Hiking Cone Peak in the Ventana Wilderness

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Cone Peak (1571m) is the third highest mountain in the Ventana Wilderness after Junipero Serra Peak and Pinyon Peak. It can be reached in two ways.

Directions for epic hikers: on Hwy 1 just south of Lucia, Limekiln State Park and Kirk Creek campground (about two hours south of San Jose) and 100 meters north of the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road find the Vicente Flat trailhead. From the trailhead to Vicente Flat is about 8kms and a further 4kms to Cone Peak Road. Turn left on the road for 2kms to reach the Cone Peak trailhead. The very steep last stretch is about 4kms. Grand total: 18 kms each way.

Directions for non-epic hikers: on Hwy 1 about 100kms south of Carmel, past the town of Lucia and Limekiln State Park, take turn east into Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. After 11 kms turn left into the unpaved Coast Ridge Road (also known to locals as Cone Peak Road). Note: this is closed in winter. After 9 kms find the trailhead sign and the tiny parking lot on your left-hand side. This is only a 4km hike each way, but very steep.

Links for the hike from Hwy 1 via Vicente Flat

The trail heads north from the Kirk Creek campground, coasting Hwy1 for a while, gaining elevation quite rapidly. It then enters a foresty canyon and heads northeast. You still have views of the ocean for a while. Cone Peak is very visible, looming over the northeastern corner of the canyon. When the forest gets really thick, you reach a picnic area, Vicente Flat. After this area the trail is a bit confusing. You may find the sign that points towards Gamboa: you need to head in the opposite direction, coasting the creek upstream. After two minutes you arrive to the confluence of this creek with another creek. You need to cross to the other side of your creek. This is the second crossing (the first one was really easy because there's a 50 meter long dead tree to act as a bridge). You should be able to find the trail on the southern side of the creek. There are five more crossings (so grand total of seven). They come one after the other in rapid sequence. You keep moving from one side of the creek to the other side. The last one takes you to the southern side. Cone Peak is actually on the northern side. At this point the trail ascends steeply the southern side of the canyon. This is the steepest part of the hike. At the top (two minutes after the trail starts descending) you hit the Cone Peak Rd. It's an unpaved road that heads north towards the trailhead. The trailhead is on the left handside just before a very sharp right turn. People who drive a car sometimes miss it. If you are walking will not miss it because there is a sign, very visible to pedestrians. This is another steep ascent, especially at the very end, when Cone Peak appears to be a wall of solid rock. All in all, this route makes a 270 degree turn, because it first heads southeast (steep ascent from the last creek crossing), then north (road), then west (Cone Peak).

Milestones from Kirk Creek campground to Cone Peak (2008):
  • Redwood forest (30')
  • Entering the canyon of Cone Peak (1h)
  • Vicente Flat picnic area 8km (2h)
  • One hour break (3h)
  • Seven creek crossings (3h45')
  • Coan Peak road 12km (4h45')
  • Coan Peak trailhead 15km (5h30')
  • Summit 18km (6h45')
  • Cone Peak trailhead 21km (8h)
  • Vicente trailhead 24km (8h30')
  • Creek crossings (9h)
  • Vicente Flat 28km (9h30')
  • Kirk Creek campground 36km (11h30')

Trailhead at Kirk Creek Campground (the red dot) (Google Earth)

Map of route (Google Earth)
Other recommended hikes in the Ventana Wilderness:
Nearby campgrounds: Kirk Creek (highly recommended, at the junction with Nascimiento Rd), Limekiln Park (both on Hwy1 just before the Nascimiento Rd) and the campgrounds on the Nacimiento Fergusson Road east of the Coast Ridge Road (further north are the two famous environmental campsites of Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park, 56 kms south of Carmel, overlooking the McWay Falls, but they are booked months in advance, 800 444 7275).
Poison Oak warning: anywhere at low altitude poison oak is a major annoyance. You *will* be touching poison oak. So i recommend long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and wash yourself in cold water after the hike.

Tick warning: ticks are ubiquitous. Another reason to cover your body.

Water warning: there is usually no water in the Ventana Wilderness.