Photo Guide: Carrizo Trail & North Ridge

View down Devils Canyon from the North Ridge

The Carrizo Trail and North Ridge Route is the inland version of the classic and well-known Stone Ridge Sea to Sky route on Cone Peak’s south face (of which there are many posts on this blog). In less than 7 miles the route travels from the Milpitas Special Interest Area at the North Fork San Antonio River (~1550 ft) to the summit of Cone Peak at 5,164 ft. With a cumulative elevation gain of nearly 5,000 feet, it packs nearly as much punch as the route from sea to sky but is remarkably well graded, and while it is still a big climb, it never gets nearly as steep. The route passes through numerous different ecosystems in a gradient of plant communities including (1) oak grassland, (2) chaparral, (3) young Coulter Pine forest amid mud stone rock formations, (4) to Sugar Pine forest, and finally, (5) the alpine environment on the north ridge with Santa Lucia Firs.  Along the way one enjoys views of both the drier inland area of the Ventana, including Santa Lucia Peak and the rock formations and grasslands of the Milpitas Special Interest Area, and the more lush coastal side with forests and ocean vistas. The whole package makes this one of the most interesting and scenic routes in the Ventana Wilderness and a worthy complement to the Sea to Sky route on the coastal side of Cone Peak. Full photo album here.  Route display here (from Big Sur Trail Map, the best mapping resource of trails in the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas).

Views from the North Ridge to Stone Ridge and the Pacific Ocean

The early miles of the Carrizo Trail are largely exposed and can get quite hot while the old growth Sugar Pine forest in the upper reaches is one of the cooler places in the Ventana Wilderness where towering pines provide constant shade.  This Sugar Pine forest is the largest and healthiest stand of Sugar Pines in the Ventana, with some rare (for the Ventana) incense cedars sprinkled in. Unlike Sea to Sky, which features ocean views nearly the entire way, here one has to gain quite a bit of elevation to see the ocean.  In fact, the first clear view of the ocean is around 5.5 miles in as one reaches a divide between the headwaters of San Antonio River and Devils Canyon.  However, from this point to the summit the ocean vistas along the north ridge are some of the best the Ventana has to offer.   This route is largely dry except for Carrizo Camp Spring so make sure to carry enough water, especially on warm days.  A side trip can be made to Cook Spring which is fairly reliable, even with a seep in dry times.

Scrambling on the North Ridge of Cone Peak

Both the Carrizo Trail and the North Ridge are historic routes.  The Carrizo Trail was used by homesteaders in the 1800s as a route from the coast over the crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The North Ridge was used to deliver a telegraph wire up to the summit of Cone Peak when the lookout at the summit was still operational.  This wire is still visible in spots along the north ridge.  However, despite the lengthy history, the Carrizo Trail was becoming quite brushy.  The good news is that recent trail work has opened the Carrizo Trail back up! As of this writing, the worst section, known as the “Brush Bowl” between miles 3 and 4 on the Carrizo Trail, was recently brushed to “passable,” meaning that a clear path is evident but it is still narrow in spots. The remainder of the Carrizo Trail is clear!  The North Ridge route was never a spot conducive to fast brush growth, but it to had become brushy in spots.  After recent work on the North Ridge, it is also clear of brush, but it must be emphasized that this is a “route” and not a “trail” – there is some rock scrambling and a traverse of steep slopes.  Instead of the typical blog post format where I’ve had some text near the top followed by a long series of photos in no particular order, the following series of photos are organized in chronological order based on what you would see on the route from trailhead  to the summit of Cone Peak.  In that sense, this post is a pictorial guide to the Carrizo Trail and North Ridge. The captions to each photos provide relevant details.

Steel bridge across the North fork San Antonio River before the trailhead. High clearance vehicles can reach and park on the other side of this gate. For low clearance vehicles it’s best to park 0.3 miles away.
The Carrizo Trailhead sign is at the other end of the Steel Bridge
The Carrizo Trail begins in grassland with oaks
The Carrizo Trail transtions to chaparral and mudstone formations
Cool rock formations in the early part of the Carrizo Trail
Close-up of rock formation
Fascinating rock formations
Looking at the slope ahead, which is mostly chaparral but there is a young Coulter Pine forest emerging from the rocky, dry slopes
Young Coulter Pines with views of Santa Lucia Peak
Views to Santa Lucia Peak and the Milpitas Special Interest Area from the Carrizo Trail
Wide open clear trail for the first few miles; looking back to the valley and a hidden pasture on a bench
Tall chaparral has been pulled back for a wide and clear path
Lots of interesting rock formations as the Carrizo Trail ascends above the Milpitas Special Interest Area valley
Beautiful views on the ascent, but this exposed slope can be a hot climb in warm weather!
Toyon along the trail
Typical scene with mudstone rocks
Up through rocks before Carrizo Spring Camp
Rocks and pine trees
Next to one of the many rock formations
At the Carrizo Spring Camp, which was flowing on the last visit (November 2017), about 2.5 miles from the trailhead
First Sugar Pine just above the Carrizo Spring Camp
More rock formations above Carrizo Spring Camp
Ascending from Carrizo Spring Camp one reaches a saddle (the “first” saddle) which marks the entrance to the “Brush Bowl.”  From this saddle one is treated to the first view of Cone Peak
Pine Trees at the first saddle where the “Brush Bowl” begins
Looking into the “Brush Bowl” with the second saddle at center and Sugar Pine forest beyond
Cone Peak and Coulter Pines
Rock formations in the brush bowl
View of the Brush Bowl which (for now) is not as brushy! The first saddle is on the right.
Walking through the “Brush Bowl” which is still a bit rough, but much improved after recent brush clearing and the way is now obvious
At the top of the second saddle the “Brush Bowl” is done and one has an excellent view of the “Sugar Bowl,” an old growth forest that is predominantly Sugar Pines with some incense cedars and Santa Lucia Firs sprinkled in.
Evening views from the second saddle on the way back
About to enter the spectacular old growth Sugar Pine forest
Old growth Sugar Pines
There are some incense cedars among the Sugar Pines
Walking among the giant Sugar Pines, the tread here is somewhat faint and sloping, but easily follow-able and brush-free
An old grizzled Sugar Pine
Incense cedar amid the Sugar Pines
Sugar Pine forest
Sugar Pines and Santa Lucia Peak
The final mile of the Carrizo Trail emerges from the Sugar Pines and traverses a basin that is mostly chaparral but with some young Coulter Pines. This stretch was also recently cleared of brush.
This final segment of the Carrizo Trail includes views of the north ridge of Cone Peak
Approaching the final divide along the Carrizo Trail which separates the San Antonio River from Devils Canyon
This final divide provides the first real views of the Pacific Ocean and it’s a wonderful view looking down Devils Canyon
Lovely views near the end of the Carrizo Trail where it meets a junction with the North Coast Ridge Trail
View of “backbone ridge” which separates the South and Middle Forks of Devils Canyon just after the turn left onto the North Coast Ridge Trail
Along the North Coast Ridge Trail
On the North Coast Ridge Trail with Cone Peak in the background. It’s only a short stretch on the North Coast Ridge Trail but has some lovely views.
About to turn off the North Coast Ridge Trail onto the North Ridge (in background)
View down the headwaters of the San Antonio River from North Coast Ridge Trail
Start of the North Ridge
On the North Ridge with views down Devils Canyon
Nearing Point 4724 along the North Ridge, a rocky prominence with a stellar view of the north ridge and the ridge that connects Cone Peak to Twin Peak
View from Point 4724 on the North Ridge to Twin Peak
View of Cone Peak from Point 4724 and the final half mile along the north ridge
Sugar Pines along the North Ridge
Sugar Pine cones are the longest of any pine
View down Devils Canyon virtually the entire way along the narrow north ridge
Point 4724 is the rocky point in the distance
Santa Lucia Firs in one of the few flat spots along the ridge
Spectacular Santa Lucia Firs withstand harsh conditions atop the north ridge where cold winds are funneled up Devils Canyon
Santa Lucia Firs along the ridge
Enjoying a viewpoint along the North Ridge
Some scrambling along the North Ridge; the north ridge route stays atop the ridge crest for all but one short section where rocky gendarmes force the route onto the north slopes.
The “knife edge” scramble section on the North Ridge
The “knife edge” scramble section on the north ridge with Sugar Pines and Santa Lucia Firs. This short section is not quite knife edge, but considering the poor quality of Ventana rock that’s good enough for me!
Ascending the “knife edge” scramble section along the north ridge
Ventana Double Cone in the distance above Santa Lucia Firs
Nearing the summit passing through manzanita meadows and Santa Lucia Firs
View down Devils and out to Ventana Double Cone on the final few feet to the summit
Grassy Stone Ridge makes an appearance on the final part of the north ridge
Twin Peak and Stone Ridge above the Santa Lucia Firs
At the summit of Cone Peak with Twin Peak in the foreground
Views from the summit down Stone Ridge to Limekiln
Enjoy the summit views!

Full photo album here.  Route display here (from Big Sur Trail Map, the best mapping resource of trails in the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas).

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