Backpack Zaca Ridge

Added by Michael Wigle

Distance: 3-5 Miles (6-10 Miles roundtrip). Elevation: 2200'Duration: 1-2 Nights. One of the Best Stargazing Spots in Southern California. Great Beginner Trip at the doorstep of the San Rafael Wilderness. Best Bang for the Buck.

From Santa Ynez, CA take Armour Rd until it hits Happy Canyon Rd, and make a left. Follow this scenic drive through vineyards and oak shaded pastures into the Angeles National Forest. A half-mile section of asphalt is rough from winter storms, so drive slow. The road becomes Sunset Valley Rd and narrows to 1 lane. Drive 3.8 miles to the first road on the left past the Davy Brown Campground. This is Forest Route 8N01, which is used by Park Rangers for scouting. Pull off to the right, and display your overnight pass, Forestry Pass, or National Adventure Pass in your window.

500 ft from the clearing is the first switchback. Stay to the left and pass through the gate. The hike to the summit ridge is a little over 2 miles, and it covers 2000' of elevation change. The last half of the trail has flat areas to camp if you get in late. Otherwise continue to the ridge and onto Zaca Ridge Rd. Stay right and follow the ridge. The best places to camp are on the northern face of the ridge, looking into the San Rafael Wilderness. In early Spring, the ridge offers breathtaking views of sunsets across the Santa Ynez Valley to the Pacific Ocean. In the morning, the valley is blanketed in an undulating fog.

This will have taken you high above the common campsites in the forest, out of the haze, and into the realm of stargazing! If you brought a telescope, you won't be let down on the many cloudless, windless nights. There is some city glow from the south, and a stronger glow from the very northeast. Otherwise, at about 1am on a moonless night, the show from above is incredible!

If you decide to spend an extra night, enjoy the short day-time hikes through alpine forests full of spring wildflowers. There are a number of side trails off Zaca Ridge that take you through the unique geology of the Traverse Ranges. If you're lucky, you'll find a few of the flowing springs.

Finally, when you pack out and hit the pavement, take a right at Figueroa Mountain Rd 3.8 miles from where you parked. This scenic drive will end in Los Olivos, instead of at Santa Ynez and Solvang. Here you can have one of the most incredible lunches at Sides Hardware and Shoes.

Key Geo-coordinates:

  • Switchback Gate GPS: 34.761342, -119.956668
  • Return Gate down the hill GPS: 34.755719, -119.983624
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Tags

Chillin
Photography
Mountain Biking
Backpacking
Hiking
Forest
Scenic
Wildflowers

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Absolutely Perfect.

I was looking for a one-nighter within ~3.5 miles from LA and found this. Michael, you did an incredible job at detailing what to do to the point. Aside from a run in to a rattlesnake. This area was vacant and secluded. Beautiful stargazing, perfect camping. 72-74 degrees during the day. Mid to high 40s during the night. The elevation climb made for a fun hike while the "fire road" was much more of a trail at this point. Not to mention we stopped at Sides and crushed a bacon burger and brussels. INCREDIBLE. Thank you again for writing this article.

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