Ventana Hiking Route
Cone Peak via Vicente Flat
the "Sea-to-Summit" Backpack Route

© j.glendening
360° Panorama at Cone Peak summit - drag to pan   (larger image)

3D View
3D view

Note:  map is interactive, lines & icons clickable for more info - profile displays climb within map bounds. Full-screen map
Disambiguation:  Cone Peak via Backpack or Dayhike ?   This webpage describes a "Sea to Summit" backpack along established trails, overnighting in redwoods at Vicente Flat Camp and then summiting Cone Peak.  I've seen some articles calling this a "Sea to Sky" route, but do not confuse this route with what locals call the "Sea to Sky" route, a dayhike along unofficial use trails, ascending much more directly and steeply from the coast - if looking for the latter, see my Sea-to-Sky webpage.

Cone Peak in Big Sur's Ventana Wilderness rises to 5154 ft only 3¼ miles from the ocean - an average gradient of over 30% and reportedly the steepest from ocean to a mountain summit along the west coast. 

The map on right displays the Sea-to-Summit route in magenta, overlaid on my interactive Big Surw Trailmap, plus the "Cone Peak Loop" (aka "Stone Ridge Loop") which provides a varied experience of Cone Peak environs.  This backpack is usually done in 3 days, spending both overnights at Vicente Flat Camp with a summiting dayhike in between. 

The hike's main attractions are its spectacular and varying scenic beauty and natural surroundings. 

Though the hike is very strenuous, your efforts will be rewarded;  Vicente Flat is a wonderful redwood grove, with perennial water at its upper (northeast) end.  And the views along the entire route are outstanding, culminating in the 360° view from Cone Peak summit. 

To be truly "Sea to Summit", you should first touch your finger in the ocean by descending (without backpack!) to the beach at the end of the Kirk Creek Campground Trail.  This adds about 0.7 mile and 180 ft. elevation gain (round-trip), but makes your backpack an especially unique one. 

For the climb to Cone Peak, you have the alternative of doing an out-and-back hike to the peak using the Vicente Flat and Cone Peak Trails (and Cone Peak Road) (see "Excursion to Cone Peak" link below)  OR  doing a loop hike which includes the Stone Ridge and Gamboa Trails (see "Cone Peak Loop" link below).  I recommend the latter for its varying experience of the unique Cone Peak environment (part of which has been designated an official USFS Research Area to afford special protection).  Besides the loop's varying views, you then can enjoy Sugar Pines (longest pine cones in world), Coulter Pines (heaviest pine cones in world), and the endemic Santa Lucia Fir as you hike - see photos on the Stone Ridge Loop "Photomap" below.  BUT conditions along Stone Ridge and Gamboa Trails tend to be more difficult than along Cone Peak Trail, so checking the interactive Trail Conditions Map is strongly advised before attempting the Cone Peak Loop.

A bit of local knowledge can make your hike more enjoyable.  Here are some thoughts:
•  On the way to Vicente Flat, stop to enjoy the views from the "corner" where Kirk Creek Trail turns inland after paralleling the coast - the simultaneous view of Cone Peak, Hare Creek Canyon, and up-and-down the coast is unmatched in Big Sur. 
•  Perennial water is available at a side stream crossing the trail just above the upper (northern) end of Vicente Flat Camp. 
•  If hiking directly from Vicente Flat to Cone Peak via the Vicente Flat Trail, note that water is not available above Vicente Flat. 
•  If hiking the Cone Peak Loop, stop at the ridgetop points to enjoy the view at each, perhaps hiking a bit off-trail (sans pack) for a better view (e.g. camera icon on interactive map) - and enjoying the view at Ojito Saddle at the North end of the Stone Ridge Trail is also a good excuse to stop and rest after the steep climb up from Goat Camp  wink.  Perennial water is available at several locations along Stone Ridge Trail and at Trail Spring Camp, but not on Cone Peak or Vicente Flat Trails. 
•  As on most Big Sur trails, you will need to do the "poison oak wiggle" along the trails.  (Note: a dog will bring back PO and ticks to you.) 
•  Summer is the least desirable season for this hike, due to heat and flies - if you do go then, be sure to bring a bug net. 
•  Remember these trails are wilderness trails, not park-like trails, and maintained by volunteer trail crews.  So conditions along the route are changable - current trail conditions should be checked on the interactive Trail Conditions Map or using the route-specific links below. 
•  Parking is along-side Route 1 - officially there is a 72 hour limit but I've not heard of it being enforced there.  However, there is enforcement of people sleeping in vehicles.
Due to the attractiveness of this route, Vicente Flat Campground is often heavily populated on weekends or holidays.  If you wish more privacy, note that the campground area extends 0.2 miles along Hare Creek (campers tend to congregate around the first encountered campsites) and that nearby Vicente Meadow Usecamp is an attractive alternative (with a view of Cone Peak - but no redwoods or water).  In any case, do your part to make this an enjoyable experience for everyone by not leaving an unsightly campsite with litter or toilet paper. 

      Vicente Flat Route  RoundTrip=10mi
     (starts at Route 1 parking, not at beach)
       Excursion to Cone Peak:  +RoundTrip=12mi  
       Cone Peak Loop:  +RoundTrip=15mi  
       Entire Lollipop Route:  +RoundTrip=26mi  
     (starts at beach, ends at Route 1 parking)

Links and Downloads

     Detailed hike descriptions and videos

     Download one-page-printable PDF map

     Download route GPX file

Related links:
     Big-Sur-specific hiking basics
     Backpacking suggestions
     Wilderness places to visit
     Trail Conditions Map

Jack Glendening (credit:p.danielson) Jack Glendening
Bona fides
Copyright:  This page and photos copyrighted by John W. (Jack) Glendening.  Public use permitted under CC‑BY‑NC‑4 license.

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