Big Sycamore/Overlook Loop (Point Mugu State Park)

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Ocean view from the Overlook Fire Road

Ocean view from the Overlook Fire Road

Looking north from the Overlook Fire Road

Looking north from the Overlook Fire Road

Big Sycamore/Overlook Loop (Point Mugu State Park)

  • Location: Point Mugu State Park between Malibu and Oxnard.  From Oxnard, take highway 1 south for 17 miles.  The Sycamore Canyon trailhead is on the left (if you reach the Sycamore Canyon Campground,  you’ve come too far.)  From Santa Monica, take highway 1 north for 32 miles.  The Sycamore trailhead will be on the right, about a mile and a half past Deer Creek Road.  From the San Fernando Valley, take highway 101 to highway 23 and head south to P.C.H.  Parking is $12.  Checks or cash are accepted and change is not available.
  • Agency: Point Mugu State Park
  • Distance: 9.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • Recommended gear:  sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • USGS topo maps: “Point Mugu”
  • More information: Trail map here; Everytrail report here; Point Mugu State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the day area parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the day area parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This trip is basically a mirror image of the Big Sycamore/Serrano Canyon loop, trading scenic Serrano Valley for panoramic views of La Jolla Valley.  Both hikes feature great ocean and mountain views. The damage from the recent Springs Fire is sobering, but this is still a very enjoyable hike and seeing the aftermath of the fire is a good reminder of how precious a natural resource Point Mugu State Park really is.

0:07 - Start of the Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road (times are approximate)

0:07 – Start of the Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road (times are approximate)

From the day parking area, head past the entry station, follow the service road for a quarter mile past the campsites and pass by a gate, accessing the Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. Almost immediately you’ll notice the Scenic Trail branching off to the left; your return route. Continue heading north into Big Sycamore Canyon, passing several turnoffs for other trails.

0:51 - Live oak shortly past the picnic area

0:51 – Live oak shortly past the picnic area

At 2.3 miles, a picnic table beneath a large oak makes a nice rest spot. You continue almost another mile to a junction with the Wood Vista trail (which is also the Backbone Trail.) Turn left and begin the only major ascent of the hike, climbing steadily for the next two miles, making long, looping switchbacks. As you climb higher, you get a nice view not only of Big Sycamore Canyon but of Boney Mountain.

1:06 - Left turn on the Wood Canyon Vista Trail/Backbone Trail

1:06 – Left turn on the Wood Canyon Vista Trail/Backbone Trail

At about 5 miles from the start, you reach the Overlook Fire Road; this is the approximate half way point of the hike, a good spot to take a break and enjoy views of La Jolla Valley. Turn left and head south on the Overlook Fire Road, which follows the ridge that divides Big Sycamore Canyon and La Jolla Canyon. Keep your eyes peeled for Anacapa Island, visible between two hills.

2:10 - View of La Jolla Valley from the Overlook Fire Road, top of the Wood Canyon Vista Trail

2:10 – View of La Jolla Valley from the Overlook Fire Road, top of the Wood Canyon Vista Trail

The trail reaches a high point of about 1,100 feet at 6 miles and begins its descent, with wide-ranging ocean views. Stay straight as the Ray Miller and Fire Line Trails branch off, and at about 8.5 miles you reach another junction. The Overlook Fire Road heads left but for a more scenic (and shorter) return, head straight on the Scenic Trail. You reach an overlook where you get an aerial view of Pacific Coast Highway, 350 feet below.

2:50 - Ocean view from the Overlook Fire Road

2:50 – Ocean view from the Overlook Fire Road

After enjoying the view, continue following the trail downhill, staying straight at a junction with some other trails, and make your descent back into Big Sycamore Canyon. At the bottom of the Scenic Trail, turn right to head back into the campground and follow the road to your car.

3:30 - The overlook

3:30 – The overlook

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.

3:50 - View from the Scenic Trail, descending back into the canyon

3:50 – View from the Scenic Trail, descending back into the canyon

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Skyline Mountain Way/Brand Motorway Loop (Verdugo Mountains)

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San Gabriels from the Verdugo Fire Road

San Gabriels from the Verdugo Fire Road

Los Angeles skyline from the Brand Motorway

Los Angeles skyline from the Brand Motorway

Skyline Mountain Way/Brand Motorway Loop (Verdugo Mountains)

    • Location: Intersectionof Via Montana and Camino de Villas, Burbank.  From L.A. take I-5 to the Olive Avenue exit.  Turn left on First St. and then right on Olive, and drive a total of 1.5 miles.  (Olive becomes Country Club Drive).  Turn right on Via Montana, go 0.2 miles and park where available on the street.  (Check the signs for parking restrictions).  From the north, take I-5 to Verdugo Avenue.  Turn left on Front St., cross under the freeway and merge onto Verdugo Avenue.  Go 0.4 miles to Glenoaks, turn left and go 0.2 miles to Olive.  Turn right and drive 1.1 miles to the intersection with Via Montana, turn right and go 0.2 miles to the intersection with Camino De Villas.
    • Agency:  City of Glendale Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 8.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain,  distance, trail condition)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Best season:  November – April
    • USGS topo maps: “Burbank”
    • Recommended gear: sun block; sun hat; hiking poles; long sleeved shirts and pants
    • More information: Verdugo Mountains Yelp page here; description of the Skyline Mountain Way portion of the hike here; Verdugo Mountains Summit Post page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike; cross over to the Skyline Mountain Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike; cross over to Skyline Mountain Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is one of the more challenging of the many possible hiking routes in the Verdugo Mountains.  It features an interesting mix of abandoned and modern fire roads, fire breaks and city streets.  Like the other hikes in the Verdugo Mountains, if the air is clear, the views are extensive, including downtown L.A., Catalina Island, the San Gabriels and much more. The loop can be hiked in either direction but when done clockwise, as described below, the ridge shields you from the morning sun on the western-facing ascent.

0:40 - Lone oak on the Skyline Mountain Way (times are approximate)

0:40 – Lone oak on  Skyline Mountain Way (times are approximate)

From the corner of Via Montana and Camino de Villas, head across a dirt lot and climb a steep embankment to the Skyline Mountain Way, an abandoned fire road. The hike starts of gradually but soon begins a steady ascent; you’ll climb about 1,600 feet in less than three miles. As you get higher the views open up. The trail becomes more overgrown although the going shouldn’t be too difficult.

0:45 - Difficult terrain on Skyline Mountain Way

0:45 – Difficult terrain on Skyline Mountain Way

At about 1.6 miles you pass a solitary oak; this is a nice spot to take a breather. Soon afterward you encounter a tricky stretch where the trail is washed out. Expect to use your hands and feet as you make your way across this short but potentially treacherous section, climbing up a particularly steep and loose embankment before making a hairpin right turn and continuing the climb.

1:15 - Enjoying the view of the San Gabriels from the top of the loop

1:15 – Enjoying the view of the San Gabriels from the top of the loop

The ascent becomes more moderate and at 2.5 miles, you meet up with the Verdugo Fire Road, the main route across the top of the range, at a saddle with some great views of the San Gabriel Mountains. You can bear left on the fire road or head uphill on a steeper fire break. The two routes soon meet at a junction where a bench allows you to enjoy views both to the north and the south.

2:30 - Sycamores near the bottom of the Brand Motorway

2:30 – Sycamores near the bottom of the Brand Motorway

The rest of the hike is rather tame by comparison; some hikers might want to turn around at this point and return via the same route. However, for those who want to continue and make the hike a loop, start your descent on the Brand Motorway. It drops steadily for the next 3.3 miles, winding around the ridges. At 6 miles from the start, the road becomes paved; stay right at a junction and continue your descent, arriving at Brand Park, where you can take a look at the former estate of the Brand family and the public library dating back to the early 1900s.

2:50 - The road becomes paved above Brand Park

2:50 – The road becomes paved above Brand Park

At 6.8 miles, you pass through a gate and end up on Mountain Street. Turn right and follow it for 1.2 miles, during which it becomes Sunset Canyon. Several blocks do not have sidewalks, so exercise appropriate caution. When you reach Tujunga Avenue turn right and begin a steep climb uphill (again, no sidewalks so watch out for cars, especially since this section of the road has several blind curves.) Tujunga becomes Camino de Villas, which you will follow back to your starting point.

3:00 - Back to civilization: Brand Park

3:00 – Back to civilization: Brand Park

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.

Maidenhair Falls (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

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Maidenhair Falls

Maidenhair Falls

Climbing the boulders in Hellhole Canyon below Maidenhair Falls

Jumbled boulders in Hellhole Canyon below Maidenhair Falls

Maidenhair Falls (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park southwest of the town of Borrego Springs.  From Highway 79, head east on San Felipe Road (County Road S2).  The junction is 4.3 miles north of Highway 76 and 3.6 miles south of Warner Springs.  Take S-2 for 4.7 miles and turn left onto Montezuma Valley Road.  The large parking lot for trailhead will be on the left side of the road near mile marker 16.5, just before you reach the town.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, navigation, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: December – April
  • USGS topo map:  “Tubb Canyon”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here; video about the hike here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Maidenhair Falls trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Maidenhair Falls trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This trip is similar to the popular Borrego Palm Canyon trail nearby, but longer and more difficult.  Challenges include negotiating some tough terrain, navigation and avoiding cholla and cat claw cacti that closely border the trail.

0:20 - Words of wisdom (times are approximate)

0:20 – Words of wisdom (times are approximate)

The hike starts easily enough as you gradually make your way up a wash.  You cross the California Hiking & Raiding Trail after a quarter mile and continue toward Hellhole Canyon.  There are a few false trails and washes that branch off but the main route is pretty clear.

At about a mile and a quarter you enter the canyon and soon cross the wash for the first of several times.  You make your way deeper into the canyon, occasionally scrambling over a jumble of boulders.  From here on in, your exact route may vary somewhat as you head generally west.  In addition to the first grove of wild palms (2.1 miles) and the cacti, you’ll also start noticing sycamore trees and ferns in this moist area of the canyon.

0:40 - Crossing the wash for the first of several times

0:40 – Crossing the wash

You stay on the north side of the canyon with the palms on your left, work your way over more rocks and around fallen trees.  A slanted rock at the end of the first grove requires some scrambling, though nothing too difficult.

1:00 - Rock scrambling at the end of the first palm grove

1:00 – Rock scrambling at the end of the first palm grove

Working your way farther into Hellhole Canyon, you reach the second grove.  Here, you dip down into the grove, crossing the canyon floor and emerging on the rocky south wall. (You may notice a trickle coming from your right; this is a smaller waterfall but it’s not Maidenhair Falls.)

1:15 - Climbing out of the canyon after the second grove of palms

1:15 – Climbing out of the canyon after the second grove of palms

You climb over a jumble of rocks (keep an eye out for a “window” at the bottom of the pile) and make your way to the third grove.  Duck back into the canyon, slip around a large rock and enter a small grotto where seasonal Maidenhair Falls trickles down a 20 foot wall into a small pool.  Even if the flow is just a trickle, it’s still a pleasant spot to enjoy some quiet and solitude.  The lush, cool alcove is all the more remarkable for being located in the middle of a desert.

1:25 - Fallen palms in the third grove before Maidenhair Falls

1:25 – Fallen palms in the third grove before Maidenhair Falls

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.

1:30 - You made it!

1:30 – You made it!

Sierra Pelona Loop

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Baldy and the San Gabriels from Sierra Pelona

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Sierra Pelona

Rolling hills below Sierra Pelona

Rolling hills below Sierra Pelona

Sierra Pelona Loop

  • Location: Sierra Pelona Mountains west of Palmdale and north of Santa Clarita.  From L.A. take the 14 Freeway to the Red Rover Mine exit.  Merge onto Ward Road, go 0.3 miles and continue onto Sierra Highway.  Go a mile and bear right on Shannondale Road.  Go 0.7 miles and turn right on Shannon Valley Road.  Go 0.8 miles and turn left on Via Famero.  Go 0.1 miles and turn right on Shannon View Road, a narrow single-lane that climbs up the side of the mountain (be careful).  Along the way it becomes Telephone Road.  After a total of 2.6 miles, just past a run-down metal gate, you reach a junction with the Sierra Peloma West Mountainway.  Park in a small dirt turnout at the junction.
  • Agency: Ritter Ranch Park
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Sleepy Valley; Ritter Ridge
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

The Sierra Pelona Mountains lie between the Santa Clarita Valley and Antelope Valley.  If the weather is clear, views of both are great and you can also see the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Susanas and a little bit of the Tehachapis.  This loop–entirely fire roads and paved roads–tours Ritter Ranch, a large park under the jurisdiction of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.  There is no shade but depending on the time of day, the sun may be blocked by the hills.  Since the loop reaches a mile above sea level, it can be cold (and windy) during the winter so plan accordingly.

0:00 - Start of the hike on the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The loop can be hiked in either direction but this post will describe the counter-clockwise direction, allowing a scenic ascent through a canyon (as opposed to an exposed climb on a fire road). Though the loop never gets too far away from civilization–notably due to its proximity to the 14 Freeway and the high presence of power lines and communications towers–it often feels pleasantly rugged and isolated.

0:46 - Bear left at the junction (times are approximate)

0:46 – Bear left at the junction (times are approximate)

From the junction of Telephone Road and the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway, head right and start a long, crooked descent along the eastern side of the ridge. On the way down you are treated to wide-ranging views of the Antelope Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains. Ignoring several short spurs that branch off (when in doubt, keep descending), you arrive at a junction at 2 miles. Bear left and continue to a 5-way junction where you will follow the second fork from the left, resuming the descent.  The trail makes a few switchbacks as it drops into a shallow canyon, reaching a T-junction 3 miles from the start.

0:54 - Left turn at the 5-way junction

0:54 – Left turn at the 5-way junction

Turn right and begin a gradual descent down the canyon. Unlike the higher terrain, the canyon is pleasantly wooded, with a grove of juniper trees on the left side. The trail heads north and then west, entering a wide pasture with a nice view of the rounded hills ahead.

1:17 - Turn right and follow the trail down the canyon

1:17 – Turn right and follow the trail down the canyon

At about 3.8 miles, you begin a long, steady ascent, first heading southwest into a canyon and then making a twisting ascent along the north side of the ridge. At 5.4 miles, stay left as you join the Ana Verde Motorway.

Continuing your ascent, you arrive at a saddle after about 1,200 feet of climbing (6.7 miles from the start). Here you are rewarded for your efforts with nice views to the west. When you’re ready to continue, turn left on the Ana Verde Motorway. Stay left again at the next junction and resume your ascent, following a portion of the shorter Ritter Ranch Loop.

2:15 - Stay left at the junction with the Ana Verde Motorway

2:15 – Stay left at the junction with the Ana Verde Motorway

Your long ascent finally ascends at 8.3 miles as you reach the top of Sierra Pelona. There’s not much of a summit, per se, but at the top of the ridge you get excellent views in both directions. The next mile or so is more or less level as you pass some communication towers before making a final descent back to the parking area.

3:00 - View from the saddle (turn left)

3:00 – View from the saddle (turn left)

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.

4:00 - Antennas near the top of Sierra Pelona

4:00 – Antennas near the top of Sierra Pelona

Forster Ridgeline Trail (San Clemente)

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Looking west from the Forster Ridgeline Trail

Looking west from the Forster Ridgeline Trail

Ocean view from south of the Rock Garden, Forster Ridgeline Trail

Ocean view from south of the Rock Garden, Forster Ridgeline Trail

Forster Ridgeline Trail (San Clemente)

    • Location: San Clemente.  From I-5 take the Camino Estrella.  Head northeast (left if you’re coming from the north; right if from the south) and go a total of 2.5 miles (Camino Estrella becomes Camino De Los Mares).  Parking is available on Camino De Los Mares just past the intersection with Diamante.
    • Agency: City of San Clemente; City of San Juan Capistrano
    • Distance: 7.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season: October – June
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • USGS topo map:  San Clemente
    • More information: San Clemente information page here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here; trail map here
    • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead at the north end of Camino De Los Mares (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead at the north end of Camino De Los Mares (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike is basically a longer and more challenging version of the nearby Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail.  There isn’t a whole lot of scenic variety but you do get some nice views of the ocean, the hills of south Orange County and if the weather is good, the San Gabriels and Catalina Island.  It’s basically an urban hike; the sights and sounds of civilization are with you throughout, but it provides a very good workout that’s conveniently located to south O.C.

0:06 - Sharp right on the connector trail toward Forster Ridgeline (times are approximate)

0:06 – Sharp right on the connector trail toward Forster Ridgeline (times are approximate)

From the north end of Camino De Los Mares, pass through the gate and begin hiking on the Los Mares Trail (part of the San Juan Capistrano trail system.) At 0.2 miles, make a sharp right on a trail that will bring you to the Forester Ridgeline Trail. It dips down into a grove of eucalyptus trees, passes a treatment facility and rises to a bend where you get a nice view of the ocean to the south.

0:48 - Ocean view from the power lines (take a hard right to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail)

0:48 – Ocean view from the power lines (take a hard right to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail)

From here, the trail begins its first major ascent, steadily climbing over 400 feet. At 1.9 miles you reach a clearing beneath power lines where the Talega Trail branches off to the left. Take a hard right to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail, which descends, now heading south.

1:18 - Ocean view from the "Rock Garden" (turn left and head south to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail)

1:18 – Ocean view from the “Rock Garden” (turn left and head south to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail)

At 2.4 miles, you pass a spur on the right leading to Camino Del Rio. Soon after the trail splits; the steep right fork leads to a vista point while the left fork loops around the side of the hill. The trails soon rejoin.

At 2.9 miles you reach another split. Head left (the right fork leads to an alternative trailhead on Costero Risco.) You climb a place known as the Rock Garden (3.1 miles) where fossilized rocks are inscribed with inspirational quotes from the likes of William Wordsworth and Marie Curie and a short spur leads to a scenic vista point. You can enjoy a 360-degree panorama which is probably the most scenic point on the hike and a good turnaround point if you are short on time.

1:30 - Geographical trivia on the southern end of the Forster Ridgeline Trail

1:30 – Geographical trivia on the southern end of the Forster Ridgeline Trail

If you want to continue, take the left fork at the junction and continue south, descending about 300 feet over the next 0.6 miles to Avenue Vista Hermosa, the turnaround point. This last stretch has some good near bird’s eye-views of the surrounding residential areas.

1:40 - Turnaround point, Vista Hermosa

1:40 – Turnaround point, Vista Hermosa

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.

Holcomb Canyon Loop (Devil’s Punchbowl)

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Geology in the Devil's Punchbowl

Geology in the Devil’s Punchbowl

Geology and foliage, Holcomb Canyon

Geology and foliage, Holcomb Canyon

Holcomb Canyon Loop (Devil’s Punchbowl)

  • Location: High desert near Pearblossom.  From Pearblossom, take highway 138 east to Longview Road.  Go right and after 2.5 miles, go left on Fort Tejon.  Drive 2.1 miles to Valyermo Road and turn right (south).  Go 2.9 miles and make a right on Big Rock Creek Road.  Drive 0.7 miles (0.2 miles past the Angeles National Forest sign) and park in either of two dirt turnouts on opposite sides of the road.  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 Clara & Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, navigation, trail condition)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Valyermo”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information:  Photos of Holcomb Canyon and other area trails here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - View of Big Rock Creek from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of Big Rock Creek from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is truly a hiker’s hike: in addition to the unique geology of the Devil’s Punchbowl, it features canyon scrambling, mountain views and a wide variety of plant life, including manzanitas, yuccas, cacti, pines, sycamores and oaks.  Fall colors here can be exceptional.   As far as off-trail hikes go, this one isn’t too difficult, but there are some definite challenges of terrain and navigation for which all hikers should be prepared.  If you have never done an off-trail hike, go with someone who has.

0:08 - Descent to Big Rock Creek (times are approximate)

0:08 – Descent to Big Rock Creek (times are approximate)

The loop begins easily enough, by walking 0.3 miles south on Big Rock Creek Road. After reaching another parking area, look for several use trails leading down to Big Rock Creek, which you cross on one of multiple makeshift jetties of rocks. On the other side, turn left and continue heading south along a semblance of a trail, through the woods, and reach the rocky wash of Holcomb Canyon.

0:20 - Heading up Holcomb Canyon

0:20 – Heading up Holcomb Canyon

Bear right and begin heading south, following the rocky stream bed. At 1.1 miles from the start, stay right as a tributary canyon comes in from the left. (Generally speaking, Holcomb is rocky, while the numerous smaller tributaries aren’t.) You pass by a giant tower of volcanic rock, part of the Punchbowl Formation. The canyon pinches in tightly, requiring some scrambling, before opening up.

0:45 - Giant sandstone outcrop; pass beneath it deeper into Holcomb Canyon

0:45 – Giant sandstone outcrop; pass beneath it deeper into Holcomb Canyon

You continue south, reaching a sharp right turn at 1.4 miles where the canyon enters a pleasantly wooded area. At 1.8 miles, you reach a junction with a tributary. Here you can continue up the main canyon or take the tributary to the Punchbowl Trail. Turn right and head west, passing through a grove of oaks and a canyon wash before climbing 250 feet to a saddle (2.1 miles.)

1:05 - Hooking up with the South Fork Trail (turn right/west)

1:05 – Hooking up with the South Fork Trail (turn right/west)

At the saddle, you get a great view of the Punchbowl and the high desert beyond. This spot represents a sort of point of no return; the most challenging terrain of the hike is on the descent into the unnamed canyon that neighbors Holcomb. If you’re not up for an adventure, consider turning around at this point.

For those with off-trail and canyoning experience who want to complete the hike as a loop, look for a faint, overgrown trail heading steeply downhill.  Hiking poles may be helpful, although some hikers may find them cumbersome in the close quarters of the ravine.  Follow the slope into the canyon, where your progress will be blocked by a large boulder. Slip to the left of the boulder, passing by a large oak. A smaller tributary canyon comes in at this point. Continue heading northwest, down the main canyon.

1:15 - Beginning the steep descent from the saddle, past the bushes

1:15 – Beginning the steep descent from the saddle, past the bushes

For the next half mile or so the going is fairly easy; other than the occasional fallen tree or pile of rocks to negotiate, it’s basically like a single-track trail. However, at 2.8 miles, you’ll reach the most challenging obstacle of the entire hike as you arrive at the edge of a 20-foot precipice. Hikers without much in the way of technical climbing skills or gear (such as the author) will need to crab-walk along the right (east) side of the canyon, along a rock that slopes downward.  (If you are using hiking poles and find that they’re in the way, throw them down to the bottom.)   You’ll reach a gap in the rocks where you can grab a hold on the other side and lower yourself back down to the floor of the canyon.

1:25 - Slip around the left side of the rock into the confluence of the two canyons

1:25 – Slip around the left side of the rock into the confluence of the  canyons

Leaving the cliff behind you continue north for 0.6 miles before arriving at a smaller cliff. Here, you can work your way around the right side more easily than before, dropping back into the canyon and continuing your descent.

1:40 - View of the cliff from below: Climb along the rock ledge, grab the large rock in the foreground and hope for the best

1:40 – View of the cliff from below: Climb along the rock ledge, grab the large rock in the foreground and hope for the best

At 3.9 miles, you join Punchbowl Canyon. Bear right and follow the canyon for 0.2 miles, where you will see a rock with graffiti. (There’s sadly a lot of trash and graffiti in the lower areas of this hike, but in some cases, such as this one, it can help with navigation.) A trail has been pounded out by hikers; follow it out of the canyon to Big Rock Creek. Your last task is to re-cross the creek (as before, look for the rock jetties). This brings you back to Big Rock Creek Road and your car.

2:15 - Smaller cliff; scoot along the ledge seen on the right and descend back into the canyon

2:15 – Smaller cliff; scoot along the ledge seen on the right and descend back into the canyon

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.

2:50 - Easiest location to climb out of Punchbowl Canyon, heading back to Big Rock Creek and the road

2:50 – Easiest location to climb out of Punchbowl Canyon, heading back to Big Rock Creek and the road

San Pasqual Hiking Trails (South)

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Looking west from near the top of the eastern fork

Looking west from near the top of the eastern fork

View of Highway 78 from near the top of the western fork

View of Highway 78 from near the top of the western fork

San Pasqual Hiking Trails (South)

  • Location: East of Escondido.  From I-15, take the 78 Freeway east for 1.5 miles, where it becomes Lincoln Parkway, then Lincoln Avenue.  At 0.8 miles from the end of the freeway, turn right on Ash St.  After a mile, Ash St. becomes Highway 78.  Continue for 10.2 more miles (5.3 miles past the Wild Animal Park entrance.)  The parking area and trailhead are on the right.
  • Agency: San Dieguito River Park
  • Distance: 6.2 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: San Pasqual
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information:  here; trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Known also as South Clevenger Canyon, this Y-shape hike climbs from Highway 78 up a steep hillside, providing a good workout and panoramic views of the area.  The southern half of the San Pasqual/Clevenger Canyon trail network has two main routes, both of which are worth exploring given the time and energy.  The directions and time figures for this post assume that you will be taking the shorter western fork first, although it’s arbitrary.

0:00 - South trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – South trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the parking area on Highway 78, follow the signs to the Clevenger Canyon trailhead and begin a steady ascent, taking care to avoid the switchbacks that have been cut off. After a little more than half a mile, you reach the split between the two trails. The right fork continues its steady ascent, taking in a nice aerial perspective of the highway and the San Pasqual Valley. A few spots can be muddy or slippery after rain, and the trail cuts close to the edge of the hillside, so exercise caution.

0:14 - Junction of the two main forks of the South San Pasqual Trails (times are approximate)

0:14 – Junction of the two main forks of the South San Pasqual Trails (times are approximate)

After making a few switchbacks, you reach the first of two vista points, about 1.4 miles from the trailhead (and almost 900 feet higher). Here you get a great view to the west and north, including the ocean if you’re lucky. The trail continues to another slightly higher vista point, although this last segment is somewhat overgrown and rocky. A sign clearly marks the end of the trail.

0:37 - View from the first overlook on the west trail

0:37 – View from the first overlook on the west trail

Heading back down to the junction, turn right on the eastern trail. You enter an attractive woodland (a tributary of Santa Ysabel Creek) which unfortunately is the only shade on the hike. Climbing up from the creek, you make your way southeast, reaching a sharp left turn (about 3.2 miles from the start.) You follow the top of a ridge, passing by a dome-like boulder on the left side of the trail. The trail dips slightly, reaching a junction where you will stay left and head toward a pointy knoll.

0:42 - View from the second overlook on the west trail

0:42 – View from the second overlook on the west trail

At 4 miles from the start, you reach another junction; this is the beginning of a small loop around the tip of the knoll, the turnaround point, where you get some nice views to the east, with the Cuyamaca Mountains and Volcan distant, and toward Boden Canyon in the north. You can sit among the jumbled boulders and enjoy the panorama before heading back down.

1:10 - Oaks in a tributary canyon on the eastern trail

1:10 – Oaks in a tributary canyon on the eastern trail

In case you were wondering, the San Pasqual Valley was the site of an 1846 Mexican-American War battle. Farther west on Highway 78, the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park commemorates the event.  You can also explore the trails on the north side of the highway (half a mile east of the south trailhead), although they are not as well maintained as these ones.

1:35 - Following the ridge on the eastern trail (turn left at the junction)

1:35 – Following the ridge on the eastern trail (turn left at the junction)

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.

1:50 - Looking east from the end of the eastern trail

1:50 – Looking east from the end of the eastern trail

Chaparrosa Peak (Pioneertown Mountains Preserve/Pipes Canyon)

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Burnt Pinyon Pine on the trail to Chaparossa Peak

Burnt Pinyon Pine on the trail to Chaparossa Peak

High desert geology on the way to Chaparrosa Peak

High desert geology on the way to Chaparrosa Peak

Chaparrosa Peak (Pioneertown Mountains Preserve/Pipes Canyon)

  • Location: High desert near Yucca Valley.  From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 20 miles.  Turn left on Pioneertown Road and go northwest for 7.5 miles.  At a four-way intersection, take a left on dirt Pipes Canyon Road and drive 0.7 miles to the park entrance.  Bear right and drive an additional 0.2 miles into the parking area.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy/Pioneertown Mountains Preserve
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, terrain, navigation)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – May; trail open 8am – 5pm
  • USGS topo map: “Rim Rock”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information:  Trip description here; Everytrail report here; photos and maps from the loop version of the hike (currently inaccessible) here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Beginning of the hike, leaving the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike, leaving the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

It may be a long drive from L.A., but Chaparrosa Peak is well worth the trip.  It offers a hiking experience similar to that of Joshua Tree National Park, nearby Warren Peak in particular.  Highlights include mountain views, jumbled rock formations and great panoramas of the high desert.  The hike isn’t too difficult but navigation and terrain are tricky, so novice hikers might not want to do this one alone.  The trail is also almost completely exposed and the area is susceptible to high winds.

0:04 - Beginning of the Chaparrosa Trail (times are approximate)

0:04 – Beginning of the Chaparrosa Trail (times are approximate)

It used to be possible to climb Chaparossa Peak as a loop hike, but as of this writing the Indian Loop trail is closed for repairs, so your only option is a 5.6-mile out and back (park literature has the distance at 6.6 miles, but Everytrail measured it as 5.6)

After signing in at the ranger station, head uphill on a dirt road leading from the parking area. After a short distance you come to a staging area where you will see a sign for the Chaparrosa Peak Trail. The single-track dips in and out of a canyon before climbing to join a dirt road (about 0.5 miles.) You ascend steadily, enjoying nice views of the Sawtooth Mountains and Pioneertown to the south, passing two gates (0.7 and 0.9 miles respectively). To navigate around the second gate, climb uphill briefly to the end of the fence before continuing on the road.

0:39 - Turn right on the single-track

0:39 – Turn right on the single-track

At 1.3 miles, head right and uphill on a trail leading away from the dirt road (GPS N34 09.632, W116 33.034). You begin a challenging ascent over loose terrain. The trail isn’t always clear; keep an eye out for the ducks. After gaining 200 feet in less than a quarter mile, the trail levels out and you’re rewarded for your efforts with some great views of the desert to the north. The trail descends briefly and climbs again to a junction (2.1 miles, GPS N34 39.331, W116 33.627). Head left on a spur signed for Chaparrosa Peak.

1:15 - Trail ducks on the cutoff trail to Chaparossa Peak; turn right and follow the ridge to the summit

1:15 – Trail ducks on the cutoff trail to Chaparossa Peak; turn right and follow the ridge to the summit

The trail becomes tougher to follow as it works its way through a wash, heading south to a ridge where it makes a sharp right turn (2.5 miles).  You begin the final steep ascent to the summit, passing by a large rock that resembles an oven mitt.  Finally you reach the peak (elevation 5,541; GPS N34 38.990, W116 33.845), where you can enjoy a 360-degree panorama, including San Jacinto, the eastern end of the San Bernardino range and the Mojave Desert to the north.

1:22 - "Cookies are done!"

1:22 – “Cookies are done!”

If you enjoyed this hike, be sure to check out some of the other open spaces overseen by the Wildlands Conservancy, such as the nearby Whitewater Canyon Preserve and Oak Glen Preserve.

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.

1:30 - San Jacinto above the clouds, looking southwest from Chaparossa Peak

1:30 – San Jacinto above the clouds, looking southwest from Chaparossa Peak

Wiashal & Cole Canyon Trails (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)

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View from the upper end of the Wiashal Trail

View from the upper end of the Wiashal Trail

Oak woodland below the Wiashal Trail, Cole Canyon

Oak woodland below the Wiashal Trail, Cole Canyon

Wiashal & Cole Canyon Trails (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)

  • Location: Murrieta.  From I-15, take the Clinton Keith exit and head southwest (turn left if you’re coming from the south, right if you’re coming from the north) and go 1.7 miles to Calle del Oso Oro.  Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Clear Creek St.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to miles to Placer Creek St. Turn left and go 0.1 miles to the end of the street and turn right on Single Oak Way.  Park at the end of Single Oak Way.  The trail begins on the north side of the street.
  • Agency:  Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG-13 (Steepness, terrain, elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Wildomar”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Every trail report here; hike description here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead on Single Oak Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Single Oak Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Murrieta’s Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is best known for its rolling hills, oak woodlands, historic adobes and (in the spring) the vernal pools, but the Wiashal Trail showcases the park’s wilder side.  With steep ascents and descents over frequently rugged terrain, this hike is considerably more challenging than most of the other routes in the reserve.  It loses some points due to the unfortunate amounts of trash and graffiti in the lower areas of the trail, and due to a somewhat monotonous upper end and anticlimactic finish at Clinton Keith Road, but the trail is still a great workout with a lot of scenic variety; a must do if you live in the area and a worthwhile place to drive to from Orange County or San Diego. The hike is popular as a point-to-point with a fairly easy to set up car shuttle. Mountain bikers and equestrians are also common on this trail.

0:08 - Indian motreros (times are approximate)

0:08 – Indian motreros by the trail (times are approximate)

There are several informal trails in this area that lead to the beginning of the Cole Canyon Trail and later the Wiashal Trail, but the route described here is scenic and direct, fairly easy to follow. From the end of Single Oak, follow a gravel trail briefly north before taking a hairpin turn to the left, heading south. The trail splits (both paths rejoin, but the left route descends more gently. Stay right at two junctions and enter a pleasant oak woodland, about half a mile from the start. Keep an eye out for a rock with two “motreros” (small round holes) carved inside, on the left side of the trail.

0:30 - Sign for Cole Canyon; trail heads left and uphill

0:30 – Sign for Cole Canyon; trail heads left and uphill

After leaving the clearing, the trail starts a short but steep ascent and begins heading north. You drop into another canyon (1 mile) and arrive at a junction where you will bear left, passing by a sign indicating Cole Canyon. Now the work begins: 700 feet of elevation gain in the next mile. After passing a sign and fence indicating the beginning of the Wiashal Trail (1.3 miles), the grade mellows a little bit. The views of the Murrieta area–extending to the San Jacinto range on clear days–are better and better as you climb higher.

0:37 - Start of the Wiashal Trail

0:37 – Start of the Wiashal Trail

At 1.9 miles, you reach a T-junction where you get a nice aerial view of Clinton Keith Road where you will turn left. The trail ascends sharply, reaching a short spur that leads to an overlook (2.3 miles.) The overlook is a good destination for those who want a shorter hike; at this point, you have achieved most of the workout and experienced the best scenery of the trip.

0:55 - View of Clinton Keith Road from the T-junction (turn left)

0:55 – View of Clinton Keith Road from the T-junction (turn left)

However if you want to continue to the end of the Wishal Trail, head downhill, watching your footing on the loose terrain (hiking poles will be helpful). As you descend, you get some nice views of the main area of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. The remaining mile-plus of the Wiashal Trail makes a couple of moderate ascents and descents before reaching its end, a parking area at Clinton Keith Road (and an alternate starting point).

1:50 - End of the Wiashal Trail at Clinton Keith Road

1:50 – End of the Wiashal Trail at Clinton Keith Road

In case you were wondering, the trail’s name is pronounced “WEE-uh-shawl.”

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.

Reino Road to Twin Ponds (Dos Vientos Open Space)

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Boney Mountain from Dos Vientos Open Space

Fall colors in the Dos Vientos Open Space

Reino Road to Twin Ponds (Dos Vientos Open Space)

        • Location: Southwest of Thousand Oaks.  From L.A., take Highway 101 to the Borchard Road exit.  Turn right and go 1.8 miles to Reino Road.  Turn left and go 0.9 miles, looking for a parking area on the right (just past Dunaway Drive; if you hit Lynn Road, you’re about 0.2 miles too far.)  From Ventura, take Highway 101 to the Wendy Drive exit.  Turn left on Wendy and go 0.8 miles to Borchard.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to South Reino.  Turn left and go about a mile to the parking area.
        • Agency: Conejo Open Space Foundation
        • Distance: 8 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
        • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
        • Best season:  October – May; parking lot open daily until 4pm
        • USGS topo map: Thousand Oaks
        • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
        • More information:  Here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trail head from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This hike explores the western end of the land overseen by the Conejo Open Space Foundation.  Stringing several trails together, the route threads its way in between and around residential neighborhoods.  The rating of “6″ may be raised in the future; as of this writing, the hiking experience this trail provides suffers from the noise of housing construction and the latter part of the route is recovering from the recent Springs Fire.  If there have been recent rains, the twin ponds make a nice destination; if the weather has been hot and dry, they might seem anti-climatic after a four mile hike. All that being said, however, this trail offers a good workout with some great views of the northwestern Santa Monica Mountains and the Thousand Oaks area; on clear days, you can see the ocean.

0:25 - Bench with a iew of the Santa Monicas (times are approximate)

0:24 – Bench with a iew of the Santa Monicas (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Potrero Ridge Trail as it ascends a series of switchbacks. (Don’t get too excited about the large oak trees at the bottom of the hill; there is hardly any shade on the hike.) Stay straight as trails branch off to the right. You curve around the side of the hill, heading briefly south, arriving at a bench where you can enjoy a nice view of the Satwiwa/Point Mugu area. You continue to a split; the two trails soon rejoin (the right fork is a little steeper, so if you want to conserve energy, head left, slightly downhill.)

0:31 - Crossing Las Brisas

0:31 – Crossing Las Brisas

Shortly after the trails rejoin, you reach the first of two street crossings: Via Las Brisas (1.2 miles.) There is no crosswalk or traffic signal, but traffic is likely to be light. On the opposite side, continue your hike on the Sierra Vista Trail. You soon arrive at a pair of junctions, where you will head left and then right.

0:35 - Left turn at the first junction past Las Brisas

0:35 – Left turn at the first junction past Las Brisas

At about 1.7 miles, you reach a paved service road. Bear left and follow it a few yards, looking for the continuation of the trail on the left side. You continue to follow the trail which drops down to meet Rancho Dos Vientos Drive, just south of the entrance to a gated community.

0:36 - Right turn almost immediately after

0:36 – Right turn almost immediately after

Crossing Rancho Dos Vientos (again, no stop light or crosswalk but traffic should be sparse), look for the Vista Del Mar Trail. Briefly head right and cross back through a metal fence. The beginning of the Vista Del Mar Trail is less than auspicious, passing through what looks like a vacant lot, but the trail continues west, leaving the road behind.

0:47 - Trail leaving the service road

0:47 – Trail leaving the service road

The trail leads around the back of a housing development. At 3.5 miles, another bench provides great views toward the west, past the end of Point Mugu State Park and toward the coastal plains of Ventura and Oxnard. Continuing along toward Twin Ponds, you pass through an area heavily burned in the Springs Fire, resembling Serrano Canyon and the homestead site nearby in Point Mugu State Park. A few trails branch off to the right; you can take any one of these and end up at the ponds, but the quickest and easiest way is to stay on the main trail.

1:00 - Beginning of the Vista Del Mar trail

1:00 – Beginning of the Vista Del Mar trail

At 3.8 miles you reach a T-junction. Turn right (left is likely to be gated) and head downhill, arriving at the ponds. It used to be possible to walk out onto a bridge to get a better look at the ponds, but the structure was damaged in the fire and is unsafe. Walking up the hill a little ways past the bridge provides nice views of the larger pond.

1:24 -Western view from the bench

1:24 -Western view from the bench

From here, you can either turn around and retrace your steps, or if you have time, you can continue, eventually looping back toward the Dos Vientos Open Space, creating a loop hike. You can visit the COSF’s Dos Vientos page here to get some ideas for variations on the route.

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.

1:45 - Upper pond, turnaround point

1:45 – Upper pond, turnaround point


Deep Creek Hot Springs/West Approach

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Upper pool, Deep Creek Hot Springs

Upper pool, Deep Creek Hot Springs

View from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Deep Creek

View from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Deep Creek

Deep Creek Hot Springs/West Approach

      • Location:  Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Silverwood Lake and south of Hesperia.   From I-15, take the Main St. exit and head east for a total of 12 miles.  Main St. becomes Arrowhead Lake Road.  At 12 miles, turn left on an unsigned spur, Saddle Dike Embankment on some maps.  (If you reach Highway 173 you’ve come too far.)  Park on the spur before the metal gate.  From the north, take I-15 to Highway 18.  Turn right and go a mile to Hesperia Road.  Turn right and go 4.7 miles to Bear Valley Road.  Turn left and go 1.3 miles to Peach Ave.  Turn right and go 4 miles to Main St.  Turn left (Main St. becomes Arrowhead Lake Road in half a mile) and go 5.2 miles to the unsigned Saddle Dike Embankment spur on the left.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 12.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
      • Suggested time: 6 hours
      • Best season: October – May
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear:  sun hat;  sunblock
      • More information: Trip reports here and here (starting from a slightly different point) Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead off of Lake Arrowhead Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead off of Lake Arrowhead Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

If you want to see Deep Creek’s famous hot springs but don’t want to deal with the fees or dirt roads required to access them from Bowen Ranch or the steep descent and descent on the Bradford Ridge Path, this approach from the west is worth a look.  It’s the longest of the routes to the hot springs, but the grade is moderate and the trail offers nice views of Deep Creek, the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains.  There’s an unfortunate amount of trash and graffiti, and hikers should be reminded that Deep Creek Hot Springs is popular with nudists. There are a few pockets of woodland on the trail but for the most part the route is exposed.

0:25 - Interpretive plaques on the Pacific Crest Trail (times are approximate)

0:25 – Interpretive plaques on the Pacific Crest Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, walk around or through the gate. The first mile-plus is on a paved walkway and a dam that crosses Deep Creek. At the far side of the dam, head right and descend to a dirt lot where you meet the Pacific Crest Trail. Interpretive plaques describe some of the wildlife in the area, such as the rare Western Arroyo Toad.

0:31 - Hard right at the top of the sitchbacks, heading east on the Pacific Crest Trail (ignore the fire breaks)

0:31 – Hard right at the top of the switchbacks on the PCT

Follow the P.C.T. as it ascends 200 feet in 0.3 miles. A few switchbacks have been cut and some fire breaks run down the hill, but you can follow the P.C.T. by keeping an eye out for its characteristic rounded triangle markers. At the top of the ridge, make a hairpin right turn and begin heading east to Deep Creek.

The trail is more or less level for the next 2.5 miles as it follows the north rim of the canyon carved by the creek.  It cuts pretty close to the edge of the cliff, but except for one or two tricky spots, the terrain is easy to negotiate, and in several places a rock wall separates hikers from the drop.

1:45 - The footbridge crossing Deep Creek

1:45 – The footbridge crossing Deep Creek

At 4.1 miles from the start, you reach a bridge that crosses the creek. On the south side, you make a few switchbacks and start ascending at a steadier pace. At 5 miles, you enter a pleasant grove of trees, but be careful of poison oak. This is the confluence of Kinley Creek and Deep Creek.

2:10 - Shade at the confluence of Kinley Creek and Deep Creek

2:10 – Shade at the confluence of Kinley Creek and Deep Creek

Leaving the wooded area, you climb to a high point at 5.8 miles. The P.C.T. rounds a bend and starts its descent. On the opposite side of Deep Creek, you may notice the route from Bowen Ranch descending the hillside. You drop about 250 feet, passing by the intersection with the Bradford Ridge Path, and at 6.3 miles, you reach the hot springs. You can soak your feet in the warm waters before making the long trip back.

2:30 - Top of the ridge; follow the P.C.T. to the left and downhill

2:30 – Top of the ridge; follow the P.C.T. to the left and downhill

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.

3:00 - Lower pool, Deep Creek Hot Springs

3:00 – Lower pool, Deep Creek Hot Springs

Bommer Canyon/Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Loop

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Sandstone cave in upper Bommer Canyon

Sandstone cave in upper Bommer Canyon

Sycamores in upper Laurel Canyon

Sycamores in upper Laurel Canyon

Bommer Canyon/Laguna Coast Wilderness Loop

  • Location: 6400 Shady Canyon Drive, Irvine.  From I-405, take the Culver Drive exit, go south (right if you’re coming from the north, left if from the south) for 2.6 miles and turn left on Shady Canyon Drive.  Go 1.6 miles and turn into the lot.  As mentioned below, this hike is available only by (free) online registration on days specified by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.  When you arrive at the park, you will be met by volunteers who will check your name off the list and direct you to the parking area, about a mile down the main road of the park.
  • Agency: Irvine Ranch Conservancy/Orange County Parks/Crystal Cove State Park
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, steepness, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  October – May; availability of days and times determined by Irvine Ranch Conservancy
  • USGS topo map: Tustin; Laguna Beach
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Description of upcoming hike on 11/21/13 here; Bommer Canyon trail map here; Laguna Coast Wilderness trail map here; Bommer Canyon description here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head in the Cattle Ranch section of Bommer Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head in the Cattle Ranch section of Bommer Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This 7-mile loop is one of several guided hikes provided by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (also known as www.letsgooutside.org.)   When it is offered, it’s usually listed on the site as a “Morning Nature Hike”, often scheduled between 9am and noon.  The loop described here can also be done during a scheduled Wilderness Access Day at Bommer Canyon (usually one Saturday per month.)  Check the website for scheduling information.   Only a third of the route is on private land managed by Irvine Ranch, but that stretch allows you to make a scenic loop, using the former cattle ranch area of Bommer Canyon for your beginning and ending.

0:01 - Historical marker (times are approximate)

0:01 – Historical marker (times are approximate)

If you hike as part of a scheduled event, the trip will be led by two trained volunteers, so navigation will not be an issue. Even if you hike on your own, the route is fairly easy to follow. You can vary it by exploring more of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Crystal Cove State Park or Bommer Canyon.

0:29 - View from below Coastal Peak park, just before crossing under the 73 Toll Road

0:29 – View from below Coastal Peak park, just before crossing under the 73 Toll Road

From the parking lot, head past a shaded picnic area, adorned with several historical artifacts and an interpretive plaque paying tribute to the land’s ranching days.  You follow the trail into the canyon where you’ll turn left at the junction.  The West Fork Trail is the biggest ascent of the hike, as you climb 550 feet during the first mile, but you are rewarded with nice views of central Orange County, extending to the Santa Anas and even the San Gabriels on clear days. After crossing under the toll road, you arrive at Coastal Peak Park in Newport Coast. You continue on the dirt Bommer Ridge Road, enjoying nice ocean views to the right, passing by several trails leading into Crystal Cove’s back country.

1:15 - Hard left at the four-way junction

1:15 – Hard left at the four-way junction

At about 3 miles, you reach a four-way junction in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, part of the popular Laurel Canyon Loop. Make a hard left and begin a steep descent into Laurel Canyon, enjoying some shade from oaks and sycamores. Make another left at the next junction and head into the pleasant upper reaches of Laurel Canyon, in and out of a meadow, and cross under the 73 Toll Road a second time.

1:25 - Turn left at the next junction and head into Upper Laurel Canyon

1:25 – Turn left at the next junction and head into Upper Laurel Canyon

Another ascent brings you to a junction (4.7 miles) where you will make a hairpin left turn and re-enter Bommer Canyon though Hogsback Gate. You are now back on private land. The climb continues, taking in some great views of south Orange County. Keep an eye out for a large sandstone boulder with a cave carved through it.

1:45 - Hogsback Gate,re-entrance to private land

1:45 – Hogsback Gate,re-entrance to private land

At 5.3 miles, you reach a T-junction. Turn right and begin your descent back into the park on the winding Ridge Route.  With panoramic views of the Orange County coastal plain, this is one of the most scenic parts of the hike.   The trail drops gradually at first, then more steeply, finally arriving back at the parking area.  After passing through the gate, turn left and return to your car.

2:30 - View from the descent on the Ridge Route

2:30 – View from the descent on the Ridge Route

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.

2:55 - Back at the parking lot

2:55 – Back at the parking lot

Cozy Dell Trail (Ojai)

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Looking west from the saddle on the Cozy Dell Trail

Looking west from the saddle on the Cozy Dell Trail

Oaks on the Cozy Dell Trail

Oaks on the Cozy Dell Trail

Cozy Dell Trail (Ojai)

    • Location: North of Ojai.  From Highway 101, take Highway 33 north for 11.2 miles.  Turn left on Baldwin Road and make a quick right on S. La Luna Avenue.  Go 2 miles to rejoin Highway 33 and turn left.  Go 1.8 miles and park in a dirt lot on the left side of the road just before the sign for the Cozy Dell Trail.  From the Santa Barbara area, take Highway 101 south to Highway 150.  Head northeast on Highway 150 for 16.3 miles and turn left on Rice Road.  Go 2 miles and turn right on Fairview.  Go 0.3 miles to Highway 33, turn left and follow the directions above.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Ojai Ranger District
    • Distance: 3.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,150 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, terrain)
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  October – June
    • USGS topo map: Matilija
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip reports here, here and here; trail map here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Parking area on Highway 33: trail starts just before the metal rail on the right side of the road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Parking area on Highway 33: trail starts just before the metal rail  (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

With great mountain views, shaded canyons and interesting geology, it’s no surprise that the Cozy Dell Trail is one of the more popular hikes in the Ojai area. It’s challenging but provides a lot of scenic rewards.

From the turnout, cross Highway 33 and find the trail just before the metal fence on the side of the road. It wastes no time ascending through the canyon, occasionally requiring some big steps over and around rocks. The noise from the road quickly fades as you make your way uphill.

0:10 - Shade from oaks (times are approximate)

0:10 – Shade from oaks (times are approximate)

At about 0.3 miles, you enter the welcome shade of some oaks. The steady ascent continues, climbing in and out of shade, before reaching a saddle at 0.9 miles (and 700 vertical feet of climbing.) Here you can take a minute and enjoy the fruits of your labor: a panorama that includes the Ojai Valley to the south and west and the Topatopa ridge and Nordhoff Peak to the east and north.

0:27 - Looking south from the saddle

0:27 – Looking south from the saddle

From the saddle, you begin a gradual descent and another climb to a second saddle (1.3 miles), with similar views. You begin another descent, heading toward some hills that resemble the Goat Buttes of Malibu Creek State Park. Continuing downhill, you reach Cozy Dell Canyon Road (Cozy Ojai Road on some maps) at 1.8 miles, the end of the trail. Beneath the shade of some oaks, you can rest for a few minutes before retracing your steps to Highway 33, or you can extend your hike on the dirt road or the nearby Foothill Trail.

0:45 - View of the Nordhoff Ridge descending from the second saddle

0:45 – View of the Nordhoff Ridge descending from the second saddle

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.

1:00 Turnaround point at Cozy Dell Canyon Road

1:00 Turnaround point at Cozy Dell Canyon Road

Upper Colby Trail

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View from the top of the Upper Colby Trail

View from the top of the Upper Colby Trail

Steep descent on the Upper Colby Trail

Steep descent on the Upper Colby Trail

Upper Colby Trail

  • Location: San Gabriel Foothills north of Glendora.  From L.A. and Pasadena, take I-210 to Grand Ave North.  Go north on Grand Avenue for 2.2 miles and turn right on Sierra Madre.  Go 2 miles and turn left on Glendora Mountain Road.  In 2.2 miles, park at a small dirt turnout on the left side of the road, just as it makes a hairpin turn to the right.  From the Inland Empire, take the 210 Freeway to Lone Hill Avenue.  Turn right and go a mile to Foothill Blvd.  Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Valley Center.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to Sierra Madre.  Turn left and make a quick right onto Glendora Mountain Road and go 2.2 miles to the turnout at the side of the road.
  • Agency: City of Glendora/Angeles National Forest
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, terrain, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Glendora
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles; sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

This little-known trail is short but unsparingly steep, like the nearby Garcia Trail.   While the Garcia Trail switchbacks however, this one climbs straight up the side of a ridge, almost entirely exposed.  There are several stretches where the ground is loose, requiring extra caution. The good news is that for your efforts you are rewarded with nice views of the eastern San Gabriels, an aerial perspective of Glendora Mountain Road and if the air is clear, the L.A. Basin.

0:00 = Beginning of the hike on Glendora Mountain Road

0:00 = Beginning of the hike on Glendora Mountain Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the side of Glendora Mountain Road, the trail wastes no time, ascending a steep fire break. After climbing almost 200 feet in just over 0.1 miles, you rejoin the road at a bend (an alternate starting point if you want a shorter hike.) Head left, turning away from the road and passing by an oak from which a swing hangs. Your climb continues, not quite as steeply but still steadily, alternating short spurts of elevation gain with welcome flat stretches.

0:06 - Second meeting with the road (times are approximate)

0:06 – Second meeting with the road (times are approximate)

At one flat stretch, about 0.7 miles up, a tree on the right side of the trail makes a nice place to rest. Remnants of a wooden tree-house can be seen on the ground.

0:07 - Swing on a tree, Upper Colby Trail

0:07 – Swing on a tree, Upper Colby Trail

Continuing, you begin your final ascent–the steepest–and at 1.1 miles, you reach an unnamed summit with a concrete foundation, perhaps a former lookout tower. Here you can sit and enjoy a nice view while resting your legs for the descent (which will probably take almost as long as going up.) This makes a good turnaround point, but you can continue down to Glendora Ridge Road and extend your hike there in either direction.

0:45 - Approaching  the final ascent

0:45 – Approaching the final ascent

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.

0:55 - Looking north from the top of the Upper Colby Trail

0:55 – Looking north from the top of the Upper Colby Trail

Morton Peak Lookout

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View of San Bernardino Peak from below Morton Peak

View of San Bernardino Peak from below Morton Peak

Looking southwest toward the Santa Anas from Morton Peak

Looking southwest toward the Santa Anas from Morton Peak

Morton Peak Lookout

  • Location: San Bernardino National Forest foothills north of Mentone and Yucaipa.  From the west, take I-10 to University St.  Turn left and go a mile to Highway 38 (Lugonia Road.)  Turn right and go a total of 9.2 miles (about 2 miles past the ranger station) and look for a turnout on the left side of the road.  Park by the sign for Morton Peak Lookout.   From Palm Springs, take I-10 to the Live Oak Canyon/Oak Glen exit. Turn right and head northeast for 4.3 miles on Oak Glen Road to Bryant St.  Turn left and go 2.4 miles to Highway 38.  Turn right and go 2.3 miles to the turnout.
  • Agency:  San Bernardino National Forest/Mill Creek Ranger Station
  • Distance:  5.2 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • Recommended gear:  sun hat; sunblockhiking poles
  • USGS topo map: Yucaipa
  • More information:  Summitpost page here; Morton Peak Fire Lookout information here; Everytrail report here; description from a Meetup event here
  • Rating: 8

Named for Redlands resident R.B. Morton, this summit (elevation 4,624 feet) is the home to one of the seven fire lookouts in the San Bernardino National Forest.  Though not nearly as tall as some of the surrounding mountains, Morton’s position provides a great vantage point and from the peak, with good visibility, you can see San Jacinto, the Palomars, the Santa Anas, the San Gabriels and more. The trail is almost entirely exposed, but it’s far enough above the valley floor that it can be done on warm days, given an early start and good sun protection.

0:00 - Trailhead off Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead off Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the gate, begin walking up the fire road (Warm Springs Truck Road on some maps). The early going is fairly steep, gaining over 600 feet in the first mile, but you are rewarded with tremendous views of San Bernardino Peak to the east and a nice aerial perspective on Mill Creek below. There’s some highway noise but it fades as you get farther up the mountain.

0:03 - Don't get used to it: Shade from the only oaks on the route (times are approximate)

0:04 – Don’t get used to it: Shade from the only oaks on the route (times are approximate)

At about 1.1 miles, you reach a Y-junction. Turn left and pass a metal gate, continuing your ascent. The climb becomes more moderate here as you make a long pair of switchbacks.

0:30 - Turn left at the junction and pass the gate

0:30 – Turn left at the junction and pass the gate

At about 2 miles you get your first glimpse of the metal lookout tower. Soon after, stay straight on the fire road as the Santa Ana River Trail branches off to the left. The road wraps around the north side of the peak and soon arrives at the summit.

0:40 - Wildflowers at the end of the first switchback

0:40 – Wildflowers at the end of the first switchback

Here, your efforts are rewarded with a panoramic view, which you can enjoy from the shade of a pair of pines, or from a picnic table. If the lookout is open you can climb up and visit with the volunteers. The lookout used to be open for overnight guests, but unfortunately it is not anymore.

0:56 - View of the lookout

0:56 – View of the lookout

If you have a high clearance vehicle it may be possible to start the hike at the junction by driving up the first mile. The road is narrow and rough in a few spots, but as of this writing is navigable. Parking at the junction (but not on at the bottom) requires a National Forest Service Adventure Pass. Click here to purchase.

1:10 - San Gabriel Mountains from Morton Peak

1:10 – San Gabriel Mountains from Morton Peak

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.

Yellow Hill Fire Road

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Ocean panorama from Yellow Hill Fire Road

Ocean panorama from Yellow Hill Fire Road

View of Mulholland Highway and the Santa Monica Mountains, Yellow Hill Fire Road

View of Mulholland Highway and the Santa Monica Mountains, Yellow Hill Fire Road

Yellow Hill Fire Road

  • Location: Intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Mulholland Highway, between Malibu and Point Mugu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway northwest for 27.4 miles and park where possible on the south side of the highway.  From Oxnard, take the Pacific Coast Highway south for 18 miles to the intersection with Mulholland.
  • Agency: Leo Carillo State Park/Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: Triunfo Canyon
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information:  Trip report here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on Pacific Coast Highway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on Pacific Coast Highway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This no-nonsense hike is a prime example of delayed gratification.  For the thankless task of a steep, exposed ascent, you are rewarded with panoramic ocean and mountain vistas, including (pending good visibility) Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Catalina Islands, Point Dume, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the higher peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains.  If you are lucky, you may spot distant Santa Barbara and San Nicolas Islands and Old Saddleback in Orange County.

0:03 - Gated trail head, Yellow Hill Fire Road (times are approximate)

0:03 – Gated trail head, Yellow Hill Fire Road (times are approximate)

It may be possible to park right by the trailhead, but space there is limited so your best bet is to shoot for parking on the south side of Pacific Coast Highway (which may be also be crowded, especially on weekends.) You can run across the highway to Mulholland, or if you are nervous about doing that, you can head south into the park, turn left on the service road and cross underneath PCH. (You will still have to cross Mulholland, but that road is narrow with light traffic.)

0:49 - View from the junction at the beginning of the loop

0:49 – View from the junction at the beginning of the loop

On the west (left) side of Mulholland, about a hundred yards north of P.C.H., look for a gated fire road heading uphill. You begin a steady climb, taking in nice ocean and mountain views on the way up. At about 1.5 miles, you’ll pass through a metal gate and shortly after you reach a 4-way intersection, the beginning of the loop portion of the hike.

0:55 - Park boundary

0:55 – Park boundary

You can take the loop in either direction, but the easier way is to continue on the more moderately graded fire road, straight ahead. You wrap around the west side of the hill, passing a sign designating the entrance to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (in case you were wondering).

1:01-  Glimpse of Sandstone Peak from the Yellow Hill Fire Road

1:01- Glimpse of Sandstone Peak from the Yellow Hill Fire Road

At 2.3 miles, you reach a junction. The fire road continues higher into the mountains, an option if you want to extend the hike. For this route however, take a hard right and make a short climb to a 1,366-foot knoll. Here, you can enjoy a great view before heading back down.

1:06 - Spur to the summit (turn right)

1:06 – Spur to the summit (turn right)

You can return via the same route, but to shave off a little distance, you can also continue straight downhill on a steep single-track, with some wide-ranging ocean views in front of you. After passing a rusty water tank, you rejoin the fire road. Turn left and retrace your steps back down the hill.

1:10 - Looking south to the ocean from the top of the hill

1:10 – Looking south to the ocean from the top of the hill

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.

Oat Mountain

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Looking northwest from Oat Mountain

Looking west from the summit of Oat Mountain

Looking up at Oat Mountain (note radio towers on the summit)

Looking up at Oat Mountain (note radio towers on the summit)

Oat Mountain

  • Location: Santa Susana Mountains north of Chatsworth.  From the 118 Freeway, take the DeSoto Ave. exit.  Head north (turn left if you’re coming from the west, right if from the east) a short distance to the end of DeSoto and turn right on Browns Canyon Road, following the signs for Michael Antonovich Regional Park (not to be confused with nearby Michael Antonovich Open Space or the Michael Antonovich Recreational Trail in San Dimas.)  Follow Browns Canyon Road for 3 miles to the main entrance of the park, stop by the iron ranger and pay the $5 per vehicle/day fee.  Continue a short distance to a parking area on the right side of the road just before reaching a metal gate.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy/Michael Antonovich Regional Park
  • Distance: 6.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,850 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, distance)
  • Best season:  September – May
  • USGS topo map: “Oat Mountain”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Peakbagger page here; trip description from a Meetup page here; Everytrail report here; story about Oat Mountain’s former use as missile site LA-88 here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Beginning of the hike (click thumbnails to see full sized versions)

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

Oat Mountain (elevation 3,747) is one of the highest points in L.A. County outside the Angeles National Forest.  It’s the tallest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains and despite a radio facility on the summit and likelihood of smog, the views from the top are panoramic, including the Santa Monicas, Verdugos, Simi Hills, Hollywood Hills, San Gabriels and more.

0:17 - Santa Monica Mountains parkland (times are approximate)

0:17 – Santa Monica Mountains parkland (times are approximate)

To be sure, some hikers may be turned off by the fact that the route is entirely on a paved road (closed to traffic other than maintenance vehicles.) The route is almost entirely exposed, but it’s high enough above the valley floor that it can be doable in the summer months, given an early start, at least half a gallon of water and sun protection. The great workout it provides, plus its convenience to the Valley, Santa Clarita and even downtown L.A., makes Oat Mountain a worthwhile destination to keep in mind.

0:31 - Under the shade tree

0:31 – Under the shade tree

From the parking area, follow the dirt road past the gate, almost immediately beginning a steep climb. You get some nice views of Rocky Peak to west and Simi Valley to the south.  Bear right at the first junction and continue your climb on a road signed on maps both as Palo Sola Truck Trail and Oat Mountain Motorway.  At about 2/3 of a mile you pass through a gate with a sign indicating Santa Monica Mountains Parkland, and continue the ascent.

0:45 - Grove of oaks

0:48 – Grove of oaks

At 1 1/4 miles, a lone oak tree a few yards to the right off of the trail makes a nice place to take a break in the shade. You get a view to the east, down into a canyon. Past the oak, another ascent brings you to a mercifully flat stretch.

0:56 - Head right at the fork near the second helipad

1:00 – Head right at the fork near the second helipad

At 1.8 miles, the trail starts bending to the north, passing a helipad site. You continue through another grove of trees (2 miles), staying right at the next junction (2.2 miles), passing a second helipad.

1:08 - Stay straight at the four-way junction

1:12 – Stay straight at the four-way junction

At 2.9 miles, you reach a four-way junction. Cross the road and continue straight ahead, soon reaching the base of the summit. Just before the road ends, climb up a use trail on the left, cross over a concrete barrier and arrive at the fence lining the radio facility. Walking around the fence, you arrive at a flat area on the north side of the summit where you can enjoy some great views of the Santa Clarita Valley and the Santa Susana Mountains before heading back down.

1:12 - Head uphill on the trail to the summit

1:16 – Head uphill on the trail to the summit

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.

1:15 - Looking northwest from Oat Mountain's summit

1:20- Looking northwest from Oat Mountain’s summit

Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

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View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

    • Location: Angeles National Forest near Mt. Wilson.  From I-210 in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 10 miles to the road for the Switzer Picnic Area (mile marker 34.19).  Drive downhill to the picnic area.  The hike begins at the eastern end of the lot, by an information board and a vault toilet.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
    • Distance: 8.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Everytrail report (descent only) here; description of the trail as a mountain bike route here; description of the whole trail (scroll down for this section) here
    • Rating: 7

Linking two major stops on the Gabrielino Trail, the Switzer Picnic Area and Red Box, this hike can be done as a moderate day trip, as part of a backpacking trip or with a short car shuttle, as a point to point. The beginning of the hike suffers somewhat from freeway noise as it travels through an area heavily burned in the Station Fire, but the payoff comes higher up as you travel through shaded woodlands while taking in great aerial views of the upper Arroyo Seco and the surrounding hills. The area gets hot in the summer but there’s a decent amount of shade, and the steep walls of the canyon help block out the sun, so the hike can be done in the summer months with appropriate preparation. Keep an eye out for poison oak, no matter what season, however.

0:00 - Trail beginning at the east end of the Switzer Picnic Area

0:00 – Trail beginning at the east end of the Switzer Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the eastern end of the parking lot, follow the trail past the picnic area, crossing the stream on a concrete walkway. You pick up the trail on the south side of the canyon, passing a yellow sign warning of the dangers of hiking through a burn area.

0:03 - Picking up the trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

0:03 – Picking up the trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

After a little more than a mile, during which the trail parallels the freeway, progress is blocked by a big fallen tree. Bypass it by following a rough path to the left into the creek bed, following the creek bed for a few yards and almost immediately heading out and back to the trail.

0:30 - Turn left before the fallen tree and into the creek bed

0:30 – Turn left before the fallen tree and into the creek bed

The trail continues its ascent on the south side of the canyon, with the views getting better and better as you ascend. At about 1.7 miles you enter a big S-curve, briefly heading northwest before continuing south and then east.

1:10 - Looking east toward Red Box from the switchbacks

1:10 – Looking east toward Red Box from the switchbacks

At 2.4 miles, a giant pine tree welcomes you to the upper reaches of the trail, and you enjoy some shade as you cross a tributary canyon of the Arroyo Seco. You continue on to another S-curve with more wide-ranging views before the last stretch of the trail brings you to the Red Box area. This makes a good turnaround point (4.1 miles), but if you’ve got more gas in the tank, you can continue downhill on the Gabrielino Trail toward Valley Forge, or up Mt. Wilson Road a short distance to the San Gabriel Peak Trail.

1:20 - Into the pines

1:20 – Into the pines

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.

2:00 - Red Box parking area

2:00 – Red Box parking area

Delamar Mountain

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View of San Gorgonio and Big Bear Lake from the P.C.T. en route to Delamar Mountain

View of San Gorgonio and Big Bear Lake from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Delamar Mountain

Pine flat on the Pacific Crest Trail to Delamar Mountain

Pine flat on the Pacific Crest Trail to Delamar Mountain

Delamar Mountain

        • Location: North of Big Bear Lake.   From the intersection of Highway 38 and Highway 18 at the western end of Big Bear Lake, take Highway 38 east for 5.3 miles.  Turn left onto Polique Canyon Road, which soon becomes dirt (a little bumpy but as of this writing passable for all vehicles.)  After 1.6 miles, turn right at the junction.  At 0.7 miles, park in a small turnout on the right side of the road by a sign reading “Holcomb View Trail.”  While most of the trails in the area require a National Forest Service adventure pass for parking, there’s no indication at the trail head that the pass is required.  If you want to be sure, you can purchase the National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) here.
        • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Big Bear Discovery Center
        • Distance: 5.4 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (altitude, elevation gain, steepness, trail condition over last half mile)
        • Suggested time: 3 hours
        • Best season: May –  October
        • USGS topo map: Fawnskin
        • Recommended gear: insect repellent; hiking poles
        • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
        • More information:  here (described from the beginning of Polique Canyon Road); here (described via the Cougar Crest Trail, 12 miles round trip)
        • Rating: 8

Located on the north shore of Big Bear, Delamar Mountain is the tallest point on the ridge between the lake and Holcomb Valley, with a summit of 8,398 feet.  Although the views aren’t quite as good as from the hike to nearby Bertha Peak, and the trail doesn’t offer the variety of Gray’s Peak, it’s still an enjoyable and challenging hike, well worth a visit.

0:00 - Trail head on Forest Road 2N09 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head on Forest Road 2N09 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The beginning of the hike, which follows the Pacific Crest Trail, is deceptively easy. The P.C.T. heads very gradually uphill, climbing only about 400 feet over the first two-plus miles through a forest of black oaks, firs and pines. In the early part of the hike, you get some nice views of Big Bear Lake and San Gorgonio to the south.

0:38 - Following the north side of the ridge on the P.C.T. (times are approximate)

0:38 – Following the north side of the ridge on the P.C.T. (times are approximate)

After a little more than a mile, the trail crosses to the north side of the ridge, giving glimpses of Holcomb Valley. Rounding a curve you get a nice view of Bertha Peak’s pointy summit to the east.

0:54 -  Turn left and begin the steep climb

0:54 – Turn left and begin the steep climb

At about 2 1/4 miles, the P.C.T. crosses a steep, loosely defined trail. This is where the bill comes due. Delamar Mountain has an elevation similar to Smith Mountain in the Angeles National Forest (although Smith is more difficult): an easy beginning but a difficult push to the summit.

1:02 - Watch out for the log

1:02 – Watch out for the log

Climb up the loose and steep trail, using your poles. After ascending almost 200 feet you get a brief respite. The trail flattens out and bends south, passing a primitive campsite, and then the steep ascent begins again. You hack your way up the mountain, climbing another 300 feet, over and around fallen tree trunks, before the trail levels out shortly before the summit.

1:08 - Flat area before the final ascent

1:08 – Flat area before the final ascent

An easy to climb pile of boulders is the true high point of Delamar Mountain, providing some nice views of Holcomb Valley and the San Gabriels to the west, but the best views are found farther south. Forging your way across the ridge, you reach another pile of boulders, from which you get some great views of Big Bear Lake.  After resting to make sure your legs are fresh for the steep descent, return via the same route.

1:20 - View of Holcomb Valley from the first summit

1:20 – View of Holcomb Valley from the first summit

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.

1:25 - View of Big Bear Lake from the southern summit

1:25 – View of Big Bear Lake from the southern summit

Champion Lodgepole Pine via Castle Rock Trail and Bluff Lake

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South shore of Bluff Lake

South shore of Bluff Lake

View of Big Bear Lake through the trees south of Castle Rock

View of Big Bear Lake through the trees south of Castle Rock

Champion Lodgepole Pine via Castle Rock Trail and Bluff Lake

        • Location:  Southwest corner of Big Bear Lake.  From the 210 Freeway, take Highway 330 northeast for 15 miles to Highway 18 at Running Springs.  Head east on Highway 18 for 12.4 miles to the intersection with Highway 38 at the western end of Big Bear Lake.  Stay right and drive 1.2 miles to a turnout on the left side of the road.  If you reach Talbot Drive, you’ve come too far.  No adventure pass or other permits are required, but it’s advisable to check the links listed below for up to date trail and access information.
        • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Big Bear Discovery Center & Wildlands Conservancy (Bluff Lake)
        • Distance: 6 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (terrain, steepness, navigation, altitude)
        • Suggested time: 3 hours
        • Best season: May –  November
        • USGS topo map: Big Bear Lake
        • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock; hiking poles
        • More information:  here; article about the trails (including Siberia Creek) here; San Bernardino National Forest trail description here; Bluff Lake page here
        • Rating: 8
0:00 - Heading west toward the trail head from the parking area on Highway 18 (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Heading west toward the trail head from the parking area on Highway 18 (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This hike allows you to visit two of the San Bernardino National Forest’s famous landmarks: Castle Rock and the 110-foot Champion Lodgepole Pine.  As part of the bargain, you can also visit beautiful Bluff Lake and enjoy some alpine vistas.

0:02 - Beginning of the Castle Rock Trail, south side of Highway 18 (times are approximate)

0:02 – Beginning of the Castle Rock Trail, south side of Highway 18 (times are approximate)

The lodgepole can also be reached with a short, half-mile hike from forest road 2N11, which is a good option for hikers with kids (and a high clearance vehicle for the dirt road.) The route from Highway 18 is challenging, right from the beginning–requiring a crossing of the road–and presents some navigational obstacles, but it’s also very scenically rewarding. Ideally, use a GPS-enabled device to keep yourself oriented.

0:15 - Following the trail through the rocks

0:15 – Following the trail through the rocks

From the turnout on Highway 18 (GPS coordinates N34 14.202, W116 57.704) head west and cross the road when safe, picking up the trail just past the “Big Bear Lake City Limits” sign. The trail begins its steep ascent, not allowing much time for acclimation to the high altitude (6,700 feet). You climb through a thick forest of pines and oaks. There are a few spots where the trail is ambiguous, but the route continues uphill, and splits usually rejoin each other quickly.

0:25 - Bark "trail duck" pointing down toward the stream bed (bear left)

0:25 – Bark “trail duck” pointing down toward the stream bed (bear left)

At about a quarter mile, before making a sharp right turn, a pair of benches allows you to sit and catch your breath. The trail continues, threading its way through some boulders (again, it becomes ambiguous at times, so your route might not be exact, but there are several “trail” signs guiding the way, so if you go for a while without seeing one, backtrack.)

0:35 - Spur to Castle Rock, where the main trail continues south and heads uphill

0:35 – Spur to Castle Rock, where the main trail continues south and heads uphill

You reach a split where a trail spur heads right toward Castle Rock. You can take this detour if you want, but to keep on the main trail, head left, slightly downhill toward a stream bed.  (As of this writing, a large piece of bark placed on a rock points downhill, apparently left as a sort of trail duck.)  After crossing it, you see another spur heading right, signed for Castle Rock. This will take you to the back side of the rock, which is easier to climb than the front, although still recommended only for those with experience.  Castle Rock’s coordinates are N34 13.872, W116 57.694.

0:50 - Through the split log

0:50 – Through the split log

The Castle Rock trail continues uphill, making a few switchbacks, taking in some nice views of the rock and the lake. Mercifully, it starts leveling out at this point as you make your way through a pleasant forest of Jeffrey pines and firs. You pass through a split log, departing briefly from the “official” trail which has become somewhat overgrown (but still passable), and at about 1.6 miles from the start, you reach Forest Road 2N10. Turn right and go a short distance to a four-way junction (N34 13.399, W116 57.740).

1:10 - Entrance to Bluff Lake Preserve

1:14 – Entrance to Bluff Lake Preserve

Here, turn left and follow the dirt road, watching out for the occasional car. You soon reach another junction where you turn right, following the signs to the Bluff Lake Preserve. You reach it in half a mile (2.5 miles from the start), pass through the gate and continue following the path around the south side of the lake, passing a picnic area and a private camp facility.

1:20 - Bluff Mesa Trail turnoff, south side of Bluff Lake

1:21 – Bluff Mesa Trail turnoff, south side of Bluff Lake

At a clearing, you get a great view of the lake. The dirt road continues around the shore, but to get to the lodgepole, turn left and follow the single-track Bluff Mesa Trail (not signed), heading south, climbing over a fallen log. You leave the Bluff Lake Reserve property and head back into the national forest, heading downhill to an unsigned T-junction. Turn left and follow the trail into a meadow, where you will soon see the fence bordering the Champion Lodgepole Pine (N34.21876, W116.97386).

1:25 - Turn left to continue toward the pine

1:25 – Turn left to continue toward the pine

An information plaque provides statistics about the giant tree: it is over 400 years old and has a trunk circumference of almost 20 feet. This is the turnaround point for the hike, although you can continue by heading south to road 2N11 and make a loop by following it back to 2N10.

1:30 - Champion Lodgepole Pine

1:30 – Champion Lodgepole Pine

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.