Category Archives: Difficulty PG13

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


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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.

Mt. Islip (North Approach)


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Trees near the summit of Mt. Islip

Trees near the summit of Mt. Islip

View of the high desert from below Little Jimmy Trail Camp

View of the high desert from the P.C.T. below Little Jimmy Trail Camp

Mt. Islip (North Approach)

        • Location:  Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) northeast for 41 miles.  Just past marker 65.5, park at a dirt turnout on the side of the road (about a mile and a half past Islip Saddle).  From Highway 138, take Highway 2 west for 23.2 miles and the parking area will be on the left side of the road, shortly before Islip Saddle.  A United States 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
        • Distance:  6 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
        • Suggested time: 3 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Altitude,  elevation gain)
        • Best season: May – November
        • USGS topo map: Crystal Lake
        • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
        • More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 8

You already know how to get to Mt. Islip from Crystal Lake, so in this post we’ll look at the northern route. The approach from Highway 2 is shorter and easier than from the south, but it is still a challenging workout; hikers sensitive to altitude will want to keep in mind that the trail head is at about 7,000 feet.  While the views aren’t quite as dramatic, there is still some nice scenery that makes it well worth the trip.

0:00 - Trail head on Angeles Crest Highway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trail head on Angeles Crest Highway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the highway, look for a dirt road heading uphill. Pass the yellow gate and begin walking up the fire road, making a steady ascent through the pines to reach a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (0.6 miles.)

0:15 - Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (times are approximate)

0:15 – Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (times are approximate)

Turn left on the P.C.T. (the right fork heads back down to Islip Saddle, an alternative starting point for the hike.) You head through a pleasant forest of sugar pines with a few glimpses of the road below and the high desert to the north. At 1.7 miles, you reach the Little Jimmy Trail Camp.

0:42 - Following the trail through Little Jimmy Camp

0:42 – Following the trail through Little Jimmy Camp

After the first group of picnic tables, look for a path heading sharply to the right; the P.C.T. continues south toward Windy Gap. Head through the campsite, past the outhouses, and look for the signed trail heading uphill. Follow it past some more picnic tables, reaching a Y-junction (2 miles.)

0:45 - Following the trail out of Little Jimmy Trail Camp

0:45 – Following the trail out of Little Jimmy Trail Camp

Here, bear right and continue uphill. At this point, you are sharing the route with the southern approach, and as you climb, you get great views of Hawkins Ridge to the east and Crystal Lake to the south. As you follow the ridge, you’ll see the cone of Islip’s summit.

1:00 - Bear right at the junction

1:00 – Bear right at the junction

Finally you reach the spur leading to the peak. Bear right and make the last few switchbacks to the summit, where you will pass an abandoned stone cabin before reaching the very top. On Islip’s summit, enjoy a 360-degree view of the San Gabriels, the L.A. basin and the high desert.

1:18 - Spur to the summit

1:18 – Spur 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.

1:25 - Looking southwest from Mt. Islip

1:25 – Looking southwest from Mt. Islip


Smuggler’s Cove and Yellow Banks (Santa Cruz Island)


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Anacapa Island from Santa ruz Island

Anacapa Island from Santa Cruz Island

Native Channel Islands Fox near Smuggler's Cove

Native Channel Islands Fox near Smuggler’s Cove

Smuggler’s Cove and Yellow Banks  (Santa Cruz Island)

    • Location:  Channel Islands National Park, off the Ventura coast.   Island Packers is the main travel provider to the Channel Islands National Park.  Visit their site here for schedules, fares and other information.
    • Agency:  Channel Islands National Park/National Park Service
    • Distance: 10.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
    • Suggested time: 5.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Best season:  Year-round (pending boat availability)
    • USGS topo map: “Santa Cruz Island C” and “Santa Cruz Island D”
    • Recommended gear: Dramamine (boat ride); sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trip description (through Smuggler’s Cove) here; S.C.I. Yelp page here; National Park Service page here
    • Rating: 8

The most popular day hike on Santa Cruz Island is Potato Harbor, but ambitious hikers might want to set their sights on Smuggler’s Cove, or farther still to the Yellow Banks Overlook. Although the schedules may vary, day trips typically allow five hours on the island; easily enough time to reach Smuggler’s Cove (a 7.4 mile round trip with 1,400 feet of total elevation gain) and, if a brisk pace is maintained, the Yellow Banks Overlook 1.7 miles farther.

0:00 - Scorpion Anchorage, beginning point for the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Scorpion Anchorage, beginning point for the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From Scorpion Anchorage, follow the dirt road toward the information center, where you can look at interpretive exhibits and learn about Santa Cruz Island. Continuing, you pass the trail to Cavern Point branching off to the right and the visitor center, and soon you reach a 4-way intersection. Head left and begin a short but steep climb. For your efforts, you get a nice aerial view of the bay and Cavern Point.

0:03 - Model of Santa Cruz Island, with the route to Smuggler's Cove outlined, at the information center (times are approximate)

0:03 – Model of Santa Cruz Island, with the route to Smuggler’s Cove outlined, at the information center (times are approximate)

The trail reaches a ridge where you can see Anacapa Island and the rugged coastline on the eastern shore of Santa Cruz. You make a sharp right turn and head through an open field, with the mountains distant.

0:06 - Turn left and begin the ascent past the windmill

0:09 – Turn left and begin the ascent past the windmill

At about 1.5 miles, you reach a split where the Montanos Trail heads off to the right. Stay left and continue a gradual ascent, enjoying more great views to the east. You reach the high point of the hike, approximately 700 feet above sea level, and then begin a steep descent (which, of course, you will have to climb on the return, and odds are the temperature will be hotter.)

0:55 - Turn left at the junction to continue to Smuggler's Cove

0:55 – Turn left at the junction to continue to Smuggler’s Cove

At the bottom of the hill, you make a sharp S-curve, taking in your first views of the island’s south side. Another steep descent, through a grove of trees, brings you to Smuggler’s Cove. Here you can sit at a picnic table beneath a grove of eucalyptus trees and watch the tide. The crescent-shaped bay resembles Little Harbor on Catalina Island.

1:40 - Approaching Smuggler's Cove

1:40 – Approaching Smuggler’s Cove

This makes a good turnaround point, but if you have time and energy you can continue on by following the dirt road north from Smuggler’s Cove through the trees, signed for Smuggler’s Ranch and Yellow Banks. You reach the old ranch house, built in 1889, with an interpretive plaque describing its history. Passing the house, the trail makes a sharp left turn and begins a steep ascent. On the way up, look for some caves carved into the rocks of the deep canyon beyond the ranch house.

1:45 - Smuggler's Cove

1:45 – Smuggler’s Cove

The climb levels out and the trail passes through a big field, following a fence, before bending back to the south. The trail rises and falls before leveling out and reaching an ending in a clearing just beyond a solitary tree.

1:50 - Historic ranch house

1:50 – Historic ranch house

Here, you can stand and look at the ocean below. There are several informal paths that lead down to the ocean (300 feet below), but hikers who attempt these routes put themselves at risk. If you have visited Santa Cruz Island as a day trip, odds are you will not have time to explore much further, regardless of terrain and trail condition, so consider this vista your turnaround point.

2:35 - Yellow Banks Vista (turnaround point)

2:35 – Yellow Banks Vista (turnaround point)

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Cahuilla Mountain


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Looking north from just below Cahuilla Mountain's summit

Looking north from just below Cahuilla Mountain’s summit

Pines and manzanitas near Cahuilla Mountain's summit

Pines and manzanitas near Cahuilla Mountain’s summit

Cahuilla Mountain

    • Location: East of Temecula, south of the San Jacinto Mountains.  From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 17 miles to Highway 371.  Turn left and head northeast for 11.2 miles.  Shortly after the casino, turn left on Cary Road, signed for Cahuilla Mountain.  Follow the road 3.6 miles (it changes names several times, finally becoming Tripp Flats Road) and turn left on a dirt road, Forest Road 7S04.  The road is in fairly good shape, but there are a few bumps to watch for.  At 0.8 miles, turn left at an intersection and follow the road another 1.6 miles to the Cahuilla Mountain trail head, near some overhead power lines.  From Highway 74, take Highway 371 southwest for 9.5 miles to Cary Road and follow the directions above.  The GPS coordinates of the trailhead are N33 35.783, W116 46.823.  Although the trail is on San Bernardino National Forest land, at no point is any requirement of an Adventure Pass mentioned.
    • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Idyllwild Ranger Station
    • Distance: 6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3hours
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo map: Cahuilla Mountain
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
    • More information: Forest Service page here; Trip description here; Everytrail report here; Sierra Club page here
    • Rating: 9
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 one may be a bit off the beaten path, but it’s well worth the trip.  Cahuilla Mountain stands between the Palomar and San Jacinto ranges, only a little over an hour’s drive from Riverside and Palm Springs, and doable as a day trip from San Diego, Orange County or L.A.  While it may appear to be located in a desert wasteland, the mountain’s high elevation (5,635 feet) helps it support a variety of trees and plants; with an early start and good sun protection, the trip can be done in the warm months.  The views, which include the San Bernardino, Santa Ana, San Jacinto, Santa Rosa and Palomar ranges, are great.    If you are approaching from the southwest via Highway 371, you will see the long ridge of the mountain from a good distance out.  The trail ends at the southern peak, probably the highest of several bumps on the ridge, although it has been speculated that another bump farther south may be a shade taller.

0:24 - View of the Santa Rosa Mountains and Anza Valley (times are approximate)

0:24 – View of the Santa Rosa Mountains and Anza Valley (times are approximate)

From the dirt lot, follow the trail past the information board and up the north slope of the mountain. You get some nice views of the San Jacintos and distant Santa Rosas, and the Anza Valley below. After traversing the rim of a deep canyon, you enter a pleasant woodland of pines and oaks at 1.4 miles, where you can sit and enjoy the shade. This is the approximate half way point.

0:42 - Looking back at Thomas Mountain as the trail enters woodland

0:42 – Looking back at Thomas Mountain as the trail enters woodland

The trail continues its ascent, reaching a scenic meadow and saddle at about two miles. Here, you can look back and get great views to the east, and the summit itself comes into view. The trail then descends onto the west slope of the mountain, providing great views of the Temecula Valley. After entering another grove of trees, you reach a junction at 2.5 miles. The right fork leads to a spring (marked by an actual metal spring) and the left fork leads to the summit.

1:00 - Looking east from the saddle

1:00 – Looking east from the saddle

The final ascent takes you through another meadow and past more trees before arriving at the summit ridge. You get a great view first to the south and then to the north before climbing to the top. The trees prevent the summit from being a true 360-degree view, but you can still get some impressive vistas in all directions.

1:02 - Descending into the woodlands past the saddle

1:02 – Descending into the woodlands past the saddle

In case you were wondering, the mountain’s name, like that of the local tribe, is pronounced “ka-WEE-uh.”  The mountain is also notable for the historical events that took place around it, which inspired the famous 19th century novel “Ramona.”

1:15 - The spring (turn left)

1:15 – The spring (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.

1:30 - Looking south from the summit

1:30 – Looking south from the summit


Whitehorse Canyon/Los Robles Loop from Triunfo Park


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View of Boney Mountain and Sandstone Peak from the Whitehorse Canyon Trail

View of Boney Mountain and Sandstone Peak from the Whitehorse Canyon Trail

Oak tree on the Los Robles Trail near Triunfo Community Park

Oak tree on the Los Robles Trail near Triunfo Community Park

Whitehorse Canyon/Los Robles Loop from Triunfo Park

      • Location: Triunfo Community Park, Westlake Village.  From Los Angeles, take Highway 101 to Highway 23 south/Westlake Blvd.  Turn left and go 1.1 miles to Triunfo Canyon Road.  Turn right and go 0.4 miles to Tamarack St.  Turn left and drive to the second parking lot, just before the  end of the street.  From Ventura, take Highway 101 to Hampshire Road.  Turn right and go 0.6 miles to Triunfo Canyon Road.  Turn right and go 0.6 miles to Tamarack St.  Turn right and drive to the second parking lot.
      • Agency: Conejo Open Space Foundation
      • Distance: 5.8 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
      • Suggested time: 3 hours
      • Best season:  October – May
      • USGS topo map: Thousand Oaks
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
      • More information: here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6

Leaving from Triunfo Community Park (not to be confused with nearby Triunfo Creek Park), this hike offers a challenging workout with a nice variety of scenery, including the Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountains. If the air is clear, you may see as far as the Topa Topa mountains north of Ojai. The route is almost entirely exposed, so plan accordingly.

0:00 - Trail head leading from the parking lot at the western end of Triunfo Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head leading from the parking lot at the western end of Triunfo Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Look for a trail leading out of the second parking lot’s southwest corner. You pass a sign for the Los Robles Trail and an information board. The trail passes by a few oak trees (don’t get used to them), makes a sharp left turn and begins making some switchbacks, climbing the north side of the ridge, with some good views of the Thousand Oaks area.

0:01 - Information board (times are approximate)

0:01 – Information board (times are approximate)

At 0.8 miles, bear right and follow the trail to a dirt fire road (1.1 miles.) Turn left and almost immediately bear right to continue on the fire road (the Los Robles Trail) and head downhill.

0:19 - Junction (bear right)

0:19 – Junction (bear right)

This section of the trail, which follows power lines and suffers from the noise of the highway, is one of the less appealing parts of the hike, but the gentle downhill grade is easy enough. After 0.9 miles (2 miles from the start) you make a sharp left and begin climbing again.

0:26 - Head left and then right (downhill) on the fire road beneath the power lines

0:26 – Head left and then right (downhill) on the fire road beneath the power lines

At 2.4 miles, you reach a saddle where you get nice views of Sandstone Peak and Boney Mountain to the south. Turn left on the single-track Whitehorse Canyon Trail, which descends steeply. You head south, following the main trail as a few side trails branch off. After contouring back to the north, you approach a steep ascent (3.1 miles.) Just before the steepest part of the ascent, turn right on an obscure trail. You pass underneath an interesting geological outcrop and soon return to the fire road.

1:00 - View of the Santa Monica Mountains from the junction with the Whitehorse Canyon Trail (head left)

1:00 – View of the Santa Monica Mountains from the junction with the Whitehorse Canyon Trail (head left)

Head left, reaching the top of the outcrop seen earlier from below. Here, you bear right and head north. Stay left at a Y-junction and soon you reach the base of a steep ascent (3.9 miles.) After climbing over 100 feet, you reach the top of a ridge. You pass two high points, providing nice views of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains, including Castro Peak, Ladyface and Mitten Mountain.

1:20 - Bear right on the side trail before the steep ascent

1:20 – Bear right on the side trail before the steep ascent

After the second “peak”, the highest point in the hike at 1,440 feet, you descend to an intersection where you can climb a staircase and sit on a bench and enjoy the panorama.

1:32 - Turn right and head north toward the ridge

1:32 – Turn right and head north toward the ridge

Back at the intersection, head northeast and follow the trail downhill to the intersection, completing the loop. Look for the sign for Triunfo Park and follow the trail 1.1 miles back to the starting point.

1:50 - Following the ridge

1:50 – Following the ridge

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.

2:10 - View from the bench just before the descent to complete the loop

2:10 – View from the bench just before the descent to complete the loop


Coldwater Canyon Truck Trail (Angeles National Forest)


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Looking down into the canyon

Looking down into the canyon

Shade near the bottom of the Coldwater Canyon Truck Trail

Shade near the bottom of the Coldwater Canyon Truck Trail

Coldwater Canyon Truck Trail (Angeles National Forest)

  • Location: Angeles National Forest south of Mt. Baldy.  From the 210 Freeway, take the Baseline Road exit and go west for 0.7 miles.  Take a right (north) onto Mills, go 1.1 miles and bear right onto Mt. Baldy Road.  Go 8 miles and take a hard left on Glendora Ridge Road (right before Mt. Baldy Village) and drive a mile to Cow Canyon Saddle and park in the big lot on the right side of the road, where space is usually ample.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel River Ranger District
  • Distance: 11.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 5.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: “Mt. Baldy”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head at Cow Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trail head at Cow Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This hike follows a fire road from Cow Saddle, in between Lookout Mountain and Sunset Peak, down into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. Although the trail’s ending–at a gate blocking off entrance to private land–may seem a little anti-climatic for such a long hike, the sights along the way, which include dramatic mountain and canyon views, make the effort worthwhile. One doesn’t have to do the entire hike for it to be enjoyable, although the full trip makes for a great workout. Be advised that there is virtually no shade along the route.

0:06 - Bear left and continue down into the canyon (times are approximate)

0:06 – Bear left and continue down into the canyon (times are approximate)

From Cow Saddle, follow the trail leading out of the parking area. At the base of Lookout Mountain (0.3 miles), turn right and pass by a metal gate. The descent is gradual (with a few uphill stretches), following the southwest side of Lookout Mountain, with a nice view of Sunset Peak across the canyon.

0:07 - Passing the metal gate

0:07 – Passing the metal gate

At 2.8 miles, you reach a saddle where the trail veers away from the ridge. A gap in the canyon wall provides a nice view to the west. The descent becomes a little steeper, twisting around the ridges. At about 4.7 miles, you get a nice view of Cattle Canyon coming in from the north. Another half mile brings you to the base of the canyon, where the trail continues to the left (the right fork heads up into the canyon, leading to a tungsten mine.)

1:05 - Looking west from the saddle

1:05 – Looking west from the saddle

After crossing the wash, you find the welcome shade of some alders and oaks, with a seasonal stream running near by. This makes a nice place to take a break (and also a good turnaround point), but if you decide to sit under the trees, watch out for poison oak. Soon after, the trail reaches a metal gate (5.9 miles) blocks off further progress.

1:50 - View of Cattle Canyon before the descent to the junction

1:50 – View of Cattle Canyon before the descent to 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.

2:15 - View of the mountains from behind the gate at the end of the trail

2:15 – View of the mountains from behind the gate at the end of the trail

Deep Creek Hot Springs via Bradford Ridge Path


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Deep Creek Hot Springs

Deep Creek Hot Springs

View of the western San Bernardinos on the return from Deep Creek

View of the western San Bernardinos on the return from Deep Creek

Deep Creek Hot Springs via Bradford Ridge Path

      • Location:  Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Lake Arrowhead.  From I-210 in San Bernardino, take Highway 18 (Waterman Ave. exit) and go north for 14.2 miles.   Turn left on Lake Gregory Drive and make an immediate right on Highway 189.  Go a total of 2.7 miles on 189, through the town of Twin Peaks, and turn left on Grass Valley Road.  (There’s a gas station at the intersection).  This intersection can be a little tricky, so be careful.  Go a total of 4.2 miles on Grass Valley Road (at 1.9 miles, look for a sharp left turn; if you stay straight, you’ll end up on Peninsula Drive.)  Grass Valley Road dead-ends at Highway 173.  Turn left and drive 2.8 miles to a turnout just before a bridge a few hundred yards before where the road closes.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 5 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (tsteepness, terrain, elevation gain)
      • Suggested time: 3 hours
      • Best season: October – May
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear: Hiking polessun hat;  sunblock
      • More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the trail on Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the trail on Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The hot springs of Deep Creek in the northwestern San Bernardino Mountains are one of the area’s popular hiking destinations.  This less-traveled route from Highway 173 via the Bradford Ridge Path is longer and more challenging than the common approach from the north via Bowen Ranch, and it features one of the steepest stretches on any Southern California hiking trail.  But it has the advantage of free parking with no required permits, and although some stretches of Highway 173 aren’t in great condition, hikers worried about driving on the dirt roads to Bowen Ranch won’t have to worry about them.  It’s also a shorter drive from L.A. and the Inland Empire.

0:02 - Gate on the Bradford Path (times are approximate)

0:02 – Gate on the Bradford Path (times are approximate)

The trail is almost entirely exposed, but even on summer days, with adequate sun protection–and water–it can be done. The steep slopes of the canyon help block out the glare of the sun, and since this is a reverse hike, with an afternoon start, you can save the climbing for when the temperature is lower.  Other than some noise from the nearby gun range and some trash and graffiti here and there, there are virtually no signs of civilization until you get to the springs.

0:10 - Tricky terrain

0:10 – Tricky terrain

From just before the bridge, follow the trail around a pile of rocks and head north, passing by a metal gate. For the first mile, the trail follows the path of Kinley Creek, a tributary of Deep Creek (usually dry). There are a few spots where the trail is loose and washed out, so hands may be required as well as feet.

0:33 - Into a tributary canyon

0:33 – Into a tributary canyon

At 1.1 miles, the trail veers east and heads into a tighter canyon. You climb to a ridge and then begin the main descent, gradually at first. At 1.7 miles, a short spur leads to a nice viewing point where you can see the dramatic gorge of Deep Creek and the hills across the way. Make a sharp right turn and continue the descent, with a fence on your left.

0:45 - Panoramic view before the fence and the steep descent

0:45 – Panoramic view before the fence and the steep descent

After following the ridge for a way, the trail begins an extremely steep drop on loose terrain. The very bottom stretch is perhaps the most treacherous; in addition to my hands, I was finding myself using my “fifth limb” on this part. At the bottom of the hill, your work isn’t quite done yet as you have to navigate a boulder-strewn wash, ducking under trees and climbing over rocks.

1:00 - Negotiating the steep descent to the PCT

1:00 – Negotiating the steep descent to the PCT

Finally, at 2.3 miles, you reach the Pacific Crest Trail as it follows the south shore of Deep Creek. Head right (keep an eye out for this junction on your return as it’s not signed) and soon you will see the swimming hole. Those sensitive to such issues might want to know that nudity is common here.

1:05 - Through the wash at the bottom of the hill before the PCT

1:05 – Through the wash at the bottom of the hill before the PCT

The trail passes right by one of the springs, and you can follow a path down to the creek. Even if you haven’t brought a swim suit, there are several places where you can dunk your feet in the nice warm water.   That, and the sight of the serene creek flowing through the steep canyon, make the effort to get here–and the steep climb to get out–worthwhile.

1:10 - Turn right on the Pacific Crest Trail

1:10 – Turn right on the Pacific Crest Trail

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 - Deep Creek Hot Springs (follow the path down to the water)

1:15 – Deep Creek Hot Springs (follow the path down to the water)

Valley Forge Trail Camp from Red Box via Gabrielino Trail


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Stream crossing just before the Valley Forge Campground

Stream crossing just before the Valley Forge Campground

Old and new growth on the Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Valley Forge Trail Camp

Old and new growth on the Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Valley Forge Trail Camp

Valley Forge Trail Camp from Red Box via Gabrielino Trail

    • Location: Red Box Picnic Area, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway northeast for 14 miles and park at the Red Box Picnic Area, at the junction with the road to Mt. Wilson.  From the high desert, take the Angeles Forest Highway south to Big Tujunga Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 9 miles to the Angeles Crest Highway.  Turn right and go 4.3 miles to Red Box, which will be on the left.  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/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 4.8  miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain)
    • Best season:  Year-round (depending on conditions)
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: insect repellent
    • More information: Red Box trail head information here; Valley Forge Campground information here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the hike, at Red Box Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike, at Red Box Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is an enjoyable reverse hike in the front country of the Angeles National Forest, leaving from the popular Red Box picnic area and descending to the Valley Forge Trail Camp, via the Gabrielino Trail.  While it lacks the dramatic scenery and variety of the nearby Devil’s Canyon and Shortcut Saddle hikes, it offers a good workout in a secluded part of the Angeles National Forest.  The Station Fire damage is obvious, but new growth can also be seen.  A seasonal stream and a nice variety of plant life, including pines, sycamoers, black oaks and manzanitas, adds to the appeal.

0:21 - Crossing the service road; trail picks up on the other side (times are approximate)

0:21 – Crossing the service road; trail picks up on the other side (times are approximate)

From the signed Red Box trailhead information board, descend the stone staircase to the Gabrielino Trail and head left. You follow the highway for 0.2 miles, with some nice views of Mt. Baldy to the east, before descending into the canyon on some switchbacks. Beneath the shade of some black oaks, the descent continues, roughly following the stream bed of the San Gabriel River’s west fork’s upper reaches.

0:31 -First stream crossing

0:31 -First stream crossing

At 0.7 miles, you reach a dirt road where you pick up the trail on the opposite side. Soon after you pass Camp Hi-Hill, an outdoor education facility. The trail makes a hairpin turn to the left and a sign reads “Valley Forge Trail Camp.” That doesn’t mean you’ve arrived; the bottom of the sign, indicating a distance of 1.5 miles, is missing. After passing the broken sign, continue toward the stream, making the first of several crossings.

0:49 - Continuing past the cabin on the Gabrielino Trail

0:49 – Continuing past the cabin on the Gabrielino Trail

At 1.7 miles, you come to a private cabin in a clearing. Continue following the trail, making another stream crossing and passing two more cabins. At 2.2 miles, you reach a split. The Valley Forge Trail heads uphill, leading to Mt. Wilson Road, three miles away. To reach the trail camp, however, bear left and make a few switchbacks down to the creek. On the opposite side is the trail camp, where you can sit on a picnic bench and enjoy the sound of the stream and the shade of the trees.

1:07 - Bear left and descend to the trail camp

1:07 – Bear left and descend to the trail camp

You can return via the same route, or to make a loop, you can use the service road just beyond the camp.  If you want to extend the hike, you can make it into a loop by taking the Valley Forge Trail up to Mt. Wilson Road and descending back to Red Box; you can also continue following the Gabrielino Trail to the West Fork Trail Camp and take the Silver Moccasin Trail up to the Angeles Crest Highway, an option if you’ve arranged for a shuttle.

1:12 - Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

1:12 – Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

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.

Yerba Buena Trail (Backbone Trail)


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Ocean view from the Yerba Buena Trail

Ocean view from the Yerba Buena Trail

Foliage on the Yerba Buena Trail

Foliage on the Yerba Buena Trail

Yerba Buena Trail (Backbone Trail)

      • Location: Western Santa Monica Mountains near the Circle X Ranch.  From the east, take Pacific Coast Highway northwest from I-10 for 24.4 miles to Encinal Canyon Road.    Turn right and follow Encinal Canyon Road for 5 miles, past Charmlee Wilderness Park, and continue onto Lechusa Road.  Go 0.1 miles to the end of Lechusa and take a right on Decker Canyon Road/Highway 23.  Go 0.8 miles and  turn left on Mulholland Highway.  Go 0.4 miles and turn right on Little Sycamore Canyon Road.  Go a total of 2 miles  (Little Sycamore Canyon Road becomes Yerba Buena Road).  At mile marker 9, look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road.  From the west, take Pacific Coast Highway south from Oxnard for 13 miles.  Turn left on Yerba Buena Road and drive 9 miles.  The dirt turnout will be on your right.  From Highway 101, take the Highway 23/Westlake Blvd. exit and head south for 7.2 miles.  Turn right on Mulholland Highway, go 0.4 miles and turn right on Little Sycamore Canyon Road.  Follow it 2 miles, during which it becomes Yerba Buena Road, and park in the dirt lot on the left side of the road.
      • Agency:  National Park Service
      • Distance: 9.2 miles
      • Elevation gain:  1,000 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance)
      • Suggested time:  4 hours
      • Best season: October – June
      • USGS topo maps: Triunfo Pass
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sunblock; sun hat
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
      • More information: Trail map and description here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the hike on Yerba Buena Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This section of the Backbone Trail links the end of the Etz Meloy Motorway to the Circle X Ranch and Sandstone Peak.  There’s not a whole lot of elevation gain, but the distance makes it a good training hike.  There are times when it might be a little tedious to veteran hikers, but that’s not to say there isn’t variety:  ocean, mountain and city views, geology and more.  Since the hike doesn’t have a clear destination, apart from being a segment of the Backbone Trail, one doesn’t have to hike the entire route for it to be enjoyable.

0:06 - Turn right on the Backbone Trail (times are approximate)

0:03 – Turn right on the Backbone Trail (times are approximate)

From the dirt parking area, turn right and head east on Yerba Buena Road for a few hundred yards. There’s no sidewalk, but traffic is likely to be pretty light. Just before the road bends to the east (left), at about mile marker 9.10, look for the Backbone Trail, heading downhill to the right.

0:42 - Turn left at the junction by the eucalyptus

0:42 – Turn left at the junction by the eucalyptus

For the next few miles, the Backbone Trail roughly parallels the road, following the south side of the ridge, taking in some nice ocean views.   The terrain is substantially exposed, although a few pockets of chaparral provide some shade, and if you get off to an early start, the heat is not likely to be too bad, even during the summer.  Mulholland Highway is visible below, and sharp-eyed hikers might be able to pick out the Malibu Springs Trail making its way up the east side of the canyon.

0:55 - Looking down into the canyon (approximate half-way point)

1:00 – Looking down into the canyon (approximate half-way point)

At 1.7 miles, look for a trail split beneath a big eucalyptus tree. Bear left and continue following the side of the ridge.  You circle the south flank of a 2,685-foot summit signed on some maps as Triunfo Lookout.  At 2.2 miles, you round a sharp bend and get some nice views to the southwest. Soon after, you reach a saddle where you get a good look at Boney Mountain and Sandstone Peak. To the north are the Santa Susana Mountains. If visibility is good, you may be able to see the Topa Topa range north of Ojai.

1:04 - View of Boney Mountain from the saddle

1:13 – View of Boney Mountain from the saddle

Here, the trail makes a hairpin turn and descends gradually. At 3.5 miles from the start, you make another hairpin turn to the left and continue the descent, as a spur leads to Yerba Buena Road. You pass by a small green meadow, and the trail ascends to the parking area that marks the turnaround point. You can cross Yerba Buena Road and get a nice view down into Triunfo Canyon, toward the Thousand Oaks area.

1:50 - Meadow with Boney Mountain in the background, near the end of the trail segment

1:50 – Meadow with Boney Mountain in the background, near the end of the trail segment

Here, you can return by the same route, or if you’ve arranged for a shuttle, your work is done. Through-hikers can continue along the Backbone Trail across the street, where it will lead to Sandstone Peak and Point Mugu State Park.

2:00 - Looking north from Yerba Buena Road at the turnaround point

2:00 – Looking north from Yerba Buena Road at the turnaround point

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.

Skyline Loops (Box Springs Mountain Park)


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Skyline City View

View of the Inland Empire from the Skyline 2 Loop

Rolling hills on the Skyline Loop

Rolling hills on the Skyline Loop

Skyline Loops (Box Springs Mountain Park)

  • Location: Box Springs Mountain Park, Moreno Valley.  From the 60 Freeway, take the Frederick St./Pigeon Pass Road exit and head north (right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) for 3.9 miles.  Just after the road bends to the west, stay straight to continue onto Box Springs Mountain Road.  Go 1.3 miles on Box Springs Mountain Road (it becomes dirt after 0.6 miles, but it’s in good condition and won’t present an issue).  Enter the park and pull into the lot signed for day use.  Day use fees are $5 per vehicle and $2 for each pet.
  • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
  • Distance: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Navigation, terrain, steepness, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Riverside; San Bernardino South
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Yelp page here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the hike, on the dirt road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike, on the dirt road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

For a trail that never really escapes the sights and sounds nearby Riverside, the Skyline Loops in Box Springs Mountain Park have a surprisingly rugged feel–in particular the second loop.  Although the area gets hot during the summer, a substantial portion of the route is on cool, north facing slopes, so with an early start, good hydration and a sun hat, this hike can be done in the warm weather.  Highlights include city and mountain views, geology and springtime wildflowers.

0:05 - Head left at the beginning of the first Skyline Loop (times are approximate)

0:06 – Head left at the beginning of the first Skyline Loop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head north on the dirt road, passing the top of the Two Trees Trail. Where the road bends (0.2 miles from the parking area), look for the beginning of the first Skyline Loop. You can hike it in either direction, but going clockwise allows you to save the best scenery for later.

0:43 - Beginning of the second Skyline Loop (head left)

0:43 – Beginning of the second Skyline Loop (head left)

Follow the trail along the side of a ridge. There’s an unfortunate amount of graffiti near the beginning, although it becomes less of a problem later in the hike. You get some nice views of downtown Riverside as you head northwest.

0:58 - Following the trail through a field on the Skyline 2 Loop

0:58 – Following the trail through a field on the Skyline 2 Loop

At 1.4 miles from the start, you reach the beginning of the Skyline 2 Loop. Although it’s shorter than the first one, it features more challenging terrain and navigation. You can head right to continue on the first Skyline Loop for a 3-mile trip, but if you’re feeling adventurous, head left to begin the Skyline 2 Loop. Expect to spend as much time on this one as the first loop, even though it’s only about half as long.

1:02 - Geology at the top of a ridge on the Skyline 2 Trail, just before a steep descent

1:02 – Geology at the top of a ridge on the Skyline 2 Trail, just before a steep descent

Follow the faint trail as it continues northwest, climbing over rocks and skirting the edge of the ridge a few times. You drop into a small valley, climb a hill and pass by an interesting rock with some small cave-like openings. The trail dips down to a saddle with nice views of Grand Terrace’s Blue Mountain. A steep, crooked descent brings you to the lowest point (1,909 feet) on the route, which also happens to be the northernmost. It’s also the approximate half way point of the hike at 2.2 miles.

1:11 - Steep descent on the Skyline Loop Trail between the rocks (be careful!)

1:11 – Steep descent on the Skyline Loop Trail between the rocks (be careful!)

You begin climbing, heading southeast, climbing around some large rocks. After a sharp right turn, the trail descends again, rejoining the first Skyline Trail at 3 miles.

1:34 - Heading south back toward the first loop

1:34 – Heading south back toward the first loop

Turn left and follow the trail uphill, climbing a little over 400 feet in the next mile. After passing a wooden fence, stay left at a junction with a false trail. Soon you reach the top of a ridge, where you can see the parking area and the beginning part of the loop, as well as the Two Trees Trail. Follow the Skyline Trail downhill back to the dirt road and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

1:44 - Back at the first loop (head left)

1:44 – Back at the first loop (head 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.

2:19 - Heading back to the dirt road, completing the loop

2:19 – Heading back to the dirt road, completing the loop

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