Trekking to the top of Junipero Serra Peak in California’s Ventana Wilderness

Along the trail to Junipero Serra Peak in the Ventana Wilderness of South Monterey County, there is some stuff to see. Like goldfields flowering, hummingbird sage blooming and sharp cacti appropriately called Spanish sword cutting a sharp profile against the increasingly steep grade. And the massive pine needles, bird tracks and rock formations that enjoy supernatural scale. Way up top, after hours of climbing, the view zooms from San Antonio Valley to the Pacific Ocean beyond Big Sur and even reaches Santa Cruz to the north.

The sweeping panorama summons goosebumps to crowd out those from the cold – and to rival those found in the textured tree bark on the way up and back.

After rains at the end of February, Serra summit and its 5,862 feet also provide dramatic temperature changes, 4,000 vertical feet of grueling but well-marked trails and strands of icy snow dangling from prehistoric-looking pine needles.

Other striking elements await along Santa Lucia Range’s most extreme heights, including a sugar – and Coulter-pine forest. It’s a daunting 12.8-mile round trip.

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