This hike requires car shuttling.
To park the return car, take the Greenfield exit off 101 south of Salinas and head west on Elm St. This turns into Arroyo Seco Rd. Follow this road until it crosses the creek on a metal bridge. Bear left on the next two junctions and continue straight to the end of the road. Park the second car at the end of the paved road, past the resort and past Arroyo Seco Campground. There is a gate that blocks the road. There is a parking lot right by that gate. This is the beginning of the closed Indians Rd that used to go to Santa Lucia Memorial in ancient days. It takes 25 minutes from Greenfield to the end of the road.
Now you need to start hiking from Santa Lucia Memorial. To get there, head back to Greenfield and the 101 freeway (direction south). Exit at the Jolon Rd exit of King City and head west. Follow the signs for Fort Hunter Ligget that will make you turn right into Mission Rd. See directions for the Junipero Serra Peak trailhead.
From the junction between the trail coming from Santa Lucia Memorial Camp (Indians forest station) and the trail that goes to Last Chance Camp, the route starts right behind the sign (and may be difficult to spot). The "trail" heads down and then up on the ridge to the northwest. This is one of the most intense moments of bushwhacking. Luckily no poison oak. Since your head is constantly being hit by very dense (and occasionally sharp) vegetation, it is a good idea to wear a hat, long sleeves and long pants. The trail has collapsed in several places, although it only takes a few seconds to figure out where it should continue. There are a couple of ravines that one has to traverse crawling on all fours. Eventually the trail becomes a bit more passable, and heads almost straight uphill. You can actually keep your head up for a while. Eventually it reaches an opening at the top of the ridge. This is probably the single best view of the hike, because you can see where you came from as well as where you heading to: the canyon of the roaring creek below. From this point one can also see the meadow by the creek, that i incorrectly assumed to be Last Chance camp (N36.1724, W121.4632), about 10 kms from Arroyo Seco Camp.
After a few more devastating bushwhacking efforts, one reaches that point, the meadow that i assumed to be Last Chance camp. There are clear signs of people camping there. From this meadow on, the route is marked by colossal cairns as it crosses a few dry creeks (tributaries of the main creek that roars on your left). At some point the cairns disappear. You are likely to get lost here. The trail is heading northwest along the promontory parallel to the creek, between 100 and 300 meters from the creek (right handside of the creek as you head downstream). After a while the trail's location should become obvious: high enough to avoid the thickest vegetation, just where the ravine becomes too steep. Look for branches that have been obviously cut with human tools (alas, a long time ago) and the rare ribbons tied to the low branches of the manzanitas. (We hiked this section in march 2008 and may have left quite a bit of footprints). Alas, poison oak becomes more and more frequent.
Another wide meadow appears and here you are likely to lose the trail again. Shortly afterwards, the trail crosses a creek for the last time. Now the trail is a real trail. This is approximately where the waterfalls are. The falls are located on the other side of the canyon. From this point till the end, the trail is in good conditions. (Last Chance Camp should be the meadow at about 36.1872, 121.4703). There is a junction marked with a cryptic sign for "Cawatre trail". If you head for the Cawatre trail, the trail plunges down into the canyon towards Arroyo Seco Camp (4 kms). If you continue straight towards the "Road" (as it is marked on the sign), the trail heads up steeply for about 1.5 kms until it hits the Indians Rd that is closed to vehicles. Turn right and you'll pass by the slide that caused the road to be closed. The road is a much easier hike, but beware that it winds around so much that you are multiplying the distance by a factor of 2.5. It is 10 kms from this point to the Arroyo Seco Camp. The only advantage of taking the road is that you can't miss your car parked right at the beginning of that road.
As of march 2008, there was a $7 parking fee at the Arroyo Seco Camp but no parking fees at the Santa Lucia Memorial Camp. Camping in the national forest is free as long as your car is parked properly. There are restrooms at Santa Lucia Memorial Camp (but i couldn't find any water). There are much nicer facilities at Arroyo Seco Camp, including water and showers.
Signs in the Ventana Wilderness are almost invariably wrong, but this is what i could guess:
Santa Lucia trailhead to Junipero Serra Peak should be 10km
Junipero Serra Peak to Arroyo Seco Ranger Station should be 23km
(The first sign on the Santa Lucia trail implies that "Arroyo Seco Rd" is only 20km away but it is referring to a point on Arroyo Seco Rd that is 10 km from Arroyo Seco Camp)
(The second sign on that trail implies that Last Chance Camp is about 11 km away)
Milestones for a one-way hike from Santa Lucia trailhead to Junipero Serra Peak to Arroyo Seco ranger station (in parenthesis the 2008 times):
A major attraction of these mountains is the mountain lion. Quoting from this page: "The largest population of mountain lions in America lives in the Santa Lucia Mountains". Quoting from this page: the Ventana Wilderness is home to the world's highest density per square mile of mountain lions. Photo of a mountain lion in the Ventana Wilderness
Los Padres National Forest is the third largest national forest in California. The vegetation is mostly chaparral, oaks and pinyon junipers. Near the summit of Junipero Serra Peak you can see some of the largest pine cones in California. Rare species include the condor, the spotted owl, the kit fox and the leopard lizard, besides several species of snakes.
Other recommended hikes in the Ventana Wilderness:
The area of the Arroyo Seco campground with the two trails: Cawatre and Santa Lucia.
Poison Oak warning: anywhere at low altitude poison oak is a major annoyance. You *will* be touching poison oak. So i recommend long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and wash yourself in cold water after the hike.
Tick warning: ticks are ubiquitous. Another reason to cover your body.
Water warning: there is no water on the trail.
You have to drive through a military reservation. They will check ALL ids, not just the driver. Have a driver license or passport ready.