Central Coast

An outdoor recreation gem, California’s Central Coast includes natural and cultural attractions amid mountain peaks, wildflower-dappled grasslands and wild chaparral hills.

The Central Coast of California is comprised of some of the most diverse habitats and ecosystems found anywhere in North America. From the Channel Islands—“the Galapagos of North America”— to Carrizo Plain National Monument, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, that contains thousands of acres of alkali wetlands, grasslands, mountains and the San Andreas Fault. And California's second largest forest rising from the Pacific Ocean to over 8,800 feet in elevation, the Los Padres National Forest provides habitat for 468 species of wildlife including the California condor and the southern steelhead.

In October 2017, Representative Salud Carbajal (D-CA) and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act that would safeguard approximately 245,000 acres of wilderness, create scenic areas encompassing nearly 35,000 acres, and designate close to 160 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Along with a broad and diverse coalition,The Wilderness Society supports this legislative effort, and will continue to work to preserve and protect these landscapes so future generations can enjoy these timeless wildlands. 

Work we are doing

Los Padres National Forest. Credit: Mason Cummings/TWS

Protecting wilderness in Los Padres National Forest

Spanning Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, the Los Padres National Forest is an outdoors mecca for the Bay Area and Southern California with more than 1,200 miles of maintained trails. The region is popular with hikers, hunters, anglers, campers and cyclists. It provides vital habitat for California condors, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, tule elk and bighorn sheep.

Under the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, the 400-mile long Condor Trail would be designated as a National Recreation Trail, connecting the northern and southern points of the Los Padres National Forest by a single hiking route.

With your support for this proposed legislation, dozens of beautiful wild areas in the Los Padres National Forest could be protected permanently with wilderness or other protective designations. Many of these areas have clear creeks, endangered species and rare Native American cultural sites.


Los Padres National Forest. Credit: Mason Cummings/TWS

Areas we’re working to  protect in the Los Padres National Forest: 

Proposed Black Mountain Scenic Area

This proposed new scenic area includes the headwaters of the Salinas River and contains habitat for many sensitive plant and animal species including the San Joaquin kit fox and the California condor.

Proposed Condor Ridge Scenic Area

This proposed new scenic area  would include rare coastal mountain habitat with vast vistas of the Gaviota coast and the Channel Islands. Several headwaters include essential habitat for the southern steelhead and California red-legged frog.

Chumash Wilderness additions

This remote area of high-elevation conifer forest and lower colorful sandstone  canyons could be expanded to protect an area containing important habitat for wildlife including California condor, black bear and mule deer.

California condor. Credit: Nathan Rupert, flickr.

Dick Smith Wilderness additions

Protected in the 1984 California Wilderness Act, this area could be expanded to include thousands of acres of chaparral hills, creeks and deep pools with southwestern pond turtles and California red-legged frogs, and sandstone rock formations.

Matilija Wilderness additions

By adding wilderness here, key areas will be protected including a portion of Matilija Creek with its waterfalls and deep pools and  picturesque mix of chaparral hills, oak forests and grasslands that harbor abundant wildlife.

San Rafael Wilderness additions

Known for its array of Chumash pictographs, California condors and picturesque geology, this existing wilderness would be expanded by thousands of acres. These lands are considered sacred by the indigenous Chumash tribe.

Sespe Wilderness additions

This stretch of rugged stream-filled canyons, pine forest and important habitat near the Sespe Condor Sanctuary could be expanded with additions that would include dramatic cliffs and the headwaters of Alamo and Piru creeks.

Garcia Wilderness potential additions

Quiet meadows and headwaters of the Salinas and Huasna rivers attract golden eagles, California spotted owls and California condors to this potential wilderness addition of thousands of acres near Garcia Mountain.

Machesna Mountain Wilderness potential additions

Forested peaks, red rock outrcroppings, chaparral and oak groves in this potential wilderness addition, which also includes habitat for raptors and tule elk.

California condors also forage in this ruggedly beautiful area.

Tule elk. Credit: Paulo Philippidis, flickr.

Santa Lucia Wilderness potential additions

The Santa Lucia potential wilderness additions feature rocky peaks, oak woodlands, meadows, streams and waterfalls that attract California condor and other raptors. Some trails afford vast views of the forest to the Pacific Ocean. 

Protecting rivers and creeks

Sespe Creek. Credit: Chris M Morris, flickr.

The Wilderness Society also supports the designation of nearly 160 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers inside the Los Padres National Forest. Such designation would prevent licensing or permitting for new hydroelectric dams or major diversions that diminish the streams. Protect ed areas would include:

Mono and Indian Creeks

These creeks tumble through dramatic narrow gorges and pastoral riparian stream banks, bordered by scenic hiking trails.

This is very significant habitat  for southwest pond turtle,.endangered California red-legged frogs and arroyo toads. About 39 miles are proposed for Wild and Scenic River designations.

Arroyo toad. Credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region, flickr.

Upper and Middle Piru Creek

Wild and Scenic River status for about 52 miles here would protect what is currently among the longest unprotected free-flowing streams in southern California. The creek provides an important habitat for the endangered species such as the California red-legged frog and the least Bell’s vireo. In recentyears, the fish population has dwindled.

Upper Sespe Creek

About 19 miles of this creek could beprotected, safeguarding the spawning habitat for endangered steelhead trout and a variety of birds, amphibians and other wildlife. The upper stretch of the creek runs parallel to scenic Highway 33 through Sespe Gorge, providing access to a variety of recreational opportunities.

Areas we are protecting in the Carrizo Plain National Monument

Carrizo Plain National Monument. Credit: Kevin McNeal.

Carrizo Plain National Monument made headlines in 2017 for its  astonishing “super bloom” of spring wildflowers. Record numbers of visitors arrived to witness an intense carpet of color spread across the valley floor about 170 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The region is home to an incredible diversity of plant and animal life, and contains several threatened and endangered species including the majestic Tule Elk and Pronghorn Antelope. There are also hundreds of important historic and cultural sites within the monument, including prehistoric Native American campsites and Painted Rock, decorated with ancient pictographs.

About 63,000 acres of potential wilderness

Soda Lake Potential Wilderness

This prominent white lakebedone of the largest alkali wetlands in Californianurtures a diverse habitat of rare plants including the Valley larkspur and unique grasses.

It also contains wildlife such as the San Joaquin kit fox and Giant kangaroo rat. About 13,300 acres could be conserved here.

San Joaquin kit fox. Credit: Greg Schechter, flickr.

Temblor Mountains Potential Wilderness

The tectonic action of the San Andreas Fault shaped the aptly named Temblors with its steep ridges and prominent valleys. Many unique native grasses and plants thrive here, and the oak forests are home to endangered species including the San Joaquin antelope squirrel. Nearly 12,800 acres can be protected.

Caliente Mountains

This range includes chaparral and oak woodlands, the highest peak in San Luis Obispo County and many species of wildlife that live here including Tule elk, mountain lions, and endangered San Joaquin kit fox, About 36,000 acres can be protected in these lands that include rugged sandstone outcroppings.

Our partners                                            

The Wilderness Society is working with a broad partnership towards a long-term goal of keeping the most special wild lands on the Central Coast wild. Our partners in the area include:

  • Local businesses
  • Elected officials and cities
  • Civic groups and community leaders
  • Farmers and ranchers
  • Outdoor recreation groups
  • Conservation groups

Experience the Central Coast

Los Padres National Forest. Credit: Mason Cummings/TWS.

From rare wildlife to scenic sandstone outcroppings, conifer forests to peaceful grasslands, the Central Coast is a diverse mix of wildlands. Its signature feature is the Los Padres National Forest, the nation’s second-largest, which supports hundreds of species. The Carrizo Plain is also a prominent wildland with wildlife, many of them endangered, thriving on its vast and scenic grasslands — the “Serengeti” of California.