Valley Forge Trail Camp from Eaton Saddle

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View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Valley Forge Trail

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Valley Forge Trail

Black oaks on the Valley Forge Trail

Black oaks on the Valley Forge Trail

Valley Forge Trail Camp from Eaton Saddle

    • Location: Eaton Saddle, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) northeast for 14 miles.  Take a right on the Mt. Wilson Red Box Road and go 2.3 miles to Eaton Saddle.  Park on the right side of the road in a small turnout.   A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 5.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
    • Suggested time: 3 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance, trail condition)
    • Best season: September – June
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking polesinsect repellent; long pants and long sleeved shirts
    • More information: Trail description on Angeles National Forest home page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head at Eaton Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

You already know how to get to the Valley Forge Trail Camp from Red Box, so in this post we’ll look at the more challenging route from Eaton Saddle.  Unfortunately the Valley Forge Trail still shows the effects of the Station Fire – notably in the presence of poodle dog bush and several stretches that suffer from severe erosion.  If you are willing to be vigilant about avoiding the poodle dog bush, which sometimes all but covers the trail (long sleeves are highly recommended), this is an enjoyable hike, providing excellent views of the eastern San Gabriel Mountains, often from beneath the pleasant shade of black oaks and pines.

0:02 - Poodle dog bush near the top of the trail (times are approximate)

0:02 – Poodle dog bush near the top of the trail (times are approximate)

Like the approach from Red Box, this is a reverse hike.  Though the ascent back up to Eaton from the trail camp can be taxing, in the late afternoon, the sun will likely be blocked out by San Gabriel Peak.  Begin by following the signed Valley Forge Trail downhill, soon making a switchback and entering the first of many patches of poodle dog bush.  After a second switchback, you enter a grove of black oaks.

0:22 - Low bridge: fallen tree on the trail

0:22 – Low bridge: fallen tree on the trail

You continue your steady descent, taking caution to avoid the poodle dog bush and along the washed-out sections of the trail.  At about 3/4 of a mile, duck under a fallen tree and at about 1.25 miles, keep an eye out for a surveillance camera mounted on a tree, one of several placed in the San Gabriel Mountains to capture wildlife footage.

0:37 - Smile, you're on camera.

0:37 – Smile, you’re on camera.

After making a few more switchbacks, you reach a junction at 1.9 miles, beneath a large pine tree.  A false trail heads left; the Valley Forge Trail heads right and continues making switchbacks as it descends the slope.  Near the bottom, keep an eye out for more poodle bush as well as some poison oak.

0:57 - Bear right beneath the large pine and continue the descent

0:57 – Bear right beneath the large pine and continue the descent

At 2.6 miles, you reach the Gabrielino Trail.  Turn left and descend a short distance where you’ll make a hard right on a spur leading to the Valley Forge Trail Camp.  Here, you can sit at a picnic table beneath tall oaks and sycamores and enjoy some peace and quiet before making your return.  If you have left a car shuttle at Red Box, you can return via the Gabrielino Trail, a more moderate ascent.

1:18 - The Gabrielino Trail (turn left)

1:18 – The Gabrielino Trail (turn left)

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.

1:24 - Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

1:24 – Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

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Ventura River Preserve: Rice and Willis Canyons

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View from the top of the Rice Canyon Trail

View from the top of the Rice Canyon Trail

Oaks in Willis Canyon

Oaks in Willis Canyon

Ventura River Preserve: Rice and Willis Canyons

    • Location: End of Meyers Road, Ojai.  From Highway 101, take Highway 33 north for 11.2 miles.  Turn left on Highway 150/Baldwin Road.  Take a quick right on South La Luna Road.  Go 1.5 miles to El Roblar Drive and turn left.  Go 0.2 miles to Rice Road.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Meyer Road.  Follow Meyer Road into the park (watch out for speed bumps.)  The park is open daily at 8am until 7:30pm from April to October; until 5pm from November to March.
    • Agency: Ojai Valley Land Conservancy/Los Padres National Forest(Ojai Ranger District)
    • Distance: 4.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 400 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Matilija
    • Recommended gear: insect repellent
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Area trail map here; Trip description (different route) here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The 1,591-acre Ventura River Preserve is one of the newer (2003) pockets of open space in Ventura County.  There are many possible routes of all distances in the park and it’s an enjoyable place to wander without having a specific plan, but if you’re not sure where to start, try this nearly 5-mile loop that explores two canyons that feed into the Ventura River.  Novice hikers will enjoy the moderate grades, scenic variety and easy navigation and even veterans will likely be impressed.

0:08 - Start of the Rice Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

0:08 – Start of the Rice Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

From the trail head, follow the signs into the park.  Turn immediately right (the left fork leads to an alternate trail head, an option if you want a longer hike).  The trail curves down into the Ventura River, which is completely dry as of this writing.  In the spring, following heavy rains, the water may present an obstacle, but online reports have indicated that even under such conditions it’s a doable rock-hop.  Follow the trail out of the river bed and merge with a fire road, soon reaching the junction of the Willis and Rice Canyon Trails.

0:17 - Oak in Rice Canyon

0:17 – Oak in Rice Canyon

The loop can be done in either direction, but by going counter-clockwise, you can knock out the less attractive portions of the hike first and save the scenic descent through Willis Canyon for last.  Follow the trail through a fenced-in easement and stay left as the Kennedy Ridge Trail branches off.  You drop into oak-shaded Rice Canyon and begin a gradual ascent, passing by a green metal gate into the Los Padres National Forest about a mile from the start.

0:45 - View from the high point of the Rice Canyon Trail

0:45 – View from the high point of the Rice Canyon Trail

More ascent–first under oaks, then exposed–brings you to the top of a ridge (1.8 miles) where you get an excellent view to the south and west.  Below you is El Nido Meadow.  The trail drops back toward Willis Canyon, reaching a junction.  The left fork heads through El Nido Meadow while the right fork heads toward Willis Canyon.  The two trails soon meet up, but if you take the right route, make sure you stay left at the next intersection.

1:10 - Oaks near the start of the Willis Canyon Trail

1:10 – Oaks near the start of the Willis Canyon Trail

At about 2.7 miles, the trails meet in an attractive oak woodland where a bench makes for a perfect rest spot.  (The Chaparral Crest Trail branches out here too, climbing out of the canyon, but as of this writing its upper reaches are blocked by a barbed wire fence.)  Follow the Willis Canyon Trail over a footbridge and begin a very enjoyable descent through the thick cover of oaks and sycamores.

1:20 - Footbridge in Willis Canyon

1:20 – Footbridge in Willis Canyon

You cross the Willis Canyon stream bed and leave the woods, making a brief climb.  Stay left at a junction with a trail leading to the Riverview Trail Head and descend to a paved road.  On the opposite side of the road, stay straight as a dirt road branches off to the left.  Follow the road as it also bends to the left, heading north back toward the junction with the Rice Canyon Trail.  Retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

1:45 - Junction with the Riverview Trail after leaving Willis Canyon

1:45 – Junction with the Riverview Trail after leaving Willis 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.

2:05 - Heading back on the River Bluff Trail

2:05 – Heading back on the River Bluff Trail

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

Big Sky Loop (Simi Valley)

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Looking southeast from the Big Sky Trail toward the Simi Hills

Looking southeast from the Big Sky Trail toward the Simi Hills

BSL Southwest

Southwest view from the Big Sky Trail

Big Sky Loop (Simi Valley)

  • Location: Simi Valley.  From the 118 Freeway, take the Erringer Road exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the east).  Go 0.6 miles and park in a small lot on the right side of the street, just before the intersection with Falcon St.  If the lot is full, you can park in another small lot on the northwest corner of Falcon and Erringer, diagonally opposite.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Moorpark
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: Description here; video of a mountain biker riding the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike on Erringer Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on Erringer Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike offers a good workout with several ascents and descents and if visibility is good, the views are quite panoramic.  The trail winds through some residential neighborhoods of Simi Valley and while the sights of civilization are never far away, it’s far enough from any major roads that traffic noise is not likely to be too loud.  The Big Sky Loop is a short drive from the San Fernando Valley and even L.A. and West Side residents might find it to be worth the drive, especially on cool, clear winter days.  Movie and TV buffs may be disappointed, however, to learn that this trail bears no relation to the nearby Big Sky Movie Ranch.

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

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

The trail may sound a little convoluted, but navigation is easy; the various segments are well signed and the correct route should be obvious.  From the parking lot, walk north on Erringer Road for a few yards and turn right on the signed Big Sky Trail, which curls around the backs of some houses.  After a quarter mile, you reach a split; the start of the loop.  By hiking clockwise, as described here, you can save the more scenic portion of the trip for the return.

0:21 - Crossing Legends Drive

0:21 – Crossing Legends Drive

You ascend gradually for about half a mile before dipping into a pocket of oaks (don’t get used to it; there’s minimal shade on the trail.)  You then cross Legacy Drive and continue threading your way between the residential streets.  At one mile, you cross Legends Drive and at 1.3 miles, you reach Young Wolf Drive.  Pick up the trail, now fenced in like a bridle path, on the opposite side.  A short but steep ascent brings you to a junction where you head left (the right fork is an option if you want to shorten the loop) and follow the trail around the curve of the ridge.  By now you get some good views of Whiteface, a tall, cliff-like hill to the north.

0:32 - Stay left at the junction (Whiteface in the distance)

0:32 – Stay left at the junction (Whiteface in the distance)

Another ascent brings you to a junction (1.8 miles.)  Make a hairpin right turn and head south, following a bumpy ridge to the high point of the loop (2.1 miles.)  Your view can extend as far as Oat Mountain to the east, the Santa Monica Mountains to the south and Mt. Clef to the west if the air quality is good.  You also get a panoramic view of Simi Valley–and intrepid hikers can peer over the edge of the trail, which drops off nearly vertically.

0:48 - Looking off the cliff from the top of the ridge

0:48 – Looking off the cliff from the top of the ridge

Descending from this ridge, you reach a junction where the shortcut trail mentioned above rejoins the loop.  Take a hard left and follow the trail to the end of Swift Fox Court, where (as of this writing) new residences are being built.

The trail picks up again on the opposite side of Swift Fox and makes one final ascent (3.1 miles) where you can enjoy another panoramic view before completing the last leg of the hike.  Follow the ridge downhill, closing the loop, and retrace your steps to the parking lot on Erringer.

1:05 - Left turn; descent toward Swift Fox Court (note the continuation of the trail in the distance)

1:05 – Left turn; descent toward Swift Fox Court (note the continuation of the trail in the distance)

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.

1:28 - Heading down hill to complete the loop

1:28 – Heading down hill to complete the loop

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.

Mt. Hawkins Loop

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Hawkins North View

Northwest view from Mt. Hawkins

View from the saddle on the Hawkins Ridge Trail

View from the saddle on the Hawkins Ridge Trail

Mt. Hawkins Loop

  • Location:  Crystal Lake Recreation Area, in the Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in Azusa, take the Highway 39 (Azusa Ave.) exit.  Go north on Highway 39, which becomes San Gabriel Canyon Road, for a total of 24 miles.  Turn right on Crystal Lake Road and drive 2.3 miles, past the campground, to a large parking lot across from the Windy Gap trailhead.  Note that if the road to the upper section of the campground is blocked off,  you may need to park by the visitor center and store, adding extra distance.   A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel River Ranger District
  • Distance: 13.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 7 hours
  • Difficulty rating: R (elevation gain, distance, altitude, trail condition, terrain, navigation)
  • Best season: June – November
  • USGS topo map: Crystal Lake
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip descriptions (opposite direction) here and here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Windy Gap Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This loop visits two popular summits above Crystal Lake: Mt. Hawkins and South Mt. Hawkins, both named for Nellie Hawkins, a popular waitress at a local cafe in the early 20th century.  Considering the distance, elevation gain and often rugged terrain, knocking off the entire loop is no small feat.

0:28 - Junction with the Hawkins Truck Trail; start of the loop (times are approximate)

0:28 – Junction with the Hawkins Truck Trail; start of the loop (times are approximate)

Ideally, you’ll start from the Windy Gap Trailhead; if the gate blocks access to the upper portion of the Crystal Lake Campground you’ll have to add about an extra half mile each way by starting from the store.  Follow the Windy Gap Trail steadily uphill for 1.1 miles, passing a junction with a service road after 0.4 miles.  You make your way through an attractive forest of black oaks and pines before arriving at a junction with a disused fire road, the Mt. Hawkins Truck Trail.  This intersection marks the start of the loop.

1:45 - Pine Mountain and Dawson Peak from the saddle

1:45 – Pine Mountain and Dawson Peak from the saddle

Hiking counter-clockwise, as described here, allows you to avoid ascending the steepest sections of the route.  Follow the dirt road generally south for 3.3 miles, with great views of San Gabriel Canyon and the L.A. basin on the right.  There are a few spots where the road has been washed out, requiring extra caution but no special technical skill or equipment.  At about 3 miles from the start, the pyramid-like shape of South Mt. Hawkins comes into view.

2:06 - Mt. Baldy from South Mt. Hawkins

2:06 – Mt. Baldy from South Mt. Hawkins

At 4.4 miles, you reach a saddle where you can see Pine Mountain and Dawson Peak to the east; Mt. Baldy is also visible between the trees.  Turn right and follow the fire road f0r three quarters of a mile to reach the summit of South Mt. Hawkins (elevation 7,782), where the ruins of a lookout burned in the 2002 Curve Fire can be seen.  After enjoying an excellent, near 360-degree view, return back to the junction.

3:05 - Following the Hawkins Ridge Trail (steep climb uphill through the pines)

3:05 – Following the Hawkins Ridge Trail (steep climb uphill through the pines)

From here, continue north along the Hawkins Ridge Trail.  Here the going becomes more challenging.  Numerous trees have fallen over the trail, requiring one to scramble over or around them.  Route finding isn’t always clear; when in doubt keep in mind that the true trail tends to stick pretty close to the east side of the ridge.

At about 7 miles from the start, you reach a saddle where you get an excellent aerial view of the Crystal Lake region to the left.  Follow the ridge steeply uphill, you continue north, contouring along the east side of a peak colloquially known as “Sadie Hawkins.”  At about 8.3 miles, you reach an unsigned junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

4:00 - Spur off the P.C.T. to Mt. Hawkins

4:00 – Spur off the P.C.T. to Mt. Hawkins

Turn right and follow the P.C.T. east, taking in some good high desert views.  After about half a mile, take a sharp right on a use trail that follows the ridge 0.2 miles to the summit of Mt. Hawkins (elevation 8,850).  Here, you get outstanding views to the southeast, southwest and northwest.  If the weather is clear, your vistas may extend as far as the Palomar Mountains, Catalina Island, the Santa Monica Mountains and the high desert.

4:10 - Southwest view from Mt. Hawkins

4:10 – Southwest view from Mt. Hawkins

After enjoying the view, retrace your steps back to the Pacific Crest Trail and follow it to the junction.  Continue west for 1.4 miles, descending to Windy Gap.  From here, take the signed Windy Gap Trail for the last 2.5 miles of the loop.  At 1.3 miles below Windy Gap, stay straight as the Big Cienega Trail intersects; shortly after that you return to the Mt. Hawkins Truck Trail.  Retrace your steps back down the last 1.1 miles to the campground.

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

Rattlesnake Canyon (Santa Barbara)

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Hills above Rattlesnake Canyon as seen from just below Gibraltar Road

Hills above Rattlesnake Canyon as seen from just below Gibraltar Road

Greenery in lower Rattlesnake Canyon

Greenery in lower Rattlesnake Canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:36 - Creek crossing

0:36 – Creek crossing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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