Earl Canyon Motorway

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View of Strawberry Peak and the San Gabriel Mountains from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway, Angeles National Forest, CA

View of Strawberry Peak from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway

Sunset on the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel foothills, CA

Sunset over the Verdugo Mountains as seen from the Earl Canyon Motorway

Earl Canyon Motorway

      • Location: La Canada Flintridge, corner of Palm Drive and La Sierra Drive. From the 210 Freeway, take the Ocean View exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from Pasadena; left if from the Valley) and go 0.4 miles to Foothill Blvd. Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Palm Drive. Turn left and follow Palm for 0.8 miles. Park where available near the intersection of Palm and La Sierra (a short spur leading to a metal gate). From the south, take Highway 2 to its end just beyond the 210 Freeway. Turn left on Foothill Blvd,. go 0.2 miles and turn right on Palm Drive. Follow it 0.8 miles to the end. A nearby alternate trail head can be found on Jessen Drive.
      • Agency: City of La Canada Flintridge/Angeles National Forest (Los Angeles River Ranger District)
      • Distance: 7.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance)
      • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
      • Best season:  October – May
      • USGS topo map: Pasadena
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
      • More information: Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; video of a mountain biker descending the route here
      • Rating: 8
Start of the hike on the Earl Canyon Motorway

0:00 – Start of the hike on La Sierra and Palm Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This scenic–but grueling–hike climbs from a residential neighborhood on the edge of La Canada to a junction with the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. Here, hikers both human and canine (this trail being popular with the latter) can enjoy an excellent view for their efforts. This hike could be described as a longer version of the La Canada Teepee hike; that structure is visible from the motorway.

View of Mt. Lukens from the Earl Canyon Motorway

0:39 – View of Mt. Lukens (times are approximate)

Whether you start from La Sierra or Jessen Drive, the two paths converge after one hundred yards or so. You continue through a pleasant oak and sycamore woodland which, sadly, serves as a bit of false advertising as trees are few and far between for the majority of the route.

The trail takes a hard left at a junction with a blocked off private road, and you begin the bulk of the climb. The fire road makes its way steadily up the ridge, offering panoramic views all the way. At 1.3 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain, you reach a small turnout with an impressive view of Mt. Lukens. The trail continues its switchbacks to a saddle at 2.1 miles and 1,300 vertical feet. You get views of Mt. Lukens to the west and the San Gabriel Valley southeast. Sharp-eyed hikers may be able to pick out the La Canada Teepee on the opposite ridge. If you are short on time and energy, this can be a good turnaround point, although the rest of the hike is easier and more scenic.

Looking southeast from the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel Foothills, CA

1:03 – View from the junction

If you decide to continue, resume your ascent on the Earl Canyon Motorway, which soon effectively becomes a single-track trail. A few more switchbacks bring you to a pleasant, pseudo-shaded stretch along a north-facing ridge and soon after (about 3.3 miles) you get a view of San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Disappointment and Mt. Wilson. A fairly level and enjoyable 0.3 miles more brings you to the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. A path leads a few dozen yards more to a concrete water tank.

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel foothills, CA

1:33 – View of the San Gabriels

Here you can enjoy a 270-degree panorama including Strawberry Peak and the other front country summits of the San Gabriels, Old Saddleback, Catalina Island, the Hollywood Hills, the Verdugos and the Santa Monica Mountains. After enjoying the view, return via the same route or if you want a real challenge, continue 3.6 miles northwest to Mt. Lukens. You can also make the hike into a loop by descending the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail to the Crosstown Trail, bringing you back to the Palm Drive trail head in just over 4 miles, 1.5 of which are on city streets.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean as seen from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:45 – Ocean view from the top

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

Cedar Creek Falls (West Approach)

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Cedar Creek Falls, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

Cedar Creek Falls

Eagle Peak seen from the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

Eagle Peak from the San Diego River Gorge Trail

Cedar Creek Falls (West Approach)

  • Location: 15519 Thornbush Road, Ramona. From Escondido, follow Highway 78 east for about 18 miles. In downtown Ramona when Highway 78 turns left, stay straight and follow 10th St., which soon becomes San Vicente Road, for a total of 6.8 miles. Turn left on Ramona Oaks and follow it 2.9 miles to Thornbush Road. Turn right on Thornbush and follow it 0.2 miles to the parking area. From Poway, take Highway 67 to Dye Road (6.1 miles northeast of the junction with Poway Road). Turn right and follow Dye 1.8 miles where it turns left and becomes Ramona St. Follow Ramona 0.4 miles and turn right on Warnock. Go 0.8 miles and turn right on San Vicente. Follow San Vicente Road 4.8 miles to Ramona Oaks. Turn left and follow Ramona Oaks 2.9 miles to Thornbush. Turn right and drive to the parking area. Restrooms and water are available at the trail head. Dogs are allowed but not recommended. To purchase the required permit ($6 for a group of up to five) click here. If you have a Smartphone, you can buy the permit at the trail head but plan on 10-15 minutes’ processing time. Note that the permit is only required for visiting the area around the falls; the first two miles of the hike don’t require it.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: November – June; sunrise to sunset
  • USGS topo map: “Santa Ysabel”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information: Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here; articles about the history of the trail and its current regulations here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

The good news is that the San Diego River Gorge Trail provides a route to Cedar Creek Falls that is more convenient and accessible than the trail from south of Julian. The bad news is that over use and reckless behavior from some visitors has caused the implementation of a permit system. In addition to seeing its share of cliff-jumping type accidents, Cedar Creek Falls is a reverse hike through almost entirely exposed terrain in an area that gets very hot during the summer. Hikers who aren’t prepared for a long ascent can find themselves hating life on the return from Cedar Creek (the approaches from both directions are reverse hikes.)

Information board at the Cedar Creek Falls Trail Head, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Info board at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Despite the caveats, the scenic rewards of this hike are considerable. Even if the waterfall is barely a trickle, which is the case as of this writing, this is still one of the better hikes in San Diego County. The trail from Ramona is moderately graded and easy to follow.

Descending switchbacks on the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:18 – Descending the switchbacks (times are approximate)

From the trail head, pass by an information board with dire warnings about heat stroke and and other potential hazards and begin the descent. As you make your way down the wide switchbacks, you get a panoramic view of the San Diego River Gorge below, with Eagle Peak towering above on the opposite side. Beyond are the higher summits of the Cuyamacas. You may also notice the trail from the east cutting its way down the hill side. Distance markers at quarter-mile intervals mark your progress.

At just over two miles, you reach the attractive floodplain of the San Diego River, dotted with oaks and sycamores. Almost immediately after you come to a junction with the trail from Julian. It is only beyond this point that the permit is required. Stay straight and follow the canyon of Cedar Creek, crossing the stream bed a few times. The trail becomes somewhat rocky but never too difficult.

Trees and mountains on the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:25 – Change in the foliage as the trail descends

At about 2.7 miles from the start, the top of the 80-foot waterfall comes into view. You find yourself at a large pool nicknamed the Punchbowl, lined with rocks and a few shallow inlets. Here you can sit and enjoy the scene; though it’s only a few air miles from civilization it feels far more isolated. Make sure you rest up for the ascent back.

San Diego River Flood Plain, Cleveland National Forest, CA

0:50 – Greenery on the San Diego River flood plain, shortly before the junction

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

Punchbowl, Cedar Creek Falls, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

1:05 – Punchbowl at Cedar Creek Falls

Bouquet Canyon to Sierra Pelona via Pacific Crest Trail

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View from the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

Looking north from the Pacific Crest Trail across Bouquet Canyon

Woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

Woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona

Bouquet Canyon to Sierra Pelona via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Liebre Mountains north of Los Angeles, east of I-5 and west of Highway 14. From the north, take Highway 14 to Avenue N. Turn right and head west for 4.6 miles. Turn left on Godde Hill Road and follow it 3.1 miles to its end at Elizabeth Lake Road. Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Bouquet Canyon Road. Turn left and go 4.3 miles to a dirt turnout on the left side of the road where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses. From the south, take Highway 14 to Sand Canyon Road. Turn left and head northwest for 2 miles to Sierra Highway. Turn right and go 0.4 miles to Vasquez Canyon Road. Turn left and follow Vasquez Canyon 3.6 miles to its ending at Bouquet Canyon Road. Turn right and follow Bouquet Canyon Road for a total of 13.7 miles, past the reservoir and the junction with Spunky Canyon Road, to a dirt turnout on the right side of the road where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses. Though “Trails of the Angeles” indicates that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required to park here, there is no notice to that effect at the parking area; recent policy changes that allow free parking at unimproved National Forest areas such as this one would seem to indicate that the pass is not required. However if you want to buy a pass just to be sure, or for use at other trail heads that require it, click here.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Santa Clarita and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance)
  • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter; also known for high winds
  • USGS topo map: Sleepy Valley
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Video about the hike here; Pacific Crest Trail association home page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head on Bouquet Canyon Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

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

This enjoyable section of the Pacific Crest Trail climbs the south slope of Bouquet Canyon to the long ridge of Sierra Pelona, offering panoramic views along the way. The nearly three mile ascent makes a good workout and can be done in an afternoon, although hikers wanting more of a challenge can either continue along the P.C.T. or follow the Martindale Ridge Fire Road to Mt. McDill.

From the turnout, follow a short spur leading to the Pacific Crest Trail. The P.C.T. ascends steadily for the first 0.9 miles, passing a tall oak and climbing the side of the ridge. There’s not much in the way of shade trees, but if you get off to an early start, the sharply rising ridge will block out most of the sun.

Steep ascent on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:25 – Hard left at the intersection (times are approximate)

Just under a mile from the start, you reach a junction. Take a hard left and continue following the Pacific Crest Trail as it makes a short but noticeably steep ascent to a bench. The views include Martindale Canyon and distant Bouquet Reservoir to the west (right) and the Antelope Valley to the east. Far below to the north, the road winds through the canyon.

Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:36 – View on the ridge after the steep climb

Past the bench, the grade continues to be moderate and enjoyable. The trail weaves in and out of several stands of black oaks and through gently sloping meadows. At about 2.5 miles, you pass Bear Spring, a nice place to sit and rest, although it can’t be counted on for water.

Just under three miles from the start, the trail passes by a particularly impressive oak and enters a field where it meets up with the fire road, the turnaround point. Here, you can enjoy a view that on clear days includes peaks on the north slope of the San Gabriels across the Santa Clarita Valley.

Black oaks on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest

1:06 – Black oaks near Bear Spring

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.

Looking north from the Pacific Crest Trail at the Martindale Ridge Fire Road, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:25 – Looking north from the top of the ridge (turnaround point)

Dawn Mine

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Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Oaks in Millard Canyon near Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest, CA

Oaks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Dawn Mine

  • Location: Angeles National Forest above Pasadena. From the 210 Freeway, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on W. Loma Alta Drive, go 0.6 miles and turn left on to Cheney Trail. Follow it 1.2 miles to a junction with Mt. Lowe Road (also known as the Sunset Ridge Fire Road). A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (trail condition, navigation, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: Pasadena
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
Sunset Ridge Fire Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

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

This perennial favorite of L.A. hikers has recently re-opened following the Station Fire. Unfortunately, the devastation that the fire wrought on the canyon has made the hike to Dawn Mine more challenging than it was before. Expect to have to negotiate fallen trees, jumbled boulders and washed out sections of the trail and unless you’re experienced at navigating rough canyons, consider going with someone who’s already done the hike. The good news is that the rugged conditions make the hike feel particularly wild and isolated considering its proximity to civilization. In addition to the historic mine, the hike provides an aerial view of Millard Canyon Falls (still closed from below as of this writing) and an opportunity for a side-trip to Saucer Branch Falls.

Sunset Ridge Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:08 – Turnoff for the Sunset Ridge Trail (times are approximate)

It used to be possible to make the hike into a loop and perhaps it still is, but due to poor trail conditions, the best and “easiest” way to see the mine is heading straight up through the canyon. From the parking area, follow the Sunset Ridge Fire Road for about 0.3 miles to a junction with the Sunset Ridge Trail, a single-track. Follow it around the south rim of Millard Canyon, getting some dramatic views, including the waterfall.

Trail descending to Millard Canyon in the Angeles National Forest, CA

0:20 – The left fork descends to Millard Canyon

At about a mile from the start, you reach a Y-fork. The Sunset Ridge Trail continues upward to the right, eventually rejoining the fire road. To get to Dawn Mine, bear left and follow the trail as it descends past a cabin, soon reaching the bottom of the canyon.

Now the challenge begins. You make your way slowly up the canyon, crossing the stream bed several times. Navigation can be tricky, but there are many trail ducks that help point the way. In some places a semblance of the trail or evidence of hikers before you can help; the route usually sticks pretty close to the banks of the canyon.

Heavy growth in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest

0:35 – Through the bushes at the junction with the Saucer Branch

At about 1.4 miles from the start, a tributary, Saucer Branch, joins Millard Canyon from the left. If you’re up for a side trip, a short but difficult scramble up this fork (keep an eye out for poison oak) brings you to a modest-sized two tier waterfall. The route to Dawn Mine branches off to the right, ducking through some bushes and crossing the two forks of the stream before emerging on the other side.

Jumbled boulders in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:00 – Climbing through the rocks

More wading in and out of the creek and negotiating fallen trees brings you to the most strenuous part of the hike: climbing a wash of boulders. The exact route may vary, but the easiest way up is to stick to the left side of the canyon and to hoist yourself between the rocks. A large root of a fallen tree makes an obstacle but it can be ducked under or climbed carefully over. From here, make your way up a steep and loose slope between more rocks before following a trail that clings to the rocks on the left side of the canyon–and negotiating more fallen trees.

After this, the going gets somewhat easier. At about 2 miles from the start, you’re rewarded for your efforts as the canyon enters an attractive oak woodland. The trail can still be a little tough to follow and there are still boulders to climb, but by now the toughest of the climbing is behind you.

Oak woodlands in Millard Canyon near Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:17 – Oak woodlands after the rock scramble

Shortly after crossing under a rusted metal pipe, look for a path branching off to the left and heading down into the canyon. Some fairly easy rock scrambling brings you to a short spur trail leading uphill to the mine. Look for some metal equipment lodged in the left side of the canyon and soon after that is the entrance.

Path through the woods to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:27 – Path leading toward the mine

Though many people have done it, entering the mine is not advisable; think of it as the Angeles National Forest’s version of Russian Roulette. Instead, consider taking a glimpse inside and then enjoying the pleasant quiet of the canyon before retracing your steps.

In case you were wondering, Dawn Mine was named after Dawn Ehrenfeld, the daughter of a friend of one of the first miners who prospected the area. Although gold was first discovered here in 1895 and would continue to be found in bits and pieces, the results were disappointing and the mine was shut down in the 1950s.

Entrance to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:30 – Dawn Mine entrance

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.


Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Summit of Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

Looking northeast from Oakzanita Peak

Foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

Fall foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail

Oakzanita Peak (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 3.2 miles on Highway 79 to a small turnout on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 17 miles.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Oakzanita Peak as seen from the Lower Descanso Trail Head

Oakzanita Peak (elevation 5,054) is the southernmost major summit in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Panoramic views from the top and a good variety of scenery on the way up make it a superior hiking destination. The route is known both for fall foliage and spring wildflowers. While the views are best on clear, cool days, the summit can be quite windy so plan accordingly.

Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – Oakzanita Peak as seen from the East Mesa Fire Road

From the trail head, follow the Lower Descanso Creek Trail which follows–you guessed it–Lower Descanso Creek. Even when the creek is dry, the stroll through the oaks is enjoyable. After an easy 0.7 miles, during which you gain only about 200 feet, you reach the East Mesa Fire Road. Turn right and follow the road for a short distance, during which you get a nice view of Oakzanita Peak, towering above the meadow.

Take the Descanso Creek Trail, which dips down to the stream bed and then begins a steady climb along the north east slope of the mountain. As you climb, you get views of Cuyamaca Peak and later Stonewall Peak’s characteristic triangular shape comes into view.

View of Cuyamaca Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:52 – Cuyamaca Peak as seen from the Descanso Creek Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, a large granite outcrop provides a perfect rest spot with excellent views to the north and east. Farther up, you reach a junction (2.4 miles) where you get a good view to the south. Head right on the spur signed for Oakzanita Peak, making the switchbacks and climbing over a few rocks to reach the summit.

Trail to Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

1:00 – Approaching Oakzanita Peak from the top of the ridge

The views aren’t quite as dramatic as those of Stonewall Peak, but Oakzanita’s location does have the advantage of providing a true 360-degree perspective, due to its distance from Cuyamaca Peak. You can see the East and West Mesa, the Laguna Mountains and El Capitan. If visibility is particularly good you can see the ocean, the Coronado Islands, the Santa Ana Mountains and the Santa Rosa Mountains.

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.

Oakzanita Peak southwest view

1:20 – Looking southwest from Oakzanita Peak

Horn Canyon Trail to the Pines Campground (Ojai)

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Sunset on the Horn Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

Sunset over Ojai Valley from the Horn Canyon Trail

Pines Campground, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

Pines Campground

Horn Canyon Trail to the Pines Campground (Ojai)

    • Location: Thacher School, Los Padres National Forest foothills northeast of Ojai. From Highway 150, take Reeves Road (3.4 miles east of downtown Ojai; 14.4 miles northwest of Santa Paula) 1.1 miles to McAndrew Road. Turn left and follow McAndrew 1.1 miles to the Thacher School. Enter the grounds (the gate should be open during daylight hours) and follow the road, taking three consecutive right turns. After the third, the paved road becomes dirt. Follow it a short distance to a lot where you’ll see a wooden sign for the Horn Canyon Trail.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Ojai Ranger District
    • Distance: 5 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3 hours
    • Best season:  October – May
    • USGS topo map: Ojai
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here, here (inaccurately lists the distance as 3 miles round trip) and here; area trail map here
    • Rating: 8
Horn Canyon Trail Head, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

0:00 – Horn Canyon Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

For Thanksgiving, we present a hike that will surely help you burn off a scoop or two of mashed potatoes and gravy, also providing some excellent views in the bargain. Horn Canyon is one of the more rugged and scenic areas of the Ojai front country and the variety of sights on this hike make it worth the effort.

Stream crossing on the Horn Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

0:13 – Stream crossing (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signed trail into the canyon, passing by a few turnoffs and entering an attractive grove of oaks. You cross the stream bed several times, make a few switchbacks and enter another wooded canyon, about 1.1 miles from the start. With the majority of climbing still ahead of you, this peaceful spot is a good place to rest up for the energy about to be exerted.

Woodland on the Horn Canyon Trail, Ojai, CA

0:29 – Woodland retreat before the steep climbing begins

After crossing the stream bed, the trail becomes noticeably steeper, with wooden beams forming “steps.” Soon you exit the shade of the canyon and make a few switchbacks. The good news is that as you climb, the views–both of the canyon below and Lake Casitas (and the ocean and Santa Cruz Island on clear days) are excellent.

At about 1.9 miles and 1,400 feet of elevation gain from the start of the hike, you make a sharp turn and briefly follow the north side of the ridge. It’s here that you’ll get a glimpse of your destination: a bunch of Coulter pines on a bench some 3,100 feet above sea level. After a couple of more switchbacks, the trail finally levels out, following a ridge between Manzanitas and chaparral, finally reaching the trail camp at 2.5 miles.

Climbing through hills on the Horn Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

0:42 – Climbing higher above Horn Canyon

The Pines Campground is very attractive, providing not only an elevated, shaded retreat but glimpses of the valley below and the ocean in the distance. Several benches carved from tree branches allow hikers to sit and rest and enjoy the serenity before negotiating the steep descent. For the adventurous, the Horn Canyon Trail continues beyond the camp, another steep 2.5 miles to Nordhoff Ridge Road.

Distant view of the Pines Campground, Horn Canyon Trail, Ojai, CA

0:58 – Pines Campground in the distance

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 from the Pines Campground, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

1:30 – Looking southeast from the Pines Campground

Mission Creek Preserve

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Mission Creek, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

Water in the west fork of Mission Creek

Dirt road leading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Heading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Mission Creek Preserve

  • Location: Eastern San Bernardino Mountains, northwest of the Coachella Valley. From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 4.7 miles and turn left on Mission Creek Road (dirt but passable by all vehicles). Follow it 2.3 miles to its end at the entrance to the preserve. From the Yucca Valley/29 Palms area, follow Highway 62 southwest to Mission Creek Road, which is 16.2 miles past the junction with Highway 247. If you hit Pierson Blvd, you’ve come too far. Turn right on to the dirt road and follow it to its end.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo map: Whitewater, Morongo Valley, Catclaw Flats
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Mission Creek Preserve home page here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

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

The 4,760-acre Mission Creek Preserve occupies an important transitional zone near the eastern base of the San Bernardino Mountains, offering as good a view of the range as can be found from almost anywhere in the desert. The preserve will be a crucial piece of the proposed Sand to Snow National Monument.

Cottonwod tree, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains

0:25 – Cottonwood tree in the Painted Hills wetlands (times are approximate)

If you contact the preserve, you may be able to have them unlock the gate, allowing you to drive 1.6 miles to the Stone House and begin your hike from there (high clearance vehicles recommended). Otherwise, start at the lower trail head outside the gate.

Follow the wide dirt road, passing by the ruins of some stone cabins, and continue up canyon with the San Bernardino Mountains looming in the distance. At about a mile from the start, you pass an impressive cottonwood tree and make a sharp right turn, climbing out of the canyon. Soon after you reach the Stone House, where you can look at maps and other displays inside or enjoy a picnic beneath one of the shaded tables. You also can enjoy a wooden rocking chair on the porch of the house.

Stone house in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

0:41 – The stone house

Past the Stone House, the road ends and becomes a single-track trail, weaving in and out of the stream bed, following the trail arrows. At about 2 miles from the start, you reach the reserve boundary. You head up the west fork of Mission Creek, through an increasingly diverse landscape of cottonwoods, cholla, yuccas and more.

Trail in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

1:22 – Heading into the canyon on Mission Creek’s west fork

At 3.7 miles from the start, you reach the Pacific Crest Trail, the turnaround point for this hike. A popular alternative is, with a pre arranged shuttle, to continue south for 4 miles to the Whitewater Preserve. (People who do this route often do it start from Whitewater, which has less of a net elevation gain).

Mountains, sky and bushes in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

1:40 – Looking back from the Pacific Crest Trail

Note that as of this writing, water levels are low and the trail is easy to follow as it crosses the creek. However, if conditions make navigation difficult, keep in mind the following GPS coordinates : N 34 00.997, W 116 37.690 for the stone house; N 34 01.049, W 116 37.971 for the preserve boundary and N 34 01.493, W 116 39.556 for the junction with the P.C.T.

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.