UPDATE March 2021: Campgrounds and dispersed camping are closed per Forest Order due to the Dolan Fire. Be sure to check the US Forestry website for updates. Large fines are imposed for camping in closed areas.
We took a break from the COVID-19 quarantine at home and boondocked at The Indians in early April. Recent rains turned the hills green and wildflowers were starting their colorful show. We want to do our part to “flatten the curve” while camping by taking extra precautions. This means keeping our travel close to home, sanitizing at the fuel pump and we don’t eat out or use public bathrooms. Our truck camper affords us to be self-contained including a Thetford toilet cassette.
Del Venturi Rd. is the usual route into the Los Padres National Forest entrance. However, it was closed due to the water crossing flowing with a live stream. Driving a bit farther, just past Mission San Antonio, the Mission Creek Rd. route was open for visitors to gain access to The Indians area. This means crossing military property, so keep on the road and don’t venture off where live fire and training often take place on Ft. Hunter Liggett. Need directions? Read this post.
We met David and Nancy, our friends who were already set-up in the scenic Section 8 area, for a night of boondocking. They also enjoy being self-contained with an Alaskan camper on their 4×4 truck.
Many other campers were in the area, but everyone was doing a great job of social distancing both on the trails and at off-road campsites. We were greeted by friendly waves while folks kept to themselves. The Section 8 area seemed the most popular, with folks finding campsites within easy walking of the nearby flowing river.
The weather was perfect for walking or bicycling the many trails in the area. We explored some different trails this trip, hiking with our friends to a cross on a hilltop and later to the Wagon Wheel Cave.
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”- John Muir
Remember to watch for rattlesnakes, especially if you bring your dog buddy! Snakes prefer to avoid humans but can strike if you step too close or reach your hand onto a rock where they like to sun themselves. Learn more about how to be rattlesnake savvy.
Poison oak is plentiful in this area and can be spread by pets and clothing that has brushed against it. Nancy accidentally made contact but quickly showered it off with dish soap and avoided a bad outbreak.
Directly across the main road from the Section 8 road marker is a livestock gate at a wide turnout. Beyond the gate, our friends guided us through the rock-strewn and sometimes boggy meadow, across the stream and then uphill to rocky formations and a wooden cross standing as a hilltop sentinel.
The lonely cross gave me pause to reflect on how different celebrating Easter would be this year. In some ways our freedom to worship took on a deeper meaning as in my lifetime, I have taken for granted the ability to enjoy attending a sunrise service or church worship time with fellow believers.
From the cross on the hilltop, we enjoyed a vast view of the surrounding mountains, meadows and rock formations that make The Indians so interesting and scenic.
When driving into The Indians area you will cross a cattle guard with yellow posts and a sign welcoming you to the Los Padres National Forest. Driving a short distance further down this main road you will see an interesting rock formation neatly fenced off with a sign and trailhead parking area. This is where we started our hunt to find the Wagon Wheel Cave.
I have an outdoorsy friend who lived in the nearby Lockwood area who has told me about her visits to the Wagon Wheel Cave for years. I thought this would be a great time to hike and finally see it. Our friends agreed to check it out with us and off we went happily exploring the many rocky areas with grinding bowls, stream crossings, meadows with wildflowers and butterflies. After an hour or so of exploring we found nothing that we could call a cave. I was beginning to suspect my fun-loving friend, Tammy had sent me on a snipe hunt!
Realizing that I had cell phone reception, I shot Tammy a text and she quickly called me to direct us back to where we had parked at the trailhead and completely missed where to walk in to see the cave. Tammy camped with her grandparents at The Indians in the summers in her growing up years and knows this wild place well.
Directions to the Wagon Wheel Cave
It turns out the cave is only a 5-minute walk from the trailhead parking. Enter the trailhead where there is a sign and fence posts marking a break in the barbed wire fencing. As soon as you are inside the fence, turn right and enter another fenced area with a break in it to enter.
As you head west, stay to the left and follow the trail to see a very interesting “medallion” resembling a wagon wheel embedded at ground level. Keep skirting below the rocky rise until you see a trail going uphill, strewn with poison oak growing alongside. This is the place to climb a short way into the cave area. The cave is really more like a very long overhang deeply set into the rock formation. The ceiling is blackened from past cooking fires. Grinding bowls have been left behind by Indians who once lived here. You can continue to walk out the other side however, there are some steep, slippery rocks to get past.
Keep walking past the Wagon Wheel Cave to find other interesting formations as well as where succulents and ferns cling to the mossy rocks. At one point we found an interesting set of “footholds” carved into a rock face acting as a built-in ladder to climb and check out the view on the other side.
Section 7 to camp and hike
Our friends headed home and we stayed another night before the impending rainstorm. We found great camping where the road ends in Section 7 by a pipe fence barricade with an entry for those on foot or riding a bicycle or on horseback. There are 2 fire rings well separated for camping near the turnaround area where the road deadends at the fence.
Beyond the pipe-fencing is a lovely trail where deer were feeding and the breeze whispered through the lofty Coulter pines. Speaking of Coulters, their pine cones are huge! David pointed out that these cones are the heaviest of any pine tree and to be wary not to park or camp underneath a Coulter, as a falling cone could be deadly.
The trail crosses a beautiful stream then heads uphill through wildflowers and gnarly old oak trees. A curious newt skittered underwater while following us with its eyes. We identified many of the wildflowers which included Shooting Stars, California Buttercups, soft yellow Violets, periwinkle colored Ceanothus, Baby Blue Eyes, as well as Lupine in white, pink and purple. Many of the flowers were tiny “belly flowers” at the time of our visit. Eventually, we came out where the Section 8 road ends. At this point walk in a westerly direction to find the stream where there are several trails following the river to beaches and nice pools.
2-way radios for safety and connection
Pres and I used our handheld radios to stay connected as I stop often to take pictures and ID flowers while Pres radios to tell me what’s ahead where he is walking on the trail. There was no cell reception there and the radios simply clip to my waistband or pocket. We are impressed with the Motorolas we purchased for their clarity, features and distance with no line of sight. We highly recommend camping with 2-way radios and if you are in the market be sure to read our review.
Make sure the roads and camping are open
Don’t be disappointed to find roads or camping closed after a long drive to get there. Check out the Los Padres National Forest page for updates.