The Stone Ridge Sea to Sky is a classic Big Sur route from the Pacific Ocean to the summit of Cone Peak ascending over 5,000 feet in a little over 5 miles. The Carrizo Trail combined with the North Ridge is the interior version of Stone Ridge Sea to Sky (i.e. “Valley to Sky”) with a long climb and spectacular views of the interior region. Combining the Sea to Sky and Valley to Sky into one route has always been a priority and this loop accomplishes that with an aesthetic route from the ocean up and over Cone Peak to a spectacular valley with grassland savanna and unique rock formations known as the Indians. The loop includes both the Arroyo Seco Trail and the Carrizo Trail to reach the valley on the backside of Cone Peak, and instead of linking the two via the Milpitas Road, it utilizes a couple use paths that provides an excellent sampling of some of the best rock formations in this region. Thus, the route is almost entirely on single track with zero filler and essentially no road (a key aspect of making this route aesthetic in my opinion). It’s a phenomenal tour of the biodiversity and beauty of the region in a 28 mile package with over 11,000 feet of gain. Photo album here. Map of the route here (Strava).
As reflected in the photos on this post, the route passes through most of the ecosystems in the Ventana Wilderness and Big Sur from coastal scrub to redwood forest, to the high forest of fir and pine, to valley oak savanna and virtually everything in between. Conifers include Santa Lucia Fir, Incense Cedar, Sugar Pine, Ponderosa pine, Coulter Pine, Gray Pine and Knobcone Pine. There’s a wide range of oak species from coastal live oak to valley oak, sycamore, alder, madrone, California laurel and big leaf maple, among many others. The Milpitas Special Interest Area contains many rare plants in the rock formations. In the spring the traveler is treated to a wide array of wildflowers. The loop as presented utilized Stone Ridge as an out-and-back for a 28 mile route, but taking the Gamboa Trail and Stone Ridge Trail as part of the loop would result in a 50k (31 mile route) and have very little retracing of the route. The network of trail and usetrails on this route are generally in decent condition with some brush to be expected on the upper reaches of the Arroyo Seco Trail and Carrizo Trail.
In addition, the use paths connecting the Arroyo Seco Trail to the Carrizo Trail are faint in spots. The use path starts out fairly defined at Santa Lucia Memorial Park but becomes faint about half way through but the direction is fairly obvious as the path maintains a generally straight line parallel to a band of rocks as it uses rock benches and grassy slopes to traverse through micro basins. At the south end of the rock formations the use path peters out entirely. Cross a seasonal stream aiming for a crossing point of least resistance (there are some willows) and then walk through flat grassland savanna often used as a cattle pasture aiming for Milpitas Road 8. Cross Milpitas Road and take Road 8 down to its end where the Carrizo usetrail can be found. This use trail is mapped on BigSurTrailMap.net and it’s useful to have the GPX. The Carrizo use trail travels through some brush tunnels before crossing the North Fork San Antonio River. Pick up the usetrail on the other side of the river as it now travels through grassy meadows on the west side of Carrizo Creek. The use trail crosses Carrizo Creek at an elbow and ascends to a small gap. The use trail then enters a brush tunnel before emerging at a junction with the primary Carrizo Trail at the top of the grassland.