Upper Altadena Crest Trail

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View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, Pasadena, CA

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail

Ocean view from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

Dusk over the ocean from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail

Upper Altadena Crest Trail

  • Location: Staging area on the north side of Loma Alta Drive at the intersection with Dabney St. From I-210, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on Loma Alta Drive and go 0.2 miles to the staging area on the north side of the road, across from Loma Alta Park.
  • Agency: Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy/County of Los Angeles
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – June (sunrise to sunset)
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Everytrail report here; LA County Trails page here
  • Rating: 6
Altadena Crest Trail Head, Pasadena, CA

0:00 – Trail head at the Loma Alta Staging Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This northwestern segment of the Altadena Trail connects Loma Alta Drive with Mt. Lowe Road, climbing about 800 vertical feet with a few ups and downs, adding up to a fairly vigorous workout. The trail’s convenient location and panoramic views make it a worthwhile excursion for anyone in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys; it’s not far from downtown L.A. either.

From the staging area, follow the signed trail leading alongside the debris basin. The first few hundred yards might not seem promising but you quickly climb away from civilization, reaching the top of a ridge a quarter mile from the start. From here, you descend to a T-junction. Take a hard right and head into a shallow canyon. Stay straight, ignoring the cut switchback on the left and make your way up to another ridge, taking in some nice views of the San Gabriel Mountains dead ahead.

Fall colors on the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

0:09 – Heading right at the T-junction (times are approximate)

After another brief descent, you begin a steady climb to a Y-junction (0.9 miles from the start). Bear left and continue climbing a quarter mile to reach the paved Chaney Trail. The trail continues on the opposite side of the road and a wooden step makes a nice resting spot before the steep ascent ahead.

View of the mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Foothills, CA

0:24 – Bear left at the Y-junction

The trail continues its climb, quite steeply at times and over increasingly loose and washed out terrain. The good news is that for your efforts you are rewarded with views that are wider and wider, as well as an interesting aerial perspective on Cheney Trail. Finally the grade levels out you meet up with a paved road leading a few yards to a junction at a saddle with great views to the south, including the Santa Ana Mountains, Catalina Island and downtown L.A., and Millard Canyon to the north.

This is the turnaround point (1.6 miles from the start), but you can easily extend the hike along the Sunset Ridge Trail or the Mt. Lowe Fire Road if you see fit. As an alternate to the loose, steep trail, you can also descend via Cheney Trail by heading left on the Mt. Lowe Fire Road and following it a short distance.

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Altadena Crest Trail, California

0:29 – View from the Cheney Trail intersection

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:49 – Southeast view from the top

Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve

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View of Rodriguez Mountain in the Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

View of Rodriguez Mountain on the descent to Hell Creek

Sunset, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

Sunset in Hellhole Canyon

Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve

  • Location: Inland San Diego County near Valley Center. From San Diego, take I-15 north to E Via Rancho Parkway. Turn right and follow Via Rancho Parkway, which soon becomes Bear Valley Parkway. After 6 miles, turn right on East Valley Parkway and go 1.3 miles. Turn right on Lake Wohlford Road and go 5.9 miles. Turn right on Paradise Mountain Road and go 3.3 miles. Turn right on Los Hermanos Ranch Road and make an immediate left on Kiavo Drive (signed for the preserve). Go 0.5 miles to the end of Kiavo Drive and turn left into the parking lot. From the north, take I-15 to Gopher Canyon Road. Turn left, cross the freeway and turn right on Champagne Blvd. Go 0.2 miles and turn left on Old Castle Road. Go 5.5 miles and continue onto Lilac Road for another 3.3 miles. Turn right on Valley Center Road, go 1.2 miles and turn left on Woods Valley Road. At 3.9 miles, Woods Valley Road crosses Lake Wohlford Road and becomes Paradise Mountain Road. Follow it for another 3.3 miles to the intersection with Los Hermanos Ranch Road. Turn right and make an immediate left on Kiavo Drive. Follow it half a mile to its end and turn left into the preserve. Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – sunset. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Rodriguez Mountain
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • Recommended gear: sun screen; sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here; Friends of Hellhole Canyon page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

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

How does an attractive wilderness preserve in northern San Diego County get a name like “Hellhole?” One explanation is that in the 1800s, ranchers had a “hell” of a time getting their wagons across the creek, a tributary of the San Luis Rey River. Indeed, history abounds here in the remains of the Escondido Canal which diverted water from the San Luis Rey River to Escondido Creek.

Oaks on the banks of Hell Creek, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:19 – On the banks of Hell Creek (times are approximate)

There are over 13 miles of trails throughout the preserve, making several possible routes of varying difficulty levels. The balloon-shaped hike described here offers a good workout that takes in a nice sample of the area’s scenery. Keep in mind that like most hikes in the preserve, it’s a reverse hike that requires a 300-foot ascent out of the canyon on exposed terrain, notoriously hot during the summer.

From the parking area, descend the main trail, enjoying an excellent view of Rodriguez Mountain and an aerial perspective on Hell Creek. On the way down, interpretive plaques describe the plant life including black sage, inland scrub oak and laurel sumac. At about 0.7 miles, you reach the stream bed (dry as of this writing, but sometimes high waters can make it treacherous). You climb along the north side of the creek under the shade of some oaks before entering the open again.

Trail junction, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:32 – Junction with the Horsethief Trail

At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction with the Horsethief Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction, but by going clockwise, you can hold off on the major climbing. Follow the trail over a footbridge and continue around the side of Rodriguez Mountain. An interpretive plaque points out the canal, visible on the opposite side of the creek.

Canyon View Trail, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:50 – Start of the Canyon View Trail

At 1.9 miles, stay straight as the Horsethief Trail rejoins. Soon after you reach another junction where you’ll stay straight, now on the Canyon View Trail. You begin a steady ascent, ignoring a side trail branching off to the left just before you briefly drop down to a shallow and usually dry stream bed. At 2.6 miles, you reach the high point of the loop, a junction with the trail leading higher still to Rodriguez Mountain. Here, you an enjoy a panoramic view of the valley before continuing.

Trail crossing over a stream bed, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

1:00 – Crossing a stream bed on the slopes of Rodriguez Mountain

From here, the trail descends and makes one more ascent to a junction with the Paradise Mountain Trail (3.2 miles from the start). Take a hard right and continue downhill, soon meeting up with the Horsethief Trail. Bear left and follow it a short distance to the main Hell Creek Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the parking area.

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Panoramic view from the slope of Rodriguez Mountain, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

1:10 – Panoramic view from the junction with the Rodriguez Mountain Trail (high point of the loop)

 

Earl Canyon Motorway

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View of Strawberry Peak and the San Gabriel Mountains from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway, Angeles National Forest, CA

View of Strawberry Peak from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway

Sunset on the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel foothills, CA

Sunset over the Verdugo Mountains as seen from the Earl Canyon Motorway

Earl Canyon Motorway

      • Location: La Canada Flintridge, corner of Palm Drive and La Sierra Drive. From the 210 Freeway, take the Ocean View exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from Pasadena; left if from the Valley) and go 0.4 miles to Foothill Blvd. Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Palm Drive. Turn left and follow Palm for 0.8 miles. Park where available near the intersection of Palm and La Sierra (a short spur leading to a metal gate). From the south, take Highway 2 to its end just beyond the 210 Freeway. Turn left on Foothill Blvd,. go 0.2 miles and turn right on Palm Drive. Follow it 0.8 miles to the end. A nearby alternate trail head can be found on Jessen Drive.
      • Agency: City of La Canada Flintridge/Angeles National Forest (Los Angeles River Ranger District)
      • Distance: 7.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance)
      • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
      • Best season:  October – May
      • USGS topo map: Pasadena
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
      • More information: Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; video of a mountain biker descending the route here
      • Rating: 8
Start of the hike on the Earl Canyon Motorway

0:00 – Start of the hike on La Sierra and Palm Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This scenic–but grueling–hike climbs from a residential neighborhood on the edge of La Canada to a junction with the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. Here, hikers both human and canine (this trail being popular with the latter) can enjoy an excellent view for their efforts. This hike could be described as a longer version of the La Canada Teepee hike; that structure is visible from the motorway.

View of Mt. Lukens from the Earl Canyon Motorway

0:39 – View of Mt. Lukens (times are approximate)

Whether you start from La Sierra or Jessen Drive, the two paths converge after one hundred yards or so. You continue through a pleasant oak and sycamore woodland which, sadly, serves as a bit of false advertising as trees are few and far between for the majority of the route.

The trail takes a hard left at a junction with a blocked off private road, and you begin the bulk of the climb. The fire road makes its way steadily up the ridge, offering panoramic views all the way. At 1.3 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain, you reach a small turnout with an impressive view of Mt. Lukens. The trail continues its switchbacks to a saddle at 2.1 miles and 1,300 vertical feet. You get views of Mt. Lukens to the west and the San Gabriel Valley southeast. Sharp-eyed hikers may be able to pick out the La Canada Teepee on the opposite ridge. If you are short on time and energy, this can be a good turnaround point, although the rest of the hike is easier and more scenic.

Looking southeast from the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel Foothills, CA

1:03 – View from the junction

If you decide to continue, resume your ascent on the Earl Canyon Motorway, which soon effectively becomes a single-track trail. A few more switchbacks bring you to a pleasant, pseudo-shaded stretch along a north-facing ridge and soon after (about 3.3 miles) you get a view of San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Disappointment and Mt. Wilson. A fairly level and enjoyable 0.3 miles more brings you to the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. A path leads a few dozen yards more to a concrete water tank.

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel foothills, CA

1:33 – View of the San Gabriels

Here you can enjoy a 270-degree panorama including Strawberry Peak and the other front country summits of the San Gabriels, Old Saddleback, Catalina Island, the Hollywood Hills, the Verdugos and the Santa Monica Mountains. After enjoying the view, return via the same route or if you want a real challenge, continue 3.6 miles northwest to Mt. Lukens. You can also make the hike into a loop by descending the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail to the Crosstown Trail, bringing you back to the Palm Drive trail head in just over 4 miles, 1.5 of which are on city streets.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean as seen from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:45 – Ocean view from the top

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Cedar Creek Falls (West Approach)

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Cedar Creek Falls, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

Cedar Creek Falls

Eagle Peak seen from the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

Eagle Peak from the San Diego River Gorge Trail

Cedar Creek Falls (West Approach)

  • Location: 15519 Thornbush Road, Ramona. From Escondido, follow Highway 78 east for about 18 miles. In downtown Ramona when Highway 78 turns left, stay straight and follow 10th St., which soon becomes San Vicente Road, for a total of 6.8 miles. Turn left on Ramona Oaks and follow it 2.9 miles to Thornbush Road. Turn right on Thornbush and follow it 0.2 miles to the parking area. From Poway, take Highway 67 to Dye Road (6.1 miles northeast of the junction with Poway Road). Turn right and follow Dye 1.8 miles where it turns left and becomes Ramona St. Follow Ramona 0.4 miles and turn right on Warnock. Go 0.8 miles and turn right on San Vicente. Follow San Vicente Road 4.8 miles to Ramona Oaks. Turn left and follow Ramona Oaks 2.9 miles to Thornbush. Turn right and drive to the parking area. Restrooms and water are available at the trail head. Dogs are allowed but not recommended. To purchase the required permit ($6 for a group of up to five) click here. If you have a Smartphone, you can buy the permit at the trail head but plan on 10-15 minutes’ processing time. Note that the permit is only required for visiting the area around the falls; the first two miles of the hike don’t require it.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: November – June; sunrise to sunset
  • USGS topo map: “Santa Ysabel”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information: Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here; articles about the history of the trail and its current regulations here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

The good news is that the San Diego River Gorge Trail provides a route to Cedar Creek Falls that is more convenient and accessible than the trail from south of Julian. The bad news is that over use and reckless behavior from some visitors has caused the implementation of a permit system. In addition to seeing its share of cliff-jumping type accidents, Cedar Creek Falls is a reverse hike through almost entirely exposed terrain in an area that gets very hot during the summer. Hikers who aren’t prepared for a long ascent can find themselves hating life on the return from Cedar Creek (the approaches from both directions are reverse hikes.)

Information board at the Cedar Creek Falls Trail Head, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Info board at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Despite the caveats, the scenic rewards of this hike are considerable. Even if the waterfall is barely a trickle, which is the case as of this writing, this is still one of the better hikes in San Diego County. The trail from Ramona is moderately graded and easy to follow.

Descending switchbacks on the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:18 – Descending the switchbacks (times are approximate)

From the trail head, pass by an information board with dire warnings about heat stroke and and other potential hazards and begin the descent. As you make your way down the wide switchbacks, you get a panoramic view of the San Diego River Gorge below, with Eagle Peak towering above on the opposite side. Beyond are the higher summits of the Cuyamacas. You may also notice the trail from the east cutting its way down the hill side. Distance markers at quarter-mile intervals mark your progress.

At just over two miles, you reach the attractive floodplain of the San Diego River, dotted with oaks and sycamores. Almost immediately after you come to a junction with the trail from Julian. It is only beyond this point that the permit is required. Stay straight and follow the canyon of Cedar Creek, crossing the stream bed a few times. The trail becomes somewhat rocky but never too difficult.

Trees and mountains on the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:25 – Change in the foliage as the trail descends

At about 2.7 miles from the start, the top of the 80-foot waterfall comes into view. You find yourself at a large pool nicknamed the Punchbowl, lined with rocks and a few shallow inlets. Here you can sit and enjoy the scene; though it’s only a few air miles from civilization it feels far more isolated. Make sure you rest up for the ascent back.

San Diego River Flood Plain, Cleveland National Forest, CA

0:50 – Greenery on the San Diego River flood plain, shortly before the junction

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Punchbowl, Cedar Creek Falls, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

1:05 – Punchbowl at Cedar Creek Falls

Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

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Descending the Castle Canyon Trail from Inspiration Point

Descending the Castle Canyon Trail from Inspiration Point

Sun through the trees on the Castle Canyon Trail

Sun through the trees on the Castle Canyon Trail

Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

  • Location: Altadena (North of Pasadena), on the corner of Lake Avenue and Loma Alta Drive.  From I-210 in Pasadena, take the Lake Avenue exit and head north (left if you are coming from the west, right if from the east) and go 3.6 miles to where Lake Avenue meets Loma Alta Drive.  Park on the corner.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 11.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 6 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Mt. Wilson, Pasadena
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; Meetup description here; Wikipedia article about the history of the Mt. Lowe Railway here
  • Rating: 9
Sam Merrill Trail Head, Echo Mountain, Altadena, CA

0:00 – Sam Merrill trail head at the Cobb Estate (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

It might not be well known today, but in its time, the Mt. Lowe Railway was one of Los Angeles’s most popular and impressive tourist attractions. The railway didn’t survive the Great Depression and was quickly forgotten as Disneyland and Universal Studios became more famous, but intrepid hikers can still experience some of the history of it, enjoying the same panoramic views of the passengers.

View from the Sam Merrill Trail near Echo Mountain, Altadena, CA

1:05 – View from near the junction with the Echo Mountain Trail (times are approximate)

There are several ways to visit the sites of the Mt. Lowe Railway. This post describes the most common route: a 2.5 mile climb on the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain (the Mt. Lowe Railway’s lower terminus and a popular and worthwhile hiking destination in its own right), followed by a loop of about six miles, tracing the route of the railway on the ascent and descending via Castle Canyon – highlighted by the outstanding views at Inspiration Point. The hike is a strenuous workout but navigation and terrain are easy and the mix of history and scenic variety makes it very enjoyable.

Plaque describing the history of the Mt. Lowe Railroad, Echo Mountain Trail, Altadena, CA

1:19 – Interpretive plaque

From Lake Avenue, follow the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain, steadily climbing a series of tight switchbacks with dramatic views of the L.A. basin especially on clear days. Near the top of the ridge the trail levels out and you reach a junction. If you haven’t already been to Echo Mountain, head straight for a short distance where you can enjoy some great views and see equipment from the railroad. (Echo Mountain was the top end of the Great Incline segment of the train and the start of the Mt. Lowe Railway).

Sentinel Rock, Echo Mountain Trail, Mt. Lowe Railway site, Altadena, CA

1:25 – Sentinel Rock

To follow the railway’s course, take a hard left on the Echo Mountain Trail. It continues uphill at a more moderate grade, heading northwest. Soon you pass the first of several interpretive plaques describing the history of the railroad, including vintage photographs. Continuing past “Sentinel Rock” you soon reach a junction known as the Cape of Good Hope.

Millard Canyon from the Sunset Ridge Fire Road above the Cape of Good Hope, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:30 – View of Millard Canyon from the Sunset Ridge Fire Road above the Cape of Good Hope

Turn right onto the Sunset Ridge Fire Road, which soon provides you with excellent views of Millard Canyon. Continue up the fire road, passing a tight horseshoe curve that the railroad had to negotiate and the site of the circular bridge, one of the technical and visual high-lights of the trip. The trail traverses a pleasant north-facing slope, shaded by pines and black oaks, reaching the site of Ye Alpine Tavern (now the Mt. Lowe Trail Camp.) Though it was hoped that the railway would reach what was then called Oak Mountain – now Mt. Lowe – this was the highest it ever got.

Fall colors on the Echo Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:30 – Fall colors shortly before the Ye Alpine Tavern site

The trail makes a hairpin right turn and heads south to a four-way junction. Take the middle of the forks (the right fork is the upper end of the Sam Merrill Trail which also leads back to Echo Mountain; the left fork leads to Mt. Lowe). Soon you reach Inspiration Point, where you can enjoy the best view of the trip: the Santa Ana, Santa Monica and Verdugo Mountains, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, downtown L.A., Catalina Island and if visibility is good, Santa Barbara Island. Viewing tubes help you pinpoint certain locations.

View from a saddle between Echo Mountain, Mt. Lowe and Mt. Wilson, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:35 – View from the four way junction at the saddle

From here, take the single-track Castle Canyon Trail downhill. The trail is steep and loose in some places, although not too difficult. You drop into the pleasant shade of the canyon’s upper reaches, cross a seasonal stream and take in a few more views to the southeast before the trail levels out, returning to the ridge of Echo Mountain. Turn right and retrace your steps down the Sam Merrill Trail.

View of the Los Angeles Basin from Inspiration Point, Angeles National Forest

3:00 – Panoramic view from Inspiration 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.

View from the Castle Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles County, CA

4:00 – Looking southeast from the Castle Canyon Trail, shortly before rejoining the Echo Mountain Trail

Elsmere Canyon

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Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon

Geology in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

The Towsley geological formation, Elsmere Canyon

Elsmere Canyon

  • Location: Santa Clarita.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit.  If you’re coming from the south, turn right; the north, left, and drive to the end of the street and park in the dirt lot.  (If the lot is full, you may need to use the lower lot, where there is a $5 fee.)
  • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round (best after recent rains)
  • USGS topo maps: Oat Mountain, San Fernando
  • More information: here; trip description here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report (loop route) here
  • Rating: 7
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:00 – Elsmere Canyon Open Space trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The small seasonal waterfall in Elsmere Canyon is a pleasant surprise for hikers who may feel as if they know all of the trails in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Even during the summer months when the waterfall is likely to be dry the enjoyable stroll along the Creek Trail is a good way to beat the heat. Elsmere Canyon is large (over 1,200 acres) and the 6-mile loop around the perimeter of the park is a challenging workout, but power lines and exposure to freeway noise detract from the experience. The short hike to and from the waterfall is the most enjoyable one in the park and one of the best easy hikes in the area.

Creek Trail, Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:06 – Bear left on the Creek Trail (times are approximate)

From the Whitney Canyon Trail Head, which also serves as an entry point to Elsmere Canyon, follow the trail signed for Elsmere Canyon as it heads south along the border of the parking lot, up a ridge and downhill to a junction (0.2 miles.) Bear left on the signed Creek Trail which follows a pleasant course along a seasonal stream, crossing it several times. Soon you’re under the shade of oaks and you’ll also notice the tall rock walls, part of the Towsley Formation, rising high on the west side of the canyon.

Single track trail in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:27 – Turnoff for the waterfall

At 0.9 miles, you reach a junction with a wide fire road. Bear right, go a short distance and then head left on a single-track trail leading deeper into the woods. You will have to negotiate a few  creek crossings, some of which may be tricky if water levels are high. Adding to the challenge are several fallen trees, the result of the Foothill Fire of 2004 and other blazes. Overall though the navigation and terrain aren’t too difficult and after 0.4 miles, you find yourself at the base of the waterfall.

The lower tier which is about 10 feet can be climbed fairly easily for those with experience, assuming that the water level isn’t high enough to present a hazard. The upper tier is about 20 feet tall and pours down into a shallow pool. Whether you observe the waterfall from the bottom or the middle, it’s an attractive, peaceful spot, only a few miles from civilization but virtually isolated.

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:45 – Elsmere Canyon waterfall

There are more waterfalls beyond this one that can be reached by climbers who possess the necessary equipment and knowledge, but for hikers who don’t want to risk becoming part of the conversation about what steps managing agencies should take to regulate open spaces, this is the turnaround point. On the way back, if it’s a cool day and you’re looking for a little more of a workout, consider taking the Elsmere Canyon Loop instead of the Creek Trail, adding 0.2 miles and about 200 feet of elevation gain. It lacks the serenity of the Creek Trail but does provide some nice views of the Santa Clarita Valley, including the distant Sierra Pelona range.

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.

Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

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View of San Vicente Reservoir, San Diego, CA from the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

San Vicente Reservoir from the Oak Oasis Preserve

Oak trees in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

Oak woodland, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

      • Location: Lakeside, east of San Diego. From the north end of the freeway portion of Highway 67, take a right on Mapleview, go 0.3 miles and turn left on Ashwood St. Follow Ashwood for a total of 4.3 miles (it becomes Wildcat Canyon Road) and turn left into the signed Oak Oasis County Park lot. The road to the park is narrow so observe the 10 miles per hour speed limit. From Ramona, take San Vicente Road southeast to Barona Road. Turn right and follow Barona Road, which becomes Wildcat Canyon Road, 9 miles to the park. The park will be on the right side of the road.
      • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
      • Distance: 2.7 miles
      • Elevation gain: 300 feet
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round (8am-4:30pm daily)
      • USGS topo map: San Vicente Reservoir
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here
      • Rating: 6

Located just beyond the San Diego suburban fringe, Oak Oasis (known too as Oakoasis) County Park is an attractive 230-acre parcel of open space that offers panoramic views of the San Vicente Reservoir and Iron Mountain, plus interesting geology, meadows, glimpses into the history of the land and yes, oaks.

Trail head, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

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

The 2003 Cedar Fire was perhaps the most dramatic episode in the area’s history, claiming the old Minshall House. Fortunately the park is showing signs of recovery from the fire. The park is an enjoyable place for simply wandering without a specific route or destination; it’s a stop on the San Diego Trans-County Trail, which comes up from the west and continues east toward El Capitan. There are several possible routes to take and the 2.7-mile loop described here offers a nice sampling of the area’s scenery.

Trail junction, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:07 – Junction with the county trail (times are approximate)

From the trail head at the north side of the parking lot, descend past the information board to the trans-country trail. Turn left and follow it through chaparral to a Y-junction. Bear left and follow the trans-country trail as it climbs briefly to a ridge, providing some nice views, before dipping back into the oak-shaded canyon.

Oak woodland, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:20 – Rejoining the Oak Oasis Loop

Here, bear left and follow the canyon, staying straight at another turnoff. A plaque describes the unfortunate history of the Minshall House, which once stood at that location. Shortly after the plaque, a spur leads to an overlook between two trees.

You leave the woodland and come back into the open, with the San Vicente Reservoir spread out ahead. Bear right as the country trail heads left and begin a moderate climb, rejoining the trail from below. A short spur leads to another overlook where you get an even better view of the reservoir and Iron Mountain dominating to the north.

Informational plaque, Minshall House site, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:23 – Sign at the former Minshall House site

More climbing past some jumbled granite boulders brings you to a small, oak-lined meadow and the half-way point of the loop. The trail then descends into a chaparral-lined canyon, passes through a field and some private houses and re-enters the oak woodland. Bear left at the next junction and make a brief climb to rejoin the trans-country trail, completing the loop. From here, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Meadow in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakesisde, CA

0:43 – Meadow; half way 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.

Oak woodlands, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

1:00 – Back into the woodlands