Indicators are applied faster and at lower costs than conventional surveys, providing quick and efficient responses that can facilitate protected areas management. Our aim was to select indicators from vegetation to monitor protected areas. For this purpose, we analyzed understory and quantified lianas and tree ferns in protected and non-protected areas, in order to find indicator species. Our study areas are located in Vale do Ribeira, southeastern São Paulo state, Brazil. One of the areas is under two protection categories (IUCN's categories II and V), and the other is a privately owned farm. Lianas with large diameters (> 13 cm) and tree ferns with great heights (> 19 m) were considered indicators of undisturbed areas (protected areas) because their growth is directly related to forest successional stage. Indicator species within the protected area were shade tolerant species, such as Bathysa australis (A.St.-Hil.) K.Schum., whereas outside the protected area were pioneer species, such as Pera glabrata (Schott) Poepp. ex Baill. e Nectandra oppositifolia Ness. All of the suggested indicators can be used in management actions, especially in protected areas, to guarantee forest maintenance and ensure fulfillment of the conservation objectives of these areas.