Category Archives: Distance 5.1 to 10 miles

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


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View from the upper end of the Wiashal Trail

View from the upper end of the Wiashal Trail

Oak woodland below the Wiashal Trail, Cole Canyon

Oak woodland below the Wiashal Trail, Cole Canyon

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

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

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

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

0:08 - Indian motreros (times are approximate)

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

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

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

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

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

0:37 - Start of the Wiashal Trail

0:37 – Start of the Wiashal Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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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


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

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.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve


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Los Penasquitos Creek, below the waterfall

Los Penasquitos Creek, below the waterfall

Looking east from the canyon above the waterfall

Looking east from the canyon above the waterfall

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve

  • Location: North San Diego.  From Highway 56, take the Black Mountain Road exit and head south for a mile.  Turn right into the Canyonside Community Park, drive past the ballfields, turn right and park.  From I-15, take the Mercy Road exit and head west for 1.4 miles.  Turn right on Black Mountain Road and make a quick left into the park.
  • Agency: Los Pensasquitos Canyon Preserve/County of San Diego
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: “Del Mar”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information:  Here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report (slightly different route) here; trail map here
  • Rating: 6

San Diego hikers who assume they have to travel to the eastern part of the county to experience solitude will be pleasantly surprised by Los Penasquitos Canyon.  Although the preserve doesn’t feel as remote as the Palmoar or Laguna Mountains, it is surprisingly quiet, considering how close it is to civilization.  You are likely to have company from fellow hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians and airplanes will buzz overhead, but the park is still a nice, convenient place to get away from it all.

0:00 - Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

There are over ten miles of trails crossing the preserve, so it is possible to do several different routes. The 6-mile round trip described here uses the park’s main trail, on the south side of the creek, and visits a small waterfall.  Unfortunately fallen boulders obscure most of the waterfall but it’s still a nice place to sit and relax, and perhaps dip your feet.

0:03 - Footbridge in Los Penasquitos Canyon (times are approximate)

0:03 – Footbridge in Los Penasquitos Canyon (times are approximate)

From the south side of the parking lot, follow the signed trail into the preserve.  You cross a footbridge and reach the main trail, a fire road, at 0.2 miles.  Turn right and head east. For the next nearly 3 miles, you head in and out of groves of oaks and sycamores and also pass through some open fields. Several trails branch off on the right side of the road, looping back to the main trail; you can explore some of these for variety.

0:35 - Grove of sycamores on the Los Penasquitos Trail

0:35 – Grove of sycamores on the Los Penasquitos Trail

You pass a couple of big junctions, one on each side of the trail, after about a mile. Continue heading east, passing a four-way junction (“Carson’s Crossing”) at 2.4 miles.  Shortly after the 3 mile mark, follow a sign for the waterfall.  You head down a steep staircase to the banks of the creek.

0:53 - Sign at "Carson's Crossing" intersection on the way to the waterfall

0:53 – Sign at “Carson’s Crossing” intersection on the way to the waterfall

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can cross the creek and climb down the rocks and sit by the water.  Although the waterfall is hidden behind the boulders, this is a nice place to dip your feet and enjoy the sound of the stream before turning around.  Keep an eye out for crawfish that may be swimming in the pools. You can return via the same route or by the trail on the north side of the creek.

1:10 - Sign for the waterfall

1:10 – Sign for the waterfall

In case you were wondering, Penasquitos means “the little cliffs.” Near the parking lot, you can visit the historic Rancho Penasquitos adobe, dating back to the mid 19th century.

1:15 - Los Penasquitos Stream above the waterfall

1:15 – Los Penasquitos Stream above the waterfall

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.

Tahquitz Peak via South Ridge Trail


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Looking southeast toward the Desert Divide from Tahquitz Peak

Looking southeast toward the Desert Divide from Tahquitz Peak

San Jacinto from Tahquitz Peak

San Jacinto from Tahquitz Peak

  • Location: San Jacinto Mountains south of Idyllwild.   From the 60 Freeway, take the Gilman Springs exit and head southeast for a total of 14 miles (Gilman Springs becomes State Street.)  Turn left on the Ramona Expressway and go 6.2 miles to Florida Ave/Highway 74.  Turn left and go 14.5 miles to Highway 243 at Mountain Center.  Turn left and go 3.4 miles to Marian View Drive.  Go 0.4 miles and turn right on Saunders Meadow Road.  Go half a mile and turn left on Pine Ave (note the sign for the South Ridge Trail.)  Go 0.1 miles and turn right on Tahquitz View.   Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Forest Route 5S11, a dirt road.  A high clearance vehicle is recommended, but might not be necessary if conditions are good (check with the ranger station).  The road is narrow, steep and twisting, so exercise caution.  Follow the road a mile, staying left at the only major junction and park at the end.   The South Ridge trailhead GPS coordinates are N 33 44.126, W 116 41.761.   You can also reach the trailhead  from I-10 in Banning, following Highway 243 southeast for 25 miles to Saunders Meadow Road.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for a year) is required. Click here to purchase. A free San Jacinto Wilderness permit is also required and available from the ranger station.
  • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Idyllwild Ranger Station
  • Distance: 6.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Elevation gain, steepness, altitude)
  • Best season:  May – October
  • USGS topo maps: San Jacinto Peak, Idyllwild
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip reports here, here and here; Everytrail report here; National Forest Association page with information about volunteer lookout program here
  • Rating: 10

You already know how to reach Tahquitz Peak from Humber Park via the Devil’s Slide Trail, so in this post we’ll look at the less-traveled South Ridge Trail approach.  The scenery in the two routes is a trade-off: the Devil’s Slide/Pacific Crest Trail approach travels through more pleasantly shaded high country and offers better views of Suicide Rock, San Jacinto Peak and the desert, but the South Ridge Trail has excellent views of Garner Valley, the Santa Rosa Mountains, the Palomars and more.  Logistically, the two routes also have their trade-offs: the Devil’s Slide trail requires a special permit which is sometimes unavailable, while this route (which requires the more readily available standard San Jacinto Wilderness Permit) is at the end of a mile of rough dirt road.  However, all red tape aside the end result of both routes is the same: Tahquitz Peak, which offers one of the best views of any summit in So Cal.

0:00 - South Ridge Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – South Ridge Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

The good news is that (in addition to being outside the area closed following the Silver Fire) the South Ridge Trail gets less traffic than the Devil’s Slide, so you will have more solitude. The bad news is that much of the trail is exposed and steep (the last mile gains nearly 1,000 feet of elevation.) Still, the payoff is worth it.

0:30 - "Rock window" (times are approximate)

0:30 – “Rock window” (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head northeast on the signed South Ridge Trail. The beginning of the hike is moderately graded, allowing hikers to get used to the altitude. It’s also shaded, which helps. Like a version of the Ernie Maxwell Trail built on higher ground, the South Ridge Trail climbs through the forest, providing glimpses of San Jacinto and its neighboring peaks. You pass into the San Jacinto Wilderness, getting some good views of Garner Valley to the south.

0:40 - View of Tahquitz Peak from the "picnic" area

0:40 – View of Tahquitz Peak from the “picnic” area

At about 1.4 miles, a jumble of boulders creates a “window” through which you can see Antsell Rock and the Desert Divide. Shortly after, the grade mellows out as it approaches a flat area popular for picnics. This is the approximate half way point in terms of distance, although more than half of the elevation gain is still to come. You get a look at Tahquitz’s triangular shape before continuing north.

1:20 - View of Garner Valley from the steep switchbacks below the summit

1:20 – View of Garner Valley from the steep switchbacks below the summit

Another pleasant quarter-mile or so on a fairly level trail brings you to the toughest part of the hike, the switchbacks. They climb steeply, mainly in the open although there are a few shaded spots. Watch out for rattlers which may be hiding under the rocks.

1:45 - "Peace, man!"

1:45 – “Peace, man!”

The trail reaches a bend where you get an excellent view of San Jacinto, and the grade eases up a little bit. You may notice the American flag on the lookout tower at this point, boosting morale. At a junction, the South Ridge Trail continues toward the Pacific Crest Trail and a spur leads to the summit. Head right, climbing over some rocks to reach Tahquitz Peak.

1:55 - Spur to the summit

1:55 – Spur to the summit

In addition to an amazing view that includes the Palomars, Santa Rosas, San Gabriels, Santa Anas, Cuyamacas and on clear days the ocean and Catalina Island, Tahquitz also boasts a historic fire lookout. If the lookout is open, you can climb up and say hi to the volunteer on duty. In addition to signing the register, you can request membership in the Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels. (It’ll make sense when you get there.)

2:00 - Welcome to Tahquitz Peak: looking southwest from the summit

2:00 – Welcome to Tahquitz Peak: looking southwest from 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.

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


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


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.

Temescal Peak via Temescal Ridge Trail


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Looking east, just below Temescal Peak

Looking east, just below Temescal Peak

Looking south from the Temescal Ridge Trail

Looking south from the Temescal Ridge Trail

Temescal Peak via Temescal Ridge Trail

      • Location: Pacific Palisades.  From the end of I-10, take Pacific Coast Highway northwest for 4.4 miles to Sunset Blvd.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Palisades Drive.  Turn left and go a total of 3.8 miles (Palisades becomes Chastain Parkway.)  Park on the corner of Chastain Parkway and Via Las Palmas.  Access the trail by heading northeast on Via Las Palmas through the housing community, following the signs to Topanga State Park.
      • Agency: Topanga State Park
      • Distance: 6.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 800 feet
      • Suggested time: 3 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  October – June
      • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
      • Recommended gear: sun hatsunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
      • More information: here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7

This long, but not too strenuous hike visits Temescal Peak, one of the highest points in the eastern Santa Monicas.  It follows an exposed fire road for most of the way, with views of Topanga Canyon to the west and Temescal Canyon to the east.  With free parking, the hike is conveniently located to the west side of Los Angeles, and while most of the route is under power lines, after a while, the sights and sounds of the city vanish.

0:00 - Start of the hike on Via Las Palmas (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

0:00 – Start of the hike on Via Las Palmas (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

From the corner of Chastain Parkway and Via Las Palmas, head uphill into the gated community. You access the service road, and almost immediately take a sharp right on a concrete walkway. It may seem like an odd beginning for the hike, but you are only on the walkway for a short distance, following it uphill on a few switchbacks. The trail turns to dirt and soon meets the Temescal Ridge fire road (0.4 miles.)

0:02 - Hard right on the concrete walkway (times are approximate)

0:02 – Hard right on the concrete walkway (times are approximate)

Turn left and begin hiking uphill. At 0.8 miles, you follow the east side of the ridge, entering a pleasant, shaded area. You go downhill slightly and begin another ascent to a summit with antennas (Green Peak.) Heading downhill, you get a nice view of Topanga Canyon. You may notice the Trailer Canyon Fire Road (an alternate starting point for this hike, and a more challenging route) coming up from below; you meet up with it 1.4 miles from the start.

0:09 - Turn left on the Temescal Ridge Trail

0:09 – Turn left on the Temescal Ridge Trail

With the majority of the climbing behind you at this point, the next mile and a half is pleasant as you continue following the ridge to the north. Off to the west, you can see several other Santa Monica summits – Saddle Peak, Castro Peak, and even the distant outline of Boney Mountain. To the east are the Hollywood Hills and beyond them the San Gabriels.

0:19 - Shade on the Temescal Ridge Trail

0:19 – Shade on the Temescal Ridge Trail

At 2.6 miles, you may notice Temescal Peak, a bump on the ridge that stands out. At 2.9 miles, you reach a junction. Take a hairpin right turn on the Backbone Trail, and briefly head southeast. As the trail starts to bend northeast, heading toward Will Rogers State Historic Park, look for a rough path heading uphill to the left, just past a fire break that crosses the trail. Follow it to Temescal Peak, about one hundred feet up. There are a few places where the trail is a little loose, but it’s not too hard to follow.

1:05 - View of Temescal Peak

1:05 – View of Temescal Peak

On the summit, you can sit and enjoy a great view that includes Catalina Island, the Santa Monica Bay, downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Monicas, the San Gabriels, the Santa Susanas and more.

1:10 - Hard right on the Backbone Trail

1:10 – Hard right on the Backbone Trail

After enjoying the view, retrace your steps. On the return trip, you’ll enjoy some nice ocean vsitas. You can extend your hike by continuing south along the Temescal Ridge Trail to Skull Rock, half a mile past the spur that leads back down to Chastain Parkway.

1:15 -Leave the Backbone Trail and head left, uphill toward the summit

1:15 -Leave the Backbone Trail and head left, uphill toward 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.

1:20 - Looking north from Temescal Peak

1:20 – Looking north from Temescal Peak

Mesa Peak from Corral Canyon


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Wildflowers on the Mesa Peak Motorway

Wildflowers on the Mesa Peak Motorway

Skull-like rock on the Mesa Peak Motorway

Skull-like rock on the Mesa Peak Motorway

Mesa Peak from Corral Canyon

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains, near Malibu.  From the Pacific Coast Highway, take Corral Canyon (2.3 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road, 0.7 miles east of Latigo Canyon Road) north for 5 miles to its end.  Park at the Backbone trailhead.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain, terrain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Point Dume, Malibu Beach
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
  • More information:  here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Heading east on the Backbone Trail from the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Heading east on the Backbone Trail from the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

You already know how to get to Mesa Peak from the east, so now, let’s try the western approach, from the end of Corral Canyon Road.  The trailhead is actually higher than Mesa Peak, but there’s a lot of up and down in both directions, amounting to a substantial workout.  This hike doesn’t quite have the scenic variety that the eastern approach does, but there are still good ocean views and a lot of interesting geology.

0:07 - The trail heads to the left of the outcrop (times are approximate)

0:07 – The trail heads to the left of the outcrop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head east on a rough path leading through some sandstone outcrops. You drop into a pleasant, wooded area (some of the only shade on the entire route), and begin a climb to a ridge. Keep an eye out for the ruins of a car wreck on the left side of the trail. At the top of the ridge, you’ll notice the Mesa Peak Motorway below, which you will soon join. First, you make your way through some more geological formations. Look for a tall outcrop with a cave carved through it, and follow a passage downhill through the rocks, joining the motorway about half a mile from the start.

0:10 - Don't text and drive

0:10 – Don’t text and drive

Head left on the motorway and continue east, passing by a few more caves and a rock garden on the left. You follow the ridge over several hills, with views of Malibu Creek State Park and the Goat Buttes to the north (left) and the ocean and Corral Canyon to the south.

0:17 - Sandstone cave on the Backbone Trail (head to the left of it)

0:17 – Sandstone cave on the Backbone Trail (head to the left of it)

At about 1.7 miles, you reach the high point of the section (2,200 feet) and begin a descent, starting to contour south.  On the way down, look for a second, smaller circle of rocks on the left side of the trail.

0:18 - Head through the rocks downhill to the motorway

0:18 – Head through the rocks downhill to the motorway

At 2.8 miles, head right on the Puerco Motorway toward Mesa Peak, as the Backbone Trail continues its descent toward Malibu Creek State Park.  Follow the fire road south, as you would from the eastern approach to Mesa Peak, and at 3.1 miles, head uphill on a use trail that passes a summit with an antenna installation, drops to a saddle and then climbs briefly to Mesa Peak.  Here, you can sit and enjoy the view before heading back.  If you’ve arranged a shuttle, you can continue east on the Backbone Trail and descend toward Malibu Canyon.

0:25 - Caves and circle of rocks

0:25 – Caves and circle of rocks

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.

1:35 - View of Point Dume from Mesa Peak

1:35 – View of Point Dume from Mesa Peak

Warren Peak (Joshua Tree National Park)


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View from the Warren Peak

View from Warren Peak

View of Warren Peak from about half a mile away

View of Warren Peak from about half a mile away

Warren Peak (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: High desert near Yucca Valley.  From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 21.8 miles.  Turn right on Joshua Lane (opposite highway 247).  Go 4.6 miles to a T-junction at San Marino Drive.  Turn right and follow San Marino Drive to Black Rock Canyon Road.  Drive 0.3 miles to campground entrance (there is a $15 fee for camping, but day use is free).  The road is in bad shape, so watch out for potholes.  Park by the ranger station.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,150 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, terrain, navigation)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  November – April
  • USGS topo map: “Yucca Valley South”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: trip report here; Black Rock Canyon area map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Black Rock Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Black Rock Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Rising nearly a mile above sea level, Warren Peak is one of the highest points in Joshua Tree National Park.  It can be found in the Black Rock Canyon area, in the park’s northwestern corner.  Scenic highlights include views of the San Jacinto and San Bernardino ranges, the high desert, interesting geology and a wide variety of plant life.

0:05 - Heading east into the wash past the campground (times are approximate)

0:05 – Heading east into the wash past the campground (times are approximate)

From the ranger station, head east to Campground Road. The last segment before Campground Road is roped off for vehicles but open to hikers. At dirt Campground Road, head down into a wash, continuing east toward the trail (look for some wooden fences in front of a large rock pile.) There are a few different possible paths through the wash, but it shouldn’t be too tough to find your way across.

0:09 - Heading up into Black Rock Canyon

0:09 – Heading up into Black Rock Canyon

You join the trail just before a junction, where the signed California Riding & Hiking Trail heads away and southeast. Take a hard right and head south on the trail signed for Black Rock Canyon.

0:22 - Continuing up into the canyon

0:22 – Continuing up into the canyon

You make your way up a gentle grade, staying straight as the Short Loop and Burnt Hill trails branch off to the left. Look for posts marked PL/WP (Panorama Loop/Warren Peak) to guide you when in doubt.

0:46 - Beginning of the Panorama Loop

0:47 – Beginning of the Panorama Loop

Continuing your climb, you reach the beginning of the Panorama Loop Trail at 1.8 miles from the start. You can take this 3.5 mile loop if you have time, but to reach Warren Peak, head right. You’ll start to notice more pinon pines and juniper trees as you gain elevation. At 2.2 miles, stay right at a second junction with the Panorama Loop.

0:55 - Pines and geology in Black Rock Canyon

0:55 – Pines and geology in Black Rock Canyon

Soon after, you’ll get your first look at the pyramid shape of Warren Peak, off to the right. Turn right at the next junction, and begin your final ascent. Here, the trail gets rugged as it makes its way along a ridge. The route isn’t too hard to follow; your destination is always in sight. Just below the top, you’ll scramble up a few rocks to reach the summit.

0:58 - End of the Panorama Loop

0:58 – End of the Panorama Loop

On rocky Warren Peak, you get great views of both mountain and desert: the Mojave to the north and the Coachella Valley to the south. Enjoy the panorama, and the strong sense of solitude, before returning via the same route.

1:20 - Climbing the ridge

1:20 – Climbing 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.

1:30 - Looking northwest from the summit

1:30 – Looking northwest from the summit

Mt. Bliss via Van Tassel Motorway


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Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Bliss

Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Bliss

Southeast view from Mt. Bliss (including Old Saddleback)

Southeast view from Mt. Bliss (including Old Saddleback)

Mt. Bliss via Van Tassel Motorway

        • Location: Angeles National Forest foothills north of Azusa and Duarte.  From the south, take I-605 to its northern terminus, just past I-210.  At the intersection, turn right on Huntington Drive.  Go 0.6 miles to Encanto Parkway and turn left.  Go 1.4 miles, just past the Van Tassel Motorway, and park in the Fish Canyon Falls parking lot on the left side of the road. From Pasadena, take I-210 to the Mt. Olive exit.  At the bottom of the off ramp, turn right on Huntington Drive and follow the directions above.  From the east, take I-210 to the Irwindale Ave exit.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to Foothill Blvd.  Turn left and go 0.8 miles (Foothill becomes Huntington) and turn right on Encanto Parkway.
        • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District/City of Duarte
        • Distance: 9.6 miles (from Fish Canyon Falls parking lot)
        • Elevation gain: 3,100 feet (from Fish Canyon Falls parking lot)
        • Difficulty Rating: R (Steepness, elevation gain, distance)
        • Suggested time: 5 hours
        • Best season: November – May
        • USGS topo map: Azusa
        • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sunblock; sun hat
        • More information:  Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 8
0:00 - Beginning of the hike on Encanto Parkway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike on Encanto Parkway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This challenging hike in the Angeles National Forest foothills can be quite enjoyable on cool, clear days. Make sure you bring good protection from the sun (the route is almost entirely exposed) and plenty of water.  Bugs can be annoying during the spring as well. The good news is that navigation and terrain are easy; the only stretch that’s at all rough is the short push to the summit. Located conveniently to the San Gabriel Valley, Mt. Bliss is a great training hike.

0:13 - Beginning the climb on the motorway past the equestrian center (times are approximate)

0:13 – Beginning the climb on the motorway past the equestrian center (times are approximate)

From the Fish Canyon Falls parking area, head right out of the lot and right onto the Van Tassel Motorway. (You might be able to park inside the equestrian center, but parking at the Fish Canyon Falls trail head is more convenient, and allows you to warm up a little before beginning the ascent. Doing so adds a total of one mile and about 200 feet of elevation gain.) It should also be noted that the alternate route from Mel Canyon Drive in Azusa has become overgrown and is fenced off.

0:47 - view of L.A. (times are approximate)

0:47 – view of L.A. (times are approximate)

At 0.5 miles, you reach a gate at the far end of the equestrian center.  As of this writing, there is construction going on throughout the route, so be careful of trucks and other vehicles, although I found the drivers to be friendly.

1:25 - Shade!

1:25 – Shade!

You begin a long, twisting climb out of the canyon, taking in nice views of the L.A. Basin on the way up. At 1.9 miles from the start, you cross under some tall power lines and come to an intersection. Stay left at a junction soon after and continue your ascent.

2:11 - Turn right and continue uphill

2:11 – Turn right and continue uphill

At about 2.5 miles, you enter a nice stretch with some shade, and coming out of it, you can see Mt. Wilson to the west. Your climb continues, finally reaching a junction at 4.5 miles. Turn right, and just before the road dips down, take a hairpin turn to the left and begin climbing a ridge. Crossing under more power lines, you follow a rough but easy to follow use trail to the summit.

2:17 - Hard left on the summit ridge

2:17 – Hard left on the summit ridge

On Mt. Bliss, the clear day views include San Gorgonio, San Jacinto and Santa Rosa to the east, the Palomars of San Diego to the southeast, Catalina Island, downtown L.A., and Boney Mountain in the western Santa Monicas. Even if there is smog and haze, the view of Baldy and the San Gabriels is impressive.

2:25 - You made it!

2:25 – You made it!

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.

Simi Peak via China Flat


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Looking southeast from Simi Peak

Looking southeast from Simi Peak

View of Thousand Oaks and vicinity from near Simi Peak's summit

View of Thousand Oaks and vicinity from near Simi Peak’s summit

Simi Peak via China Flat 

  • Location: Oak Park, near Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills.  From L.A., take Highway 101 to Kanan Road.  Turn right and go 4.1 miles to Lindero Canyon Road.  Turn right and go one mile.  The trail head is on the left side of the road, just before the intersection with Wembly Ave.  From Ventura, take Highway 101 to Lindero Canyon Road.  Turn left and drive 4 miles to the trailhead on the left side of the road.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Receration & Parks/Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area
  • Distance: 6.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: Thousand Oaks, Calabasas
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent; hiking polessunblock
  • More information: trip reports here and here (slightly different route)
  • Rating: 8

This trip visits two popular Thousand Oaks area hiking destinations: Simi Peak (elevation 2,403) and China Flat, a pastoral meadow where many live oaks provide shade. Other highlights on this trip include great city and mountain views, a few glimpses at the ocean, and some interesting geology, including some sandstone caves.

0:00 - Trail head on Lindero Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

From Lindero Canyon Road, the trail signed for China Flat follows a fenceline. After 0.1 miles, you’ll turn left and then make a quick right, beginning the main ascent. You will gain about 900 feet in a mile and a half, over exposed and somewhat rocky terrain, but your efforts are rewarded with great views the entire way.

0:02 - Turn left (times are approximate)

0:02 – Turn left (times are approximate)

At 0.4 miles you head briefly downhill, merging with another trail coming from Lindero Canyon Road. Turn right and continue climbing toward the ridge. At 1.5 miles, the slope levels out and you reach a metal grate. Shortly afterward, you merge with the trail from Palo Comado Canyon. Stay left at the first two intersections and then bear right, curving around the side of a ridge.

0:40 - Sandstone geology on the China Flat Trail

0:40 – Sandstone geology on the China Flat Trail

At 1.8 miles, the trail makes a sharp right turn and begins a descent into a pleasant, cool woodland, the south edge of China Flat. Soon after, you reach a junction. If you want to shorten your hike and go directly to Simi Peak, you can turn left and reach the summit in just under a mile. However, for a more interesting route, head right. You enter a wide meadow, soon reaching another junction where you’ll head left. A slight incline brings you to yet another junction, where you’ll go right (north). At the far end of the meadow, look for a large outcrop of rock with two caves giving a skull-like appearance.

0:49 - China Flat Trail (stay left)

0:49 – China Flat Trail (stay left)

At the four-way intersection, head left. You get nice views of the Thousand Oaks area below as you make your way along a ridge. At 3.4 miles from the start, you rejoin the Simi Peak Trail, where you’ll turn right. The trail descends briefly before beginning its final push to the summit. At 1.6 miles, turn left on a short spur that brings you to the peak. The views are great, and a little nerve-wracking; the land drops off sharply in a way that may remind some of Sandstone Peak, although no rock-scrambling is required.

1:04 - Oak woodlands near China Flat

1:04 – Oak woodlands near China Flat

If visibility is good, you can see Mt. Baldy, with San Gorgonio and San Jacinto faint in the distance. The Santa Monicas block out most of the view to the south, but you can still see the ocean, including Catalina, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. To the north, you can see the Simi Valley area and the Santa Susanas.

1:11 - Fire road on the east side of China Flat (turn left)

1:11 – Fire road on the east side of China Flat (turn left)

To cut distance off your return trip, when you return to the junction, head straight instead of left. You’ll arrive back at China Flat after 0.9 miles from the summit. Turn right at the first intersection and right again to follow the route back down to Lindero Canyon Road.

1:20 - Skull shaped rock at the north end of the meadow (turn left at the four-way junction)

1:20 – Skull shaped rock at the north end of the meadow (turn left at the four-way junction)

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:55 - View of the San Gabriels from Simi Peak

1:55 – View of the San Gabriels from Simi Peak

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