abbott Lake, first following its shoreline and then climbing south to the ridge, where a wonderful panorama includes a look ahead into the gorge of Santa Lucia Creek and its waterfalls.  Descending to the still-standing adobe which was once a Forest Service Ranger post, on a site once occupied by the former Girl Scout Camp Cawatre, we ford Santa Lucia Creek at a concrete automobile crossing.  [Should the creek flow be too high/strong to allow a crossing, we will instead hike to Last Chance Falls via Indians Road.] We climb and go a bit off-trail so that we can simultaneously view Mutt and Jeff Falls, two dissimilar falls which meet just below us.  Continuing south along the Santa Lucia Creek gorge will provide some wonderful views of rugged mountains and canyons - and more waterfalls.  We descend to make 8 creek crossings within a half-mile before exiting Santa Lucia Creek gorge.  We ascend to cross a small saddle, then again descend to the south fork of Santa Lucia Creek, crossing it just beyond Last Chance Camp and climbing again to reach a viewpoint of Last Chance Falls, to see the creek with which we have now become intimately familiar plunge downward on its fated journey over a massive cliff wall.  Returning to Last Chance Camp, instead of going back along our inbound route, we ascend up to the old Indians road for magnificent views of close and distant mountains, and of the Arroyo Seco canyon and river below us.  We follow the old road as it descends and winds its way north, finishing along the Arroyo Seco gorge, where we will see rapids and at least one waterfall. 

The hike is very strenuous, with a total distance of 15 miles and cumulative 3700 feet of ascent.  [Should the alternate approach via Indians Road be necessary, the hike becomes 17.5 miles with 4400 ft of ascent, though over a better maintained route.]  While it is entirely on-trail, experienced Ventana hikers understand that a "Ventana Wilderness trail" is sometimes more "wilderness" than "trail".  The hike may involve contact with and/or pushing through brush and poison oak and occasional poor footing. There will be multiple river crossings, but none above thigh-high.  The hike will take a full day, starting at the trailhead near sunrise.  (The drive to the trailhead requires 1.3 hours from Salinas.) One reason for the early start is to allow time for stopping at the many viewpoints. 

I expect to complete the hike during daylight, but just barely, so bring along a headlamp in case we get delayed and have to finish after dark.  Poles are very useful, even required, when crossing Santa Lucia Creek.  Because of the numerous crossings, some may wish to bring some kind of water shoes.  Personally, I wear my regular boots through the crossings but carry multiple sets of dry socks, changing to dry socks after the first crossing and after the final crossing in the gorge - generally the upper crossing near Last Chance Camp can be done by rock hopping.  Note that we do not have time to be stopping for footwear changes at each of the 8 crossings in Santa Lucia gorge - you should expect to wear whatever footwear you decide upon for that entire section.  And last but certainly not least, I suggest bringing a camera since views along the route are wonderful!  

For a 3-dimensional view, you can view the route in Google Earth with by downloading this Google-Earth-format KMZ file.  For your GPS, you can download this GPX route file



May 2018 update
I finally did what I'd long thought of doing, going to the base of the falls.  It's relatively easy and especially recommended for lower flows when the falls is less visually impressive from afar.  There aren't many waterfalls you can go "behind"!  I've added an orange "usetrail" to the map indicating a good route often used.