Hotspots Near You

258. Mt. Pinos, Los Padres National Forest, California

This mountain, straddling Ventura and Kern counties, is a great place to look for condors, Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, and several owl species.
By Chuck Graham | Published: 6/18/2017

I truly enjoy the diversity of birdlife surrounding the heaping summit of Mt. Pinos, straddling Ventura and Kern counties in southern California. At 8,847 feet, it is the highest summit in the Transverse Ranges and also in Ventura County.

Cloaked in fragrant, mixed evergreen forests, the flattop summit is home to one of the most significant populations of birds of prey in the Golden State, including five species of owl, Golden Eagle, and Northern Goshawk. Endangered California Condors typically soar on afternoon thermal updrafts.

You can drive nearly to the summit. From the parking area it’s an easy two-mile hike along a dirt road to its high point before entering the Chumash Wilderness. Mt. Pinos is considered by the Chumash Indians to be the center of the world, where everything is in balance, and the birdlife certainly is: Alpine endemics such as Clark’s Nutcracker, Steller’s Jay, Hermit Warbler, and Pygmy Nuthatch are commonly seen on the summit.

The mountain lies within Los Padres National Forest, and the summit offers stupendous views of nearby ranges, the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the southern Central Valley, and more. — Chuck Graham

Chuck Graham is a freelance writer and photographer (chuckgrahamphoto.com) who often writes about birds in California. He also wrote about Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, Hotspot Near You No. 116, Soda Lake, Bakersfield, No. 123, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151, Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, No. 154, Mendocino Headlands State Park,  Mendocino, No. 167, Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, No. 185, Pinnacles National Park, No. 200, Agua Fria National Monument, Black Canyon City, Arizona, No. 203, Ormond Beach and Wetlands, Oxnard, No. 227, Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Idaho Springs, Colorado, No. 234, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, No. 248.

258. Mt. Pinos, Los Padres National Forest, California

Directions

Mt. Pinos is a mountain about 35 miles due south of Bakersfield. From either Bakersfield or Los Angeles, take I-5 to the exit for Frazier Park and head west on Frazier Park Mountain Rd. At Lake of the Woods, continue west on Cuddy Valley Rd. for five miles. Turn left onto Mt. Pinos Rd. and follow it up the mountain to a large parking area.

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At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
34°48’46.01″N 119°8’44.48″W

Habitat

Open stands of conifer trees separated by chaparral sage scrub and woodlands.

Terrain

Summit is relatively flat and its surrounding trails are well-maintained for easy hiking.

Birds

More than 300 species. Ash-throated Flycatcher, White-throated Swift, Western Wood-Pewee, Bullock’s Oriole, Bushtit, Oak Titmouse, Pine Siskin, Mountain Chickadee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Rock Wren, Cassin’s Vireo, Cliff and Violet-green Swallows, Anna’s, Calliope, and Rufous Hummingbirds, Fox and Bell’s Sparrows, Orange-crowned and Hermit Warblers, Green-tailed Towhee, Townsend’s Solitaire, Red Crossbill, Lazuli Bunting, Western Bluebird, Steller’s Jay, White-headed and Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Clark’s Nutcracker, Band-tailed Pigeon, Mountain and California Quail, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Goshawk, Prairie Falcon, California Condor, Golden Eagle, America Kestrel, Long-eared and Spotted Owls, and Northern Pygmy-Owl.

When to go

Year-round. Best in spring, summer, and fall.

Amenities

Campground with 19 first-come, first-serve campsites. Picnic tables, vault toilets, parking.

Access

National forest. Open year-round, but check for closures during winter. Purchase a Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day) to park at the summit; available at a ranger station on Lockwood Valley Rd., one mile from Lake of the Woods.

Tips

Dress in layers. Weather can change quickly on the summit. Lower elevations also offer good birding opportunities, so take your time driving the paved road to the summit and utilize pullouts along the way.

For more info

Mt. Pinos Ranger District, (661) 245-3731.

Sites nearby

Tejon Ranch
East of Frazier Park. The largest contiguous private property in California. Tricolored Blackbird, Mountain Plover, California Condor, and about 200 more bird species.

Ormond Beach and Wetlands
Hotspot Near You No. 227
About two hours south of Mt. Pinos, on the Pacific coast. Breeding Western Snowy Plover and California Least Tern, plus American Avocet and other shorebirds.

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