Challenger Park (Simi Valley)

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Meadow and hills in the trails behind Challenger Park

Meadow and hills in the trails behind Challenger Park

Oaks in a canyon behind Challenger Park

Oaks in a canyon behind Challenger Park

Challenger Park (Simi Valley)

  • Location: South Simi Valley.  From Highway 118, take the First St. exit and go south (turn right if you’re coming from the west, left if from the east) for 2.8 miles.   Turn left into the parking lot signed for Challenger Park (just past the intersection with Stonebrook.  From Highway 23, take the Olsen Road exit and go northeast for 1.9 miles to Wood Ranch Parkway. (Olsen becomes Madera Road en route).  Turn right on Wood Ranch and go 1.9 miles to the junction with Long Canyon Road.  Turn left onto Long Canyon Road and go 1.7 miles.  Challenger Park will be on the right, shortly before Long Canyon Road becomes First Street.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
  • USGS topo maps: Moorpark
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trail head at Challenger Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Located on the south side of Simi Valley, Challenger Park is a hub from which a variety of hiking and equestrian trails branch off.  The short loop described here showcases some of the scenery of Simi Valley, from rolling hills to shady oak canyons.  The hike can easily be done before or after work, but despite its brevity, there’s enough climbing to burn a few calories.  If you have extra time, you can extend the hike with a trip into nearby Long Canyon.

0:04 - Bear right at the Y-junction (times are approximate)

0:04 – Bear right at the Y-junction (times are approximate)

From the park, follow the dirt road east through a meadow and into an oak grove.  (The steep trail descending behind you is the return route; by hiking clockwise, as described here, you can warm up on a level stretch of trail before making the first climb.)

0:07 - Beginning the climb from the canyon (hard right)

0:07 – Beginning the climb from the canyon (hard right)

Bear right at a Y-junction and at 0.25 miles, beneath a large sycamore tree, make a hairpin right turn.  You begin the first ascent of the hike, climbing about 200 feet over the next quarter mile to reach the top of a ridge.  Here you get a panoramic view of the Simi Hills and the meadow below.  Turn left and follow the ridge to another trail which descends into the meadow, passing a few picnic tables.

0:12 - View from the top of the ridge

0:12 – View from the top of the ridge

The trail drops back into the canyon, winding along the foothills.  Stay left at a junction (the right fork heads back to the park, an option if you want to shorten the hike) and at about 1.1 miles from the start, you join the east Long Canyon Trail.  Bear right, heading toward the street, and almost immediately make a right onto an obscure-looking single track trail that leads back toward the park.  This last section of the loop feels pleasantly remote and secluded, despite being only a few dozen yards from Long Canyon Road.

0:14 - Descent toward the picnic area

0:14 – Descent toward the picnic area

Soon the trail leaves the shaded canyon bottom and climbs back to the ridge.  Take a left at at T-junction and follow along a fence line before reaching a saddle where several trails merge.  Head straight and make the final descent to complete the loop at the Challenger Park lot.

0:29 - Heading back toward the park on the single track

0:29 – Heading back toward the park on the single track

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.

0:43 - Following the fence line at the top of the ridge before the final descent

0:43 – Following the fence line at the top of the ridge before the final descent

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Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

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Wetlands in the south end of the park

Wetlands in the south end of the park

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

  • Location: Del Mar Avenue and Virginia Vista Court, Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach.  From the 405 Freeway, take the Long Beach Blvd. exit and head north for 0.2 miles.  Turn left on 36th St., go 0.3 miles and bear right on Country Club.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Los Cerritos Park Place.  Follow it past the side of the park to a T-junction and turn right on Del Mar.  The entrance (unmarked, just a gap in the fence) to the wetlands will be on the left in half a mile, just before Virginia Vista (a private road).  Park on the street for free, keeping in mind posted restrictions about time and days.
  • Agency: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works
  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: Long Beach
  • More information: Park description here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 1
0:00 - Entrance to the park on Del Mar Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Entrance to the park on Del Mar Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Most hikers probably won’t drive too far to visit the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, but for residents of Long Beach – the Bixby Knolls area in particular – this pleasant little pocket of open space is an enjoyable place to explore.  The park occupies a thin corridor between the 710 Freeway and the Virginia Country Club.  In addition to the attractive pools of water, this spot is a good one for birdwatching.  Ducks, blackbirds, hawks and cormorants are among the fowl that might be seen here. From Del Mar Avenue, enter the park through a gap in the chain linked fence.  Follow a wide walkway a short distance to the beginning of the loop.  There are a few benches beneath a shade structure and interpretive plaques describing the restoration process of the wetlands.

0:05 - Interpretive plaque beneath the shade shelter (times are approximate)

0:05 – Interpretive plaque beneath the shade shelter (times are approximate)

The loop can be hiked in either direction.  To go clockwise, look for a dirt walkway descending slightly (as opposed to the spur leading to the paved bike trail).  The opposite end of the loop branches off on the right in a similar manner; use this if you would prefer to hike counter-clockwise.

0:12 - Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

0:12 – Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

The trail borders the wetlands, briefly sharing a portion of the bike path, crossing under a railroad bridge before finally reaching a turnaround point at Del Amo Blvd (about 1.2 miles from the starting point).  Along the way keep an eye out for plant life including California Golden Poppies and Indian Paintbrush as well as the diverse array of birds (possibly rabbits too).  Once you reach Del Amo, turn around and follow the opposite side of the loop back to Del Mar Avenue.

0:27 - Looking back from just before Del Amo

0:27 – Looking back from just before Del Amo

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.

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.

Hosp Grove Park

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Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Hosp Grove Park

  • Location: Carlsbad, near the intersection of I-5 and Highway 78, San Diego County.  From I-5, take the Las Flores Drive exit.  Turn left if you’re coming from San Diego or right if you’re coming from Orange County and follow the road to Jefferson St.  Turn right on Jefferson and follow it 0.7 miles to the park entrance on the right.  From San Marcos/Escondido, take Highway 78 west to Jefferson St.  Turn left on Jefferson, follow it 0.3 miles and turn right to stay on Jefferson.  The park entrance is on the left in 0.1 miles.
  • Agency: City of Carlsbad
  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map: Del Mar
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Park information here; Trip Advisor page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 2
0:00 - Hosp Grove trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Hosp Grove trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Purists might not be impressed with this short loop, which never really escapes the noise of the nearby streets–or perhaps put off by the presence of non-native eucalyptus trees–but most people would probably prefer to see this land in north San Diego County used as a public recreation spot than for retail or residential development.

There are a number of trails, both official and non-official, that run through the park.  It’s a pleasant place to take a stroll, by yourself, with friends, kids or a dog, without having to stick to a specific route.  The route described in “Afoot and Afield” is a good one to follow if you’re short on time and are looking for a quick way to get some exercise.

0:02 - Right turn past the playground at the beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

0:02 – Right turn past the playground at the beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signed trail at the east end of the parking lot.  A trail branches off left toward the Buena Vista Lagoon; stay right, pass the playground and  turn right again at a T-junction (the left route is your return.)  At the third intersection, head left, although you can explore the right fork which dead-ends if you have time.

0:04 - Left turn and ascent

0:04 – Left turn and ascent

The trail climbs–the only significant ascent on the route–through the eucalyptus grove.  You pass a few informal fire breaks and reach a Y-junction a little less than half a mile from the start.  Again if you have time, you can explore the right fork, which dead-ends in a residential neighborhood.  For this route, follow the left fork downhill and make a hairpin turn.  You return along on Monroe and Marron Streets, reaching the junction by the playground.

0:15 - Returning to the park

0:15 – Returning to the park

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.

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

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View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

    • Location: Idyllwild.  From I-10 in Banning, take Highway 243 south for 24 miles to Idyllwild.  Turn right on Maranatha Drive and almost immediately bear left onto Lower Pinecrest Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Riverside County Playground Road and follow the signs to the park.  From Highway 74, take Highway 243 north for 4 miles.  Bear left onto Riverside Couty Playground Road and follow it 0.1 miles to the park entrance.  Day use fees are $3 per adult, $2 per child and $1 per dog, cash only, change not given.  The day use area is just past the entrance kiosk.
    • Agency: Riverside County Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 3.3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 750 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: April-October
    • USGS topo maps: Idyllwild; San Jacinto Peak
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Home page here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trail map here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Ernie Maxwell Trail, the trails of Idyllwild County Park offer the scenic perks of the San Jacinto Mountains–majestic pines, black oaks, wide-ranging mountain views–without requiring the commitment to hike to one of the major summits.  While the Maxwell Trail suffers less from the noise and sights of civilization, this one has more variety, plus an enjoyable and informative nature center.

0:22 - Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

0:22 – Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

The trails, while well signed, can be a little confusing.  The Perimeter Trail, for example, overlaps with several others; at the junctions, the same trail is often signed twice.  There are a few spots (particularly on the Summit Trail) where the route is a little vague, although if you find yourself having to go off-trail beyond some basic rock scrambling, you’ve likely just lost the trail and should be able to retrace your steps not too far before finding it.  The Perimeter Trail, as described here, is a good, moderate route that takes in pretty much all that the park has to offer, but it doesn’t have to be followed exactly.  Idyllwild County Park is a nice place to just wander around.

0:28 - Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

0:28 – Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

To follow the Perimeter Trail, take the paved road toward the campground.  After a few hundred yards, make a hard right on the signed trail and begin walking uphill through an attractive forest of pines and oaks.  You will pass several junctions; keep following the signs for the Perimeter Trail.  On the right, keep an eye out for views of Tahquitz Rock, Tahquitz Peak and San Jacinto.

0:31 - Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

0:31 – Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

After 1.1 miles, cross the paved road (an alternate entrance to the park) and pick up the Perimeter Trail on the opposite side.  It descends to a T-junction.  Both routes lead toward the nature center, but the right trail is more interesting.  Take it and then almost immediately turn left.  Follow the trail through the woods, passing by a pair of benches overlooking a flat rock with a few morteros.

0:35 - Sticks out like a sore thumb!

0:35 – Sticks out like a sore thumb!

Continuing south on the trail, you pass by a granite boulder with an outcrop resembling a thumb.  Just beyond you reach a junction.  Turn left, briefly leaving the Perimeter Trail and follow the Yellow Pine Trail to the nature center.  Here, you can take a few minutes to enjoy interpretive exhibits including taxidermy of bobcats, mountain lions, owls and coyotes; Cahuilla artifacts and more.  You can also pick up a park map here.

0:40 - Stuffed cougar at the nature center

0:40 – Stuffed cougar at the nature center

When you’re done at the nature center, return to the Yellow Pine Trail and head left, following it to another T-junction.  Turn right and rejoin the Perimeter Trail.  Follow it a short distance to another junction just past a gigantic black oak, turn left and turn right at the next junction (the map will come in handy.)

1:15 - Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

1:15 – Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

At 1.7 miles from the start, you’ll reach the beginning of the Summit Trail, also signed as the Summit Loop.  Stay straight and begin a steep climb, making switchbacks up the ridge.  Keep an eye out for the white trail markers if you are not sure about the route.  After half a mile and about 350 vertical feet, the trail levels out and you get views of San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak to the left.  As you follow the ridge south, you can see Garner Valley, Thomas Mountain and the Palomars. If visibility is good, you may even be able to pick out the observatory.

1:20 - San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

1:20 – San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

The trail begins a steep descent, at times rocky (be careful; use your hands as well as your feet).  Again the route can be a little tricky but if you look for the white trail markers you should stay on course.  The trail drops back into the woods, reaching another junction (2.7 miles.)  Stay right and then take a left, following the trail down to the end of Delano Drive.  Cross the street and follow the trail back into the park, threading your way between the camp sites on the left and a mobile home park on the right.  Ignoring a few false trails that branch off, follow the trail half a mile back to the meadow and the parking area.

1:30 - Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

1:30 – Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

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.

1:40 - Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

1:40 – Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

Jack Creek Meadow Loop (Daley Ranch)

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Jack Creek Meadow

Jack Creek Meadow

Engelmann Oak in Jack Creek Meadow

Oak in Jack Creek Meadow

Jack Creek Meadow Loop (Daley Ranch)

  • Location: 3024 La Honda Drive, Escondido, CA.  From I-15, take the El Norte exit and head east for 3.1 miles.  Turn left on La Honda and drive a mile to the dirt parking lot.
  • Agency: City of Escondido
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Valley Center
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: Description on the park homepage here; trip descriptions here and here; Daley Ranch Yelp page here
  • Rating: 6

The historic ranch house is the most popular site in Daley Ranch Park.  Not as many visitors explore the 3.2-mile Jack Creek Meadow Loop, which starts just beyond the ranch and travels through open fields and groves of oaks.

0:00 - Trailhead by the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead by the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

To reach the loop, follow the main paved road uphill, climbing about 200 feet in 0.4 miles (the only significant climbing of the entire hike.)  You descend into a pleasant oak grove, passing the two ends of the Boulder Loop and the East Ridge Trail, arriving at the ranch house in 1.1 miles.  The house is only open sporadically, but you can still enjoy looking at the various old buildings or sit for a break at a picnic table before continuing onto the loop.

0:28 - Daley Ranch House (times are approximate)

0:28 – Daley Ranch House (times are approximate)

The Jack Creek Loop begins shortly past the ranch.  It can be hiked in either direction.  The eastern leg features slightly more climbing and less shade, so you might want to get it out of the way first. To do so, head right (stay straight as the Sage Trail branches off), and follow the trail north into a valley reminiscent of Bell Canyon in Caspers Wilderness Park.

0:29 - Sign on a shed just past the ranch house

0:29 – Sign on a shed just past the ranch house

A bench beneath an impressive oak tree makes a good rest spot.  Continue north, making a few small ascents and descents, curving west at the end of the loop.  A fence marks the park boundary; an abandoned car sits on the other side.

0:55 - Large oak on the eastern leg of the Jack Creek Meadow Loop

0:55 – Large oak on the eastern leg of the Jack Creek Meadow Loop

Heading back, your work is easy as the trail descends gradually back into the meadow.  You return to the start of the loop, where you can retrace your steps along the paved Ranch House Road or perhaps explore some of the other trails in the park, such as the Boulder Loop or East Ridge.

1:16 - Heading back on the western leg of the loop

1:16 – Heading back on the western leg of the loop

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

 

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

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View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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