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.

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Narrows Earth Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

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Ocotillo "arch" on the Narrows Earth Trail

Ocotillo “arch” on the Narrows Earth Trail

Narrows Earth Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of Julian and south of Borrego Springs.  From Julian, take Highway 78 east for 23.1 miles and look for a parking area on the right side of the road near mile marker 81.5.  From Borrego Springs, take Borrego Springs Road southeast for 11.5 miles to Highway 78.  Turn right (west) and go 3.9 miles.  The trailhead will be on your left.  From Highway 79, take San Felipe Road/County Road S-2 (3.6 miles south of Warner Springs, 4.3 miles north of the junction with Highway 76) southeast, 16.8 miles to Highway 78.  Turn left (east) and go 11.5 miles to the trailhead on the right side of the road.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 50 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map:  “Borrego Sink”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4
0:00 - Trailhead on Highway 78 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Highway 78 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short but interesting hike showcases some of the Anza Borrego Desert’s geology.  The trailhead is conveniently located off of Highway 78, one of the park’s major arteries, making it a nice stop to or from a longer hike.  Because it’s so short,  it is one of the park’s few year-round hikes.

0:06 - Slot in the rocks (times are approximate)

0:06 – Slot in the rocks (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signs for the loop. If there are pamphlets in the box near the beginning, you can pick one up and read about the geological features, including metasedimentary rock thought to be half a billion years old. You pass by a slot in the rock wall on the left side of the trail and then a small round cave. It’s at this point that the trail turns around, though you can explore a little farther up the canyon if you see fit.

0:09 - Rock cave near the south end of the loop

0:09 – Rock cave near the south end of the loop

Heading back to the parking area, you pass by another cave and underneath an arch-like branch of ocotillo. The trail is less defined at this point but with the highway as close as it is, route finding and terrain shouldn’t be an issue.

0:10 - Looking up the canyon at the south end of the loop

0:10 – Looking up the canyon at the south end 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.

0:15 - Cave on the return leg of the loop

0:15 – Cave on the return leg of the loop

San Antonio Creek Trail (Santa Barbara)

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Oaks on the San Antonio Creek Trail

Oaks on the San Antonio Creek Trail

San Antonio Creek Trail (Santa Barbara)

      • Location: Tucker’s Grove County Park, Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, take the Turnpike Road exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east, left if from the west) for 0.8 miles to the park.  Drive 0.3 miles to the easternmost parking lot where the trail begins.
      • Agency: County of Santa Barbara
      • Distance: 3.4 miles
      • Elevation gain: 350 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Best season: Year round
      • USGS topo map: Goleta
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
      • More information: Hike descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 5
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Considering its proximity to several major roads, the San Antonio Creek Trail feels pleasantly secluded.  You can expect to hear some traffic noise and the trail does pass by several private properties, but on the whole there are few signs of civilization.  The trail is popular with human and canine hikers.  Birds provide a soundtrack for the hike and following spring rains, the stream adds to the atmosphere.  With Santa Barbara’s temperate climate and the trail’s moderate distance and elevation gain, it can certainly be done as a summer hike, although sometimes moisture locked in by all the trees can make it feel surprisingly humid.

0:05 - Picnic table in the dog park (times are approximate)

0:05 – Picnic table in the dog park (times are approximate)

From the north end of the Kiwanis Meadow parking lot, look for the signed trail head.  You follow the path to a T-junction by a fenced-in dog park and head left into the oak and sycamore shaded canyon.  Several spurs branch off the main route.

0:18 - Left turn at the junction in the field

0:18 – Left turn at the junction in the field

At about 1 mile, you cross the stream bed twice.  Soon after, you pass by a flood control dam (walking across it is an option but it’s more pleasant to stick to the trail that parallels it) and then the trail begins its ascent to its upper terminus, a dirt parking lot at the side of Highway 154.  The destination may be a little anti-climatic, but you can sit on some rocks and enjoy a nice view to the southwest before heading back.

0:31 - Flood control dam

0:31 – Flood control dam

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.

0:45 - View from the turnaround point at Highway 154

0:45 – View from the turnaround point at Highway 154

Hemet Maze Stone

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Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Hemet Maze Stone

    • Location: Northwest of Hemet.  From Highway 74 (8.5 miles east of the 215 Freeway and 5 miles west of downtown Hemet) head north on California Avenue.  Follow it a total of 3.2 miles to a dead end (turn left on Tres Cerritos Avenue after about a mile and then turn right to continue on California Avenue) and park before the fence.
    • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
    • Distance:  0.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Best season:  Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Lakeview
    • More information: Article about the stone here; blog descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 4

For those interested in the obscure and unusual, a trip to the Hemet Maze Stone can be an oddly rewarding experience.  Whether it qualifies as a hike is a matter of opinion, but it is a designated California Historical Landmark – #557, to be precise.  The Maze Stone has a cult following of sorts, lending its name to a nearby housing development and a restaurant at Soboba Casino.

0:00 - Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The destination of the hike is a boulder containing ancient petroglyph depicting two intertwined mazes.  Sadly, vandalism has necessitated two barbed-wire fences around the stone, but you can still get a peek at it. From the end of California Avenue, cross through the fence and follow the abandoned road uphill.  For its location in a dry corner of the valley, the landscape surrounding the Maze Stone is fairly diverse; you will see sycamores, a desert willow and buckwheat, among other plants.  The hills are dotted with granite boulders similar to those at the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecogical Reserve.  As you climb the hill, if visibility is good, you can get a glimpse of the San Bernardino Mountains.

0:08 - Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

0:08 – Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

At 0.3 miles, you reach the stone.  You can climb on a rock to get a better look at it although it’s hard to get too much of a view through the fence.  Still, it’s an interesting site–one worth visiting if you’re in the area and are curious, perhaps hungry for a different type of outdoor experience.

0:10 - The maze stone and the fences

0:10 – The maze stone and the fences

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

Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks

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View from the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

View from the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

Geology on the Santa Cruz Trail

Geology on the Santa Cruz Trail

Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:55 - Turnoff to Nineteen Oaks

0:55 – Turnoff to Nineteen Oaks

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

1:00 - Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

1:00 – Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

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

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.