A California Campfire Permit is required if wanting to have a campfire or use a stove. Campfires are generally banned in the summer months and into the fall due to fire danger. No permit is required to enter or camp in the wilderness, so it is a good idea to sign the register.
The western end of the trail starts at the end of 8.5 mile Cachuma Mountain Road, which is not open to public vehicles but may be hiked or bicycled. Water can usually be found at McKinley Springs about 0.5 mile before the end. If bicycling, drop that on the road because the trail exists within the San Rafael Wilderness.
Make your entry in the register before starting. There is often information about the current state of the trail on and in this register. Pass the wilderness sign and start the gradual climb toward the top of San Rafael Mountain. The peak itself is an excursion of only twenty feet or so once the trail gets near.
After the peak, it drops fairly steadily to Mission Pine Spring. There is a camp with a table, toilet, and generally reliable spring. After another small climb and more drop is Mission Pine Basin. The closest reliable water is a mile down Fall Canyon Trail
, but there can be water in the basin in winter. Santa Cruz Trail
has its norther terminus just east of the camp and Fall Canyon Trail
has its southern terminus about 0.5 miles further.
Keep on going east through a long, rolling expanse. Cairns help mark the way because sometimes it is not as clear as it should be. Be prepared for a little navigation challenge.
Eventually, it starts the climb up West Big Pine Mountain. This was once a fire lookout location and it is 0.2 miles along the abandoned road to the top. With its south face drop off, this peak makes an impressive stop. The trail continues east on the old road bed until terminating at Big Pine Buckhorn Road. This road is also not open to public vehicles, but may be hiked or bicycled.
For water reports and condition reports, check Hike Los Padres
. This site is maintained by the Los Padres Forest Association, which works closely with forest managers.