- Location: Near Santa Clarita. From I-5, take the Lyons Ave exit. Head west for 2.5 miles (turn left if you’re coming from L.A., right if from the north). Lyons becomes Pico Canyon. Drive 2.5 miles to the entrance to the park, and park in the signed lot. Parking is $5 per vehicle. The lot is open from sunrise to sunset. (You can also park for free, space permitting, outside the park; this adds half a mile each way to the hike.)
- Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
- Distance: 7 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo maps: Newhall; Oat Mountain
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
Not many hikes in the L.A. area offer panoramic mountain views, interesting geology and a little local history, but one can find all of the above in Pico Canyon. Starting from Mentryville, former site of one of California’s first oil wells, this moderately strenuous trip climbs up to a high ridge, where hikers are rewarded for their efforts with a great view of the area. Just be aware that there is very little shade en route; in the lower part of the hike, the walls of the canyon may block out some of the sun, but higher up, you’re on your own.
From the parking lot, head into the canyon on the paved service road. You’ll pass a preserved 19th century schoolhouse and some old farm equipment. Don’t be put off by the pavement; as you climb into the canyon, you’ll quickly leave behind almost all sights and sounds of civilization. Of particular interest are the towering canyon walls, with layers of interesting geology. Several trails branch off, making different variations on the trip possible, but the hike described here sticks to the main route.
You’ll pass by a picnic area known as Johnson Park, and then, at 1.3 miles, on the left, notice a plaque marking the location of one of the original oil wells in the canyon. Shortly afterward, the road makes a hairpin turn and begins a steep climb.
As you ascend, gaining about 800 feet over the next mile and a half, you are rewarded with great aerial views of the canyon and the Santa Clarita area, including the tall roller coasters of Magic Mountain. As you climb higher, if the weather is clear, not only can you make out the Liebre Mountains to the north, but also Strawberry Peak and the front country of the San Gabriels to the south.
Three miles from the start, the grade levels out and follows a ridgeline for a little ways before arriving at a flat clearing. Here, you can sit at a picnic table and enjoy great views in all directions before heading back down.
Text and photography copyright 2012 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.