Bell Peak (Orange County)

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American Flag on Bell Peak, Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

Flag on top of Bell Peak

Southeast panorama from the Bell View Trail, Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

Looking southeast from the Bell View Trail

Bell Peak (Orange County)

      • Location: Robinson Ranch, Orange County, in the foothills of the Santa Mountains.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take the Alicia Parkway exit and go northeast (left if you’re coming from the north, right if from the south) for 5.3 miles to the road’s end at Rancho Santa Margarita Parkway.  Turn right and go 2.7 miles to Plano Trabuco.  Turn left and go 0.3 miles to Robinson Ranch Road.  Turn right and go 1.2 miles. Note a small green area with a picnic table on the left side of the street; this is your starting point, where the Bell View Trail meets Robinson Ranch Road. Park where available.
      • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation; Cleveland National Forest (Trabuco Ranger District)
      • Distance: 3.8 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain, terrain)
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: November – April
      • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
      • More information: Trip description here; article about the hike here; Bell View trail map here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
Bell View Trail Head, Orange County, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Robinson Ranch Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Bell Peak is the unofficial name of the first major bump on the long ridge that runs all the way from Los Pinos Peak to the foothills above Robinson Ranch. Die-hards have been known to hike or bike the entire route (almost 7 miles each way) but for hikers wanting a shorter though still vigorous workout with some panoramic views of the area, Bell Peak is a popular destination. The summit is also known as Patriot Hill due to the American flag placed at the top (not to be confused with Flag Hill and the Patriot Trail in San Clemente.)

Santiago Peak as seen from the Bell View Trail, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County, CA

0:15 – View of Santiago Peak from the top of the first ridge

The hike starts where the Bell View Trail meets Robinson Ranch Road. From the picnic table, head left and uphill (the segment to the right takes you south toward Caspers Wilderness Park and is part of the Robinson Ranch/Bell View Loop, another worthwhile hike). The trail ascends steadily, making an Z-shaped curve, taking in dramatic views of Santiago Peak to the north and the surrounding suburban areas to the south. At 0.7 miles, you reach a junction with an unsigned trail. While adept hikers can use use the single-track to cut off some distance, those visiting for the first time would be best served to stick with the main trail, which drops sharply into a ravine. Here, a few large oaks provide the only significant shade on the entire route.

Oaks in the Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

0:19 – Oaks at the bottom of the first hill

At the bottom, the trail splits. Both forks soon rejoin but the right fork, which climbs steeply out of the canyon, is quicker. A short but difficult ascent brings you to another junction a mile from the start.

Here, you turn right on a single-track trail, soon entering Cleveland National Forest land. The trail is level for a short distance and manages to get a little more shade from a few trees on the ridge before reaching the most demanding portion of the hike; a stretch of 0.4 miles that gains 450 feet. The terrain is rocky and loose in some spots.

Single track trail leading into the Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:25 – Turnoff from the Bell View Trail

After huffing and puffing your way to the top of the ridge, your work becomes easier as the next section of the trail is mercifully level. You get more views of Santiago Peak and Bell Peak with its flag is now clearly visible. Two more short, steep climbs bring you to the top.

View of Santiago Peak and Bell Peak, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:45 – Santiago Peak and Bell Peak (right) as seen from the top of the ridge

Unfortunately there’s no real place to sit down and the bugs can be annoying, but there’s still an impressive vista, especially on clear days. The panorama includes a bird’s eye perspective of Trabuco Canyon, the hills of Whiting Ranch and O’Neill Parks, Catalina Island, the San Joaquin Hills and if visibility is good, San Clemente Island. Enjoy it and rest your legs for the steep descent back.

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon from Bell Peak, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County, CA

1:00 – Trabuco Canyon as seen from the summit

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Slaughterhouse Canyon (Murrieta)

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View from the top of Slaughterhouse Canyon, Murrieta, CA

View from the top of Slaughterhouse Canyon

Oaks and sunlight in Slaughterhouse Canyon, Murrieta, CA

Sunlight through oaks, Slaughterhouse Canyon

Slaughterhouse Canyon (Murrieta)

  • Location: Murrieta, near the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. From I-15, take the Clinton Keith Road exit and follow it southeast for 4 miles to Avenida La Cresta. Turn right, go 0.3 miles and turn right to stay on Avenida La Cresta. Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Via La Entrada. Go 0.4 miles to the end of the road and park in a small dirt turnout on the right.
  • Agency: Trails at Santa Rosa Home Owners Association
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Wildomar”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Point-of-view video of a mountain bike trail ride here; mountain biking Meetup description here
  • Rating: 5
Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail Head, Murrieta, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Its name may sound intimidating and indeed it has a reputation among mountain bikers as an “extreme” trail but the hike through Slaughterhouse Canyon is a family-friendly nature walk. Veteran hikers who have explored the trails of the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve and the San Mateo area of the Cleveland National Forest might be pleasantly surprised by Slaughterhouse Canyon, which is more popular with mountain bikers than pedestrians. The downsides of this trail are litter and the hard-to-ignore noise from nearby Clinton Keith Road, but it is still a worthwhile destination if you’re in the area, a good example of how nature and open space can exist in close proximity to civilization.

Oak woodland, Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:06 – Entering the woods (times are approximate)

The trail leaves from the south side of the end of Via Entrada. It is unmarked, although a sign indicates the terms of use dictated by the home owners association who oversees the trail. Follow it as it drops into the canyon, enjoying nice views of distant San Gorgonio Mountain. The trail soon enters an attractive woodland, primarily oaks with a few sycamores and willows mixed in.

For the next half mile, the trail weaves in and out of the woods, following the course of the canyon as it parallels Clinton Keith Road. At three quarters of a mile, the trail splits; the two forks rejoin almost immediately. A mile from the start, the trail enters another particularly impressive grove of oaks, some of which tower upwards of fifty feet, virtually blocking out the sun. This is a nice spot to sit and rest on the return to charge your batteries for the ascent back to Via Entrada.

Oak woodlands, Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:25 – Oak woodlands

At 1.3 miles, the trail crosses the stream bed on a small wooden footbridge. Soon after, it bends east and climbs out of the canyon, reaching a somewhat unceremonious ending at Clinton Keith Road, near a fire station. Bikers have the option of returning via the road, but hikers would be advised to retrace their steps back through the canyon.

Footbridge on the Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:31 – Footbridge

As for the canyon’s name, “Images of America: Temecula” mentions a “slaughterhouse that stood on the west bank of Murrieta Creek, just south of town.” According to the book, the slaughterhouse burned down in 1928 and a replacement was built, operating until the 1950s.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View of the Santa Ana Mountains from the end of the Slaughterhouse Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:40 – Looking back from the turnaround point at Clinton Keith Road

Slide Mountain Lookout

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Looking northwest from Slide Mountain, Angeles National Forest, California

Northwest view from the summit

Geology on the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

Geology and mountain views

Slide Mountain Lookout

  • Location: Angeles National Forest, northwest of Valencia and Castaic. From I-5, take the Templin Highway exit. Head west (turn left if you’re coming from the south; right if from the north) and take a quick right on Golden State Highway. Drive 5 miles to the road’s end at Frenchman’s Flat Campground. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Santa Clarita and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,600 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: R (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Black Mountain
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; ANF Fire Lookout page here; video taken at the lookout here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
Beginning of the hike to Slide Mountain at Frenchman Flat, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:00 – Start of the hike at Frenchmans Flat (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Slide Mountain (elevation 4,631) is one of the taller peaks in the western corner of the Angeles National Forest and is home to an active lookout tower which was constructed in 1969. The hike is an exercise in delayed gratification: it starts with a 1.6-mile walk on pavement followed by 2.3 miles of steady uphill, much of which is on exposed south-facing slopes. However, the views during the last mile and a half and from the summit are worth the effort. Navigation and terrain are easy, making this a great training hike for those who want to build their endurance. The mountain is conveniently located to the Santa Clarita Valley and is not too far from the San Fernando Valley or even downtown L.A.

Beginning of the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:42 – Leaving the paved road, starting the ascent (times are approximate)

From the end of the Golden State Highway, walk past the gate and follow the paved road as it gradually ascends. After 0.5 miles, you cross Piru Creek on a bridge. You continue following the canyon carved by the creek, the steep walls blocking out most of the noise from I-5. At 1.6 miles, turn left on an unsigned fire road that is listed as the Slide Peak Trail on Google Maps.
Marker on the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:12 – Marker on the trail as it becomes a single track

Now the work begins. For the duration of the trip, the trail maintains a nearly steady pace of just over 600 feet of elevation gain per mile; it is never brutally steep but it also never lets up. The views get better and better as you climb, and depending on what time of day you are hiking, the ridges may block out the sun.

At 2.7 miles, the trail makes a hard left turn and becomes a single track. An unmarked memorial stands here, marking the approximate half way point (in distance) between Frenchman’s Flat and the peak, although the vast majority of the elevation gain still lies ahead. A beam placed on two rocks makes a makeshift bench for those who need to rest.

View of Slide Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:48 – View of Slide Peak from the saddle

The trail continues its ascent, finally reaching a saddle at 3.9 miles. Here, you get excellent views to the west and south as well as the eastern vistas which have been with you during your climb. Slide Mountain’s round shape lies unmistakably before you; to the northwest is taller Dome Mountain, which serves as a Ventura/L.A. County benchmark.

On the opposite side of the saddle, the trail passes by some interesting sandstone outcrops before making a few switchbacks, passing through a pleasantly green (depending on the season) hillside. At 4.4 miles, the trail follows a north-facing slope with excellent views of Pyramid Lake. Though the only vegetation is chaparral and scrub oak, the ridge itself provides shade.

Pyramid Lake, northwest Los Angeles County, CA as seen from the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:03 – View of Pyramid Lake

At about 5.2 miles, the metal structure of the lookout comes into view. One last switchback brings you to the summit where you can enjoy a 360-degree vista. If the weather is clear, the San Emigdio Mountains can be seen to the north; the Santa Monicas and Hollywood Hills lie to the south and Baldy and the San Gabriels are southeast. You also get a bird’s eye perspective on Pyramid Lake, I-5 and the paved road on which you hiked earlier–more than two thousand feet below.

Approaching Slide Mountain Lookout, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:28 – Approaching the lookout

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Southeast view from Slide Summit, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:30 – Looking southeast from Slide Mountain

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

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Wilderness Gardens Preserve, Pala, CA

View of Wilderness Gardens Preserve from the Upper Meadow Trail

Oaks and sycamores in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

Oaks and sycamores on the Upper Meadow Trail

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

  • Location: Highway 76 between Pala and Pauma Valley, 27 miles east of I-5 and 9.7 miles east of I-15. Turn right onto Bodie Blvd, signed for the park.  From the Riverside/Temecula area, take I-15 south to Temecula Parkway. Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Pechanga Parkway. Follow it for a total of 9 miles (it becomes Pala Road and Pala-Temecula Road en route) to its ending at Pala Mission Road. Turn left and follow Pala Mission Road 0.5 miles to Highway 76. Bear left onto Highway 76 and follow it 3 miles to the park entrance. Parking is $3 per vehicle (cash only).
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October-June; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – 4pm. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Pala
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; articles about the park here and here
  • Rating: 6
Wilderness Gardens Preserve trail head, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This attractive 676-acre park occupies the site of a former retreat of Los Angeles newspaper magnate Manchester Boddy. The park’s vegetation is a mix of non-natives such as eucalyptus, holly, oleander and native oak, sycamore and even a few cacti.

Fire road in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:02 – Junction with the Upper Meadow Trail (times are approximate)

There are several miles of trails, making for multiple possible routes. One can enjoy a stroll here without having a particular destination or itinerary but a complete circuit of the park, as described here, doesn’t take much time or effort.

From the parking area, follow the main dirt road heading west, almost immediately crossing the San Luis Rey River (virtually dry as of this writing, but during rainy winters, expect calf-high water) and arriving at a junction with the Upper Meadow Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction but by going counter-clockwise, as described here, you’ll save the most interesting scenery for last.

Indian motreros, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:07 – Motreros

Follow the fire road, keeping an eye out for some Indian morteros in a rock on the left. You pass by a few nice oak specimens before arriving at a junction. The two routes soon rejoin so take either. Once they meet up again, turn right and walk a short distance to the Pond Trail. Turn right and follow it 0.2 miles around the circumference of a small seasonal pond and continue to a junction with the Camelia View Trail. This 0.7 mile loop (part single-track, part fire road) can be hiked in either direction, taking you to the western boundary of the preserve.

Pond at Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – The pond

After completing the loop, head back, following the trail past the pond to the beginning of the Upper Meadow Trail. You begin ascending (the only significant climbing on the entire route) through an attractive oak and sycamore woodland, arriving at Upper Meadow, where you get a good view of the Palomar Mountains. Shortly beyond is a bench located at a spot with panoramic views to the west of the entire preserve and beyond.

Upper Meadow Trail, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County

0:50 – Start of the Upper Meadow Trail

After enjoying the vistas, make a steep descent on a wooden beam staircase, soon arriving back on the river bed floor. Bear right and follow the trail back to the first junction and to the trail head. If you have time consider exploring the half-mile Alice Fries Nature Trail, which starts and ends in the parking lot.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:58 - View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

0:58 – View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

 

Covington Crest (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Sunset on the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset on the Covington Crest Trail

Joshua Tree at dusk, Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree on the Covington Crest Trail

Covington Crest (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: High desert near Yucca Valley. From Highway 62 (23.6 miles east of I-10 and 18 miles west of Twentynine Palms), head south on La Contenta Road. It becomes dirt after a mile when it crosses Yucca Trail. Continue on the dirt road, which is generally in good condition and should be passable by all vehicles. After 1.9 miles, bear left at the fork, following the signs for the park and Covington Flat. Follow this road into the park for a total of 6 miles and turn right on another dirt road. Follow it to its end, turn left and drive 1.8 miles to Covington Flat.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • USGS topo maps: “Joshua Tree South”, “East Deception Canyon”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip description here; Flickr album here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
Covington Crest Trail Head, Joshua Tree National Park

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short trail is a little bit off the beaten path, but it is well worth the effort to reach it. Highlights include views of some of the biggest Joshua trees in the park, pleasantly cool high desert air (almost a mile above sea level) and an exceptional view of the Coachella Valley at the end. The trail’s remote location gives it a very isolated feel.

Grove of Joshua Trees on the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:19 – Grove of Joshua Trees (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the signed Trail south. You walk through a forest of Joshua trees, some towering more than thirty feet high. Other vegetation includes cacti and junipers; at about 1.2 miles from the start you walk through a hallway like passage with the trees close on both sides.

Soon after, Toro Peak, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio all come into view. You will notice the land dropping off not far in front of you and then you reach the lip of Covington Crest.

Juniper trees on the Covington Flats Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:32 – “Garden” of junipers

Here, you get as dramatic a view as you will find of the Coachella Valley.  The Santa Rosas in particular look spectacular from this angle, rising above Palm Springs and off course the “Saints” never disappoint.  Sunsets are excellent here so take your time and enjoy them; the route back is short enough and easy enough that with a headlamp, or a good phone flashlight, it can be done fairly easily in the dark.

Dusk view of San Jacinto Peak from the end of the Covington Crest Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:45 – Dusk view of San Jacinto and the Coachella Valley at the trail’s end

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Vulture Crags

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View of Santiago Peak from the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

View of Santiago Peak from the Santiago Truck Trail

View of southeastern Orange County from the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, CA

Southeast view from the Santiago Truck Trail

Vulture Crags

      • Location: Modjeska Grade Road, Orange County. Modjeska Grade Road is located off of Santiago Canyon Road, 8.8 miles north of I-5 (via El Toro Road) and 15 miles southeast of the 55 Freeway (via Chapman Ave.) Turn left if you’re coming from the north; right if from the south. Modjeska Grade is a steep, narrow winding road so exercise caution (the author has witnessed a car crash on this road due to excessive speed.) Parking is not available in the immediate vicinity of the trail head. Signs are posted along both sides indicating where parking is legal; the closest to the trail head is about 0.1 miles north of it (0.6 miles from Santiago Canyon Road). If parking is unavailable there, park below the trail head, possibly on Santiago Canyon Road itself in a small dirt turnout.
      • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation; Cleveland National Forest (Trabuco Ranger District)
      • Distance: 7 miles (round trip distance assuming closest possible starting point)
      • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet (assuming closest possible starting point)
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: November – April
      • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat;
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Orange County
      • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - View from the start of legal parking on Modjeska Grade Road, north of the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View from the start of legal parking on Modjeska Grade Road, north of the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Santiago Truck Trail climbs from Santiago Canyon all the way to Main Divide Road. The moderately graded 10-plus mile route is popular with mountain bikers for day hikers, Vulture Crags makes a good destination for a moderate trip. Highlights include up-close views of Modjeska and Santiago Peaks, panoramic vistas of the Orange County coastal plains and foothills and Vulture Crags, once a roosting spot for condors. Keep in mind that the trail is entirely exposed, although if you get off to an early or late start, the ridges may block out some of the sun.

Marine fossils on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:16 – Fossils in a rock (times are approximate)

After carefully walking along the narrow shoulder of Modjeska Grade Road from your starting point, begin hiking on the Santiago Truck Trail, which leaves from the east side of the street. The trail ascends, following the ridge, with views of Santiago Canyon on the left and Live Oak Canyon on the right. Half a mile from the road, keep an eye out for a large rock with several marine fossils embedded into it.

Greenery on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:30 – Greenery on the Santiago Truck Trail

After a mile, the trail follows the north side of a ridge and the terrain becomes greener. After a vigorous ascent, the trail levels out briefly before climbing to a vista point (2.5 miles from the start). Here you can rest and enjoy a 180-degree view to the south and east.

Panoramic view of the Santa Ana foothills from the Santiago Truck Trail, Orange County, CA

1:10 – Southwest view from the vista point about 2.5 miles from the start

Following the vista point, the trail climbs to the highest point on this hike, about 2,300 feet. If it is spring, you may notice the pleasant scent of wild flowers. You soon see the backside of Vulture Crags; keep an eye out too for a large sandstone outcrop on the left side of the trail, resembling the geology of the Santa Monica Mountains. The trail descends to a saddle where a short spur leads to a mini-summit, marked by U.S. and Marine Corps flags. Here you can sit and get a great view of Vulture Crags. Below the formation are layers of multicolored marine sediment. You also get a nice aerial view of Live Oak Canyon Road, about a mile away. The Morrow Trail (aka the Luge) leads down to the road and is popular with mountain bikers but not very practical for hikers, with no parking access at the lower end.

Geology on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

1:30 – Geology near Vulture Crags

If you still have time and energy, you can head up farther on the Santiago Truck Trail or explore the Morrow Trail, keeping in mind that the latter will require you to ascend after descending. Otherwise retrace your steps back to Modjeska Grade.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Vulture Crags, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

1:40 – Vulture Crags as seen from the turnaround point

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

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Panoramic view from the trails of East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Looking west from the Walker Loop

Rolling hills and grasslands, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

Ascending the Walker Loop

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

        • Location: Santa Clarita, Placerita Canyon.  From L.A., take the 14 Freeway north to Placerita Canyon Road.  Turn right and go 3.4 miles and look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road.  From Lancaster, take the 14 Freeway south to the Sand Canyon Road exit.  Turn left on Soledad Canyon Road and make a quick left on Sand Canyon.  Go 3.3 miles and turn right on Placerita Canyon.  Go 1.5 miles and park in the turnout on the right side of the road.
        • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
        • Distance: 3 miles
        • Elevation gain: 550 feet
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG
        • Best season: October – June
        • USGS topo maps: Mint Canyon
        • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
        • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here
        • Rating: 6
Trail head for Golden Valley Ranch and East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:00 – Trail head at Golden Valley Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Named for local settler Frank Walker who lived in the area in the early 20th century, Walker Ranch is a 140-acre open space adjacent to Placerita Canyon Park and operated by the city of Santa Clarita. Highlights include the panoramic views of the Santa Clarita Valley, majestic oaks and the ruins of Walker’s homestead.

Ruins of the Walker Homestead, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:07 – East Walker homestead (times are approximate)

The various trails that cross the property, allowing for multiple possible hikes. The 3-mile route described here samples the park’s best scenery and can be lengthened or shortened as needed. This post assumes you will be starting at the Golden Valley Ranch trail head, the closer of the two trail heads to the 14 Freeway and hiking clockwise, allowing yourself a chance to warm up on a level grade before tackling the first steep ascent, while enjoying excellent westbound views on the way down.

Trail head at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:18 – Alternate access point 0.6 miles from the start

From the parking area, head into Golden Valley Ranch and almost immediately take a right on a footbridge. You follow the trail through rolling grasslands to another footbridge and continue east, following Placerita Canyon Road. At 0.3 miles, you reach a short spur leading to the ruins of the homestead, now little more than two stone columns.

Pine tree in a clearing, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:27 – Clearing at the end of the gravel road before the ascent on the single-track

After retracing your steps, follow the trail under the road through a narrow metal tunnel (ignore the unmaintained trail that continues east, following the road.) On the south side of Placerita Canyon Road, you face your first ascent, a short but steep (100 feet in just over a tenth of a mile) climb that will likely have your calves burning when you reach the top. This is followed by a descent and another climb of about the same distance, bringing you to a parking lot that serves as an alternate trail head (0.6 miles.)

Panoramic view of the Santa Clarita Valley from East Walker Ranch, California

0:48 – Looking north from the vista point

Follow a paved road out of the lot to a junction. Head left (the right route gets you to the same spot but is steeper and not as scenic) and walk along a gravel road to a clearing with a tall pine tree (0.9 miles.) A single-track trail passes through a fence on the opposite side of the clearing, steadily ascending a grassy hill side. As you climb, you enjoy views to the north including the formations of Vasquez Rocks and the San Gabriel Mountains straight ahead to the east.

At 1.2 miles, you reach a bench where you can catch your breath and take in a good view to the west. More climbing brings you to a Y-junction (1.5 miles.) The Raynier Trail heads off to the left; this shaded but not as scenic route is an option if you want to extend the hike. To continue following the Walker Loop, bear right and make a brief ascent to another vista point.

Sunlight through trees at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:51 – Four-way junction (stay straight)

The trail then descends to a four-way junction (1.7 miles.) Head straight on the Allen Trail, reaching a third vista point shaded by an impressive oak (2 miles.) The trail then makes a short but steep and loose descent into the upper reaches of Placerita Canyon. As you follow the trail downhill, you can pick out the Los Pinetos Trail in Placerita Canyon State Park, ascending the ridge on the opposite side of the valley on its way to Wilson Canyon Saddle and Manzanita Peak.

Sunlight through oak branches, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

1:00 – Vista point on the descent

At 2.8 miles, the trail reaches a junction at the bottom of the hill. Turn right and follow the trail back to Placerita Canyon Road, carefully crossing it to complete the loop. If you still have time and energy, Golden Valley Ranch Park offers multiple miles of challenging and scenic trails, as does Placerita Canyon Park down the street.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Dusk panorama at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

1:10 – Looking west at dusk in upper Placerita Canyon