Metate Trail (San Bernardino National Forest)

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Black oaks on the Metate Trail

Black oaks and pines on the Metate Trail

Metate Trail

      • Location:  Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Lake Arrowhead.  From I-210 in San Bernardino, take Highway 18 (Waterman Ave. exit) and go north for 14.2 miles.   Turn left on Lake Gregory Drive and make an immediate right on Highway 189.  Go a total of 2.7 miles on 189, through the town of Twin Peaks, and turn left on Grass Valley Road.  (There’s a gas station at the intersection).  This intersection can be a little tricky, so be careful.  Go a total of 4.2 miles on Grass Valley Road (at 1.9 miles, look for a sharp left turn; if you stay straight, you’ll end up on Peninsula Drive.)  Grass Valley Road dead-ends at Highway 173.  Turn left and drive 0.2 miles to the signed Metate Trail Head on the left side of the road.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 1.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 100 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: G
      • Suggested time: 45 minutes
      • Best season: Year round
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent
      • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Pronounced “meh-TAH-tay”, this trail – also known as the Rock Camp Trail and Indian Rock Trail and signed as 3W15 – is located in a remote area of the San Bernardino National Forest that’s popular with cyclists, but largely overlooked by hikers.  Indeed, hikers in the Lake Arrowhead/Big Bear area may be pleasantly surprised by this short but scenic trail.  Close to a mile above sea level in elevation, the Metate Trail explores a grassy woodland populated with manzanita, black oaks and pines.

0:02 - Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

0:03 – Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

There are several single-track trails that cross the area and hikers can also extend their trip on Forest Road 3W11 which is nearby. The 1.2-mile loop described here is a nice introduction to the area; a perfect escape into nature about an hour’s drive from the Riverside/San Bernardino area. If you’re up here for the day to check out other nearby trails, such as the Pinnacles or Bradford Ridge, the Metate is a worthwhile stop.

0:08 - Bear left again

0:08 – Bear left again

From the parking area, cross Highway 173 and follow the paved road to the Rock Camp Ranger Station. You reach a Y-junction that marks the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. In this post we’ll be describing it clockwise. Bear left and follow the trail past a gate signed “Interpretive Area” and continue to an unsigned junction (0.3 miles) where you’ll stay left. At the next junction, also unsigned, about 0.1 miles later, turn right (the left fork leads to 3W11, an option if you want to extend the hike.)

0:12 - This time turn right.

0:12 – This time turn right.

You follow the trail through an attractive woodland, reaching a T-junction by a meadow 3/4 of a mile from the start. Turn left and keep an eye out for some morteros pounded into rock on the right side of the trail.  Native Americans used these holes to grind and prepare their food.

0:23 - Indian Morteros in the rocks

0:23 – Indian Morteros in the rocks

After crossing a creek, the trail curves through the meadow. You cross the creek again on the far side and follow the trail back to the junction, completing the loop. Cross Highawy 173 again to return to the parking area.

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

0:26 - Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

0:26 – Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

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Tarantula Hill (Thousand Oaks)

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Looking northeast from Tarantula Hill

Looking northeast from Tarantula Hill

 Tarantula Hill (Thousand Oaks)

  • Location: Thousand Oaks.  From Highway 101, take the Lynn Road exit.  Head north (turn left if you’re coming from the west; right if from the east) and go 0.8 miles to Gainsborough Road.  The trail head is a small dirt turnout on the left side of the road in 0.7 miles, shortly past the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens.  From Highway 23, take the Janss Road exit.  Turn right and go 0.6 miles to Moorpark Road.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Gainsborough Road.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to the trailhead.  If you see the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens, you’ve come too far.
  • Agency:  City of Thousand Oaks/Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: Newbury Park
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3

Known also as Dawn’s Peak, pyramid-like Tarantula Hill towers above the surrounding areas.  A short but steep hike up a paved trail (closed to vehicles) yields panoramic views of the area, including a nearly aerial perspective on Gainsborough Rd.

0:00 - Trail head on Gainsborough Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

From the signed trailhead on the west side of the street, begin your climb, passing by a few oaks and clusters of cacti. The grade is mellow at first but soon becomes fairly steep, gaining almost 200 feet in about a third of a mile.

The trail curves around the north side of the mountain, passing by a rope tied between two metal posts. You get aerial view of Redwood Middle School to the north and Madrona Elementary to the west. Curling around to the east side of the hill, you can see Boney Mountain and the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:10 - Looking north about 2/3 of the way up

0:10 – Looking north about 2/3 of the way up (times are approximate)

At half a mile, the road ends at the summit. Much of the summit is fenced off, but you can still sit on the side of the hill and enjoy a view of the area before heading back down (the bench that appears in some photos of Tarantula Hill is no longer there.)  In case you were wondering, Tarantula Hill is in fact named for the spider, which according to the city website, is commonly found in the area.

0:15 - Looking southeast toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Tarantula Hill

0:15 – Looking southeast toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Tarantula Hill

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

Table Mountain Nature Trail

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Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Table Mountain Nature Trail

  • Location:  Table Mountain Campground, Angeles National Forest near Big Pines.  From I-15, take Highway 138 west for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) and drive 8.7 miles to the town of Big Pine.  Just before the turnoff for Palmdale, past the ranger station, turn right on Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  Park in the large lot, taking care to note signed restrictions (if in doubt, park by the picnic area, a few hundred yards past the turnoff for the campground.)  If you’re coming from the Antelope Valley, take Highway 138 east to 131st St/Longview Road.  Turn left and go 2.2 miles to Fort Tejon Road.  Go 2.5 miles and turn right on Valyermo Road.  Drive 14 miles to Big Pines (Valyermo Road becomes Big Pines Road along the way).  At the junction with the Angeles Crest Highway, turn left and make an immediate hard left on to Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest/Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: April-October
  • USGS topo map:  Mescal Creek
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Big Pines and Lightning Ridge Trails, the Table Mountain Nature Trail offers a nice sampling of the Angeles National Forest high country.  The trail starts and ends at the Table Mountain Campground and leads through an attractive woodland of pines and oaks. The intermittent views of Mt. Baden-Powell and the high desert aren’t quite as panoramic as those of the Lightning Ridge Trail but this is still a nice spot to visit, a good place to stretch one’s legs while driving the Angeles Crest Highway. If you’re not used to hiking at high altitude, this hike is a good trip to acclimate yourself.

0:02 - Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

0:02 – Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head toward the white metal gate at the top of the Table Mountain Campground. Even if the campground is closed (which it us until May each year) you can still access the trail, which heads off to the left. You make a few switchbacks, descending through the trees. Numbered metal plaques guide the way; they refer to a brochure that is available at the nearby Grassy Hollow Visitors Center.

0:04 - Cluster of black oaks

0:04 – Cluster of black oaks

At about 0.3 miles (between markers 5 and 6) you make a hard right; ignore the faint trail that continues downhill. You get some nice views of Baden-Powell and other peaks to the west as you make your way along the southwest facing slope.

At 0.6 miles you reach a clearing with a picnic table. Just beyond the table is the road that leads through the campground. Turn right and follow the road 0.4 miles uphill back to your starting point. On the way, see if you can get a glimpse of the flat expanse of the high desert in between the trees.

0:10 - Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

0:10 – Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

0:18 - The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

0:18 – The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

Toro Canyon Park

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Sunlight in the trees, Toro Canyon Park

Sunlight in the trees, Toro Canyon Park

View of the mountains from just below the gazebo, Toro Canyon Park

View of the mountains from just below the gazebo, Toro Canyon Park

Toro Canyon Park

    • Location: Santa Barbara foothills, near Montecito.  From Highway 101 in either direction, take the Padaro Lane exit.  If you’re coming from Santa Barbara, turn left, cross the freeway and turn right on Via Real.  Turn right, go 0.5 miles and turn left on Toro Canyon Road.  If you’re coming from Ventura, take a right and then the first left on Via Real.  Go 1.4 miles to Toro Canyon Road and turn right.  On Toro Canyon, go a mile to Toro Canyon Park Road (look for a sign just before it.)  Turn right and drive 1.3 miles to the park entrance.  Turn left into the park and go 0.2 miles to the upper parking area, where you’ll see a sign for the trail shortly before the sandstone boulders.
    • Agency: County of Santa Barbara
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: 250 feet
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round
    • USGS topo map: Carpinteria
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6
0:00 - Oaks near the parking area by the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Oaks near the parking area by the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short but enjoyable trip isn’t particularly well known outside the Ventura/Santa Barbara area, but it’s well worth a visit, whether you’re in the vicinity for a longer hike or driving up the coast and are looking for a place to stretch your legs. Highlights include ocean and mountain views, a large sandstone boulder and a gazebo from which you can enjoy the panorama. Toro Canyon resembles Simi Valley’s Corriganville Park, but it’s more secluded and has more variety of scenery.

0:01 - Passing the sandstone boulder (times are approximate)

0:01 – Passing the sandstone boulder (times are approximate)

From the parking area, cross a footbridge and pass by a large sandstone boulder. Ignore a false trail branching off to the left and head right, making a steady ascent to a junction, about a quarter mile from the start.  The right trail descends briefly before climbing; the left trail continues the ascent.  Both directions reach the gazebo at the top of the ridge after about a quarter mile (half a mile from the start). Here you can sit and enjoy a view of the ocean–both to the southwest and southeast–and perhaps see a Channel Island or two. When you’re ready to go, continue down the trail back to the junction and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

0:07  - At the junction

0:07 – At the junction

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

0:14 - The gazebo

0:14 – The gazebo


Inaja Memorial Trail

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View from the top of the Inaja Memorial Trail

View from the top of the Inaja Memorial Trail

View of the upper San Diego River canyon from the top of the trail

View of the upper San Diego River canyon from the top of the trail

Inaja Memorial Trail

  • Location: Eastern San Diego County, a mile east of Santa Ysabel, during the stretch of overlap between Highway 78 and Highway 79.  It’s located on the south side of the road, a mile southeast of where the two roads meet, and six miles west of Julian.  From Ramona, follow Highway 78 east for 17 miles.  From Escondido it’s 34, and from Oceanside, 55.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map:  “Santa Ysabel”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Yahoo Travel page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Named for 11 firefighters who died in 1956, the Inaja Memorial Trail offers an excellent variety of scenery, especially for such a short hike.  At 3,300 feet above sea level, it features the pines, manzanitas and oaks characteristic of higher elevations as well as the lowland chaparral.  Also noteworthy are the terrific views both above (the Palomar Mountains, Volcan Mountain) and below (the upper San Diego River canyon.)

0:00 - Inaja parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Inaja parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The trail begins on the east side of the parking area (opposite the entrance.) Pass by a few picnic tables and an outhouse where a sign indicates the start of the trail.  Check the box to see if interpretive brochures are available, describing the numbered sign posts on the route. You make a hairpin turn by a large stack of granite boulders and soon come to a split, the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. If you head counter-clockwise, you’ll get a nice aerial view of Highway 78 and the rolling terrain of Santa Ysabel; clockwise provides a striking view of the San Diego River canyon. A few unofficial trails branch off and can be explored a well.

0:01 - Sign at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

0:01 – Sign at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

About half way through the loop, a short spur leads to a summit where you can enjoy some sweeping views. Head back to the loop (another trail leads off the summit but soon dead-ends.) You’ll return to the split and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

0:02 - Split at the beginning of the loop

0:02 – Split at the beginning of the loop

As short as the trail is, it might not be worth a long drive, but it’s convenient location on Highway 78 makes it an ideal stop en route, say, from San Diego to Julian. L.A. and Orange County hikers who are looking to explore the trail-rich Santa Ysabel/Julian area won’t want to miss this trail.

0:12 - Looking west from the top of the trail

0:12 – Looking west from the top of the trail

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

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Franklin Creek, Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

Franklin Creek, Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

    • Location: Carpinteria, on the corner of Ash Avenue and Sandyland Road.  From Ventura/L.A., take Highway 101 to the Casitas Pass Road exit.  Turn left on Casitas Pass Road and go 0.2 miles to Carpinteria Avenue.  Turn right and go 0.3 miles to Linden Avenue.  Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Sandyland Road.  Turn right and go 0.3 miles and park where available on the corner of Ash and Sandyland. From Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 to the Linden Avenue exit.  Turn right and go 0.6 miles to Sandyland Road.  Turn right and follow Sandyland to the corner of Ash and park where available.
    • Agency: City of Carpinteria
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: Level
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round
    • USGS topo map: Carpinteria
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 1
0:00 - Carpinteria Salt Marsh trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Carpinteria Salt Marsh trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short nature trail visits some coastal wetlands near downtown Carpinteria, providing nice views of the surrounding mountains and a good opportunity to see migratory waterfowl including herons, egrets and terns.  You also might see hummingbirds, wrens and goldfinches.  To be sure the trail’s purpose is primarily educational; don’t expect much in the way of solitude or physical challenge.  If you’re driving on Highway 101 the park is a nice place to stop to stretch your legs, located less than a mile from the freeway.  Scenic downtown Carpinteria also invites exploration before or after your visit here.

0:06 - View of the wetlands shortly after leaving Ash Avenue (times are approximate)

0:06 – View of the wetlands shortly after leaving Ash Avenue (times are approximate)

From the corner of Ash and Sandyland, enter the preserve and stop by an observation deck where interpretive plaques describe the ecology and geology of the area. The trail bends right and parallels Ash Avenue for 0.2 miles before bending left and heading northwest. (A short loop branches off, leading to an amphitheater where you can get some more views of the wetlands.)

0:11 - View of the mountains after crossing Franklin Creek

0:11 – View of the mountains after crossing Franklin Creek

At 0.3 miles you reach a T-junction. Turn left (the right fork heads toward a mobile home park) and cross Franklin Canyon on a footbridge. On the opposite side, continue following the trail, first northeast and then northwest toward Sunnyland Cove Road. Just before you reach it, bear left at a fork and follow the boardwalk to a clearing where you can sit on some rocks and look out over the marsh. This is the turnaround point.

0:15 - View from the turnaround point

0:15 – View from the turnaround point

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.


Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

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Looking west from the Yucca Ridge Trail

Looking west from the Yucca Ridge Trail

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

  • Location: Morongo Valley.  From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 11.3 miles.  Turn right on East Drive (signed for Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.)  Go 0.2 miles and turn left into the park on Covington Drive.
  • Agency: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  October – May, 7:30am – sunset
  • USGS topo map: “Morongo Valley”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trip description here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Boardwalk at the beginning of the Marsh Trail, Big Morongo Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Boardwalk at the beginning of the Marsh Trail, Big Morongo Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

There aren’t many short hikes that provide mountain and desert views–as well as wetlands–but this loop around the perimeter of Big Morongo Canyon is one such trip. The preserve makes a nice stop on the way to the northern entrances to Joshua Tree. Visitors who want more of a workout can find a nearly 10-mile round trip with the Canyon Trail.

0:06 - Turning right onto the Mesquite Trail (times are approximate)

0:06 – Turning right onto the Mesquite Trail (times are approximate)

This route is one of several possible loops in the preserve. The trails are all well marked and easy to follow, so it’s impossible to get too lost. From the main entrance, turn right on the Marsh Trail. You pass by the education center and come to an intersection. Turn right on the Mesquite Trail, which dips down to the stream and comes out again, reaching a junction with the West Canyon Trail (0.4 miles from the start.) You can extend your hike on the West Canyon Trail but this route continue straight on the Mesquite Trail, into a tight-walled canyon.

0:12 - Geology on the Mesquite Trail past the junction with the West Canyon Trail

0:12 – Geology on the Mesquite Trail past the junction with the West Canyon Trail

After passing the remains of a car and reaching a T-junction with the Canyon Trail, head left, deeper into the wetlands. You pass a short spur that leads to a viewing area and then reach a junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail. Continue straight onto this trail, beginning the only significant climb of the hike. You reach a view point with a bench where you can look west toward the San Gorgonio Pass.

0:18 - Through the wetlands before the junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail

0:18 – Through the wetlands before the junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail

The Yucca Ridge trail heads north before dropping down to the wetlands. You reach a junction with the Desert Willow Trail (1.3 miles). Turn right and follow the Desert Willow Trail through more marsh, into a field and finally back to the Marsh Trail. Turn right and follow the boardwalk back to the parking area.

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

0:39 - Right turn at the junction with the Desert Willow Trail

0:39 – Right turn at the junction with the Desert Willow Trail, back to the parking area