Tapo and Chivos Canyons

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

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

Oaks in the bottom of Tapo Canyon

Oaks in the bottom of Tapo Canyon

Tapo and Chivos Canyons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:43 - Starting the descent toward Chivos Canyon

0:43 – Starting the descent toward Chivos Canyon

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

1:07 - Left turn to head into Chivos Canyon

1:07 – Left turn to head into Chivos Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2:00 – Bear right at the “X” junction

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

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

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

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West Mesa Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Through the meadow on the West Mesa Loop Trail

Through the meadow on the West Mesa Loop Trail

Stonewall Peak as seen from Airplane Ridge

Stonewall Peak as seen from Airplane Ridge

West Mesa Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:33 - Head left on the single-track

0:33 – Head left on the single-track

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

1:00 - Junction beneath the tall oak

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:33 - Following Airplane Ridge

1:33 – Following Airplane Ridge

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

1:50 - Airplane monument

1:50 – Airplane monument

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

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

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

Agua Chinon to the Sinks and Box Springs

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View of the geology above the Sinks

View of the geology above the Sinks

Oaks above Box Springs

Oaks above Box Springs

Agua Chinon to the Sinks and Box Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:08 - View of the Sinks

1:08 – View of the Sinks

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

1:17 - Oaks on the East Loma Trail

1:17 – Oaks on the East Loma Trail

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

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

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

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

Butler Peak Lookout

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Looking west from Butler Peak

Looking west from Butler Peak

Looking south from Butler Peak

Looking south from Butler Peak

Butler Peak Lookout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2:05 - The trail leading up to the lookout

2:05 – The trail leading up to the lookout

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

2:10 - Looking southwest from the Butler Peak Lookout

2:10 – Looking southwest from the Butler Peak Lookout

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

Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks

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View from the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

View from the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

Geology on the Santa Cruz Trail

Geology on the Santa Cruz Trail

Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks

    • Location: Upper Oso Campground, Santa Ynez Recreation Area north of Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, head southeast on Highway 154 for 22 miles if you’re coming from the north; northwest on Highway 154 for 10.6 miles if you’re coming from the south, to Paradise Road.  Head east on Paradise Road for 5.8 miles and turn left onto Camuesa Road, signed for the Lower Oso Campground.  Drive a mile to the campground and park in the day use area in the northeastern corner, just past the out houses.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  Year round
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; photos here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trail head at the Upper Oso Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

It’s hard to go wrong in the oak-shaded canyons, wide meadows and tall mountains of the Santa Ynez Recreational Area and the hike to the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp is about as close as you can get to a hike that will please everyone.  It’s easy enough that novices shouldn’t have too much trouble and it also serves as a gateway for more challenging hikes, such as Little Pine Mountain.  The scenery includes both flora and geology (including limestone, sandstone and shale) of interest; the views are panoramic and the sense of solitude is strong.  Though the area can be hot during the summer, with an early start the hike can be enjoyable even on warm days.

0:21 - Start of the Santa Cruz Trail (times are approximate)

0:21 – Start of the Santa Cruz Trail (times are approximate)

From the end of the campground, follow the dirt road (signed as Buckhorn Road or Cameusa Canyon Road on some maps) up hill for a gentle 3/4 of a mile along side a seasonal stream.  Much of the route is shaded by oaks and sycamores.  At 3/4 of a mile, continue straight on a single-track while the dirt road makes switchbacks up the hill.  The going becomes a little more challenging here (watch out for poison oak) as you traverse some rocky and sometimes slippery terrain, although most hikers shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

0:34 - Crossing the stream bed on the Santa Cruz Trail

0:34 – Crossing the stream bed on the Santa Cruz Trail

For the next mile-plus, the trail follows the east side of the canyon, weaving in and out of more woodlands, crossing a stream bed and taking in some impressive mountain views.  At 1.8 miles from the start, you reach a junction.  Take a hairpin right turn and begin a short but steep climb to a meadow where the trail splits.  Bear left and follow the path to Nineteen Oaks, where you can sit at a shaded picnic table and enjoy the view.

0:55 - Turnoff to Nineteen Oaks

0:55 – Turnoff to Nineteen Oaks

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

1:00 - Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

1:00 – Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

Aliso Canyon Loop (Los Padres National Forest)

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Sunset in the Los Padres National Forest from the Aliso Canyon Loop Trail

Sunset in the Los Padres National Forest from the Aliso Canyon Loop Trail

Descending the Aliso Canyon Loop

Descending the Aliso Canyon Loop

Aliso Canyon Loop (Los Padres National Forest)

    • Location: Sage Hill Campground, Santa Ynez Recreation Area north of Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, head southeast on Highway 154 for 22 miles if you’re coming from the north; northwest on Highway 154 for 10.6 miles if you’re coming from the south, to Paradise Road.  Head east on Paradise Road for 4.5 miles and turn left into the Sage Hill Campground.  Turn left into the campground, make a hard right, make another right and bear left into the lot signed for the Aliso Canyon Trail.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 3.5 miles
    • Elevation gain: 800 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  Year round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here,  here and here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
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 hike has a little bit of everything: pleasant oak and sycamore shaded woodlands, narrow canyons, panoramic mountain and valley views and some rather steep climbing to get to it all.  Though the upper ridges are exposed, with an early or late start, the hike can be done during warm days.  Sunsets here can be exceptional; the Santa Ynez Valley resembles Ojai but feels even more remote.

0:07 - Beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

0:07 – Beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signed Aliso Trail into the canyon.  You stroll for a peaceful 0.3 miles beneath the oaks before reaching a junction.  The loop can be hiked in either direction; by hiking clockwise (staying straight) you can wait a little before tackling the major ascents (if you head right, you will be climbing immediately).

0:27 - View across Aliso Canyon from the ascent

0:27 – View across Aliso Canyon from the ascent

Assuming you opt for clockwise, continue north into the canyon which quickly narrows.  You climb briefly up from the stream bed and drop back down briefly before beginning the major ascent: almost 600 feet in 0.7 miles.  The good news is that you get some excellent aerial views of Aliso Canyon on your ascent.

0:40 - View across Oso Canyon from the T-junction (turn right and continue climbing)

0:40 – View across Oso Canyon from the T-junction (turn right and continue climbing)

The trail gradually levels out, bending to the east and heading through a meadow (watch out for burrs on the plants; wear long pants if possible) before reaching a T-junction.  Here you get a good view down into the neighboring canyon, Oso.  Turn right and make another steep but short ascent to an unnamed summit where you can sit and enjoy a 360-degree vista.

0:45 - View from the first high point on the ridge

0:45 – View from the first high point on the ridge

From here, follow the ridge between the two canyons, heading south, making one more brief climb to another knoll before descending back into Aliso Canyon.  You drop down to another meadow and make a final series of steep switchbacks – sometimes cutting right up to the edge of the hill – completing the loop at 3.2 miles.  Retrace your steps back to the campground.

1:20 - Making the steep switchbacks back down into the canyon

1:20 – Making the steep switchbacks back down into the canyon

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

M*A*S*H site from Corral Canyon via Bulldog Motorway

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Malibu Creek State Park from the Bulldog Motorway

Malibu Creek State Park from the Bulldog Motorway

Geology near the Castro Crest

Geology near the Castro Crest

M*A*S*H site from Corral Canyon via Bulldog Motorway

  • 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: Malibu Creek State Park
  • Distance: 8.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo maps: Point Dume, Malibu Beach
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information:  Trip description (slightly different route) here; Everytrail report here; video taken walking through the M*A*S*H site here; Area trail map here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Castro Motorway trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Castro Motorway trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

There’s an easy way and a hard way to hike to and from the M*A*S*H filming site in Malibu Creek State Park.  This post describes the latter.

From the parking area, head uphill on the Corral Canyon Motorway.  The dirt road ascends steadily, providing views of Corral Canyon on the left and Malibu Creek State Park on the right.  Shortly before the intersection with the Bulldog Motorway, keep an eye out for a group of long and thin sandstone outcrops, sticking up from the steep slope in a manner resembling a forest.

0:20 - Beginning of the Bulldog Motorway (times are approximate)

0:20 – Beginning of the Bulldog Motorway (times are approximate)

At 0.8 miles, turn right on the Bulldog Motorway (the Castro Motorway continues 0.8 miles before dead-ending at private property).  You begin a long, winding descent, getting views of Castro Peak, Malibu Lake, the Goat Buttes and more.  At about 2 miles from the start, you enter a slightly shaded area, providing nice contrast from the exposed upper parts of the trail.

0:50 - Woodlands on the Bulldog Motorway descent

0:50 – Woodlands on the Bulldog Motorway descent

The Bulldog Motorway continues dropping toward Malibu Creek, passing a few spurs serving as utility access points (the main route is always pretty obvious).  Just over 3 miles from the start, turn right at the junction and head east, following a tributary of Malibu Creek for a little over a mile.

1:16 - Turn right at the junction and head east

1:16 – Turn right at the junction and head east

At 4.2 miles, you meet Crags Road.  Turn right and head through a pleasant oak grove to the former M*A*S*H site, where you can still see several vehicles used in the show and the famous sign pointing to different destinations.  A picnic area provides a good rest spot – because the bulk of the work is still ahead of you.

1:40 - Right turn on Crags Road

1:40 – Right turn on Crags Road

When ready, retrace your steps up the Bulldog Motorway back toward Castro Crest.  As you climb, your efforts will be rewarded with wider and wider views of Malibu Creek and the Santa Monicas.  While this hike loses points due to the long, largely exposed ascent from the canyon and high number of power lines, it is nevertheless one of the more scenic – and certainly challenging – trips in the area.

1:45 - M*A*S*H site; turnaround point

1:45 – M*A*S*H site; turnaround point

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