Saddleback Butte State Park

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Looking northeast from Saddleback Butte

Looking northeast from Saddleback Butte

Looking southwest from Saddleback Butte

Looking southwest from Saddleback Butte

Saddleback Butte State Park

  • Location: High desert east of Lancaster and north of Pearblossom and Valyermo.  From L.A., take the 14 Freeway to the Pearblossom Highway exit.  Merge onto Sierra Highway and follow it 0.8 miles to Pearblossom Highway. Go 4.5 miles and continue onto Avenue T.  Go 11 miles and turn left on 170th St. East.  Go 9.4 miles and turn right into the park, then left into the campground.  Park by the information board near the Saddleback Butte Trailhead.  Parking is $6 per vehicle.  From Lancaster and the high desert, take Highway 14 to Avenue J.  Head east on Avenue J for 19 miles and turn right on 170th St. East, and follow the directions to the park.
  • Agency: Saddleback Butte State Park
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, terrain)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map:  Hi Vista
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun block; sun hat
  • More information: Trip description (slightly different route) here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead near the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trailhead near the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Located in the high desert east of Lancaster and Palmdale, Saddleback Butte State Park is like a mini Joshua Tree National Park.  While it doesn’t have nearly as many trails as the larger park, the climb to Saddleback Butte (elevation 3,651) is a worthwhile addition to any hiker’s resume.  Ideally, pick a cool, clear day when you can enjoy the panoramic view from the top of the peak.  You approach the peak from the west, so if you get off to an early start, you will have shade.

The hike starts easily enough, climbing only about 250 feet during the first mile. You pass by several tall Joshua trees, with the peak of Saddleback Butte dominating the foreground. After a mile, stay straight as another trail comes in from the left. Now the work begins as the grade increases. The trail bends southeast and briefly levels out, reaching a saddle where you get an excellent view of the north slope of the San Gabriels.

0:25 - Junction with the trail from the picnic area (times are approximate)

0:25 – Junction with the trail from the picnic area (times are approximate)

From here, you head northeast, climbing about 300 feet in the last quarter mile. There is a little boulder scrambling, though nothing requiring any special skills (still, parents with small kids might want to exercise caution). The trail is never too difficult to find; ducks and arrows made from pebbles or scratched in the dirt help show the way.

After a last bit of scrambling, you arrive on the summit. Here you can sit on the boulders and enjoy an unobstructed view: the San Gabriels, the Tehachapis and possibly the San Bernardino range are all visible. You also get a nice pseudo-aerial perspective on the streets running through the desert more than a thousand feet below.

0:51 - View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the saddle

0:51 – View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the saddle

When you’ve had your fill of the view retrace your steps. Exercise extra caution on the descent; your legs will likely be tired and the route down might not seem as obvious as the route up. Keeping the saddle as a focal point will be helpful if you’re worried about losing the trail.

1:00 - View from the summit

1:00 – View from the summit

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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Tarantula Hill (Thousand Oaks)

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Looking northeast from Tarantula Hill

Looking northeast from Tarantula Hill

 Tarantula Hill (Thousand Oaks)

  • Location: Thousand Oaks.  From Highway 101, take the Lynn Road exit.  Head north (turn left if you’re coming from the west; right if from the east) and go 0.8 miles to Gainsborough Road.  The trail head is a small dirt turnout on the left side of the road in 0.7 miles, shortly past the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens.  From Highway 23, take the Janss Road exit.  Turn right and go 0.6 miles to Moorpark Road.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Gainsborough Road.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to the trailhead.  If you see the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens, you’ve come too far.
  • Agency:  City of Thousand Oaks/Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: Newbury Park
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3

Known also as Dawn’s Peak, pyramid-like Tarantula Hill towers above the surrounding areas.  A short but steep hike up a paved trail (closed to vehicles) yields panoramic views of the area, including a nearly aerial perspective on Gainsborough Rd.

0:00 - Trail head on Gainsborough Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

From the signed trailhead on the west side of the street, begin your climb, passing by a few oaks and clusters of cacti. The grade is mellow at first but soon becomes fairly steep, gaining almost 200 feet in about a third of a mile.

The trail curves around the north side of the mountain, passing by a rope tied between two metal posts. You get aerial view of Redwood Middle School to the north and Madrona Elementary to the west. Curling around to the east side of the hill, you can see Boney Mountain and the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:10 - Looking north about 2/3 of the way up

0:10 – Looking north about 2/3 of the way up (times are approximate)

At half a mile, the road ends at the summit. Much of the summit is fenced off, but you can still sit on the side of the hill and enjoy a view of the area before heading back down (the bench that appears in some photos of Tarantula Hill is no longer there.)  In case you were wondering, Tarantula Hill is in fact named for the spider, which according to the city website, is commonly found in the area.

0:15 - Looking southeast toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Tarantula Hill

0:15 – Looking southeast toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Tarantula Hill

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.

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

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Lake Hodges from the overlook, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Lake Hodges from the overlook, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Olivenhain Reservoir, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Olivenhain Reservoir, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

    • Location: 8833 Harmony Grove Road, Escondido.  From the 78 Freeway, take the Nordhall Rd. exit.  Go south for 0.3 miles (Nordhall becomes Auto Club) and take a right on Country Club Drive.  Go 2.4 miles and turn right on Harmony Grove Road.  Go 1.6 miles and the signed entrance to the park will be on the left.  From I-15, take the Valley Parkway exit.  Head west on Valley Parkway for 0.5 miles and turn right on 9th Ave.  Follow 9th to a left turn where it becomes Hale and then turn right on Harmony Grove Road.  Follow Harmony Grove Road for a total of 3.4 miles (watch for two left turns) and the park entrance will be on the left.
    • Agency: Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
    • Distance: 7 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Best season:  November – May
    • USGS topo map: Rancho Santa Fe
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
    • More information: Yelp page here; Facebook page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Way Up trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Way Up trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This large (784 acre) park is a popular spot for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.  Though it’s essentially suburban, never really leaving the sights or sounds of civilization–and there’s not much in the way of a “forest”–the hike offers wide-ranging views and a good workout, making it one of the better trips in the Escondido area. It also has a dog-friendly reputation.

0:09 - Junction with the Botany Trail (times are approximate)

0:09 – Junction with the Botany Trail (times are approximate)

There are a variety of possible routes one can take over the park’s 13 miles of trails. The trip described here – the same one written up in “Afoot and Afield” – is a long out and back with a short loop. Start on the Way Up Trail, which lives up to its name – climbing about 700 feet in a mile and a half. At 0.3 miles you reach a junction with the Botany Trail, an alternate route. Your climb continues, reaching a vista point at 0.9 miles where you can take a break.

0:27 - View from the first overlook

0:27 – View from the first overlook

Past the vista point, the grade levels somewhat and the trail widens into a fire road. You pass by a pair of smaller trails and reach a four-way junction with another fire road (1.3 miles.) A short spur straight ahead leads to a picnic area with good views of Olivenhain Reservoir.

Back at the junction, head northeast and make a short but steep climb. The trail bends to the right and climbs a little more to another picnic area, then descends toward the reservoir. At 2.3 miles from the start, bear right on a single-track trail that switchbacks up and down a ridge. You reach a junction with the Witch Trail (2.8 miles), an alternate way to the Lake Hodges Overlook Loop. To follow this route though, bear left and follow the trail down a series of tight switchbacks and make another ascent to the overlook (3.1 miles.) Here you can see both Lake Hodges (right) and the reservoir (left).

0:45 - Olivenhain Reservoir as seen from the Ridgetop Picnic Area

0:45 – Olivenhain Reservoir as seen from the Ridgetop Picnic Area

The 0.8 mile Lake Hodges Overlook Loop starts here. It can be hiked in either direction; going counter clockwise allows you to have some downhill before climbing again. If you go counter clockwise, you’ll soon reach the lower end of the Witch Trail. You get some good views of the reservoir before doubling back up the hill, passing some boulders, and completing the loop at the overlook area. From here, retrace your steps 3.1 miles back to the parking area, or if time permits, explore some of the other trails along the way.

1:06 - Single track toward the Lake Hodges Overlook

1:06 – Single track toward the Lake Hodges Overlook

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.

1:33 - Lake Hodges Overlook

1:33 – Lake Hodges Overlook

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

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Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

      • Location: San Bernardino National Forest, between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake, near Green Valley.  From Highway 18, just east of Running Springs, turn left on Green Valley Road.  Go 2.6 miles and turn left on a dirt road signed for Crab Flats (forest road 3N16).  Follow the signs to the campgrounds, ignoring several side roads that branch off.  Road 3N16 is in pretty good shape, but after about 3 miles, you will have to ford Crab Creek, which, according to the guidebook, is “impassable” in high water.  Even in low water, high clearance vehicles are best.  After crossing the creek, continue to a junction (3.8 miles from Green Valley Road) and turn left on forest road 3N34.   Go 0.5 miles and park in a turnout at the side of the road, near the vehicle trail numbered 1W17.  The trailhead coordinates are N 34 15.888, W 117 05.408.   A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 5.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
      • Best season:  March – June; September – November
      • USGS topo maps: Butler Peak
      • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
      • More information: Description of a backpacking trip including Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp (longer route) here; Description of Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable loop explores some of the less-traveled area of the San Bernardino National Forest east of Lake Arrowhead.  Highlights include a variety of plant life (black oaks, manzanitas, pines and more); panoramic views of the eastern San Gabriel and western San Bernardino Mountains and interesting geology, including an almost spherical boulder. Timing can be important: a lot of the trail is exposed, so if you hike during the summer, plan accordingly. Conversely you have to drive about 4 miles of dirt road, including a fording of Crab Creek, to reach the trail head, so heavy rains will likely prevent you from doing this hike during the winter or early spring. Expect to battle bugs as well.

0:20 - Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

0:20 – Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

From the parking turnout, follow road 3N34 due west for a pleasant if not particularly interesting 0.8 miles to the Tent Peg Group Camp (ignore a road branching off to the right about half way there.) Just past the camp by an information board, turn right on a single-track trail signed for Hawes Peak; it’s also listed as 2W08 on some maps. The trail descends for an enjoyable 1.6 miles, yielding views of Hawes Peak and its neighboring summits straight ahead and Lake Arrowhead and the distant San Gabriels on the left (you may also get a glimpse of the Pinnacles). You pass the spherical boulder, negotiate a few fallen trees, duck in and out of a woodland and meet the Pacific Crest Trail at 2.4 miles.

0:30 - Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

0:35 – Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

Turn right and head east on the P.C.T., passing a junction with the Cox Creek Trail.  This stretch is largely shaded and fairly level, making it one of the more enjoyable sections of the loop.  After about a mile you reach a 4-way junction. You can shorten the hike by heading right (uphill) on 1W17, a steep vehicle trail. However, if you have time take a scenic 1/2 mile detour by heading straight on the P.C.T. to Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp.

1:00 - Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

1:00 – Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

Here, beneath some tall pines, you can sit and enjoy the sound of nearby Holcomb Creek. It’s fairly easy to work your way down to its banks. When ready, retrace your steps to the junction. Complete the loop by heading southwest on 1W17. A steep and sometimes tedious ascent brings you back to the parking area.

1:28 - 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

1:28 – 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

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

1:40 - Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

1:40 – Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

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Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Antelope Trail

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Antelope Trail

Looking south from between the Kitanemuk and Antelope Butte Overlooks

Looking south from between the Kitanemuk and Antelope Butte Overlooks

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

  • Location: 15101 Lancaster Road, Lancaster.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Avenue I exit and head west for 14 miles (Avenue I becomes Lancaster Rd. along the way).  The park entrance will be on the right.  Parking is $10 per vehicle.  During the peak season, the lot gets crowded on the weekends so plan accordingly.
  • Agency: Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Area
  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: March – May; call the park hotline at (661) 724-1180 for reports on wildflower bloom or check their website
  • USGS topo map: Del Sur
  • Recommended gear: sun block; sun hat
  • More information:  Trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The California Golden Poppy is our state’s flower and the Antelope Valley can be one of the best places to see them.  In the spring, especially following heavy rains, the bloom is a stunning sight.  The green hills are blanketed with thousands of orange poppies and on days of good visibility, the distant San Gabriel and Tehachapi ranges add to the scenery.  Keep in mind that the area is completely exposed and that high winds are common.

0:02 AND 1:00 - Stay left for the North and South Poppy Loops, then head uphill toward the overlooks when you return (times are approximate)

0:02 AND 1:00 – Stay left for the North and South Poppy Loops, then head uphill toward the vista points when you return (times are approximate)

The park has eight miles of trails. A stroll of any length can be enjoyable; one doesn’t have to hike a specific route to experience the poppies, but those who want a little more of a workout can try this 5.7-mile double loop around the perimeter of the park.

From the parking lot, follow the paved walkway past the visitor center to the beginning of the Poppy Loops. (For now, ignore the trail branching off to the right – that will come later.) Head toward the Tehachapi Overlook and turn left onto the South Poppy Loop Trail. For the next two miles, follow a more or less level loop clockwise around the base of a hill, taking in views of the poppy fields.

0:03 - Turn left onto the South Poppy Trail

0:03 – Turn left onto the South Poppy Trail

When you complete the loop, instead of going back to the parking lot, turn left on the trail signed for the Kitanemuk and Antelope Butte Vista Points. You head uphill, staying straight as another trail branches to the right. A climb brings you to the Kitanemuk Vista Point, where you get a 360-degree panorama. You continue along the ridge, following the signs to the Antelope Butte Vista Point (3.7 miles from the start and the highest point in the reserve, at 3,041 feet above sea level.)

0:23 - Moving from the South to North Poppy Trails

0:23 – Moving from the South to North Poppy Trails

After enjoying another 360-degree view from the Antelope Butte Vista Point, take a sharp right and head downhill, back toward the poppy fields. At 4.7 miles, you reach a T-junction; you can take either route as they converge again in about 0.6 miles. Soon after they rejoin, take a left on a trail signed for Valley Vista and get one last view of the area before heading back to the parking lot.

1:18 - Kitanemuk Overlook

1:18 – Kitanemuk Vista Point

In addition to the poppies, keep an eye out for purple lacy phacelia, yellow goldfields and white forget-me-nots.  Wildlife includes caterpillars, whiptail lizards and rattlesnakes – so watch where you step even as you enjoy the panoramas.

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.

1:51 - Antelope Butte Vista Point

1:51 – Antelope Butte Vista Point


Tahquitz Canyon

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Tahquitz Falls

Tahquitz Falls

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon

  • Location: Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center, 500 W. Mesquite Ave, Palm Springs.  From the Riverside area, take I-10 east to Highway 111.  Take Highway 111 southeast for 15.3 miles.  Continue straight onto North Palm Canyon Drive and go 2.6 miles to Mesquite Avenue.  Turn right and follow Mesquite 0.2 miles to the Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center and park in the lot shortly beyond.  From Indio, take I-10 to Bob Hope Drive.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn right on Ramon and go 7.9 miles to Belardo Road.  Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Mesquite.  Turn right and follow the road to the visitors center and the parking lot.  Admission is $12.50 for each adult and $6 for children.
  • Agency: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – May (7:30am – 5pm; last entry at 3:30pm)
  • USGS topo maps: “Cathedral City”, “Palm Springs”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Tahquitz Canyon home page here; trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

The 60-foot waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon may be Southern California’s most unusual.  It could be 90 or 100 degrees when you begin the hike, but you will easily forget the heat when wading through pools of water from melted snow almost two vertical miles above on the upper reaches of San Jacinto Peak.

0:00 - Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the Tahquitz Peak in the San Jacinto Range, Tahquitz Canyon (pronounced either TAW-kits or TAW-kwish depending on whom you ask) is named for the infamous Cahuilla shaman who was banished from the tribe after abusing his powers. In modern times, on this short trip through the canyon, hikers can experience history, observe a variety of plant life including creosote and mesquite, see examples of Indian art and sites that have significance to the tribe, pass by bizarre geological formations and finally experience the excitement of a waterfall in the middle of the desert.

0:08 - Trail split past the visitors' center (times are approximate)

0:08 – Trail split past the visitors’ center (times are approximate)

The loop is a figure-8 and the first split happens soon after leaving the visitor center.  Take either trail, making your way up a few steps and over rocks.  The left fork runs up against some particularly large boulders before they rejoin.  You dip down to the stream and cross it on a stone jetty about 0.3 miles from the start.

Continuing up canyon, you reach another junction at about 0.6 miles.  If it’s a very hot day you might want to take the right fork, which generally sticks closer to the stream and has a little bit of shade.  The left fork crosses the stream and backtracks for a few yards before continuing toward the waterfall.  It climbs the south side of the canyon, reaching a high point of 906 feet before dropping down into a shaded grotto (1 mile from the start.)

0:12 - "Sacred Rock"

0:12 – “Sacred Rock”

Here, Tahquitz Falls plunges about 60 feet down a rock face into a large pool split by a big boulder.  You can sit on a stone ford and watch the waterfall or wade into the pool for a closer look, but keep in mind that it’s hard to see the depth of the water because the canyon blocks out much of the sunlight, so exercise caution.  After enjoying the waterfall, return via either route, completing a loop or an out-and-back hike as you  see fit.

0:17 - Beginning of the second loop

0:17 – Beginning of the second loop

The hike’s admission fee of $12.50 per adult or $6 has drawn criticism from some online reviewers, several of whom cite the shortness of the trip as not being worth the price tag.  While Tahquitz Canyon can potentially be one of Southern California’s priciest  hikes–$37 for a family of four as an example–it’s still considerably less expensive than many other tourist attractions.  Consider too the efforts of the Agua Calliente Band in cleaning up the canyon, which was long filled with trash and graffiti.  At the risk of sounding preachy, when natural spaces are accessible to the public without being regulated, they can be subject to abuse, like Rancho Cucamonga’s doomed Sapphire Falls.  Other than a few bits of broken glass here and there and a “Jesus Saves” inscription on a rock, Tahquitz Canyon is in its natural state, a true oasis just a short distance from civilization.

0:35 - Pool below Tahquitz Falls

0:35 – Pool below Tahquitz Falls

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.

Upper Hot Spring Canyon

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Pool in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Pool in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Over the rocks in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Over the rocks in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Upper Hot Spring Canyon

  • Location: Cleveland National Forest, Falcon Group Campground.  From Orange County, take I-5 to Highway 74/Ortega Highway.  Go northeast for 25.8 miles to unsigned Long Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 3 miles, following the signs to Blue Jay and Falcon Group Camps.  Just past the entrance to Falcon Group Camp, park in a turnout on the left side of the road.  From Riverside, take I-15 south to Lake St.  Turn right and go a total of 5.9 miles (Lake becomes Grand en route) and turn right on Highway 74/Ortega Highway.  Go 5.1 miles and turn right on El Cariso/Main Divide.  Go a total of 4.5 miles and park in a turnout just before the entrance to the Falcon Group Campground.  From Temecula, take I-15 north to Baxter.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Central.  Turn left and go 1.3 miles to Grand Ave.  Turn right and go 7 miles to Highway 74/Ortega Highway and follow the directions above.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, trail condition, navigation)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season:  December – May
  • USGS topo map: “Alberhill”
  • Recommended gear: Poison oak cream; long sleeved shirts and pants
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start outside the Falcon Group Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start outside the Falcon Group Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike explores the headwaters of Hot Springs Canyon, perhaps Orange County’s most remote.  The challenges include rock scrambling, negotiating fallen trees, perhaps some stream wading, poison oak and navigation.  Unfortunately the real payoff–a 25-foot waterfall–can only safely be seen from the top; the precipice represents the end of the line for anyone without rock climbing/canyoneering expertise and reliable equipment.  Still, the scenic rewards of this area make it worth the drive; three smaller waterfalls along the way are all enjoyable spots to sit and enjoy the wilderness and you’ll get to experience peace and quiet that makes it hard to believe you’re in California’s second most densely populated county.

0:04 - Leaving the Falcon Trail and heading into the canyon (times are approximate)

0:03 – Leaving the Falcon Trail and heading into the canyon (times are approximate)

Start by walking into the entrance to the Falcon Group Camp. Almost immediately, turn left on the signed Falcon Trail which leads through a pleasant meadow filled with pines and oaks. After crossing a small wooden plank footbridge, look for a trail branching off to the right (just before the Falcon Trail heads uphill.) This is the route into Hot Spring Canyon.

0:18 - Junction with a canyon about half a mile in

0:18 – Junction with a canyon about half a mile from the start

The first 0.4 miles are fairly easy going as the trail follows the stream bed. You briefly enter the stream as it leads into a wooded area and walk out on the opposite side, continuing to follow the faint path. Watch out for a large oak with a low branch on which I’ve bumped my head at least once.

After entering an open area, you’ll meet with another canyon coming in from the north, about 0.5 miles from the start. Continue on the opposite side, making your way through ferns, around rocks, generally sticking to the north canyon wall (keeping the stream on the left.) There are a few spots where you have your choice of wading through the stream or scrambling up the side; use caution either way.

0:24 - Climbing rocks out of the stream bed

0:24 – Climbing rocks out of the stream bed

A smaller pseudo-canyon joins on the right side at about 0.9 miles and soon after you reach the top of the first waterfall, about 15 feet high. If you’ve had enough off-trail scrambling and poison oak lookout this is a nice spot to turn around; you can easily climb down the rocks and get close to the pool at the bottom.

0:31 - Ducking under a sycamore in the stream bed

0:31 – Ducking under a sycamore in the stream bed

Farther downstream, another canyon merges on the right. Continue forging your way ahead, navigating a gigantic fallen oak. You come to two smaller waterfalls, both of which can be easily negotiated by climbing rocks on the side, but as always exercise caution. If your shoes/boots are wet from the stream the rocks will be slippery.

0:39 - The first waterfall

0:39 – The first waterfall

At 1.6 miles from the start you reach the top of the large waterfall. You can get something of an aerial view, although it’s hard to get the full effect. Still, this is a nice place to sit and enjoy the sound of the waterfall and have a snack before heading back.

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.

1:06 - Turnaround point at the top of the big waterfall, looking down canyon

1:06 – Turnaround point at the top of the big waterfall, looking down canyon

Long Canyon Loop (Simi Valley)

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Geology on the Long Canyon Trail

Geology on the Long Canyon Trail

Oaks in Long Canyon

Oaks in Long Canyon

Long Canyon Loop (Simi Valley)

  • Location: Simi Valley, at the corner of Long Canyon Road and S. Wood Ranch Parkway.  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 4.5 miles.  En route First St. becomes Long Canyon Road.  Follow it to the junction with S. Wood Ranch and continue onto Bannister Way.  Turn left into the parking lot.  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 right onto Bannister and left into the parking lot.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Moorpark; Thousand Oaks
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: here; trip description (first part of the hike) here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - View of geological outcrops from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of geological outcrops from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike, conveniently located to Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, has a little bit of everything: wide-ranging mountain and suburban views, interesting geology and secluded oak-shaded canyons.  With three main ascents totaling about 1,400 feet, it’s a pretty fair workout too.

0:18 - View from the top of the ridge; turn left at the T-junction (times are approximate)

0:18 – View from the top of the ridge; turn left at the T-junction (times are approximate)

The Long Canyon Trail is one of several in the network overseen by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District. With the Lang Ranch/Woodbridge trail system near by, many different routes are possible when starting from the Long Canyon Trailhead. The route described here is a good, challenging half-day hike, an out-and-back with a long loop.

From the trailhead, you make a steady ascent. As you climb, the views of Simi Valley open up and you pass some small sandstone caves. Ignore a few false trails branching off; the main route is pretty obvious. It soon levels out, skirting the upper edge of a canyon, and reaches a T-junction 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead.

0:24 - Left turn at the junction with the Lang Ranch Trails

0:24 – Left turn at the junction with the Lang Ranch Trails

Turn left and begin a descent to a multi-trail junction (a point also visited on the Lang Ranch Loop.) Take the immediate left and continue your descent. At 1.1 miles, make a hard right, climb briefly and then begin another long descent into a secluded canyon.  At 1.7 miles, after passing some abandoned farm equipment, you reach the beginning of the loop. You can hike it in either direction, but clockwise has a more gradual ascent. Follow the trail through the pleasant, oak-lined canyon, emerging at a point just below Long Canyon Road. You can shorten your hike by following Long Canyon Road about a mile west, back to the trailhead.

0:43 - Abandoned farm equipment in Long Canyon

0:43 – Abandoned farm equipment in Long Canyon

To continue on this route, however, turn right and follow the trail southeast, staying left at a junction and right at a second one before entering another oak canyon. Emerging from the woodland, the trail makes a hairpin turn to the right and makes a considerably steeper ascent, following the top of a ridge with good views on both sides. At 4 miles, you begin your descent back into the canyon, enjoying more panoramic vistas along the way. You reach the bottom at 4.7 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps up out of the canyon and back down to the trailhead.

1:40 - Following the knife ridge at the top of the second ascent

1:40 – Following the knife ridge at the top of the second ascent

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.

1:50 - Descending back into the canyon toward the end of the loop

1:50 – Descending back into the canyon toward the end of the loop

Falls Canyon Falls (Orange County)

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Falls Canyon Falls

Falls Canyon Falls

Greenery in Falls Canyon

Greenery in Falls Canyon

Falls Canyon Falls (Orange County)

    • Location: Trabuco Canyon, eastern Orange County.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take El Toro Road northeast for 6 miles.  At Cook’s Corner, take a hard right onto Live Oak and drive four miles.  Shortly past O’Neill Park, right after Rose Canyon Road, take a left on Trabuco Creek Road, an unmarked dirt road.  Note that 4-wheel drive vehicles with high clearances are recommended. At 3 miles you pass by an information board marking the entrance to the Cleveland National Forest; the roasd becomes noticeably rougher here.  After half a mile, keep a sharp eye out for a narrow trail heading downhill on the left (north) side of the road.  The road widens here, leaving enough room for a few cars to park.  Trail head GPS coordinates are N 33 40.433/W 117 32.166.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: 300 feet
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season: Year round (best following rain)
    • USGS topo map: “Santiago Peak”
    • Recommended gear: Long sleeved shirts and pants; Poison oak cream; insect repellent; hiking poles
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here; Video of the waterfall here
    • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead on Trabuco Creek Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Falls Canyon – not to be confused with the similarly named Falls Creek Falls in the Angeles National Forest – is a tributary of Trabuco Creek in a remote corner of the Santa Ana Mountains.  While most people who endure the drive down Trabuco Creek Road have Holy Jim Falls as a destination, Falls Canyon Falls makes a nice side-trip.  The hike loses points due to its requirement of virtually constant poison oak vigilance, but following recent rains, the waterfall is an impressive sight.  With a little navigation, scrambling and bush-whacking required, Falls Canyon Falls is a good training hike for the considerably more difficult Black Star Canyon Falls.  If you’ve considered doing Black Star but are worried about the challenges it presents, try this one first.

0:02 - Crossing Trabuco Creek (times are approximate)

0:02 – Crossing Trabuco Creek (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head sharply downhill into the woods. The terrain can be slippery if it’s rained recently so be careful; hiking poles may be helpful. At the bottom, navigate through poison oak and bear left, heading down toward Trabuco Creek. You head downstream briefly before emerging on the opposite side. If you don’t mind getting wet or if water levels are low, you can continue downstream; otherwise your best bet is to climb onto a narrow but navigable rock ledge a few feet above the water. Keep an eye out for poison oak as you make your way across.

0:03 - Climbing the rock ledge on the north side of the creek (be careful!)

0:03 – Climbing the rock ledge on the north side of the creek (be careful!)

After the rock ledge, a loosely defined trail heads uphill to the right. Work your way through yet another minefield of poison oak before dropping down to Falls Creek.

0:04 - Leaving the stream bed

0:04 – Leaving the stream bed

At this point you’ve only come 0.1 miles, although it will probably seem like more given the tricky terrain. Your job gets somewhat easier as you work your way in and out of Falls Creek. Continue keeping an eye out for poison oak, although the worst of it will be behind you by now.

At 0.3 miles, negotiate a bunch of fallen tree trunks. Soon afterward, you come to a 10-foot rock wall on the right side of the creek. There are plenty of handholds and you should be able to reach the top without much difficulty, although as always exercise caution.

0:07 - Falls Canyon creek bed

0:07 – Falls Canyon creek bed

A few dozen yards beyond this rock, you may get your first glimpse of the waterfall. After crossing the creek again you reach it (0.5 miles), where the water falls about 30 feet in a thin plume into a small pool. A few rocks make ideal spots to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of Falls Canyon Falls before retracing your steps downstream and back to the car.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM JOEL ROBINSON OF WWW.NATURALISTFORYOU.ORG:

0:16 - Climbing the rock wall

0:16 – Climbing the rock wall

Just past the 10-foot rock on the left, there are clusters of giant chain fern, the largest native species of fern in California, capable of growing taller than a person!  Giant chain fern only occurs in shady, wet places, which restricts its distribution in Orange County.  Because of the intact ecosystem, the superior water quality supports California newts, caddisflies, California treefrogs, giant water bugs, and other sensitive aquatic organisms.  The water table is high enough to support an abundance of thirsty trees, such as bigleaf maple, white alder, and California bay laurel.  Wild grape vines entangle many of the trees along with poison oak and blackberry.  When the sun hits the waterfall, you can watch hummingbirds and butterflies catch drinks from the cascade.

0:25 - Falls Canyon Falls

0:25 – Falls Canyon Falls

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.

Lower Doane Valley/Lower French Valley (Palomar Mountain State Park)

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Pines, meadows and hills in French Valley

Pines, meadows and hills in French Valley

Oak woodlands on the Lower French Valley Trail

Oak woodlands on the Lower French Valley Trail

Lower Doane Valley/Lower French Valley (Palomar Mountain State Park)

  • Location:  Palomar Mountains in northeastern San Diego County.  From I-15 at Fallbrook, take highway 76 east for 21 miles, and take a left on county road S6.  Follow it for 6 1/2 miles and take a left on S7 (signed for the park).  Drive 3 miles and enter the park, where a $8 per day fee is charged.  At the first intersection, turn right and drive 1.8 miles to the Doane Pond day use area, making a right turn at the only intersection along the way.  The road is narrow and drops off sharply, so be careful.
  • Agency: Palomar Mountain State Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map:  “Boucher Hill”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Doane Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This pleasant loop in the lower country of Palomar Mountain State Park is like a longer version of the Doane Nature Trail, with which it shares its first and last segments.  Highlights include an impressive variety of trees, open meadows, a seasonal stream and nice mountain views.  The hike isn’t at all difficult but there are a few stream crossings and logs to duck under; parents with kids will want to exercise extra caution.  There’s also a significant amount of poison oak; most of it is away from the trail but keep an eye out for it nonetheless.

0:11 - Stay right at the junction with the Weir Trail

0:10 – Left turn onto the Weir Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Doane Nature Trail across a footbridge and service road.  You cross a seasonal stream and reach a junction (0.3 miles) where you’ll turn left on the signed Weir Trail.  You follow it through the forest, passing a junction with the Baptist Trail on the left and getting a glimpse of French Valley on the right.

0:15 - Fallen pines, Weir Trail

0:15 – Fallen pines, Weir Trail

At about 0.9 miles, you’ll cross Pauma Creek (either wading, jumping or walking on a wooden board) and reach another junction.  Turn left and go 0.1 miles, following the stream (watch out for poison oak) to a pool above which an abandoned stone tower stands (built in the ’20s to test the hydroelectric potential of the stream.)  This is a nice place to sit and enjoy the trickling sound of the stream while dunking your feet.

0:24 - Creek crossing

0:24 – Creek crossing

After retracing your steps to the junction, turn left, walk a short distance through the valley and make another left turn on the French Valley Trail. You follow it for a pleasant third of a mile, walking past tall pines with rolling hills in the distance. At a junction, you make a hairpin right turn (look for a fallen sign on the ground indicating the trail) and head back toward the Doane Valley Campground. You enter a grove of massive oaks; a nice place to sit for a spell (although watch out for poison oak growing between the rocks.)

0:29 - Abandoned gauging station

0:29 – Abandoned gauging station

Shortly beyond the grove, you’ll have to cross under a massive fallen oak and climb around another one. You pass junctions with the Lower Doane and Doane Valley Nature Trails and reach the campground (2.5 miles from the start.) Turn right and follow the paved road half a mile back to the parking lot by Doane Pond. As an alternate, just before the campground you can make a hard right on the Doane Valley Nature Trail and follow it back to the junction with the Weir Trail, then turn left and head back to the parking area.

0:40 - Left turn on the French Valley Trail

0:40 – Left turn on the French Valley Trail

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

1:05 - Low bridge (heading back to the campground on the French Valley Trail)

1:05 – Low bridge (heading back to the campground on the French Valley Trail)

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

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Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

  • Location:  Santa Monica Mountains, north of Malibu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway north for 6.1 miles and then take Topanga Canyon Boulevard north 4.7 miles to Entrada (just past the center of town), take a right and drive a mile.  The park entrance is on the left.  From the Valley, take the 101 freeway to Topanga Blvd. and go south for 7.8 miles, and take a hard left on Entrada.  There is a $10 per day parking fee.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 6.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and and here; area trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead at Trippet Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead at Trippet Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The scenic Topanga Overlook (also known as the Parker Mesa Overlook) can be reached from Pacific Palisades in the east or, as described here, from the west, starting at the Trippet Ranch area of Topanga State Park.  While this trailhead has a $10 per vehicle price tag (compared with free parking for the east approach) the payoff includes panoramic views of Topanga Canyon and the ocean, up-close looks at sandstone geology and an attractive grove of oaks.  Overall it feels more secluded than the eastern approach, save for the noise from cars on Topanga Canyon Blvd.

0:08 - Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

0:08 – Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

From Trippet Ranch, take the East Topanga Fire Road past a picnic area and head uphill, bearing right at the first intersection and left at the second. At 0.3 miles, you reach a signed junction where your route, the East Topanga Fire Road, branches off to the right. (The left fork heads uphill to Eagle Rock.)

0:16 - Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

0:16 – Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

The fire road continues its climb through an oak woodland. At 0.6 miles, the ascent levels out and a solitary bench provides a resting spot with a nice view of Topanga Canyon. Continuing south, you descend to a ridge and follow it, making another moderate climb of about 200 feet followed by another descent.

0:56 - Geology

0:56 – Geology

At about 2.3 miles, you pass some pink sandstone geology on the left. You then begin the last major ascent of the outbound half of the hike, climbing about 250 feet over the next half mile to reach the spur to the overlook. The East Topanga Fire Road continues to Pacific Palisades.

1:10 - Spur to the Topanga Overlook

1:10 – Spur to the Topanga Overlook

Turn right on the spur to the overlook and head south for half a mile, negotiating a few moderate ups and downs before reaching the end. Here, you can enjoy a great view of Santa Monica Bay from two benches. On clear days you can see east to Mt. Baldy and southeast to Old Saddleback. Return via the same route or, if you’ve left a car shuttle, you can continue east to the Pacific Palisades trailhead.

1:25 - Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

1:25 – Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

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.

Table Mountain Nature Trail

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Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Table Mountain Nature Trail

  • Location:  Table Mountain Campground, Angeles National Forest near Big Pines.  From I-15, take Highway 138 west for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) and drive 8.7 miles to the town of Big Pine.  Just before the turnoff for Palmdale, past the ranger station, turn right on Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  Park in the large lot, taking care to note signed restrictions (if in doubt, park by the picnic area, a few hundred yards past the turnoff for the campground.)  If you’re coming from the Antelope Valley, take Highway 138 east to 131st St/Longview Road.  Turn left and go 2.2 miles to Fort Tejon Road.  Go 2.5 miles and turn right on Valyermo Road.  Drive 14 miles to Big Pines (Valyermo Road becomes Big Pines Road along the way).  At the junction with the Angeles Crest Highway, turn left and make an immediate hard left on to Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  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/Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: April-October
  • USGS topo map:  Mescal Creek
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Big Pines and Lightning Ridge Trails, the Table Mountain Nature Trail offers a nice sampling of the Angeles National Forest high country.  The trail starts and ends at the Table Mountain Campground and leads through an attractive woodland of pines and oaks. The intermittent views of Mt. Baden-Powell and the high desert aren’t quite as panoramic as those of the Lightning Ridge Trail but this is still a nice spot to visit, a good place to stretch one’s legs while driving the Angeles Crest Highway. If you’re not used to hiking at high altitude, this hike is a good trip to acclimate yourself.

0:02 - Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

0:02 – Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head toward the white metal gate at the top of the Table Mountain Campground. Even if the campground is closed (which it us until May each year) you can still access the trail, which heads off to the left. You make a few switchbacks, descending through the trees. Numbered metal plaques guide the way; they refer to a brochure that is available at the nearby Grassy Hollow Visitors Center.

0:04 - Cluster of black oaks

0:04 – Cluster of black oaks

At about 0.3 miles (between markers 5 and 6) you make a hard right; ignore the faint trail that continues downhill. You get some nice views of Baden-Powell and other peaks to the west as you make your way along the southwest facing slope.

At 0.6 miles you reach a clearing with a picnic table. Just beyond the table is the road that leads through the campground. Turn right and follow the road 0.4 miles uphill back to your starting point. On the way, see if you can get a glimpse of the flat expanse of the high desert in between the trees.

0:10 - Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

0:10 – Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

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.

0:18 - The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

0:18 – The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

Toro Canyon Park

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Sunlight in the trees, Toro Canyon Park

Sunlight in the trees, Toro Canyon Park

View of the mountains from just below the gazebo, Toro Canyon Park

View of the mountains from just below the gazebo, Toro Canyon Park

Toro Canyon Park

    • Location: Santa Barbara foothills, near Montecito.  From Highway 101 in either direction, take the Padaro Lane exit.  If you’re coming from Santa Barbara, turn left, cross the freeway and turn right on Via Real.  Turn right, go 0.5 miles and turn left on Toro Canyon Road.  If you’re coming from Ventura, take a right and then the first left on Via Real.  Go 1.4 miles to Toro Canyon Road and turn right.  On Toro Canyon, go a mile to Toro Canyon Park Road (look for a sign just before it.)  Turn right and drive 1.3 miles to the park entrance.  Turn left into the park and go 0.2 miles to the upper parking area, where you’ll see a sign for the trail shortly before the sandstone boulders.
    • Agency: County of Santa Barbara
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: 250 feet
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round
    • USGS topo map: Carpinteria
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6
0:00 - Oaks near the parking area by the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Oaks near the parking area by the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short but enjoyable trip isn’t particularly well known outside the Ventura/Santa Barbara area, but it’s well worth a visit, whether you’re in the vicinity for a longer hike or driving up the coast and are looking for a place to stretch your legs. Highlights include ocean and mountain views, a large sandstone boulder and a gazebo from which you can enjoy the panorama. Toro Canyon resembles Simi Valley’s Corriganville Park, but it’s more secluded and has more variety of scenery.

0:01 - Passing the sandstone boulder (times are approximate)

0:01 – Passing the sandstone boulder (times are approximate)

From the parking area, cross a footbridge and pass by a large sandstone boulder. Ignore a false trail branching off to the left and head right, making a steady ascent to a junction, about a quarter mile from the start.  The right trail descends briefly before climbing; the left trail continues the ascent.  Both directions reach the gazebo at the top of the ridge after about a quarter mile (half a mile from the start). Here you can sit and enjoy a view of the ocean–both to the southwest and southeast–and perhaps see a Channel Island or two. When you’re ready to go, continue down the trail back to the junction and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

0:07  - At the junction

0:07 – At the 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.

0:14 - The gazebo

0:14 – The gazebo


Guadalasca Trail via La Jolla Canyon (Point Mugu State Park)

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Old Boney Mountain from near the top of the Guadalasca Trail

Old Boney Mountain from near the top of the Guadalasca Trail

Old and new growth in Wood Canyon

Old and new growth in Wood Canyon

Guadalasca Trail via La Jolla Canyon (Point Mugu State Park)

  • Location: Ray Miller Trailhead in Point Mugu State Park between Malibu and Oxnard.  From Highway 101 in Oxnard, take Highway 1 south for 13 miles.  The Ray Miller/La Jolla Canyon trailhead parking lot will be on your left, about two miles past the Chumash Trailhead.  From Santa Monica, take highway 1 north for 34 miles.  The trailhead parking lot will be on the right, about two miles past the Sycamore Canyon Campground.  From the San Fernando Valley, take Highway 101 to Highway 23 and head south to P.C.H.  Parking is $8.  Automated machines accept exact cash payments, MasterCard and Visa.
  • Agency: Point Mugu State Park
  • Distance: 10.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • Recommended gear:  sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • USGS topo maps: “Point Mugu”
  • More information: Trail map here; Everytrail report here; video shot by a mountain biker on the Guadalasca Trail (opposite direction from description below) here;  Point Mugu State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike, La Jolla Canyon Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike, La Jolla Canyon Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The long but easily graded Guadalasca Trail is one of Point Mugu State Park’s more enjoyable routes. It’s popular with mountain bikers (expect to see a few on the trail) but due to its remote location within the park, it can be tricky to do as a day hike. The easiest way to hike the Guadalasca Trail is the trip described here; a “balloon” type hike consisting of a 2.6-mile out and back segment and a 4.9-mile loop.

0:18 - Steps by the seasonal waterfall (times are approximate)

0:18 – Steps by the seasonal waterfall (times are approximate)

Starting at the Ray Miller Trailhead, take the La Jolla Canyon Trail north. As of this writing the park is still recovering from the effects of the 2013 Spring Fire. New growth is starting to take place but the area is still largely dry and burned.

0:30 - Keep right at the fork

0:30 – Keep right at the fork

At about 0.7 miles, you pass by a small, two-tiered seasonal waterfall. Unless there have been recent heavy rains, don’t expect much from the waterfall, although at this point, where a tributary joins La Jolla Canyon, the trail starts to feel more rugged and remote. You climb into the narrow canyon, clinging to the east wall. A few burned stumps of coreopsis plants can be seen poking up through the rocks; hopefully future wet seasons will help bring them back into bloom. Sadly, graffiti and trash take away from the appeal of this section of the trail; while most people come to Point Mugu and other parks to enjoy nature, keep an eye out for those who might not have such a worthwhile reason for being here.

0:41 - View of La Jolla Valley

0:41 – View of La Jolla Valley

At 1.2 miles (and almost 600 feet of elevation gain) you reach a Y-shaped split. The left fork heads toward Mugu Peak, but our route heads right, toward La Jolla Valley. Things get a little easier here as the trail grade levels out considerably and chaparral and scrub oaks provide shade. At about 1.7 miles, you get a nice view of La Jolla Valley to the left, pleasantly green with spring rains, contrasting the burnt hills around it.

1:02 - Descending Hell Hill with Boney Mountain in the distance

1:02 – Descending Hell Hill with Boney Mountain in the distance

Soon after you reach another split where you stay right. At 2.4 miles, turn right on the La Jolla Fire Road and follow it uphill 0.2 miles to a four-way junction; the start of the loop. Hiking the loop counter-clockwise, as described here, will spare you having to ascend the appropriately nick-named Hell Hill (650 feet elevation change in 0.8 miles.)

1:10 - Turn left on to the Wood Canyon Fire Road at the bottom of Hell Hill

1:12 – Turn left on to the Wood Canyon Fire Road at the bottom of Hell Hill

As you descend Hell Hill, you’ll get a nice view of Boney Mountain and the northern end of Sycamore Canyon. At the bottom of the steep road, turn left on the Wood Canyon Fire Road and head north for a pleasant 0.3 miles beneath the shade of some oaks to the lower end of the Guadalasca Trail.

1:20 - Start of the Guadalasaca Trail

1:23 – Start of the Guadalasaca Trail

The first part of the Guadalasca Trail follows a wooded tributary of Wood Canyon; then it climbs into an open area. At 4.5 miles from the start, bear left at a fork. You cross the shallow canyon and start a long, gradual ascent. A solitary oak marks the approximate halfway point of the hike and makes a good rest spot.

Past the oak, the trail makes a few long switchbacks, providing good views of Boney Mountain, the Ventura coastal plain and the northern end of the park. If visibility is good, you may be able to see Ojai’s Topatopa Mountains.

1:50 - Bear left to stay on the Guadalasca Trail

1:50 – Bear left to stay on the Guadalasca Trail

At 6.2 miles, the trail becomes an abandoned fire road. Bear left and continue ascending briefly to a vista point (the high point of the hike) at 6.5 miles, where you can get a nice aerial view of La Jolla Canyon and a little slice of ocean. From here, the trail gradually descends a mile back to the junction with the Overlook Fire Road. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the Ray Miller Trailhead.

2:10 - Loan oak on the Guadalasca Trail

2:10 – Lone oak on the Guadalasca Trail

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

2:36 - Ocean view from the high point of the Guadalasca Trail

2:45 – Ocean view from the high point of the Guadalasca Trail

Marshal South Cabin/Ghost Mountain (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

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View of the desert from the Marshal South Homestead site on Ghost Mountain

Marshal South Cabin/Ghost Mountain (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park southeast of Julian.  From Highway 79 head southeast on San Felipe Road (4.3 miles north of the junction with Highway 76 and 4.3 miles south of Warner Springs.)  Go 16.3 miles to Highway 78 at “Scissors Crossing” and turn right.  Take your first left to continue southeast on Highway S-2 (“Great Southern Overland Stage Route”).  Go 5.9 miles and turn left on a dirt road signed Blair Valley.  High clearance vehicles are recommended but not necessary.  These roads are popular with RVs and campers so exercise caution as you make your way toward the trail.  Follow the signs for 3.2 miles to the Marshal South Cabin trailhead.  The coordinates are N 33 0.200, W 116 23.383.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map:  “Earthquake Valley”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here; video of the homestead here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Marshal South Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Marshal South Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike mixes panoramic desert and mountain views with interesting local history.  In addition to vistas of the Blair Valley, Granite Peak, the eastern end of the Laguna Mountains and more, this hike provides a glimpse into the past, visiting the ruins of Yaquitepec, the Marshal South homestead.  South was a writer who “lived off the land” with his family in the 1930s and 40s and is somewhat of a local legend.  Though short (park signage and several guidebooks list the distance as a mile each way, but Everytrail measures it as 0.6 for a round trip of 1.2 miles) the hike packs in a pretty good workout.

0:12 - Looking south from the ridge (times are approximate)

0:12 – Looking south from the ridge (times are approximate)

From the parking area, begin hiking up the north side of Ghost Mountain, making switchbacks, occasionally climbing over rocks. At 0.3 miles you reach a ridgeline where you get good views to the south. Head east, staying level for a short distance before continuing your ascent. You climb a “natural staircase” through the rocks, again with some light scrambling, and then you find yourself at the homestead site.

0:16 - Climbing the "natural staircase"

0:16 – Climbing the “natural staircase”

Here, you can see the remains of South’s cabin, including a rusted mattress, water tanks and other heavy items that were carried up. The views in all directions are excellent, but it’s not hard to imagine that living here must have been a tough existence. For more information about Marshal South, click here.

0:22 - View of Grainte Mountain from just below the homestead

0:22 – View of Grainte Mountain from just below the homestead

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.

0:25 - Ruins of the Marshal South Homestead

0:25 – Ruins of the Marshal South Homestead

Mentally Sensitive Trail (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

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Climbing back up the Mentally Sensitive Trail

Climbing back up the Mentally Sensitive Trail

Looking east from the Mentally Sensitive Trail

Looking east from the Mentally Sensitive Trail

Mentally Sensitive Trail (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

  • Location: Laguna Beach.  From the north, take Pacific Coast Highway south of downtown Laguna Beach and turn left on Bluebird Canyon.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Summit Ave.  Go 0.7 miles and make a slight right onto La Mirada.  Go 0.1 miles and turn left on Del Mar.  Park on the corner of Del Mar and Balboa, just north of Moulton Meadows Park.  Alternately, from points south, take P.C.H. to Nyes Place.  Turn right and drive 1.4 miles (Nyes becomes Balboa along the way) and park on the corner of Balboa and Del Mar.
  • Agency:  Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: PG
  • Best season: All year (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “San Juan Capistrano”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

It may sound like a touchy-feely new age experience but the Mentally Sensitive Trail–which climbs almost 800 feet in less than 3/4 of a mile–is more like a boot camp.  Dedicated in 2011, the trail’s name supposedly comes from a sign that originally read “Environmentally Sensitive Area” – bumped by a mountain biker so part of it folded back, leaving “Mentally Sensitive.”

0:00 - Trailhead by Moulton Meadows Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead by Moulton Meadows Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Meadows Trail, the Mentally Sensitive Trail connects the paved service road running through the bottom of the canyon with the Aswut Trail above.  The quickest way to hike the Mentally Sensitive Trail, as described here, is to do it as a reverse hike starting at Moulton Meadows Park.

From the corner of Del Mar and Balboa, follow the Aswut Trail north.  In 0.1 miles, take a hairpin turn to the right on a wide dirt path and in another 0.1 miles, you reach the top of the Mentally Sensitive Trail. The trail soon begins its steep descent, dropping precipitously toward the canyon. The views of Old Saddleback can be great but make sure you watch your footing as you negotiate the trail.

0:05 - Beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

0:05 – Yes, that’s really its name: start of the trail (times are approximate)

About halfway down, as the trail reaches a wooden fence, there’s a particularly treacherous spot where extra caution should be used. Following this, the trail drops to a ridge and levels out for a short stretch before making one last steep descent to the service road.

0:10 - The descent steepens

0:10 – The descent steepens

This is the turnaround point for the Mentally Sensitive Trail. You can tackle the calf-burning ascent back to the Aswut Trail for a round trip of 1.8 miles, or you can extend the hike by heading north on the road. Options include looping back via the Meadows Trail or, with a car shuttle on Alicia Parkway, continuing to the park’s main entrance as a point-to-point hike.

0:16 - Feet don't fail me now! (About half way down)

0:16 – Feet don’t fail me now! (About half way down)

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.

0:35 - Bottom of the Mentally Sensitive Trail (service road)

0:35 – Bottom of the Mentally Sensitive Trail (service road)

High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)

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Looking southeast from High Point

Looking southeast from High Point

Oak woodlands near the summit

Oak woodlands near the summit

High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)

  • Location:  Oak Grove Fire Station, northeast San Diego County.  From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 24 miles to the Oak Grove Fire Station on the right side of the road.  Turn into the lot and park in between the two buildings.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Mountain Ranger District
  • Distance: 13.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 7 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Aguanga, Palomar Mountain Observatory
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information:  Trip descriptions here, here, here (slightly different route) and here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Start of the hike in the parking lot behind the fire station (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike in the parking lot behind the fire station (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

High Point (elevation 6,140) is the highest point in the Palomar Mountains.  The hike to reach High Point from Highway 79 is one of the most scenic and challenging in San Diego County.

0:08 - Crossing the service road (times are approximate)

0:08 – Crossing the service road (times are approximate)

From the parking lot behind the fire station, follow the paved road to the campground where signs will direct you to the trail.  At 0.3 miles, bear left on a single-track (as of this writing, fallen tree branches block the way but they’re easy to circumvent.)  The single-track joins a service road (0.5 miles) and then splits off again (0.7 miles.)

The trail soon begins an intense climb, ascending about 1,200 feet over the next 1.2 miles. To be sure, it’s a difficult stretch, but as you slug it out, you’re rewarded with great views including San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Toro Peak and possibly Mt. Baldy if the air is clear. The lower part of the trail is exposed but as you get higher scrub oak provides a little shade.

0:10 - Start of the Oak Grove Trail

0:10 – Start of the Oak Grove Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, the Oak Grove Trail ends at Oak Grove Road. Turn right (west) and continue your ascent. The grade is more moderate, although your legs will likely feel tired from the steep ascent before. The road follows the ridge, providing more panoramic views; you may be able to pick out Old Saddleback in the distance.

1:10 - View from the top of the Oak Grove Trail

1:10 – View from the top of the Oak Grove Trail

At 3.6 miles, just after you pass a gate, turn left at a fork and begin ascending High Point Road. You climb steadily for another 1.4 miles until the grade finally flattens and you can enjoy some great views to the east. You also might get a glimpse of the lookout tower on the summit, providing some motivation for the home stretch.

1:50 - View from the junction with High Point Road

1:55 – View from the junction with High Point Road

At 5.4 miles, you enter a pleasant oak woodland and come to another junction. This is a nice place to rest before making the final push to the top. Turn right and ascend on Palomar Divide Road, ignoring a side road coming in from the left. This is one of the more enjoyable parts of the hike, as oaks provide some shade and you can still get some good views on your right.

After making a hairpin turn the cover of oaks becomes even thicker, resembling parts of the Angeles National Forest. Take a left on a spur (6.4 miles) leading up to the summit.

2:50 - Oaks on Palomar Divide Road after the junction with High Point Road

2:50 – Oaks on Palomar Divide Road after the junction with High Point Road

The watchtower and some equipment sheds cut down on the view a little bit but it’s still a very impressive tableau: the mountains of Anza-Borrego; the Santa Rosas; the San Jacintos; the San Gabriels; the Santa Anas and the ocean.  According to “Afoot and Afield”, if visibility is excellent, the Channel Islands can be seen.  You also have an unusual view of the Palomar Mountain Observatory from above.  Picnic tables allow you to sit and enjoy a snack before beginning the long trip back.   Make sure you rest your legs before descending the steep Oak Grove Trail back to the campground.

3:25 - Aerial view of the observatory just below the summit

3:25 – Aerial view of the observatory just below the summit

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.

3:30 - San Jacinto from the summit of High Point

3:30 – San Jacinto from the summit of High Point

Arroyo Conejo/Lynnmere Loop

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Looking west from near the top of the Lynnmere Loop

Looking west from near the top of the Lynnmere Loop

Red tailed hawk, Arroyo Conejo Trail

Red tailed hawk, Arroyo Conejo Trail

Arroyo Conejo/Lynnmere Loop

  • Location: Thousand Oaks.  Parking access is at Rancho Conejo Playfields, 950 Ventua Park Road.  From Highway 101, take the Ventu Park exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and drive 0.3 miles.  The parking lot will be on the right.
  • Agency: Conejo Recreation and Parks District (Phone: 805-495-6471)
  • Distance: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1.300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map:  Newbury Park
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: Area trail maps here and here; Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfield (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfield (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

For a suburban hike, this trip is pleasantly varied and secluded, featuring mountain and canyon views, geology, a stream, woodlands and even a small seasonal waterfall.  Though the trail never reaches 1,000 feet above sea level, the significant number of ups and downs along the way add up to a substantial 1,300 feet of elevation gain-and there are some surprisingly wide vistas to be enjoyed from the ridges that the hike climbs. One caveat: following rains, the trail can be muddy in places and the stream crossing is a little tricky if the water is flowing heavily so be careful, especially if you’re hiking with kids.

0:18 - Stay straight at the four-way junction and begin the descent (times are approximate)

0:18 – Stay straight at the four-way junction and begin the descent (times are approximate)

From the parking area, pass by the information board and follow the single-track on the left (not the road to the right, which descends to a dead-end at the creek.) For about 3/4 of a mile, the trail skirts the edge of a neighborhood, providing a good aerial view of Arroyo Conejo and its steep-walled canyon.

0:25 - Small seasonal waterfall

0:25 – Small seasonal waterfall

At a four-way junction, head straight and begin a descent to the creek. Along the way you’ll pass by a small seasonal waterfall which may be trickling following substantial rain. You reach the bottom of the creek at about 1.3 miles, where you make your way across on strategically placed rocks. (If the water level is low, it’s easy to ford, especially if you don’t mind getting wet.)

On the opposite side of the creek, turn right at a T-junction and follow a dirt road through an attractive oak woodland. Soon after you’ll turn left at another fork and begin a steady climb (300 feet in 0.4 miles) out of the canyon, with some good views of Mt. Clef to reward your efforts.

0:30 - Crossing the creek

0:30 – Crossing the creek

At 1.8 miles, you reach the start of the Lynnmere Loop. It can be hiked in either direction, but by turning left and heading counter-clockwise, you can break up the climbing. The trail passes the backs of some houses, dips into a woodland and emerges into a meadow. At 2.3 miles, you reach a junction where you get a panoramic view to the west. Here, you’ll turn right and begin another climb.

0:41 - Beginning of the Lynnmere Loop

0:41 – Beginning of the Lynnmere Loop

At the top of the ridge, you get a good view to the east and an aerial view of Wildwood Park (sharp-eyed hikers may be able to pick out the park’s landmark teepee.) The trail descends to a junction (3.3 miles) where you’ll turn left and make an immediate right (the other trail continues downhill toward Wildwood Park.)

The next 3/4 of a mile isn’t particularly interesting but it’s easy enough with no major elevation gain or loss. At 4 miles, you turn right at another junction and begin a climb, crossing private residential Lynnmere Road.

0:52 - View of Mt. Clef Ridge from the Lynnmere Trail

0:52 – View of Mt. Clef Ridge from the Lynnmere Trail

You reach a T-junction at 4.4 miles where you’ll turn right and make another ascent to the highest point on the hike, where you get a great view of the western Santa Monicas on the left (south) and Mt. Clef on the right. If visibility is good you may see the Topa Topa Mountains north of Ojai. A vista spot at about 4.8 miles, marked by a spiral of stones and a makeshift bench, is a nice place to sit and enjoy the payoff of your efforts.

1:23 - Turn left then right

1:23 – Turn left then right

The trail then descends steeply, dropping about 400 feet in half a mile. You pass the end of Calla Yucca and soon after return to the start of the loop (5.3 miles.) Retrace your steps on the Arroyo Conejo Trail back to the parking lot.

2:00 - Spiral of rocks just before the vista point

2:00 – Spiral of rocks just before the vista 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.

2:10 - Descending through the trees on the Lynnmere Trail toward the end of the loop

2:10 – Descending through the trees on the Lynnmere Trail toward the end of the loop

Inaja Memorial Trail

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View from the top of the Inaja Memorial Trail

View from the top of the Inaja Memorial Trail

View of the upper San Diego River canyon from the top of the trail

View of the upper San Diego River canyon from the top of the trail

Inaja Memorial Trail

  • Location: Eastern San Diego County, a mile east of Santa Ysabel, during the stretch of overlap between Highway 78 and Highway 79.  It’s located on the south side of the road, a mile southeast of where the two roads meet, and six miles west of Julian.  From Ramona, follow Highway 78 east for 17 miles.  From Escondido it’s 34, and from Oceanside, 55.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map:  “Santa Ysabel”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Yahoo Travel page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Named for 11 firefighters who died in 1956, the Inaja Memorial Trail offers an excellent variety of scenery, especially for such a short hike.  At 3,300 feet above sea level, it features the pines, manzanitas and oaks characteristic of higher elevations as well as the lowland chaparral.  Also noteworthy are the terrific views both above (the Palomar Mountains, Volcan Mountain) and below (the upper San Diego River canyon.)

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

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

The trail begins on the east side of the parking area (opposite the entrance.) Pass by a few picnic tables and an outhouse where a sign indicates the start of the trail.  Check the box to see if interpretive brochures are available, describing the numbered sign posts on the route. You make a hairpin turn by a large stack of granite boulders and soon come to a split, the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. If you head counter-clockwise, you’ll get a nice aerial view of Highway 78 and the rolling terrain of Santa Ysabel; clockwise provides a striking view of the San Diego River canyon. A few unofficial trails branch off and can be explored a well.

0:01 - Sign at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

0:01 – Sign at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

About half way through the loop, a short spur leads to a summit where you can enjoy some sweeping views. Head back to the loop (another trail leads off the summit but soon dead-ends.) You’ll return to the split and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

0:02 - Split at the beginning of the loop

0:02 – Split at the beginning of the loop

As short as the trail is, it might not be worth a long drive, but it’s convenient location on Highway 78 makes it an ideal stop en route, say, from San Diego to Julian. L.A. and Orange County hikers who are looking to explore the trail-rich Santa Ysabel/Julian area won’t want to miss this trail.

0:12 - Looking west from the top of the trail

0:12 – Looking west from the top of the trail

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

Sycamore Canyon Park (Claremont)

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Southeast view from the top of the Sycamore Canyon Trail

Southeast view from the top of the Sycamore Canyon Trail

Climbing the stairs, Sycamore Canyon

Climbing the stairs, Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon Park (Claremont)

  • Location: Higginbotham Park, Claremont.  From the west, take the 210 Freeway to the Towne Ave. exit.  Turn left on Towne, cross the freeway and turn right on Baseline.  Go 0.4 miles and turn left on Mountain Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Sage.  Go 0.2 miles and turn right on Mt. Carmel Drive.  The park will be on the left in 0.1 miles.  From the east, take the 210 Freeway to Baseline.  Turn right and go 1.5 miles to Indian Hill.  Turn right and go 0.4 miles to Mt. Carmel.  Turn left and go 0.3 miles to the park, which will be on the right.
  • Agency: City of Claremont
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Baldy”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Meet Up description here; article about the re-opening of the park here; Foursquare page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5

Recently re-opened following the 2003 Grand Prix Fire, Sycamore Canyon Park features a short but steep trail connecting the Thompson Creek Trail with East Pomello Drive, a dirt road that is part of the Johnson Pasture/Gale Mountain Motorway loop.  While this trail never really gets away from the sights and sounds of civilization, it offers a good workout (especially if you continue toward Johnson Pasture) and if the weather is clear, you get a great, nearly aerial view of the Claremont area and San Gabriel Valley.  The citizens of Claremont deserve a special shout-out for their dedication to restoring this trail.

0:00 - Trailhead, Higginbotham Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead, Higginbotham Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Though Sycamore Canyon can be accessed via the Thompson Creek Trail, the quickest way to reach it is by walking through Higginbotham Park. On the north side of the park, turn right on the Thompson Creek Trail, pass the restrooms and look for a staircase descending toward the entrance of Sycamore Canyon Park. Almost immediately you reach a junction where a spur heads straight into the canyon, soon reaching the ruins of a stone cabin (an optional side-trip). This route, however, follows the right fork, which wastes no time ascending a steep set of stairs. As you climb, you get better and better views.

0:05 - Entrance to Sycamore Canyon Park from the Thompson Creek Trail (times are approximate)

0:06 – Entrance to Sycamore Canyon Park from the Thompson Creek Trail (times are approximate)

After ascending almost 200 feet in about 0.2 miles, the trail levels out briefly and you reach a saddle where you get a good view of the Ontario/Cucamonga Ridge. The trail then makes a series of switchbacks, levels out again and makes a final steep push to the top. Just before reaching the dirt road a small clearing with a makeshift bench provides a great view to the east and the south. The clear-day vista includes Sugarloaf Mountain, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, Box Springs, Old Saddleback, the Puente Hills and more. (Unfortunately Ontario and Cucamonga are obscured by power lines.)

0:13 - View of Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks

0:13 – View of Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks

After enjoying the view, return by the same route or continue toward Johnson Pasture. It’s also possible create a loop by descending the dirt road to the Thompson Creek Trail and following it southwest back to Higginbotham Park.

0:25 - Top of the trail, junction with East Pomello (turnaround point)

0:25 – Top of the trail, junction with East Pomello (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.