Arroyo Burro Loop

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Dusk on the Arroyo Burro fire road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

Sunlight through the trees on Arroyo Burro Road

View of the Santa Ynez River Valley, Arroyo Burro Road

View of the Santa Ynez River Valley, Arroyo Burro Road

Arroyo Burro Loop

    • Location: Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, take Highway 154 north for 7.8 miles to East Camino Cielo. Take a hard right and follow the winding road for 6.2 miles. Park in a large dirt turnout on the left side of the road.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 7.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season:  October – June
    • USGS topo maps: San Marcos Pass; Little Pine Mountain
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trip description (slightly different route) here; photos here
    • Rating: 8
Start of the Arroyo Burro Loop, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

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

Not to be confused with the section of the Arroyo Burro Trail in Santa Barbara’s front country, this hike explores the hills above the Santa Ynez River Valley, providing panoramic views and a good amount of shade from several thick oak groves. The loop, which is comprised of a single-track trail and a fire road, can be hiked in either direction, but since the single-track is far steeper, hiking the loop clockwise, as described here, allows for a more moderate ascent. This is a reverse hike, although it can also be done as a slightly longer conventional hike starting from Paradise Road in the valley below. With a car shuttle, it can also be done point-to-point.

Start of the Arroyo Burro Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:05 – Turnoff for the Arroyo Burro Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the dirt road past a metal gate. You pass by a shooting range and  another gate before reaching a junction with an easy-to-miss trail on the left. This is the Arroyo Burro Trail, which takes a hard left away from the road and begins its largely shaded descent.

Stream crossing on the Arroyo Burro Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:35 – Stream crossing

You drop steadily, crossing Arroyo Burro and its various tributaries several times, making your way in and out of oak woodlands. As you enjoy the shade and seclusion, keep an eye out for poison oak.

At about 2.5 miles from the start, you reach a T-junction. Head right, soon reaching a dirt road where you again stay right, passing a water tank and the upper end of White Oak Camp.

Trail junction in Arroyo Burro Canyon, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

1:10 – Turn right at the T junction at the bottom of the Arroyo Burro Trail

Arroyo Burro Road then begins its long climb back to the trail head. The ascent is steady but never too steep, providing ample time to enjoy the wide-ranging views of the valley. After about a mile of ascent (about 4 miles from the start), stay straight as a trail heading toward Matias Potrero Camp branches off to the left. Soon afterward you enter another attractive stand of oaks and the majority of the hike’s remainder is shaded.

Arroyo Burro Road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

1:18 – Approaching Arroyo Burro Road; start of the ascent

More ascent brings you to the upper reaches of Arroyo Burro Road where you complete the loop and return to Camino Cielo. Arroyo Burro’s name likely comes from its history as a miners’ supply route and the burros that carried the equipment.

Oak woodland on Arroyo Burro Road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

2:00 – Into the woods on the Arroyo Burro Road ascent

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

2:25 - VIew from near the top of Arroyo Burro Road

2:25 – View from near the top of Arroyo Burro Road

Big Laguna Trail

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View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail, eastern San Diego County

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail

Panoramic view of Big Laguna Meadow, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

Big Laguna Meadow

Big Laguna Trail

  • Location: Eastern San Diego County in the Cleveland National Forest, near the town of Mt. Laguna.  From San Diego, take I-8 to exit 47 (Sunrise Highway or County Road S1).  Head north (left) for 14.6 miles and park at the Penny Pines Trailhead on the right side of the road.  From Julian and points north take highway 79 to Sunrise Highway/S1 and head southeast (left) for 9.2 miles.  The Penny Pines Trailhead will be on the left.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Descanso District
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo maps:  Monument Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 8
Start of the Noble Canyon Trail in the Laguna Mountains, San Diego County

0:00 – Start of the hike at the Penny Pines Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This long but moderately graded loop showcases the scenic variety of the Laguna Mountains, including meadows, pine woodlands and dramatic views of the Anza-Borrego Desert to the east. There are several possible starting points, but this post assumes you will hike from the Penny Pines trail head near mile marker 27.5 on the Sunrise Scenic Highway and go clockwise. This saves the best views for last and allows you to warm up with four virtually flat miles; advantageous for hikers sensitive to altitude (the trail head is a mile above sea level.) The Big Laguna Trail is actually a network of trails and the route described here (6 miles on the Big Laguna and 4 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail) doesn’t have to be followed exactly for an enjoyable experience; do as much or as little as your time and energy allow.

Junction on the Big Laguna Trail, San Diego County

0:24 – Junction at the top of Big Laguna Meadow (times are approximate)

From the Penny Pines trail head, pick up the Noble Canyon Trail on the west side of the highway. Go through a gate and pass by an information board and soon reach a junction where you’ll turn left on the Big Laguna Trail and follow it through a pleasant woodland of Jeffrey pines and black oaks.

Black oaks and pines on the Big Laguna Trail, Laguna Mountains, San Diego County

0:50 – Black oaks and pines, Big Laguna Trail (stay straight at the junction)

Just under a mile from the start, you enter the upper end of Big Laguna Meadow and reach a junction.  Both trails are part of the Big Laguna system but the quickest route is to stay straight, following the eastern side of the meadow (it will be on your right).

Little Laguna Meadow, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

1:03 – Bear left at the junction in Little Laguna Meadow

After entering the woods again, stay right at the next junction, a spur leading to a campground. At about 2.5 miles, you reach a T-junction where you’ll head left and walk through a smaller meadow. If there have been recent rains, Little Laguna Lake will come to life. The trail splits but both forks soon reconnect. At 2.8 miles, you reach a fence where you will turn right and cross over a boardwalk (on the opposite side of the fence, the trail continues toward the Laguna Campground.)

Boardwalk on the Big Laguna Trail leading through a meadow, Cleveland Natinonal Forest

1:10 – Take a walk on the boardwalk

Follow the trail with the fence on the left to a service road under a telephone line. Bear left, go a short distance and make a hard left on the Big Laguna Trail which now travels through an attractive grove of tall pines. At about 4 miles from the start, you make another hard left and begin the first significant climbing of the entire route, crossing dirt Los Huecos Road in half a mile. Beyond, the trail passes a primitive campsite and follows a road bed through pines and oaks; when the trail bends north you may get a glimpse of the Cuyamaca Mountains to the west. After a little while the trail splits off to the left and descends toward the Sunrise Scenic Highway.

Service road, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

1:27 – Bear left at the junction with the service road

At 5.5 miles you cross the road and ascend for another half mile to meet the Pacific Crest Trail. This is an alternative starting point. Turn left and follow the P.C.T. out of the woods and up to a ridge, where you will get good views of the Cuyamaca Mountains. If visibility is good you may even get a glimpse of the ocean. The rocky outline of Garnet Peak dominates to the north.

Big Laguna Trail heads through pines, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County

1:41 – Up hill through the pines

Soon you reach a saddle where you get some excellent views of Storm Canyon and the desert below. The P.C.T. meanders through the meadow, dropping into a ravine and climbing to a spot where you can observe the view either from a bench or a wooden deck (8.8 miles from the start). This is also an optional trail head.

Pines on the Big Laguna Trail, Cleveland National Forest

2:02 – Leave Los Huercos Road and follow the Big Laguna Trail to the highway

Past the bench, the P.C.T. continues, switch backing once again down into a canyon and continuing north before finally reaching a spur that leads back to the Penny Pines trail head.

View of the Cuyamaca Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail

2:45 – View of the Cuyamaca Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County

3:50 – View from the bench, just over a mile from the end

 

McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

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Panoramic view of Chino Hills State Park from the North Ridge Trail

View from the North Ridge Trail shortly before the junction with the Sycamore Trail

Oaks in Telegraph Canyon, Chino Hills State Park

Oaks in Telegraph Canyon

McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

    • Location: Yorba Linda.  From the 57 freeway, take Orangethorpe exit and head east for 4.2 miles.  Turn left on Kellogg, go 1.8 miles and turn right on Yorba Linda Blvd.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Fairmont.  Go 1.6 miles and turn left on Rim Crest.  Follow Rim Crest to its end and park on the corner of Blue Gum and Rim Crest.  From the Riverside area, take the 91 freeway to Yorba Linda Blvd.  Go northwest on Yorba Linda Blvd. for 2.4 miles, and turn right on Village Center.  Go a mile and turn left on Fairmont.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Rim Crest.
    • Agency:  Chino Hills State Park (home page here)
    • Distance: 8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo map:  Yorba Linda
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trail map here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6
Trail head on Rim Crest Drive, Chino Hills State Park

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

This loop explores some of the lightly traveled high country in the middle sector of Chino Hills State Park.  To be sure, the views and scenery aren’t as varied or attractive as they are on more popular destinations such as Gilman Peak or Water Canyon–expect power lines and barbed wire–but the hike still offers a solid workout from the conveniently located (and free) Rim Crest trailhead.  On clear days, the vistas from the North Ridge Trail include Old Saddleback, the Orange County coastal plains, the ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains and more.

Sycamore Trail and Telegraph Canyon, Chino HIlls State Park

0:40 – Junction with the Sycamore Trail (times are approximate)

From Rim Crest, follow the Easy Street trail half a mile as it drops into Telegraph Canyon.  Turn right and head east, gradually uphill on Telegraph Canyon, Chino Hills State Park’s main artery, passing the turnoffs for Gilman Peak and the Little Canyon Trail.  As you ascend, the terrain becomes more pleasantly shaded, both from oaks and sycamores.

Picnic table in Telegraph Canyon

0:57 – Picnic table in Telegraph Canyon

At 1.6 miles, you reach a Y-junction with the Sycamore Trail.  This is the start of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction.  By going counter-clockwise, as described here, you can continue your moderate ascent in the shade of the canyon.  At 2.3 miles, you pass by a picnic table; this is a nice place to rest for a few minutes before continuing east.

At 2.9 miles, you reach the McDermont Trail, a fire road which leaves the friendly confines of the canyon.  The next mile or so is the most thankless section of the hike, as the McDermont Trail heads sharply uphill on exposed terrain.  The grade levels out after about half a mile and the trail bends east, reaching a T-junction (3.8 miles from the start).  Turn left and make another steep but short climb on a connector trail, bringing you to North Ridge.  Here you get a panoramic view of Telegraph Canyon with San Juan Hill, the highest point in the park, to the south.

McDermont Trail, Chino Hills State Park

1:15 – Start of the McDermont Trail

Turn left and head west on North Ridge, following the trail through several ups and downs, taking in views on both sides.  At 5.2 miles, turn left on the Sycamore Trail, which heads back toward Telegraph Canyon.  A group of oak trees makes for a nice rest spot on the descent.  The trail makes an S-curve, passes by a rusted water tank and drops back into Telegraph Canyon, where it completes the loop at 6.4 miles.  Retrace your steps on the Telegraph Canyon and Easy Street Trails back to your starting point.

North Ridge Trail, Chino Hills State Park

1:45 – Left turn on the North Ridge Trail

As a variation, you can make the lower portion of this hike into a loop by using the South Ridge and Little Canyon Trails either on your way out or in.  This adds about 100 feet of elevation gain.

Oak tree on the Sycamore Trail, Chino Hills State Park

2:20 – Oak tree on the Sycamore Trail

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Panoramic view of fields, mountains and sky, Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Panorama from the Soapstone Grade Fire Road

Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north for 2.7 miles, turn left and continue another 7.3 miles on Highway 79 to the West Mesa Parking Area, on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 13 miles.  The parking area will be on the left side of the road.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: September – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; description from a mountain biking website here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

0:00 – Trail head, West Mesa Parking Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This loop explores several mesa, valleys and canyons east of Stonewall Peak, whose distinctive shape can be seen for much of the hike. The views aren’t as varied or as panoramic as from the summits, but it’s still an enjoyable hike that explores some of the park’s remote terrain. Most of the ascent happens on west-facing slopes, so on warm days, if you get an early start, you can climb in the shade (assuming you hike clockwise, as described here).

Crossing the bed of Stonewall Creek

0:35 – Crossing the bed of Stonewall Creek (times are approximate)

Begin by following the trail signed for the Cold Stream Trail. After crossing the creek bed, turn left on the Cold Stream Trail and follow it a short distance to the Cold Spring Trail.  Bear right and follow it for a pleasant, if not particularly memorable, 1.2 miles. After reaching a ridge, it drops down to cross the Stonewall Creek bed, which is usually dry. This brings you to the Stonewall Creek Fire Road.

Panoramic view from the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:10 – Looking north at the junction with the Soapstone Grade Fire Road

Bear left and start climbing gradually, soon reaching a meadow, across which Stonewall Peak stands impressively. You enter a pleasant grove of oaks and after passing the turnoff for the Whitaker Trail, you reach the Soapstone Grade Fire Road (2.8 miles from the start).

Descending the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:35 – Starting the descent toward the Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Now, with most of your climbing done, you can enjoy a great view of the valley to the north; on clear days you can see up to the Palomars and perhaps even the Santa Rosa Mountains. Turn right and follow the road as it contours along the south edge of the valley. Adding to the appeal of this stretch is the likelihood of a cool breeze along the ridge. After about a mile, the California Riding & Hiking Trail splits off and you begin a steep descent, reaching the Upper Green Valley Fire Road (4.5 miles from the start.)

Descending the Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:50 – Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Turn right and begin a more gradual descent along the Sweetwater River. Most of the oaks and pines are still recovering from the fires of 2003 and 2007, but a few still provide some shade. After about two miles, a particularly tall oak with a few flat granite boulders beneath it makes for a perfect picnic spot.

Large oak on the Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2:40 – Large oak on the Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Continuing along, you’ll bear right at the next intersection and follow the Upper Green Valley Fire Road to its junction with the lower end of the Stonewall Creek Fire Road. Continue south, passing a short spur leading to a view point beneath a pine where an interpretive plaque describes some of the park’s avian wildlife.

Hill Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2:58 – Start of the Hill Trail

At 7.3 miles from the start, turn right on the Hill Trail, a single-track which climbs to a ridge and then drops back down to the Cold Stream drainage. Turn right on the Cold Stream Trail and follow it for a pleasant 0.7 miles back to your starting point.

View of Stonewall Peak from the junction of the Hill Trail and Cold Stream Trails, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

3:10 – Stonewall Peak as seen from the bottom of the Hill Trail

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mountain Home Flats

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Canyon of Mountain Home Creek in the San Beranrdino National Forest

Panoramic view of the canyon carved by Mountain Home Creek

Sunlight through the pines, Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Sunlight through the pines, Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Mountain Home Flats

  • Location: San Bernardino National Forest. The trail head is located by mile marker 18.45 and the coordinates are N 34 07.632, W 116 59.017 but the only practical parking area is a quarter mile north, across the bridge at a turnout on the right side of Highway 38, about 18 miles northeast of Redlands and 3.4 miles north of the hairpin turn at the intersection with Valley of the Falls Drive. While no signage indicates that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is necessary for parking, many trail heads in the San Bernardino National Forest do require the pass. If you do not have the pass and want to be safe, click here to purchase. The pass can also be bought at the Mill Creek Ranger Station.
  • Agency:  San Bernardino National Forest/Mill Creek Ranger Station
  • Distance:  4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Trail condition, navigation, terrain, steepness, elevation gain, altitude)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: April – November
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; hiking poles; long sleeved shirt and pants
  • Recommended guidebook: San Gorgonio Wilderness Map (Tom Harrison Maps); Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • USGS topo map: Big Bear Lake
  • More information: Trail maps here and here; video shot at the trail camp here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike, a quarter mile north on Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike, a quarter mile north on Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Though it’s relatively close to civilization as the crow flies, the Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp feels very remote, accessible by an unmaintained trail leading into the wilderness from a hard-to-find trail head. In an only four mile round trip assuming a start from the turnout a quarter mile above the trail head) this hike presents multiple challenges, including navigation, negotiating fallen trees, difficult terrain and steep ascents. The bugs can be annoying as well.

Begining of the Mountain Home Flats Trail, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

0:07 – Start of the Mountain Home Flats Trail (times are approximate)

Despite these drawbacks, the hike is still a worthwhile experience, especially for those who want to enjoy the San Gorgonio Wilderness without having to tackle some of the more intimidating peaks in the area. Highlights of this trip include the peaceful destination of Mountain Home Flat, panoramic views of Mountain Home Creek, black oaks, pines and more.

Following the creek bed on the Mountain Home Flats Trail

0:17 – The trail drops to the creek and follows for a short distance

Assuming you start from the turnout, follow south on Highway 38 for a quarter mile. This is easier said than done: the shoulder of the road is narrow and becomes nonexistent at the bridge over Glen Martin Creek. Your safest bet is to stay outside the fence separating the road and pick your way through the vegetation, which tends not to be too thick.

Following a tributary canyon of Glen Martin Creek, San Bernardino National Forest

0:22 – Bear right at the tributary and leave Glen Martin Creek

At a quarter mile, you reach the beginning of the trail. The first half mile is fairly easy going, save for a few fallen tree trunks and one slightly difficult stretch that has been washed out. The trail dips down to the streambed of Glen Martin Creek (dry as of this writing) and briefly follows the north side before reaching a junction. Bear right, leaving the main stream bed for a tributary and head up canyon, negotiating more fallen tree trunks. Soon you come to another junction where you again stay right, continuing to follow the stream bed.

Fallen logs in the San Bernardino National Forest

0:24 – Climbing logs on the tributary of Glen Martin Creek

At about a mile from the start of the hike (3/4 of a mile on the trail), leave the stream bed by heading right, climbing over a fallen log and climbing through an attractive grove of black oaks. The trail then makes a hairpin right turn and engages in a steep series of switchbacks.

Leaving the canyon, heading toward Mountain Home Flats, San Bernardino National Forest

0:32 – Leaving the tributary of Glen Martin Creek

After huffing and puffing, you attain a ridge and are treated to an excellent view of the canyon carved by Mountain Home Creek. Your work, however, is not done: the trail now clings tightly to the north side of the canyon, often quite loose and washed out. A particularly tricky spot shortly after the ridge requires special attention; expect to use your hands as well as your feet. Shortly beyond, the trail makes an easy-to-miss “S” curve to the left before beginning its descent to Mountain Home Creek. Again, take extra care when negotiating the washed-out sections of the trail.

0:36 - View from the ridge, looking down into the canyon of Mountain Home Creek

0:41 – View from the ridge, looking down into the canyon of Mountain Home Creek

On the south side of Mountain Home Creek, the trail begins a series of switchbacks. The lower portion of the trail is somewhat loose. Keep an eye out for metal poles that once were part of a retaining wall but now unfortunately present tripping hazards. As you climb steeply up the south side of the canyon, the trail becomes more solid. After the sharp ascent, the trail levels out and finally reaches the destination, Mountain Home Flats trail camp.

Difficult stretch of the Mountain Home Flats Trail, San Bernardino National Forest

0:47 – Difficult stretch of the trail on the descent to Mountain Home Creek

Here, you can sit on a log beneath the shade of pines and oaks, charging your batteries for the steep descent back to Mountain Home Creek and the precarious cliff-hugging that awaits you on the return. The GPS coordinates of the trail camp are N 34 07.726, W 116 57.674 and the elevation is 6,373 feet.

Crossing Mountain Home Creek, San Bernardino National Forest

1:02 – Crossing Mountain Home Creek

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp, San Bernardino National Forest

1:25 – Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Sweetwater River Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Pines and oaks on the Sweetwater River Trail

Pines and oaks on the Sweetwater River Trail

Sunlight through oaks on the Merigan Fire Road

Sunlight through oaks on the Merigan Fire Road

Sweetwater River Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north on Highway 79 for 1.3 miles to Riverside Drive.  Bear left on Riverside Drive and follow it a total of 1.5 miles (along the way it becomes Viejas Blvd.) to the signed Merigan Day Use Area for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, on the left side of the road.  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 20 miles, past the main entrances to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and turn right on Viejas Blvd.  The trail head is on the right side of the road in 1.1 miles.  Parking is $8 per day (checks or exact change accepted).
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Everytrail report here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Merigan Fire Road trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Merigan Fire Road trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This balloon-shaped hike explores the lower country in the southern end of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  You’re still between 3,400 and 4,100 feet above sea level and while much of the route is exposed, with an early start, it can easily be done even on warm days.  This hike doesn’t have quite the scenic variety of panoramic views that can be found in the park’s higher terrain, but it does offer a nice sense of isolation less than an hour’s drive from San Diego and about two hours from Orange County.

0:34 - Oaks on the Merigan Fire Road shortly before the junction (times are approximate)

0:34 – Oaks on the Merigan Fire Road shortly before the junction (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the Merigan Fire Road north through a field and into the shallow canyon of the Sweetwater River (which may be just a trickle or completely dry depending on the time of year and amount of rainfall).  At 0.7 miles, pass a junction with the Dead Horse Trail and continue north, eventually entering a pleasant oak woodland.

0:44- On the Saddleback Trail

0:44- On the Saddleback Trail

At about two miles from the start, you reach a four-way junction in a pleasant meadow, where a tall pine stands above the oaks and chaparral shrubs.  The Merigan Fire Road bends right.  The Sweetwater Trail, straight ahead of you, is your return route.  Turn left and follow the Saddleback Trail, a single-track, down to the river.  (The loop can be done in either direction but by hiking clockwise, you have a more pleasant ascent).  The Saddleback Trail is overgrown in spots but never too difficult to follow.  It climbs steadily through the riparian habitat of the river, through some oak-dotted fields and finally gains the top of a ridge, where it meets the California Riding & Hiking Trail (3.6 miles.)  Here, you get the best views of the hike, notably imposing Cuyamaca Peak to the north and Oakzanita Peak to the east.

1:17 - Cuyamaca Peak from the top of the Saddleback Trail

1:17 – Cuyamaca Peak from the top of the Saddleback Trail

Turn right and follow the CR&H Trail.  In addition to the views of the summits, if the air is clear, you may be able to get a glimpse of the ocean in the distance.   At 4 miles from the start, you reach a junction with the South Boundary Fire Road.  Bear right and begin a steep descent back into canyon.  At 4.4 miles from the start, turn right to continue following the South Boundary Fire Road down the canyon, under the shade of oaks.  After crossing the headwaters of the Sweetwater River, turn right on the Sweetwater Trail (4.7 miles).

1:27 - Junction with the Boundary Fire Road (bear right)

1:27 – Junction with the Boundary Fire Road (bear right)

The Sweetwater Trail head south, paralleling the river bed, for just over a mile. At 5.7 miles from the start, you return to the four-way junction, completing the loop.  Retrace your steps on the Merigan Fire Road back to the parking lot.

1:38 - Heading south back into the woods on the Boundary Fire Road

1:38 – Heading south back into the woods on the Boundary Fire Road

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:46 - Start of the Sweetwater Trail, last leg of the loop

1:46 – Start of the Sweetwater Trail, last leg of the loop

Sunset Hills/Woodridge Loop

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Through the meadow on the Woodridge Loop

Through the meadow on the Woodridge Loop

Morning view of Bard Lake, Sunset Hills/Woodridge Loop

Morning view of Bard Lake, Sunset Hills/Woodridge Loop

Sunset Hills/Woodridge Loop

  • Location: Erbes Road, Thousand Oaks. From the south, take the 23 Freeway to Sunset Hills Blvd.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to Erbes Road.  Turn left and go 0.7 miles and park in a large dirt lot on the left side of the road (if you reach the freeway, you’ve gone too far).  From the north, take the 23 Freeway to Olsen Road.  Turn right and go 0.4 miles to Erbes Road.  Turn left and go 0.7 miles to the trail head, which will be on the left side of the road shortly after you cross under the freeway.
  • Agency: Conejo Recreation and Parks District/Conejo Open Space Foundation
  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map:  Newbury Park
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: Area trail map here; trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This loop isn’t as scenically varied or secluded as some of the other hikes in the Lang Ranch area, but it does offer a good workout, conveniently located to the Thousand Oaks/Simi Valley area.  On clear days, the vistas include the Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Susanas, Simi Hills and more.

0:26 - "Y" Junction near the top of the ridge; bear left (times are approximate)

0:28 – “Y” Junction near the top of the ridge; bear left (times are approximate)

From the trailhead on Erbes Road, follow the switchbacks up the ridge.  After a quarter mile, a trail branches off to the left, heading downhill; this is the start of a small loop that can be added to the hike.  Continuing uphill on the main route you pass the other end of the loop and the trail then bends right, heading southeast.  You get a good view of Bard Lake (also known as Wood Ranch Reservoir) on the left and the Santa Monica Mountains on the right.

0:35 - Beginning of the loop

0:35 – Beginning of the loop

After briefly leveling out, the trail runs up along side a fence and makes a steep ascent, climbing over 200 feet in about 0.3 miles.  Bear left at a Y-junction on the way up.  At the top of the ascent (1.1 miles from the start) you can enjoy a 360-degree view before descending.

1:00 - Cross the road and continue on the paved trail opposite

1:00 – Cross the road and continue on the paved trail opposite

At 1.4 miles, you reach a T-junction; the start of the main loop.  It can be hiked in either direction; by going counter-clockwise as described here, the ascents are slightly more gradual.  Take a hard right and descend to residential Sunset Hills Blvd.  Cross the street and turn right, following it briefly to a parking area where the trail continues (1.8 miles.)

1:12 - End of the pavement; bear left

1:12 – End of the pavement; bear left

This brings you to one of the more attractive legs of the hike.  You ascend to a meadow with panoramic views, heading first south then east, meeting up with a service road at 2.5 miles.  Cross it and continue east, now on a paved path that leads around the backs of some homes.  When the paved path ends, bear left and head into a field.  On the opposite hill, you may notice hikers descending on the Lang Ranch Loop.

1:20 - Left turn; heading uphill toward the saddle

1:20 – Left turn; heading uphill toward the saddle

At an intersection, head left and uphill (the right fork takes you to Lang Ranch, an option if you want to extend the hike.) A short climb brings you to a saddle where two oaks stand on opposite sides of the trail.  A paved road descends; you can use it, but to make the hike more interesting, follow a trail on the right side of the road, which briefly climbs before making a twisting descent, taking in some good views of Simi Valley, soon rejoining the road.  (A few trails branch off to the right; they head toward the Long Canyon area of Simi Valley.)

1:23 - Oak tree at the top of the saddle (bear right on the single-track)

1:23 – Oak tree at the top of the saddle (bear right on the single-track)

After crossing the road (3.3 miles), pick up the trail on the opposite side, passing by some sandstone boulders.  The trail climbs gradually, following a ridge in back of some homes, before completing the loop (4.3 miles.)  Retrace your steps back to the trail head on Erbes, enjoying some good views to the north and west.

1:25 - Sandstone boulders on the opposite side of the service road

1:25 – Sandstone boulders on the opposite side of the service road

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:50 - Heading back along the ridge, completing the loop

1:50 – Heading back along the ridge, completing the loop