Tapo and Chivos Canyons

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

View from the ridge line at the top of the second loop

View from the ridge line at the top of the second loop

Oaks in the bottom of Tapo Canyon

Oaks in the bottom of Tapo Canyon

Tapo and Chivos Canyons

  • Location: Foothills north of Simi Valley.  From the 118 Freeway, take Tapo Canyon Road exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west.)  The trail head will be on the right side of the road at 1.5 miles, shortly before the intersection with Lost Canyon Drive.  Free parking is available in a small dirt lot.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 7.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,550 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Simi Valley East
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: MeetUp description (first loop only) here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head on Tapo Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

For a hike that starts just beyond the edge of the suburbs, this double loop often feels pleasantly secluded.  After leaving Tapo Canyon Road behind, for most of the trip, the sights and sounds of civilization are near nil.

0:22 - Heading through the oaks after the first junction (times are approximate)

0:22 – Heading through the oaks after the first junction (times are approximate)

In the foothills north of Simi Valley, numerous hiking trails and fire roads run through several adjacent parcels of open space.  The route described here is one of many possible trips that can be taken in this area; it’s a scenic, moderately strenuous workout that can easily be shortened or expanded as desired.

0:37 - View from the saddle after the first ascent; beginning of the first loop

0:37 – View from the saddle after the first ascent; beginning of the first loop

From the Tapo Canyon Trailhead, follow the fire road northeast for a pleasant 0.9 miles, gradually climbing about 200 feet.  Several large oaks dot the rolling hills in a terrain that resembles that of nearby Palo Comado/Cheeseboro Canyons.

0:43 - Starting the descent toward Chivos Canyon

0:43 – Starting the descent toward Chivos Canyon

At 0.9 miles, head right at a junction and continue through more shade before making a short, steep climb to a saddle (1.4 miles.)  Here you get a good view to the east of the area where you are about to hike.  It’s the start of the first loop, which is best hiked in the clockwise direction; that way you have a partially shaded ascent on your return.  To do this, turn left and continue to climb for 0.2 miles to a T-junction where you can enjoy a panoramic vista before heading right and descending into the canyon on a single-track.

1:07 - Left turn to head into Chivos Canyon

1:07 – Left turn to head into Chivos Canyon

You drop 300 feet, closing the first loop at 2.4 miles from the start.  Continue your descent to a T-junction where you’ll turn left and begin your ascent into Chivos Canyon.  As you climb, you get views of the sandstone-striped hills across the valley.  The trail climbs about 300 feet over the next half mile to reach another junction, the start of the second loop.

1:25 - Junction; start of the second loop (stay straight then bear right)

1:25 – Junction; start of the second loop (stay straight then bear right)

Continue straight, bearing right at another junction and climb around the northwestern side of a hill.  At 4 miles, the trail tops out at a ridge where you get good views southeast toward the Simi Hills.  Turn right at a T-junction and follow a ridge with views of Las Llajas Canyon to the left and Chivos Canyon to the right.  Just before the trail begins its descent, you can take a short climb to the left to reach the highest point on the ridge.

1:50 - Looking southeast from the ridge at the top of the second loop

1:50 – Looking southeast from the ridge at the top of the second loop

The trail descends to an X-junction.  Bear right and continue your descent back toward the start of the loop, passing by an abandoned water tank.  At 4.9 miles, you complete the loop.  Retrace your steps back toward Tapo Canyon, this time staying left at the Y-junction (5.5 miles.)  The fire road climbs through an attractive oak grove before making an exposed push back to the saddle.  From here, simply follow the roads back down to the trail head.

2:00 - Bear right at the "X" junction

2:00 – Bear right at the “X” junction

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

2:30 - Ascending through oaks back to the saddle, completing the first loop

2:30 – Ascending through oaks back to the saddle, completing the first loop

About these ads

West Mesa Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

2 Comments

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Through the meadow on the West Mesa Loop Trail

Through the meadow on the West Mesa Loop Trail

Stonewall Peak as seen from Airplane Ridge

Stonewall Peak as seen from Airplane Ridge

West Mesa Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north for 2.7 miles, turn left and continue another 7.3 miles on Highway 79 to the West Mesa Parking Area, on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 13 miles.  The parking area will be on the left side of the road.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 6.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: September – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trail head on the west side of Highway 79 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head on the west side of Highway 79 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop explores some of the middle country on the western side of 25,000-acre Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  In addition to some excellent mountain and valley views, the hike also showcases the recovery of the area following the fires of 2003 and 2007.  There’s also an airplane engine, but we’ll get to that later.

0:16 - Junction; start of the loop (times are approximate)

0:16 – Junction; start of the loop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, cross Highway 79 and begin a steady ascent on a fire road.  You climb 350 feet in 0.6 miles before reaching a junction: the start of the loop.  You can hike it in either direction, but by going counter-clockwise, as described here, you get the majority of the climbing out of the way sooner.

0:33 - Head left on the single-track

0:33 – Head left on the single-track

Turn right and head northwest, continuing your ascent through skeleton-like oaks and pines burned in the fires.  Stonewall Peak’s distinctive triangular shape is prominent to the right.  At 1.4 miles, you leave the fire road and take a left on a single-track trail, ascending to another junction at 2.1 miles.  A tall oak provides shade, making this a nice resting spot (by this point, you’ve done about 3/4 of all of the climbing in the entire route.)

1:00 - Junction beneath the tall oak

1:00 – Junction beneath the tall oak (stay straight)

Continuing straight on the West Mesa Trail, your efforts are rewarded with some excellent views to the south and east, including the lower country of the Cuyamacas and the neighboring Laguna range.  You also start getting a little bit of shade from some tall pines and oaks that have survived the fires thus far.

1:20 - Junction with the Burnt Pine Fire Road in the field (stay straight)

1:20 – Junction with the Burnt Pine Fire Road in the field (stay straight)

At 2.9 miles, in an open alpine field, you come to another junction.  Stay straight, heading south and then southeast, passing a junction with the Arroyo Seco Trail.  You get some excellent views of Viejas Mountain and El Capitan to the south.

The trail follows the so-called Airplane Ridge, cutting very close to the edge in places, providing more dramatic views, before meeting a junction at 4.2 miles.  Take a sharp left (despite what you might think, the signed Monument Trail doesn’t lead toward the airplane monument; you are still on the West Mesa Trail.)  Bear left on a signed trail leading toward the airplane monument: an engine of a plane that crashed on this hillside in 1922.

1:33 - Following Airplane Ridge

1:33 – Following Airplane Ridge

Past the monument, the trail continues its descent.  Another tall oak makes for a good resting spot.  The trail descends into a meadow, meeting the Japacha Fire Road (5.5 miles.)  A slight ascent over the next 0.6 miles brings you back to the start of the loop.  Retrace your steps back down to the car, enjoying some last views of Stonewall Peak along the way.

1:50 - Airplane monument

1:50 – Airplane monument

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

2:24 - Junction with the Japacha Fire Road (stay left for the last leg of the loop)

2:24 – Junction with the Japacha Fire Road (stay left for the last leg of the loop)

Agua Chinon to the Sinks and Box Springs

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

View of the geology above the Sinks

View of the geology above the Sinks

Oaks above Box Springs

Oaks above Box Springs

Agua Chinon to the Sinks and Box Springs

  • Location: Northeast Irvine in the Santa Ana foothills.  The Portola Staging Area is located at the eastern end of the Irvine portion of the Portola Parkway.  From I-405 or I-5, take the Sand Canyon exit and head north east (2.5 miles from I-5, 4.5 miles from I-405) to Portola Parkway.  Turn right and follow Portola to its ending just beyond the 241 Toll Road.  Turn left and drive a short distance to the Portola Staging Area, where signs will direct you to parking.  If you are taking the 241 Toll Road, use the Portola Parkway exit in Irvine (not the Portola Parkway exit farther south in Foothill Ranch).  Head east into the park and follow the signs to the staging area.
  • Agency: Irvine Ranch Conservancy/Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 6.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer; accessible only on scheduled days through the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (see link above for dates)
  • USGS topo map: El Toro
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; description of upcoming hike on 9/4/14 here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike at the Portola Staging Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the Portola Staging Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

You already know how to reach the Sinks, the “Grand Canyon of Orange County” from the north, so in this post, we’ll look at the route from the south.  Unlike the north approach, which can be done on the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Wilderness Access Days, this route can only be done as a docent-led group hike.  The exact route described here is usually offered once per month; longer or shorter variations are also offered.  Because this area sees very little human traffic, the chance of a wildlife sighting is greater.

0:48 - Start of the steep ascent (times are approximate)

0:48 – Start of the steep ascent (times are approximate)

From the parking area, the route heads briefly southeast, passing through a gate and paralleling the 241 Toll Road.  At about 0.4 miles, you bear left and begin heading up into Agua Chinon (“Wavy Water”) Canyon.  The trail ascends at a gentle pace for the next mile and a half before becoming steep.  As you grind up the hill, your efforts are rewarded with an excellent view of the Sinks; you may also see Modjeska and Santiago Peaks poking above the ridges to the east.

1:08 - View of the Sinks

1:08 – View of the Sinks

The trail makes an S-curve and finally levels out at about 2.7 miles from the start, where you reach a junction by a watering trough.  Head straight for a short distance where you reach an observation platform, from which you can get an aerial perspective on the Sinks.  The 150-foot high formations were created by the erosion of soft sedimentary rock, creating layers of pink, brown, orange and purple.

1:17 - Oaks on the East Loma Trail

1:17 – Oaks on the East Loma Trail

After enjoying the panorama, return to the junction and follow the East Loma Trail northwest through an attractive grove of live oaks.  At a T-junction in a meadow, turn left and descend to another junction where you turn left a second time and re enter the woods.  Here is Box Springs, a seasonal spring pleasantly located beneath several towering oak trees.  Especially on hot days, this is a peaceful spot to sit and relax before heading back.  There’s a little elevation that has to be made up on the return trip, but most of it is downhill and views of the Orange County coastal plains from the hill provide a finishing touch to this hike.

1:30  - Oaks at Box Springs (turnaround point)

1:30 – Oaks at Box Springs (turnaround point)

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

Butler Peak Lookout

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Looking west from Butler Peak

Looking west from Butler Peak

Looking south from Butler Peak

Looking south from Butler Peak

Butler Peak Lookout

        • Location: Northwest of Big Bear Lake.  From Highway 38, head north on Rim of the World Drive (3.4 miles east of the junction with Highway 18 at the west end of the lake; 2.9 miles west of the discovery center at Fawnskin).  The road becomes dirt after 0.5 miles; it should be passable for all vehicles but it is rough in spots so exercise caution.  At 1.3 miles, park at the junction with forest road 2N13, which may be blocked off by a metal gate.  There is an information board and room for a few cars to park.
        • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Big Bear Discovery Center
        • Distance: 9.8 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,550 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain, altitude)
        • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
        • Best season: May – October
        • USGS topo map: Fawnskin; Butler Peak
        • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; lookout information page here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the gate on 2N13 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the gate on 2N13 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Rising 8,535 feet above sea level, Butler Peak is home of one of seven fire lookouts in the San Bernardino National Forest.  Though the lookout’s hours of operation are limited, guests can still climb to the balcony and enjoy the view.  Butler Peak is the third most prominent summit in the San Bernardino Mountains, behind San Gorgonio and Sugarloaf; to the west, the nearest higher mountain is Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriels.

0:08 - Stay left at the first junction (times are approximate)

0:08 – Stay left at the first junction (times are approximate)

If the gates along forest road 2N13 and the Butler Peak Fire Road are open, it is possible to drive almost all the way up with an off road-capable vehicle.  However, the distance and elevation gain listed here assume that you are starting from the junction of Rim of the World Drive and 2N13.  This point can be reached fairly easily by almost any car and according to a sign posted at the beginning of 2N13, parking is free.  If the gate is locked which it is as of this writing, this is as far as you can go.

0:55 - Hard left on the Butler Fire Road at the junction

0:55 – Hard left on the Butler Fire Road at the junction

Follow 2N13 southwest through a pine forest.  At about 0.3 miles, stay left as another road branches off.  The trail heads downhill briefly, reaching a junction with a single-track at about 0.9 miles.  Continue following the trail for a pleasant if not terribly memorable 1.3 miles, arriving at a T-junction.  This makes a good resting spot; almost half of the distance is behind you although most of the elevation gain is still to come.

1:20 - View of Hanna Rocks from the Butler Fire Road

1:20 – View of Hanna Rocks from the Butler Fire Road

Take a hard left on the Butler Peak Fire Road and begin climbing at a more steady pace.  The scenery becomes more interesting; as you ascend, you’ll get views of Big Bear Lake, Delamar Mountain, Bertha Peak and a jumble of boulders known as Hanna Rocks.  At about 4 miles, the fire road curves around the south side of a ridge, providing an excellent aerial view of Highway 18.  You’ll also see the distinctive cone-like shape of Butler Peak ahead of you–with the lookout precariously situated atop.

1:50 - View of the lookout from about half a mile away

1:50 – View of the lookout from about half a mile away

At 4.8 miles, you reach the end of the road.  Follow a signed single-track trail up a steep and somewhat rocky incline to the base of the tower.  Two metal staircases bring you to the lookout, which was constructed in 1936.

2:05 - The trail leading up to the lookout

2:05 – The trail leading up to the lookout

Unlike some other lookouts, this one occupies the entire summit.  This proves to be a double-edged sword: you can enjoy great aerial views without having to worry about falling, but it also makes the experience seem less wild and natural.  Nevertheless, the views are outstanding in all directions.  If the weather is clear expect to see Old Saddleback, the San Gabriels, the high desert, Big Bear Lake, Sugarloaf and more.  After enjoying the view, return by the same route, taking extra care when descending the steep steps leading down from the lookout.

2:10 - Looking southwest from the Butler Peak Lookout

2:10 – Looking southwest from the Butler Peak Lookout

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

Rattlesnake Canyon (Santa Barbara)

2 Comments

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Hills above Rattlesnake Canyon as seen from just below Gibraltar Road

Hills above Rattlesnake Canyon as seen from just below Gibraltar Road

Greenery in lower Rattlesnake Canyon

Greenery in lower Rattlesnake Canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon

    • Location: Santa Barbara.  From the south, take Highway 101 to Salinas St.  Follow Salinas 0.8 miles to a rotary.  Take the second exit on the rotary, signed as Highway 144 and Sycamore Canyon.  Go 1.1 miles and merge onto Foothill Road/Highway 192.  Go 1.1 miles and turn right onto El Cielito.  Follow El Cielito for a mile to Las Canoas Road.  Turn right and follow Las Canoas for 0.4 miles to a small bridge, just past Skofield Park.  The trail starts on the right side of the road, but parking is not permitted right in front of the trail.  Park where available on the left side of the road.  From the north and west, take Highway 154 to Highway 192.  Head east on Highway 192 for 3.2 miles.  Turn left on Mission Canyon and follow it 0.5 miles.  Turn right on Las Canoas and follow it 1.2 miles to the trail head.  Park on the right side of the street and pick up the trail across the way, by either end of the bridge.
    • Agency: City of Santa Barbara
    • Distance: 4.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, terrain)
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Best season:  All year but hot during the summer
    • USGS topo map: Santa Barbara
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; detailed trail guide here; Yelp page here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead on Las Canoas Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Las Canoas Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Rattlesnake Canyon is one of the more popular hikes in the Santa Barbara foothills among both humans and canines.  With ocean and mountain views, thick woodlands and a seasonal stream, it’s one of the most scenically varied and with the extension to Gibraltar Road as described here, it’s quite challenging.  About half of the hike is shaded; with an early start it can be done during the summer.

0:15 - Bear left at the junction about half a mile from the start (times are approximate)

0:15 – Bear left at the junction about half a mile from the start (times are approximate)

From the trail heads on either side of the bridge, head up into the canyon, making a few switchbacks to ascend a ridge.  You climb steadily, reaching a junction at 0.5 miles.  Bear left and stay left again at another junction, descending into a wooded area.  You cross a stream bed and on the opposite side the trail splits.  Both routes soon merge so you can take either.  More climbing brings you to an area dotted with thin pines, resembling landscapes usually found at higher altitudes.

0:36 - Creek crossing

0:36 – Creek crossing

Continuing along, you enter another woodland at about 1.2 miles and cross the creek twice.  Another climb brings you to an attractive meadow with a somewhat unattractive name (Tin Can) where peaks tower above.  On the opposite side of the meadow in a grove of oaks you reach a T-junction, 1.7 miles from the start.  This can be a good turnaround point if you’re out of gas or if the day is hot.  If you want more, head right on the trail signed for Gibraltar Road.

0:51 - Tin Can Meadow, shortly before the junction with the spur trail to Gibraltar Road

0:51 – Tin Can Meadow, shortly before the junction with the spur trail to Gibraltar Road

The trail is flat for a short distance before beginning a morale-testing climb.  The views, however, are worth the effort and there’s a little bit of shade to help out.  When you make a few final switchbacks and get excellent views of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Island and the greater Santa Barbara area, you’ll be glad you went the extra mile (or 0.7 miles, to be exact.)  At 2.4 miles, the trail reaches Gibraltar Road.  At a small turnout, you can sit and admire the panorama before heading back.  Make sure you give yourself time not just to enjoy the view but to rest your legs for the steep descent.

1:15 - Panoramic ocean view from Gibraltar Road (turnaround point)

1:15 – Panoramic ocean view from Gibraltar Road (turnaround point)

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

Prisoner’s Harbor to Del Norte Campground (Santa Cruz Island)

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Looking east from the ascent to the Del Norte Trail

Looking east from the ascent to the Del Norte Trail

View of Prisoner's Harbor from near the Del Norte Campground

View of Prisoner’s Harbor from near the Del Norte Campground

Prisoner’s Harbor to Del Norte Campground (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: 6.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
    • Suggested time: 3 hours, or as permitted by the boat schedule
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
    • Best season:  Year-round (pending boat availability)
    • USGS topo map: “Santa Cruz Island C”
    • Recommended gear: Dramamine (boat ride); sun hat; sunblock
    • More information:  S.C.I. Yelp page here; National Park Service page here; Everytrail report here; information about the Del Norte Campground here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at Prisoner's Harbor (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at Prisoner’s Harbor (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

For the 600th hike posted on this site, we leave the mainland and head out to the largest of the Channel Islands.  At 96 square miles of land area, Santa Cruz has been described as a miniature continent.  With mountains towering half a mile above sea level, valleys, bays, canyons, native and non native trees, sea caves and more, the island offers plenty of variety and this trip, departing from the Prisoner’s Harbor location, showcases several of Santa Cruz’s facets.  Boats to Prisoner’s Harbor, the mid-Santa Cruz Island landing, are not scheduled as frequently as to the more popular Scorpion Anchorage, but for those seeking solitude, it’s worth the effort.  One could think of Prisoner’s Harbor as Two Harbors to Scorpion’s Avalon.

0:39 - Turnoff for the Del Norte Trail (times are approximate)

0:39 – Turnoff for the Del Norte Trail (times are approximate)

Del Norte,  just over three miles away, is Santa Cruz Island’s only active back-country campground.  For day hikers who may have limited time on the island, it makes a good hike.  From the landing area, follow the road past a brick house, through a grove of non-native eucalyptus trees and bear left at a junction.  The dirt road begins a steady ascent.  Vehicles do still travel the road so be careful.  As you climb, you get a panoramic aerial view of Prisoner’s Harbor.

0:48 - Descending into Canada del Agua

0:48 – Descending into Canada del Agua

At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction.  Turn left on the Del Norte Trail and begin a descent, first gradually then sharply into Canada de Agua.  True to its name, this canyon sometimes retains water into the summer months–a rare site on the Channel Islands.

0:52 - Agua in Canada del Agua

0:52 – Agua in Canada del Agua

After crossing the bottom of the canyon, the trail wastes no time in quickly ascending almost 200 feet.  Another descent brings you to a second canyon, which you make your way across and make your final ascent of the outbound portion of the hike.  At 3 miles, turn right at a junction and follow the trail 0.2 miles to the Del Norte Campground.  Here, you can enjoy a wide-ranging view of the ocean from the shade of a native island oak.

1:26 - Turnoff for the Del Norte campground

1:26 – Turnoff for the Del Norte campground

From Del Norte, you can retrace your steps back to Prisoner’s Harbor for a round trip of 6.4 miles.  If you have time and energy, you can continue another quarter mile up the trail to Navy Road and make a loop, returning to the first junction and retracing your steps to the harbor for a total of about 8 miles.

In case you were wondering, Prisoner’s Harbor actually once was used as a penal colony.  For more information about the area’s history, click here.

1:30 - Del Norte Campground

1:30 – Del Norte Campground

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

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest back country on Highway 2.  From the 210 freeway in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 40 miles to Islip Saddle, just beyond the two short tunnels.  Park in the lot on the left (north) side of the highway.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest, Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 10.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, steepness)
  • Best season: Year round, but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter (check conditions before going)
  • USGS topo maps: Crystal Lake, Valyermo
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sun block
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Los Angeles County
  • More information: Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The South Fork Trail is the shortest and arguably the most scenic route between the Angeles Crest Highway and the high desert on the north slope of the San Gabriels, linking Islip Saddle with the South Fork Campground near Valyermo and Pearblossom.  The hike can be done in either direction, or with a rather lengthy drive between the ends, as a point-to-point uphill or downhill.  There are a few advantages of doing it as a “reverse” (down then up) hike as described here.  The upper end, Islip Saddle, is closer to most of the L.A. area; going downhill first allows hikers sensitive to altitude to more easily acclimate and while the grade is consistently moderate, there are a few tricky spots where the trail is covered by rock slides; while these areas don’t require any special technical skill they’re easier to negotiate in the downhill direction on fresher legs. Almost the entire route hugs the west side of the canyon, so during a late-afternoon/early evening ascent, your sun exposure will be minimal.

0:29 - Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)

0:29 – Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)

From Islip Saddle, pick up the South Fork Trail heading downhill (not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail which heads uphill toward Mt. Williamson).  You descend through open areas and pockets of mixed woodland: Douglas fir, pines, black oaks and more.  At about 1.1 miles, you cross a tributary of Big Rock Creek’s south fork, fed from Reed Spring higher up on the hill.  The trail continues its descent, providing striking views of the steep canyon carved by Big Rock Creek and the mountains opposite.
1:47 - Hanging on to the side of the canyon

1:47 – Hanging on to the side of the canyon

As you drop farther along, you’ll start to notice more of the high desert vegetation: pinyon pines, mountain mahogany and manzanita.  The trail descends a few steep switchbacks, finally meeting Big Rock Creek (4.9 miles.)  This can be a good turnaround point, but if you want to hike the entire trail or have set up a shuttle at the South Fork Campground, cross the creek (water levels may be high in the spring) and follow the trail another half mile to the High Desert Recreational Trail, which continues toward the Devil’s Punchbowl.  You can turn right on the dirt road and head a short distance to a picnic area, where you can sit and charge your batteries for the long ascent back to Islip Saddle.

2:04 - Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp

2:04 – Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp

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

2:15 - Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail

2:15 – Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail