Santa Lucia Wilderness

Located in the Los Padres National Forest in California.

Chaparral-Covered peaks. Stream fed valleys. The vista of Morro Rock and the Seven Sisters. These scenic images are part of the Santa Lucia wilderness experience. The 21,678-acre wilderness first become part of our National Wilderness System in 1978. The wilderness is located east of San Luis Obispo in Lopez Canyon. Elevations within the wilderness range from 800 feet near Lopez Reservoir to 3,000 feet at Hi Mountain Lookout. Much of this area burned in 1985, when the Las Pilitas fire scorched 78,000 acres. Today wildflowers bloom and pine seedlings flourish where the fine once burned. Solitude and recreation await you just ten minutes from San Luis Obispo.


There are two Forest Service developed recreation sites within the Santa Lucia Wilderness. Both are streamside sites located off Lopez Canyon Trail.

Upper Lopez: Marked by a stately oak, this site has a single fire ring.

Sulphur Pot: This site gets its name from the pungent hydrogen sulfide gas released from an area of bedrock. It has a fire ring and wilderness toilet.


Lopez Canyon Trail: A 5.3 mile easy to moderate hike. It descends 1,400 feet from East Cuesta Ridge into Lopez Canyon. Lush vegetation, ancient oaks and a year-round stream add to the delights of this walk. There are also two developed recreation sites for the overnight visitor.

Little- Falls- Trail: A 2.6 mile moderately difficult hike. It ascends 1,350 feet from Lopez Creek, through a forested canyon to a chaparral covered ridge. Views from the ridgeline are spectacular, reaching to the Pacific. One mile from the canyon trailhead are the 50-foot high "Little Falls", best viewed in early spring.

Big Falls Trail: A 2.6 mile, easy to moderate hike. It passes through a forested canyon and past two eye-catching waterfalls. Both are best seen during the spring months, when streamflow is at its peak. A small pool at the lower falls is a cool spot to relax on hot afternoons.

Trail Access

Upper Lopez Canyon Trail: Take 101 north from San Luis Obispo to the summit of East Cuesta grade. Pull off Hwy. 101 to the east side at the summit turnout area. There is a locked gate just uphill from the turnout area. The Lopez Canyon Trailhead is located four miles beyond the gate and is accessible by foot.

Little Falls, Big Falls and Lower Lopez Canyon Trails: Take Lopez Canyon Drive east from Arroyo Grande. After ten miles Lopez Canyon Drive intersects with Hi Mountain road. Turn right on Hi Mountain road, go one mile to Upper Lopez Canyon road. Turn left. Little Falls is 9 miles, Big Falls 11 miles and Upper Lopez Canyon 13.5 miles past this junction. Beyond Big Falls trailhead the road is open to four-wheel drive only.

Rinconada: Big and Little Falls trails may also be accessed from the Rinconada Trail. The Rinconada trailhead is located on Highway 58, approximately 12 miles past Santa Margarita.

For further information contact: - Santa Lucia Ranger District, Los Padres National Forest

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 20 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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