A stream that flows yearlong through Lopez Canyon into Lopez Lake, lush streamside vegetation, and chaparral-covered slopes and peaks that rise above the canyon are the prime ingredients in the lightly visited Santa Lucia Wilderness. Elevations range from about 800 feet down in Lopez Canyon to about 3,000 feet near Hi Mountain Lookout at the eastern end. Hiking the Lopez Canyon Trail along the stream will expose you to a wide assortment of vegetation, including stands of ancient oaks, much of them flourishing where a wildfire raged in 1985. You can access the 5.3 miles of the Lopez Canyon Trail from East Cuesta Ridge and find pleasant campsites near the stream. Two 3.5-mile trails descend near Little Falls (with its 50-foot waterfall) and Big Falls (with a pair of dramatic waterfalls) into the canyon from the southern boundary. The Wilderness extends onto 1,733 acres of BLM land.

This was a wonderful trail. Per other recommendations we only went up the trail to see the two falls (just over a mile), making the round trip just over two. The last mile is apparently overgrown with poison oak and extremely steep with an end that doesn't compare to the rest of the trail.

First, the warning about having a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle is no joke. Aside from the gravel and bumps, we counted about 10 creek crossings of varying sizes. We were completely fine in a Wrangler, but many cars wouldn't have been able to make it.

We did this hike in October during a slight drizzle and it was beautiful. There were actually fall colors and water in the creek (not enough water for the falls thou). However the wonderful fall feeling as you descend into this canyon is otherworldly for Cali.

Be careful of the newts (or salamanders - we weren't sure which they were) because they were everywhere and we almost stepped on a few! Oh and we wished we had hiking poles. There were a couple of points where we had to hike across streams - the rocks were slippery and poles would've helped.

I imagine most people will do this trail in spring when the water will be highest, but honestly I loved fall here more. Plus the added benefit was that we only saw 2 other groups total.

29 days ago

This is my favorite local hike. The location of the trailhead on the map and using directions is accurate. You need a high clearance vehicle. There is a wide spot to park at the top of the hill and the trail starts across the road on the northwest side of the gate. The hike is entirely within wilderness so no bikes. There are oak trees near the trailhead and 1.8 miles in at Hi Valley. Climb to the lookout tower and feel like you've accomplished something. The trail is currently very brushy - I bled wearing shorts.

kind of hard to find the actual entrance to the trail and the locals don't know much about it either and there are no trail entrance markings. we just ended up walking HI Mountain Rd trying to find it. Also, you will have NO Signal so GPS, this app or other guiding devices don't work.

went today with my friends it was a great little hike. The waterfall wasnt falling like I thought it would be it was trickling. overall had a fun morning and would go back. Beware of the overgrown Poisson oak near the big waterfall and the road to get to the trailhead cuts through the river so trucks or 4x4 recommended no standard cars or you might have trouble going through the water.

4 months ago

Beautiful area. It's a fairly easy walk in most areas we took our 21/2 and 5 year old. Some areas there were high cliff areas so adult needed to hold their hands other than that they did well.

Caution on the poison oak.

6 months ago

This is a really nice, beautiful trail - IF you don't mind a lot of poison oak and you have a vehicle that can survive the drive to the trailhead. The final 1.5 miles to the trailhead are on a narrow dirt road that crosses Lopez Creek eight times. There are no bridges or concrete fords, so you'll definitely need a high-clearance vehicle. 4WD isn't strictly necessary, unless the water levels in the creek are particularly high.

The trail itself is almost level from the trailhead up to Little Falls, but climbs just beyond the turn-off to the falls. There is a ridiculous amount of poison oak on both sides of the trail, but when we were there the trail itself wasn't overgrown and it was pretty easy to avoid. You'll cross Little Falls Creek once, then go across a lovely meadow and enter Santa Lucia Wilderness. There are three more creek crossings (all easy) before you leave the main trail just before the fourth crossing and take a use trail up along the left side of Little Falls Creek. There's a lovely little waterfall (about 6') less than 100 yards up this use trail. The pool at the base of this fall is deep enough for a swim. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that the actual Little Falls waterfall is a little farther up the trail, so we'll be going back to check it out some time. The actual Little Falls waterfall is about 50' high.

This trail is best in the spring, when there's plenty of water in the creek and the waterfalls are flowing. Be sure to look for the California newts in Little Falls Creek.

off road driving
11 months ago

great views of the coast, north slo county, and lopez lake. very very easy drive. dont need 4wd if you come from arroyo grande. at least need a truck if you come from pozo. be sure to check out big falls while you are out there

Poison Oak Warning!!!
The trail is covered in poison oak, some places it is completely overgrown.

Other considerations:
You need a vehicle with high clearance to get to trail head. Driving through creekbeds is required.
also there were signs of lots of bear activity, so be prepared for a black bear encounter.

I will not hike the trail again unless I hear its been maintenanced.

It was 105 degrees the day we went and there isn't much cover. Go early and take plenty of water. It is well worth the trip to the lookout. There are many ways back, but we chose to go out and back the same route and avoid any walking on HiMountain Rd

1 year ago

Beautiful and serene hike, but let's be honest, half the fun was getting there. On the drive in, passed by wild turkey and deer. Definitely glad I had a high clearance vehicle for the water crossings. Will definitely be back!

1 year ago

Big Falls Trail is a lovely hike in a wooded canyon in the Santa Lucia Wilderness area. The hardest part of the hike is the drive to the trailhead, as the last few miles of Upper Lopez Canyon Road are on a narrow dirt road that crosses back and forth across Lopez Creek about a dozen times. You will definitely need a high clearance vehicle to reach the trailhead, although 4WD is normally not required.

The trail itself leads up-canyon to two waterfalls: Lower Big Falls and Upper Big Falls. When I visited the area in late May, the lower falls were still flowing, but Upper Big Falls were not. The trail is clear up to the upper falls, although there is a tremendous amount of poison oak along both sides of the trail in most places. Be sure to look for the abundant salamanders and pond turtles in the pools below the waterfalls.

It's possible to continue further up the trail to eventually reach Hi Mountain Lookout Road, but this section of the trail is rumored to be heavily overgrown with poison oak and other brush.

2 years ago

Very pretty hike crossing through streams and then coming up to open vistas at the top, but... the are huge amounts of poison oak overflowing onto the trail.

4 years ago

The description of the hike is VERY misleading. The hike is in a remote area with six or more stream crossings (truck country) on the road to the trail. Paved road,(upper Lopez Canyon Road) dirt road and unimproved road, from the access road, Hi mountain road.

It is beautiful country and an easy hike but with several stream crossings along the way. Some moderately steep slopes.

Aweful. I went on this brief walk. The creek was dry... the drive is not worth the walk