Category Archives: Location

San Clemente Loop


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Looking east from the Cristianitos Trail

Looking east from the Cristianitos Trail

Sycamores on the Talega Trail

Sycamores on the Talega Trail

San Clemente Loop

      • Location: San Clemente.  As described here, the hike starts from one of several possible points, the end of Cristianitos Road.  From I-5 in San Clemente, take the Avenida Pico exit and go northeast for 3.2 miles (turn right if you’re coming from the south or left if from the north.)  Turn left on Camino La Pedriza and take a quick right on Cristianitos Road.  Park where available on the street.
      • Agency: City of San Clemente
      • Distance: 10.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
      • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
      • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
      • Best season: October – April
      • USGS topo map: San Clemente
      • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat
      • More information: Trail map here; San Clemente trail descriptions including ones in this loop here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike, end of Cristianitos Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This long loop features several of San Clemente’s city trails. While its highest elevation is 1,000 feet, the many ups and downs add up to about 1,700 feet of climbing, making it a great training hike. Don’t expect much in the way of solitude, but on clear days the mountain and ocean views are impressive. The trail’s convenience to south O.C., as well as north San Diego County, makes it a worthwhile recreational resource.  The entire route is exposed, so plan accordingly.

0:50 - Bridle path on the north side of Avenida Pico (times are approximate)

0:50 – Bridle path on the north side of Avenida Pico (times are approximate)

There are numerous access points. By hiking clockwise from the end of Cristianitos Road, you save the best scenery for last and don’t have to tackle the major ascents until several miles in.

1:40 - Talega Sign at the corner of Calle Saluda and Avenida La Pata

1:40 – Talega Sign at the corner of Calle Saluda and Avenida La Pata

From the end of the road, head right on the Cristianitos Trail, which soon brings you to Avenida Pico. Cross the street and pick up the Prima Deshecha Trail, which heads uphill, passing several side trails. In general the rule of thumb is that the side-trails often quickly lead to utility poles, making the main route pretty clear. In addition, fences usually border the main trails, at least on one side.

2:05 - Beginning of the steep descent on the Talega Trail

2:05 – Beginning of the steep descent on the Talega Trail

The Prima Desecha Trail drops into a valley with an office park on one side, Bella Colina Golf Club on the other and power lines overhead. At 1.8 miles it bends sharply to the right, soon reaching Avenida Pico again. You cross it and continue on the north side of the street, heading west past the Talega Golf Club. You head north, roughly following Avenida La Plata, crossing under a bridge at Avenida Vista Hermosa (3.2 miles.)

2:45 - Footbridge above the end of Via Alcamo

2:45 – Footbridge above the end of Via Alcamo

The trail takes on a more secluded feel at this point, although the sights and sounds of civilization are still near. You climb to an intersection at Calle Saluda (3.8 miles) where you’ll cut around the side of a stone sign reading “TALEGA” and make a descent, paralleling the street. At the bottom of the hill, turn left and begin the first major ascent of the loop, climbing about 400 feet over the next mile. As you ascend, keep an eye out for ocean views to the left.

3:00 - Live oaks below the vista point

3:00 – Live oaks below the vista point

You brush up against the Forster Ridgeline Trail (about 5 miles from the start) and then reach a junction where you’ll stay right and begin a sharp descent. Keep an eye out for some sycamore trees growing in the canyon. You make your way to the bottom of the hill, staying left at a junction. The longest ascent of the hike begins here (5.8 miles), climbing in back of some houses and ascending about 600 feet over 1.3 miles. reaching a high point at about 7.1 miles where you can sit on a small bench and enjoy the view, including the Santa Ana Mountains, the ocean and the neighborhoods of San Clemente.

3:05 - View of houses near the water tanks at the north end of the Cristianitos Trail

3:05 – View of houses near the water tanks at the north end of the Cristianitos Trail

Past the vista point, the trail continues northeast. On the left, behind a wire fence, some stately live oaks add a nice touch. At a large water tank, the trail takes a hard right and begins a descent along the edge of the Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve. This section of the trail, which parallels a service road, is one of the more quiet and secluded portions of the loop.

3:45 - Stay left and begin the descent on the Cristianitos Trail

3:45 – Stay left and begin the descent on the Cristianitos Trail

At just over 8 miles, you reach the end of Avenida Talega. Pick up the Cristianitos North Trail on the opposite side, making your final major ascent of the loop. The trail climbs steeply, gaining about 250 feet over half a mile. At the top, stay left and begin a descent. A spur leads to a vista point, an optional side trip if you want to extend the hike. To continue the loop, however, head right on an obscure trail leading through some bushes. As you descend toward the water tanks, take note of the sandstone cliffs on the right, featuring shallow caves.

3:50 - Turn right and head through the bushes

3:50 – Turn right and head through the bushes

The remainder of the loop is an easy, moderate descent. You follow the trail around the back of some residential streets, live oaks on the left side making the journey more appealing. Finally you complete the loop, returning to the end of Cristianitos Road.

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.

3:52 - Sandstone on the Cristianitos Trail

3:52 – Sandstone on the Cristianitos Trail

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Tin Mine Canyon


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Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Tin Mine Canyon

  • Location: Corona.  From the south, take I-15 to El Cerrito.  Turn left and go a total of 4.4 miles on El Cerrito, which becomes Foothill Parkway.  At Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park on Foothill Parkway facing east in one of the few spots designated for the Skyline Trail.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Lincoln Exit and head south (left if you’re coming from the west, right if from Riverside) and go 2.6 miles to Foothill Parkway.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to the intersection with Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park where available facing east on Foothill Parkway.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps:  Corona South
  • Recommended gear: Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here;  Yelp page here; Meetup page with photos and trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Located on the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains, just beyond the fringes of Corona’s residential neighborhoods, Tin Mine Canyon feels pleasantly secluded and rugged.  Highlights include a seasonal stream, geology, live oaks and sycamores, good mountain views and, yes, an abandoned tin mine.

0:26 - Trees near the beginning of the Tin Mine Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

0:26 – Trees near the beginning of the Tin Mine Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

The actual Tin Mine Canyon trail can be accessed by walking just over a mile on the Skyline Trail.  When the Skyline Trail makes a hairpin right turn, begin hiking on the Tin Mine Canyon trail just past an information board.  The trail quickly leaves civilization behind as it heads east into the canyon.   You cross the stream bed several times, generally keeping the bottom of the canyon on your left.  A bench beneath a large oak makes for a good rest spot.

0:28 - Bear left and head across the stream bed, deeper into the canyon

0:28 – Bear left and head across the stream bed, deeper into the canyon

At 1.7 miles, the canyon narrows and the trail clings to the rock wall on the left.  You’ll pass by the sealed off entrance to the tin mine.  The trail then passes by a dramatic cluster of oaks beneath a tall pink sandstone wall before re-emerging into the open, where you get some nice views of the hills above.

0:48 - The mine

0:48 – The mine

Farther up, the trail continues to weave in and out of the stream bed; you may well see at least some water by this point.  Keep an eye out for poison oak as you make your way deeper into the canyon.  The thick vegetation and tight canyon walls lock in much of the moisture from the stream, making the air surprisingly humid.

0:52 - Oaks and sandstone

0:52 – Oaks and sandstone

At about 2 1/4 miles from the start, you reach the end of the official trail.  A little bit of rock scrambling will bring you to a pleasant grotto where water trickles down a 5-foot rock face into a pool.  This makes a good turnaround point although intrepid hikers can continue up the canyon, eventually reaching all the way up to Main Divide Road.

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

 In the spring, Tin Mine creek is a convenient place to observe California newts, a species of salamander that requires a healthy riparian (natural stream) ecosystem to survive.  Wild grape vines, blackberry, bigleaf maple, bay laurel, cottonwoods, alder, and willow occur in the shadier spots where there is a higher water table.  Various species of mountain lilac (Ceanothus sp.) bloom white and lavender over the emerald slopes of mature chaparral.  Canyon sweet pea, yellow bush penstemon, stinging lupine, Matilija poppy, and other showy wildflowers can also be see in the spring.  Be mindful of the poison oak, which grows in abundance along the creek, especially near the waterfalls.

0:55 - End of the trail

0:55 – End of the trail

The USFS closed the mine entrances with metal grates to preserve wildlife habitat for cave dwelling organisms, such as Monterey ensatina (lungless salamander), tree frogs, and bats.  Supposedly, the only real tin came from the Cajalco Tin Mine near Lake Matthews in the Gavilan Hills.

1:00 - Waterfall shortly past the trail's end; turnaround point for the hike

1:00 – Waterfall shortly past the trail’s end; turnaround point for the hike

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.

Summit to Summit Motorway


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Morning mist over Topanga Canyon from the Summit to Summit Motorway

Morning marine layer over Topanga Canyon from the Summit to Summit Motorway

Summit to Summit Motorway

    • Location: Top of Topanga Overlook, Topanga Canyon.  From Highway 101, take Topanga Canyon Blvd/Highway 27 south for 3.3 miles to the turnout (on the left) for the Top of Topanga Overlook.  Carefully make a U-turn and pull into the lot.  From Pacific Coast Highway, take Topanga Canyon Blvd/Highway 27 north for 9.2 miles and park in the lot on the right side of the road.  You can also start the hike at the southwestern end, from Old Topanga Canyon Blvd.
    • Agency:  Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 6.2 miles
    • Elevation gain:  850 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo map: Calabasas; Malibu Beach; Topanga; Canoga Park
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
    • More information: Photo gallery here; article about the SMMNRA’s acquisition of the motorway here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6
0:00 View from the Top of Topanga Overlook at the start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 View from the Top of Topanga Overlook at the start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

The Summit to Summit Motorway links the Top of Topanga Overlook with Old Topanga Canyon Road.  While it doesn’t have the geological or botanical variety of nearby Topanga State Park or Malibu Creek, it does offer some good views of those two parks and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. There are many small up and down stretches which add up to about 850 total feet of elevation gain. The two ends of the hike are approximately the same altitude. The Topanga Overlook trailhead is more easily accessible, but some hikers may find that by starting on Old Topanga Canyon Road, the view from the overlook is more of a payoff for the end of the hike. This route can also be done point-to-point with not too much difficulty.

0:15  - Turn left at the second water tank (times are approximate)

0:15 – Turn left at the second water tank (times are approximate)

Assuming you start at the overlook on the northeastern end of the hike, carefully cross Topanga Canyon Boulevard (there’s no traffic light or crosswalk and heading back across the street from the west side is particularly treacherous as the curves in the road create a blind spot for cars). Pass by a metal gate and begin an ascent along the Summit to Summit Motorway. You’ll pass by a water tank and the road becomes dirt.

0:35 - Gate just before Adamsville Avenue

0:35 – Gate just before Adamsville Avenue

You descend to a junction by another water tank (0.6 miles) where you’ll turn left.  Follow the road along the ridge, passing by a few scattered oaks and willows. You’ll get a good view of Calabasas Peak to the southwest and in the distance, the Goat Buttes of Malibu Creek State Park and Castro Peak beyond. At 1.4 miles, you merge with a paved road (watch out for cars) and head left, passing by a private home and arriving at a five-way junction; the approximate halfway point of the hike.

0:39 - Right turn at the five-way junction

0:39 – Right turn at the five-way junction

From here, continue on the motorway by taking a hard right. You pass a few more private homes and several spurs heading off the main route. The trail reaches a high point at about 2 miles from the start and makes a gradual descent over the next mile. Just before it reaches Old Topanga Canyon Road, there’s a spot where you get a nice panorama of Calabasas. If you still have gas in the tank, you can cross Old Topanga Canyon Road and continue another 2.1 miles to Calabasas Peak.

0:55 - Following the fence

0:55 – Following the fence

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.

1:15 - Nice view from just before Old Topanga Canyon Blvd

1:15 – Nice view from just before Old Topanga Canyon Blvd

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)


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Sunset over Old Saddleback from the Big C

Sunset and Old Saddleback from the Big “C”

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big "C"

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big “C”

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

  • Location: Northeast Riverside at the end of Big Springs Road, by Islander Park.  From San Bernardino, Los Angeles or Orange County, take the 60/I-215 freeway  to the 3rd St/Blaine St. exit.  Turn left and follow 3rd, which immediately becomes Blaine, a mile to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn left and drive 0.4 miles to the end of Big Springs Road and park where available on the south (right) side of the street.  Note the parking restrictions.  From the east, take the 60/I-215 freeway to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Mt. Vernon.  Bear right and go 0.6 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn right and drive 0.2 miles to the end of the road.
  • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Riverside East
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Map My Hike report here; unflinching account of the vandalism on the trail here
  • Rating: 5

You already know how to reach the big “M” on the south slope of Box Springs Mountain, so in this post, we’ll look at the short–but very steep–hike to the big “C” on the mountain’s west side.  Sadly, there’s a lot of graffiti and trash, but on clear days hike provides one of the Inland Empire’s best 180-degree views.

0:00 - Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike almost came in at PG-13 due to its unrelenting steepness, often loose and difficult terrain and tricky route-finding, but anyone who’s reasonably active and allows themselves enough time shouldn’t have a problem.  Hiking poles will be a huge help.  There is an actual Google Maps-recognized Big C trail, although many other routes have been blazed across the mountain’s western slope.  Your exact route up and down may vary, but the trail’s popularity makes it hard to get too lost; when in doubt you shouldn’t have a problem finding other hikers to follow. With a western exposure, the hike can be done even on hot days with an early enough start and it’s also an excellent place to watch the sunset, although make sure you allow enough daylight to safely negotiate the steep slope.

0:03 - Look both ways (times are approximate)

0:03 – Look both ways (times are approximate)

Start just before the end of Big Springs Road by bearing left on a trail leading up to the railroad tracks. After crossing them you begin your ascent. Typically, you will choose between steep, eroded wash-like breaks and slightly less steep single-track. The first occurs on the east side of the railroad tracks. After the single-track reunites with the steeper route, the ascent continues, heading generally southeast. You can take advantage of a strip of grass running up the middle of the path which may help give you traction.

0:06 - Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

0:06 – Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

At about 0.3 miles, you reach another split where the trails briefly separate before rejoining. The left route is slightly less steep. You soon reach a ridge (about 0.5 miles) where the trail levels out briefly. Here you may be encouraged by a glimpse of the top half of the “C” off to your left.

0:15 - Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

0:15 – Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

At another split, you can choose between a steep but not too difficult climb up some rocks (left) or a single-track branching off to the right. The two trails meet just below the “C”. Make your final scramble up to the marker, where despite huge amounts of graffiti–some rather graphic in nature–you can enjoy an excellent view of the Santa Ana Mountains, the San Gabriels, and the Inland Valley. You get a nearly aerial perspective on the immediate neighborhood, some thousand feet below.

0:30 - Junction below the C (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

0:30 – Junction below the “C” (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

If you still have feeling in your legs, you can continue past the “C” to connect with other trails in Box Springs Mountain Park. It’s even possible to make it to the “M”, which is about three miles farther and 900 feet higher.

The “C” honors nearby University of California Riverside. Several UC campuses feature giant “C” markers. This “C” is the highest of all of them, at about 2,100 feet. It was completed in 1957 and at the time was the largest (132 feet tall by 70 feet wide) poured concrete block letter of its kind in the world.

0:40 - Respect the C

0:40 – Be a man: Respect the “C”

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.

Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis


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Palm tree at Jane's Hoffbrau Oasis

Palm tree at Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

View of greater Palm Springs on the way back from the oasis

View of greater Palm Springs on the way back from the oasis

Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

  • Location: Behind the Elks Lodge at 67491 East Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City.  From I-10, take the Palm Drive/Gene Autry Trail exit.  Turn right on Gene Autry Trail and go 6.1 miles to East Palm Canyon Drive.  (Along the way, the route becomes CA Highway 111).  Turn left and go 0.8 miles to Elks Drive, just before a big shopping center.  Turn right and park in the lot in back of the lodge.
  • Agency: Santa Rosa/San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo map: “Cathedral City”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: All Trails page here; trip description (all the way to Murray Hill) here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike behind the Elks Lodge (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Located in a narrow canyon near the heart of Palm Springs, Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis is named for Jane Lykken Hoff, former president of the Desert Riders equestrian group.  And no, sadly, despite the name, no brewed beverages are available here (although you can grab a cold one after the hike at any of several restaurants at the nearby shopping center.)

0:07 - Turn left on the dirt road atop the ridge and head uphill (times are approximate)

0:07 – Turn left on the dirt road atop the ridge and head uphill (times are approximate)

The oasis itself is a cozy, quiet little spot and the route features panoramic views of Palm Springs, but the first half of the hike is, to be blunt, rather unpleasant. If you don’t mind taking one for the team, the second half of this hike is enjoyable, and you can easily extend your trip on the network of trails that lace the area.

0:18 - Ascend the single-track leading up from the dirt road

0:18 – Ascend the single-track leading up from the dirt road

From the far corner parking area behind the Elks Lodge, enter a gully and prepare to climb over boulders and trash. The ascent is more unattractive than it is difficult; just keep making your way up over the rocks toward the ridge line. No excessively strenuous climbing is required, although the ascent to the top is very steep in spots. Hikers with small kids might want to take extra caution.

0:22 - Junction with the dirt road; follow the single-track down into the canyon

0:22 – Junction with the dirt road; follow the single-track down into the canyon

After a tenth of a mile (though it seems longer), you reach the top of the gully, where you continue to a dirt road (signed as the Goat Trails on some maps). Head left and uphill. The scenery becomes marginally better here, though it still may feel as if you’re walking through a landfill. You get some good views of pointy Murray Hill straight ahead.

0:30 - Getting close....

0:30 – Getting close….

At 0.6 miles, you reach a junction. Both forks soon meet again but the left fork will get you to the oasis more quickly. You descend to another junction where you will stay straight and begin climbing on a single-track.

At 0.8 miles from the start, the single-track rejoins the dirt road. A few yards to your right, look for another single-track leading down into the canyon. This is the payoff: the trail descends in dramatic fashion along the edge of the canyon, past outcrops of rocks, yielding views similar to Joshua Tree National Park’s Fortynine Palm Oasis hike. You reach another fork where you will bear left and descend further, passing a sign welcoming you to the oasis. After a few switchbacks you reach the bottom of the canyon and the oasis itself, where you can relax in the shade of the palms. A dry waterfall site marks the top of the oasis. From here, you can retrace your steps or explore some of the other trails.

0:40 - Dry waterfall at the back of Jane's Hoffbrau Oasis

0:40 – Dry waterfall at the back of Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Dripping Springs Trail/Agua Tibia Wilderness


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San Gorgonio and San Jacinto from the Dripping Springs Trail

San Gorgonio and San Jacinto from the Dripping Springs Trail

Dusk in the Agua Tibia Wilderness

Dusk in the Agua Tibia Wilderness

Dripping Springs Trail/Agua Tibia Wilderness

  • Location: Cleveland National Forest, east of Temecula.  From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 10.5 miles to the Dripping Springs Campground.  Turn right and park in the signed day use area.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.  The $5 day use fee can also be paid at the trailhead.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Mountain Ranger District
  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 7.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: Vail Lake
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead at the Dripping Springs Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead at the Dripping Springs Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The hot and dry Agua Tibia Wilderness doesn’t seem very inviting – and it isn’t. Most of the terrain is exposed and while the trail does take in some excellent views of the surrounding area, it doesn’t have the scenic variety of the higher country of the Palomar Mountains.  However, with easy terrain, straightforward navigation and a moderate grade, the Dripping Springs Trail is a great training hike. It can be done as a day trip from Riverside or San Diego; even L.A. or Orange County given an early start. Another advantage of starting early is that most of the ascent is on west-facing slopes, meaning that despite the lack of shade, the sun won’t be too hot.

0:09 - Information board at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

0:11 – Information board at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

From the day use area, walk 0.4 miles on a paved road through the campground. The oaks and sycamores you see are, sadly, bait-and-switch; you won’t be seeing more of them until much higher up on the hill. At the far end of the campground, you reach an information board where you’ll sign a register and begin your climb on the Dripping Springs Trail.

1:20 - Ascending the side of the canyon t

1:25 – Ascending the side of the canyon

Cross the streambed of Arroyo Seco, exercising caution if water is flowing, and stay right at a junction. (The Wildhorse Trail on the left would be your return route if you decide to make an ambitious 20-mile loop hike, an option for backpackers or day hikers who don’t mind a very long day.) You begin a steady ascent, negotiating some switchbacks, and as you climb you get some nice views of Toro Peak, San Jacinto, Vail Lake, San Gorgonio and farther up, Old Saddleback and the San Gabriels.

2:10 - Can you spot the Palomar Mountain Observatory?

2:20 – Can you spot the Palomar Mountain Observatory?

The vegetation becomes a little thicker as you cross the top of a tributary of the Arroyo Seco. At 5 miles, the trail descends to a saddle where you may be able to pick out the white dome of the Palmoar Mountain Observatory on the left. The trail continues its ascent, reaching some pines and then a pleasant oak woodland; a good camping spot.

2:50 - Pines

3:05 – Pines

Shortly after, you reach the end of the Dripping Springs Trail. If you’ve still got gas in the tank, head left on the Palmoar Magee Trail and go 0.2 miles to a vista point (7 miles). With great views to the south, including the ocean, this is a good turnaround point for day hikers. More intrepid souls might want to continue 3 miles to the Crosley Truck Trail, which descends back (becoming the Wildhorse Trail) to the trail head for an impressive 20 miles.  Note: as of this writing the trail is easy to follow and in good shape, but it is susceptible to the weather.  If there have been recent heavy rains, contact the ranger station via the link above to check on the trail conditions.

3:20 - Oak grove near the top of the Dripping Springs trail

3:20 – Oak grove near the top of the Dripping Springs trail

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM JOEL ROBINSON OF WWW.NATURALISTFORYOU.ORG: The Chaparral features some intriguing textures, colors, and smells, including the shredded red bark of the Ribbonwood, the silvery fuzz of the Thick-leaved Yerba Santa, the minty fragrance of the Black Sage and the stretched taffy-like trunks of the Hoary-leaved Ceanothus.  Scan the trail for the rarely seen San Diego Horned Lizard, an adorable “miniature dinosaur,” who forages for harvester ants.  Matilija poppies, popcorn flower, bush lupine, and peony can be seen in the spring time. The principal rocks of the primitive area are crystalline and consist of both metamorphic and plutonic varieties.

3:30 - Ocean view from the Palomar Magee trail; suggested turnaround point

3:30 – Ocean view from the Palomar Magee trail; suggested 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.

Pinhead Peak (Caspers Wilderness Park)


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Old Saddleback from Pinhead Peak

Old Saddleback from Pinhead Peak

Pinhead Peak (Caspers Wilderness Park)

  • Location: Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take the Ortega Highway (route 74) east for 7 1/2 miles.  The park is on your left.  Admission is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.  Drive on the park’s main road and park at the lot near the historic red windmill.  The trail begins on the back side of the lot, near a smaller metal windmill.
  • Agency: Caspers Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: “Canada Gobernadora”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead behind the windmill (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

Pinhead Peak (elevation 662 feet) is not the highest point in Caspers Wilderness Park but due to its prominence the views from the top are excellent and while the climb is short, it’s steep enough to get the heart pumping.

0:03 - Sycamores on the west side of Bell Canyon, heading south toward Pinhead Peak (times are approximate)

0:03 – Sycamores on the west side of Bell Canyon(times are approximate)

From the parking area by the older metal windmill (in back of the more famous red one) follow the sign for Pinhead Peak. Cross Bell Canyon and continue through a pleasant grove of sycamores, heading south through a meadow. At about 0.2 miles, the trail makes a sharp right and heads briefly through some oaks before beginning the ascent.

0:08 - Hard right turn

0:08 – Hard right turn

You climb to a plateau, take a sharp left (look for the sign pointing to the trail) and continue through a field where you get a nice view of Old Saddleback. Another short but steep ascent brings you to the first of two summits (0.7 miles). The trail drops about 100 feet and rises again to another summit, the turnaround point at 0.9 miles. Here you can enjoy a nearly aerial perspective of the southern end of the park. The distant views include Old Saddleback and the Santa Anas, the San Juan Canyon and the San Joaquin Hills. The ocean isn’t quite visible but the panorama is still sufficient reward for your efforts.

0:15 - View of Old Saddleback from the meadow, top of the first ascent

0:15 – View of Old Saddleback from the meadow, top of the first 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.

0:25 - Looking down from the south end of Pinhead Peak

0:25 – Looking down from the south end of Pinhead Peak

Romero Canyon Loop


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Ocean view from the fire road ascending above Romero Canyon

Ocean view from the fire road ascending above Romero Canyon

Oaks and sunlight, Romero Canyon

Oaks and sunlight, Romero Canyon

Romero Canyon Loop

    • Location: Santa Barbara foothills.  From L.A. and Ventura, take Highway 101 north to the Padaro Lane/Santa Claus Lane exit.  Turn right and make an immediate left on Via Real.  Go 1.4 miles to Toro Canyon Road (easy to miss) and turn right.  Go a total of 1.4 miles and stay straight to continue on to East Valley Road.  Go 0.5 miles to Ladera Lane and turn right.  Go a total of 1.7 miles (Ladera Lane becomes Bella Vista) to a dirt turnout on the right side of the road.  There’s limited parking here; park on the shoulder of the road if the lot is full.  From points north ,take Highway 101 to Sheffield Drive (left-hand exit).  Take the first left toward Jameson and turn right on Jameson Lane.  Merge onto Sheffield and go 1.3 miles to Valley.  Turn left and make an immediate right on Romero Canyon.  Go 0.4 miles and bear right to stay on Romero Canyon.  Go 1.1 miles and turn right on Bella Vista.  The parking area will be on the left in 0.3 miles.  Park where you can either in the dirt turnout or on the side of the road.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 5.9 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Suggested time: 3 hours
    • Best season:  October – June
    • USGS topo map: Carpinteria
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; trail map here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This challenging hike is one of the most scenic and varied in the Santa Barbara foothills.  With ocean and mountain views, thick oak woodlands and a seasonal stream and waterfall, it’s understandably popular with hikers, joggers, bikers (and dogs). The nearly six-mile route described here is a good workout but hikers who want more of a challenge can extend the trip even more while those short on time might enjoy doing just part of this loop.

0:11 - Junction between the trail and fire road (times are approximate)

0:11 – Junction between the trail and fire road (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head past the gate and up a steadily ascending fire road. Stay right at the first junction, cross the creek and arrive at another fork. This is the beginning of the loop and the direction you choose depends on whether you want a steeper but almost entirely shaded ascent or a longer and more moderate but exposed climb. “Day Hiking” suggests the former; that seems to be the more popular choice. However, if you’re off to an early start, consider heading right on the more gradually ascending fire road. Early in the day the sun will be partially blocked out by the ridges.

1:22 - Heading north toward the mountains above Romero Canyon

1:22 – Heading north toward the mountains above Romero Canyon

For the purposes of this post the route will be described counter-clockwise, assuming the slower ascent on the fire road. Follow it around the south side of a hill, taking in excellent views of Santa Cruz Island and the coastline. You may also see Santa Rosa and even San Miguel Islands if the air is clear. You also get some nice views of the Santa Ynez Mountains above.

1:39 -  Shade in the upper end of a tributary of Romero Canyon

1:39 – Shade in the upper end of a tributary of Romero Canyon

The trail curves around and starts heading northwest, reaching a junction at about 2 miles from the beginning. Stay straight and cross a saddle where you will continue along a tributary of Romero Canyon. At this point you’ve already achieved most of the elevation gain and you can enjoy a more or less level stretch of about a mile, with more ocean views and an aerial perspective on the canyon below.

1:50 - View of Santa Cruz Island from the north end of Romero Canyon, shortly before the saddle

1:50 – View of Santa Cruz Island from the north end of Romero Canyon, shortly before the saddle

At about 3.3 miles, the trail bends east and climbs to the top of a tributary canyon before heading west again. You climb gradually to a four-way junction (4.1 miles) in the shade of some oaks, a nice place to stop. You can even sit on a makeshift bench that’s been fashioned out of a small log and two trees.

You can extend your hike on either the right or middle trails but if you’re ready to call it a day and want to close the loop, take the far left trail. You descend steadily through Romero Canyon under the shade of many large live oaks and a few sycamores. The trail is rocky in some places and crosses the creek several times; be careful of your footing. At about 4.8 miles, look for a small seasonal waterfall below the right side of the trail.

2:01 - Junction at Romero Saddle; take the far left fork to descend into the canyon

2:01 – Junction at Romero Saddle; take the far left fork to descend into the canyon

Shortly after you cross the creek again and continue your descent, reaching the junction at 5.5 miles. Turn right and retrace your steps back down the last 0.4 miles to the parking area.

2:25 -  Stream crossing; be careful of the rocks

2:25 – Stream crossing; be careful of the rocks

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.

Towers Loop (Box Springs Mountain Park)


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San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Peaks from Box Springs Mountain Park

San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Peaks from Box Springs Mountain Park

Grassy field on the Edison Trail

Grassy field on the Edison Trail

Towers Loop (Box Springs Mountain Park)

  • Location: Box Springs Mountain Park, Moreno Valley.  From the 60 Freeway, take the Frederick St./Pigeon Pass Road exit and head north (right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) for 3.9 miles.  Just after the road bends to the west, stay straight to continue onto Box Springs Mountain Road.  Go 1.3 miles on Box Springs Mountain Road (it becomes dirt after 0.6 miles, but it’s in good condition and won’t present an issue).  Enter the park and pull into the lot signed for day use.  Day use fees are $5 per vehicle and $2 for each pet.
  • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Riverside; San Bernardino South
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Yelp page here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Fence at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This loop explores the south end of Box Springs Mountain Park, passing by – as its name suggests – several radio towers.  While the Two Trees and Big C trails provide nice views of the San Gabriels and the hike to the “M” features views to the east of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto, you’ll get to see all of the above from this loop. Unfortunately the views are often diminished by the smog, and the park suffers from depressing amounts of graffiti, but Box Springs is a valuable Inland Empire recreational resource, conveniently located to San Bernardino and Riverside and well worth a visit.

0:03 - Bear left on the Spring Trail (times are approximate)

0:03 – Bear left on the Spring Trail (times are approximate)

There are several possible variations on this loop but the basic idea is to head southeast toward the towers, loop around them and return via either of two trails. From the parking area, head south on the fire road to a junction where you’ll bear right on the Springs Trail, a single-track. It heads steadily uphill, reaches a vista point with a bench and then descends, rejoining the service road (0.5 miles.) Turn left and continue your climb, getting a good look at San Gorgonio and San Bernardino on the way up.

0:15 - Rejoin the service road and head left

0:15 – Rejoin the service road and head left

At 1.5 miles you reach a junction. Make a hard right (the left fork continues to the “M”) and pass by the antennas. If the air is clear you’ll get a good aerial view of Moreno Valley with the Santa Ana Mountains distant. In a quarter mile you come to another junction where you’ll turn right, heading toward yet another antenna cluster.

0:38 - Turn right and head toward the antennas

0:38 – Turn right and head toward the antennas

When the service road meets the last antenna (2 miles), turn left on a rough-looking trail heading downhill. The Hidden Springs Trail is a single-track that switchbacks down the west side of the mountain, providing more of a wilderness feel than the fire roads. You pass by some interesting geological outcrops with great views of the San Gabriels in front of you.

0:45 - Another right turn, another antenna

0:45 – Another right turn, another antenna

At 2.6 miles, you reach a T-junction. You can shorten your hike by heading right on a service road, but to make the route a little more interesting, head left and follow the dirt road to a junction with the Edison Trail (2.8 miles.) Turn right and follow the single track Edison Trail through a shallow canyon. Despite the power lines overhead, this last stretch has the most remote feel of any in the loop. You pass by jumbles of rocks and into an open field before making a final steep descent back to the parking lot.

0:55 - View of Mt. Baldy at the junction with the Hidden Springs Trail (turn left and begin your descent)

0:55 – View of Mt. Baldy at the junction with the Hidden Springs Trail (turn left and begin your descent)

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.

1:11 - Right turn on the Edison Trail

1:16 – Right turn on the Edison Trail

Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park


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Panorama of Santa Susana State Historic Park from above the Devil's Slide Trail

Panorama of Santa Susana State Historic Park from above the Devil’s Slide Trail

Snake-like rock on the Old Stagecoach Route

Snake-like rock on the Old Stagecoach Route

Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park

  • Location: Western San Fernando Valley.  From the 118 Freeway, take the Highway 27/Topanga Canyon Blvd. exit and head south for a mile.  Turn right on Andora Avenue, which becomes Valley Circle.  After 1.2 miles, turn right on Lassen and make an immediate left to continue onto Andora.  The signed trailhead is on the right side of the road just past the cemetery.  From the south, take Topanga Canyon Blvd. 5.8 miles north from Highway 101 to Lassen.  Turn left and follow Lassen 0.8 miles to Andora.  Turn left and park at the signed trailhead, almost immediately on the right.
  • Agency:  Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season:  September – May
  • USGS topo map: Oat Mountain; Santa Susana
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • More information: Foundation for the Preservation of the Santa Susana Mountains (FPSSM) home page here; trip description here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead on Andora Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

More than a century ago, the Old Stagecoach Road was the main route between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park commemorates this legacy while offering a network of trails with nice views of the San Fernando Valley, the Simi Hills and more.  Clear day vistas include the San Gabriel Mountains, the Verdugos and Hollywood Hills.

0:21 - Take a hard left to begin the climb on the Old Stagecoach Route (times are approximate)

0:21 – Take a hard left to begin the climb on the Old Stagecoach Route (times are approximate)

The trail system is fairly new and somewhat informal, so don’t expect much in the way of signage.  There are several possible routes on the network of trails crossing the park and the proximity to civilization makes it hard to get too lost. The route described here is a good workout with good views of the park and the surrounding area.

0:30 - Junction with the Devil's Slide Trail (turn left)

0:30 – Junction with the Devil’s Slide Trail (turn left)

From the trailhead on Andora, follow the fire road into the park, passing under some oaks. The trail heads west and then north, entering an exposed area. Stay right at the first two junctions, and straight at a four-way intersection (0.5 miles.)

At 0.8 miles, shortly after passing a junction with a fire road, you reach another four-way intersection. Take a sharp left and begin climbing a single-track trail that follows the old stagecoach route. Keep an eye out for a reptilian-looking sandstone boulder on the right side of the trail.

0:35 - The plaque

0:35 – The plaque

At 1.1 miles, stay left at a junction and continue climbing. This trail, known as the Devil’s Slide (not to be confused with Idyllwild’s trail of the same name) is steep and somewhat rough, though not too difficult. You soon reach a tiled plaque (1.2 miles) marking the route of the stagecoach. The views here are panoramic and if you’re short on time, this isn’t a bad turnaround spot.

0:46 - Leaving the fire road and making the scramble to the summit

0:46 – Leaving the fire road and making the scramble to the summit

However, you can get an even better view less than half a mile farther. Continue past the plaque toward Lilac Lane, an alternate trailhead. Just before you reach the street, turn right and almost immediately left, climbing around the north side of a rocky knoll. As the road begins its descent toward the 118 Freeway, leave it and head east toward the peak, bushwhacking and boulder-hopping to the summit, where you can enjoy a great view of the San Fernando Valley.

0:50 - Looking west from the summit toward Simi Valley

0:50 – Looking west from the summit toward Simi Valley

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.

Indian Mountain


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Looking southwest from Indian Mountain's summit

Looking southwest from Indian Mountain’s summit

Old Saddleback and the San Gabriels from the road to Indian Mountain

Old Saddleback and the San Gabriels from the road to Indian Mountain

Indian Mountain

    • Location:  San Jacinto Mountains north of Idyllwild.  From I-10, take Highway 243 southeast for a total of 15.8 miles to the Indian Vista parking turnout on the right side of the road, just past mile marker 14.0 and about half a mile past Lake Fulmor.  (If you’re coming from the west, make sure you follow the turns to stay on Highway 243 off the freeway).  Although the trail is on San Bernardino National Forest land, at no point is any requirement of an Adventure Pass mentioned.
    • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Idyllwild Ranger Station
    • Distance: 5.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time:  3 hours
    • Best season: October (or first winter rain) – June (closed from July – first winter rain)
    • USGS topo map:  Lake Fulmor
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
    • More information: Trip report here, Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - View of Indian Mountain from the start of the hike, Highway 243 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of Indian Mountain from Highway 243(click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable hike visits one of the most westerly of the major San Jacinto summits.  At 5,790 feet, Indian Mountain isn’t high enough to have the Sierra-like feel of the taller San Jacinto area peaks, but it still offers excellent views of almost all of So Cal.

0:31 - At the bottom of the hill, before the main ascent (times are approximate)

0:31 – Bottom of the hill, beginning of the main ascent (times are approximate)

The fire road (4S21) starts a few dozen yards north of the parking area. The hike begins easily enough with 1.3 miles of descent. You’ll see Indian Mountain’s rounded, forested bump in front of you. The trail makes a few switchbacks, providing great views of San Jacinto Peak and its neighboring summits.  Below you get a nice aerial perspective on the deep canyon carved by the north fork of the San Jacinto River.

0:41 - Looking south from the fire road

0:41 – Looking south from the fire road

At 1.3 miles, you reach the low point of the hike and begin the ascent, climbing about 900 feet over the next mile and a half. A substantial portion of the ascent is shaded by pines and black oaks, although there are a few exposed spots.

1:05 - Stay left at the junction below the summit

1:05 – Stay left at the junction below the summit

At 2.7 miles, stay left as a spur branches off. Soon after you reach the high point of the road, just south of the peak. Follow any of several informal trails to the top. There may be some bushwhacking involved, but nothing too strenuous. A cluster of boulders marks the highest point on Indian Mountain where you can climb as high as you want and enjoy excellent views of San Gorgonio, the San Gabriels, the Santa Anas, Thomas Mountain, the Palomars and if visibility is good, the ocean.

1:10 - Leave the fire road at its highest point and scramble toward the summit

1:10 – Leave the fire road at its highest point and scramble toward 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.

1:15 - Boulders on the summit of Indian Mountain

1:15 – Boulders on the summit of Indian Mountain

West Horsethief/Trabuco Canyon Loop


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Lake Elsinore as seen from Main Divide Road

Lake Elsinore as seen from Main Divide Road

Live oaks and sunlight in Trabuco Canyon

Live oaks and sunlight in Trabuco Canyon

West Horsethief/Trabuco Canyon Loop

  • 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 vehicles with high clearances are recommended.  Drive for 5.7 miles to the end of this rough dirt road, about a mile past the Holy Jim Trailhead.  Before the gate that ends the road, there is a small parking area with room for about six cars.  A United States 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: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,600 feet
  • Suggested time: 5.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: November – April
  • USGS topo map: “Santiago Peak”; “Alberhill”
  • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat; Insect Repellent; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Trailhead at the end of Trabuco Creek Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trailhead at the end of Trabuco Creek Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This challenging hike is one of the most scenic and varied in Orange County, if not all of So Cal.  Highlights include panoramic views (pending good visibility) of San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Baldy, Catalina and more; shaded canyons filled with oaks and sycamores, pine groves, geology and more.

0:08 - Abandoned car (times are approximate)

0:08 – Abandoned car (times are approximate)

The trail starts at the end of Trabuco Canyon Road, almost a mile past the Holy Jim trailhead. Cross the gate and begin hiking on the Trabuco Canyon Trail which makes its way gradually uphill through towering oaks and sycamores. The trail goes in and out of a meadow, crosses the stream bed twice and follows the north side of the canyon. Keep an eye out for pine trees on the opposite ridge as you ascend. At 1.4 miles, stay left as a false trail branches off to the right.

0:44 - Junction with the West Horsethief Trail

0:44 – Junction with the West Horsethief Trail

About a quarter mile later you reach a junction with the West Horsethief Trail. If it’s late in the day you might want to ascend on the more gradual Trabuco Canyon Trail (right), but if it’s early and you want to get the most labor-intensive climbing out of the way, head left on the Horsethief Trail. The distance from the junction to Main Divide Road is about the same as from the trailhead to the junction – but it gains almost twice as much elevation. The good news is that the trail is primarily on western-facing slopes, so with an early start, you won’t have to deal with the sun. The higher you climb, the better the views are; the slice of Trabuco Canyon below you is particularly striking. That being said, however, the intensity of the ascent is likely to test the morale of even experienced hikers.

1:42 - Ocean view from the West Horsethief Trail

1:42 – Ocean view from the West Horsethief Trail

After climbing over a thousand feet in about a mile and a quarter, the trail starts leveling out. You may be encouraged to see Main Divide Road on your left, and the remainder of the climb to it is more gentle, traveling through an attractive grove of pines. At 3.2 miles from the start you reach Main Divide Road where you’ll turn right and head east. Through a “window” in the pines, you get a good look at San Gorgonio Mountain and a little bit later, after passing by the turnoff for the East Horsethief Trail (“landlocked” by private property at the lower end), you get as good a look at Lake Elsinore as you’re likely to ever see.

1:46 - View of Main Divide Road from the West Horsethief Trail

1:46 – View of Main Divide Road from the West Horsethief Trail

You continue following Main Divide for a total of 2.6 fairly easy miles (watch out for dirt bikes) to Munhall Saddle, 5.9 miles from the start and at 4,194 feet, the highest point in the loop. From the saddle you can enjoy a nice view to the south before beginning the next leg of the hike, the upper end of the Trabuco Canyon Trail.

1:57 - Turn right on Main Divide Road

1:57 – Turn right on Main Divide Road

Take a hard right and begin your descent, traveling through a thick grove of pines and black oaks. There may be parts of Orange County that feel more remote, but it’s hard to imagine where; this is truly a place to get away from it all.

3:06 - Looking south from Munhall Saddle

3:06 – Looking south from Munhall Saddle

At 6.6 miles, the trail makes a switchback, briefly leaving the woods and providing a nice view of Santiago Peak. You continue down through more woods before emerging at a tree which (as of this writing) is seasonally decorated. Ignore the spur leading to the right and make a hairpin left turn, continuing your descent. The next stretch of Trabuco Canyon closely hugs the wall, providing dramatic views below.

3:34 - Merry Christmas!

3:34 – Merry Christmas!

At 8.4 miles, you reach the bottom of Trabuco Canyon and return to the junction. Turn left and retrace your steps back down the lower end of the Trabuco Trail, 1.6 miles to the parking area.

4:00 - View of Santiago Peak from the Trabuco Canyon Trail

4:00 – View of Santiago Peak from the Trabuco Canyon Trail

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

4:27 - Sycamores in Trabuco Canyon, just before the return to the junction with the West Horsethief Trail

4:27 – Sycamores in Trabuco Canyon, just before the return to the junction with the West Horsethief Trail

Big Sycamore/Overlook Loop (Point Mugu State Park)


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Ocean view from the Overlook Fire Road

Ocean view from the Overlook Fire Road

Looking north from the Overlook Fire Road

Looking north from the Overlook Fire Road

Big Sycamore/Overlook Loop (Point Mugu State Park)

  • Location: Point Mugu State Park between Malibu and Oxnard.  From Oxnard, take highway 1 south for 17 miles.  The Sycamore Canyon trailhead is on the left (if you reach the Sycamore Canyon Campground,  you’ve come too far.)  From Santa Monica, take highway 1 north for 32 miles.  The Sycamore trailhead will be on the right, about a mile and a half past Deer Creek Road.  From the San Fernando Valley, take highway 101 to highway 23 and head south to P.C.H.  Parking is $12.  Checks or cash are accepted and change is not available.
  • Agency: Point Mugu State Park
  • Distance: 9.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • Recommended gear:  sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • USGS topo maps: “Point Mugu”
  • More information: Trail map here; Everytrail report here; Point Mugu State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the day area parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This trip is basically a mirror image of the Big Sycamore/Serrano Canyon loop, trading scenic Serrano Valley for panoramic views of La Jolla Valley.  Both hikes feature great ocean and mountain views. The damage from the recent Springs Fire is sobering, but this is still a very enjoyable hike and seeing the aftermath of the fire is a good reminder of how precious a natural resource Point Mugu State Park really is.

0:07 - Start of the Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road (times are approximate)

0:07 – Start of the Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road (times are approximate)

From the day parking area, head past the entry station, follow the service road for a quarter mile past the campsites and pass by a gate, accessing the Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. Almost immediately you’ll notice the Scenic Trail branching off to the left; your return route. Continue heading north into Big Sycamore Canyon, passing several turnoffs for other trails.

0:51 - Live oak shortly past the picnic area

0:51 – Live oak shortly past the picnic area

At 2.3 miles, a picnic table beneath a large oak makes a nice rest spot. You continue almost another mile to a junction with the Wood Vista trail (which is also the Backbone Trail.) Turn left and begin the only major ascent of the hike, climbing steadily for the next two miles, making long, looping switchbacks. As you climb higher, you get a nice view not only of Big Sycamore Canyon but of Boney Mountain.

1:06 - Left turn on the Wood Canyon Vista Trail/Backbone Trail

1:06 – Left turn on the Wood Canyon Vista Trail/Backbone Trail

At about 5 miles from the start, you reach the Overlook Fire Road; this is the approximate half way point of the hike, a good spot to take a break and enjoy views of La Jolla Valley. Turn left and head south on the Overlook Fire Road, which follows the ridge that divides Big Sycamore Canyon and La Jolla Canyon. Keep your eyes peeled for Anacapa Island, visible between two hills.

2:10 - View of La Jolla Valley from the Overlook Fire Road, top of the Wood Canyon Vista Trail

2:10 – View of La Jolla Valley from the Overlook Fire Road, top of the Wood Canyon Vista Trail

The trail reaches a high point of about 1,100 feet at 6 miles and begins its descent, with wide-ranging ocean views. Stay straight as the Ray Miller and Fire Line Trails branch off, and at about 8.5 miles you reach another junction. The Overlook Fire Road heads left but for a more scenic (and shorter) return, head straight on the Scenic Trail. You reach an overlook where you get an aerial view of Pacific Coast Highway, 350 feet below.

2:50 - Ocean view from the Overlook Fire Road

2:50 – Ocean view from the Overlook Fire Road

After enjoying the view, continue following the trail downhill, staying straight at a junction with some other trails, and make your descent back into Big Sycamore Canyon. At the bottom of the Scenic Trail, turn right to head back into the campground and follow the road to your car.

3:30 - The overlook

3:30 – The overlook

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

3:50 - View from the Scenic Trail, descending back into the canyon

3:50 – View from the Scenic Trail, descending back into the canyon

Zev Yaroslavsky Las Virgenes Highland Park


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View from near the top of the Yaroslavsky Open Space

View from near the top of the Yaroslavsky Open Space

Oak woodland in the Yaroslavsky Open Space

Oak woodland in the Yaroslavsky Open Space

Zev Yarosolavsky Las Virgenes Highland Park

  • Location: Las Virgenes Road north of Highway 101 in Calabasas.  From Highway 101, head north on Las Virgenes Road (left if you’re coming from Ventura; right if from L.A).  Take a U-turn at Mureau Road (0.2 miles north of the freeway).  Park in the dirt lot on the right side of the road.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Calabasas
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information:  Here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5

Named for recently retired L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose career was defined by ongoing efforts to preserve open space in the Santa Monica Mountains and elsewhere in Southern California, this park features a short – but quite steep – trail, leading up to a hill with panoramic views. Like nearby Heartbreak Hill, this hike is a study in calf-burning. Its views aren’t quite as varied as on Heartbreak Hill, but it’s still worth a visit if you live or work in the area and want a short but challenging workout.

0:00 - Leaving the parking area on Las Virgenes (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Leaving the parking area on Las Virgenes (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the parking area on Las Virgenes, follow the fire road uphill past a fence and into the park. The trail ascends steadily for a quarter mile before briefly leveling out. A few oaks provide some shade, although the majority of the trail is exposed. When you stop to catch your breath, you can turn around and get a nice view of Highway 101 and the San Gabriels in the distance.

0:07 - Hollow tree (times are approximate)

0:07 – Hollow tree (times are approximate)

At just over half a mile, you come to a T-junction. A large oak provides some shade; it’s a nice place to sit and rest before making the steep push to the summit. Take the right fork (the left one follows a ridge to a spot that overlooks the freeway; it’s a worthwhile detour if you have time, but the best views are higher up.)

0:17 - Turn right and head uphill at the T-junction

0:17 – Turn right and head uphill at the T-junction

After 0.2 more steep miles, climbing almost 200 feet, the trail finally levels out, and you reach the summit. The land drops off sharply to the west as Highway 101 rolls by, more than 600 feet below. The trail continues, eventually reaching Cheeseboro Canyon Park, an option if you have more time.

0:30 - Looking southwest from the top

0:30 – Looking southwest from the top

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.

Altadena Crest Loop


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View of L.A. from the Altadena Crest Trail

View of L.A. from the Altadena Crest Trail

Hugging the hill side on the Altadena Crest Trail

Hugging the hill side on the Altadena Crest Trail

Altadena Crest Loop

  • Location: 2260 Pinecrest Drive, Altadena.  From the 210 Freeway, take the Altadena Drive exit and go north for 2.7 miles.  Turn right on Crescent and make another quick right onto Pinecrest Drive.  From the Inland Empire, take the 210 Freeway to Rosemead  Blvd.  Go north on Rosemead for 0.7 miles and turn right on Sierra Madre Villa Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and stay straight to go onto New York Drive.  Go 1.3 miles and turn right on Altadena Drive.  In 1.2 miles, turn right on Crescent.  Note: Weekend parking is not allowed on Pine Crest by the trail head, and week day parking is limited to 2 hours.   To avoid these restrictions, follow Pinecrest up to the intersection of Bowring, where you can park.
  • Agency: Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information:  Arroyos & Foothills page here; Everytrail report here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trail head on Pinecrest (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The Altadena Crest Trail is a pleasant surprise for hikers who think that they’ve seen it all when it comes to the San Gabriel Valley and foothills.  As suburban trails go, it’s on the challenging side and despite its proximity to the residential neighborhoods of Altadena, it often feels quite rugged.  On clear days the views include the entire L.A. basin, in particular the downtown skyline, the Verdugo Mountains, the San Rafael Hills and the Hollywood Hills.

0:05 - Turnoff for the Altadena Crest Trail (times are approximate)

0:05 – Turnoff for the Altadena Crest Trail (times are approximate)

As of this writing the Altadena Crest Trail is non-contiguous. Several different routes in various configurations are possible. The trip described here is a loop featuring the southeastern 2.3 miles of the trail and 1.2 miles on city streets. Assuming you start on Pinecrest, you begin by walking through a metal gate and descending a paved road toward the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. Just before the bridge, turn left on the signed Altadena Crest Trail and begin ascending switchbacks on the single-track. The trail climbs quickly, gaining 300 feet in less than half a mile. Views to the south, east and west open up as you hug the side of the hill.

0:28 - Fire fighters' memorial

0:36 – Fire fighters’ memorial

At about 0.8 miles, the trail brushes up against a fire break at a spot where you get excellent views of L.A.; a nice place to catch your breath before taking a hard right and continuing up the hill.  At 1.1 miles, you reach one of the two high points on the trail (just under 1,800 feet). You descend into a canyon, past a memorial honoring two firefighters and reach a T-junction. Turn right (the left fork leads to private property) and enter a very narrow canyon where no signs of civilization can be seen (save for some power lines high overhead).

0:31 - Into the narrow canyon

0:41 – Into the narrow canyon

The trail switchbacks out of the canyon, once again reaching 1,800 feet at 1.9 miles from the start. Turn right on a paved road, passing by a private residence at the end of Zane Grey Terrace. The trail becomes dirt again and makes a few switchbacks down into another canyon, this one pleasantly wooded. Stay straight as a makeshift trail branches off to the right, reaching a spur off of Zane Grey Terrace at 2.3 miles.

1:00 - Switchbacks heading down into the canyon past the private home at the end of Zane Grey

1:00 – Switchbacks heading down into the canyon past the private home at the end of Zane Grey

The remainder of the hike is on city streets. Turn right on Zane Grey and follow it 0.1 miles to East Loma Alta. Turn left and begin the last leg of the loop, heading east on Loma Alta. At 3.2 miles, Loma Alta merges with Pinecrest. Follow Pinecrest back your car.

1:08 - Wooded canyon just before the trail emerges onto Zane Grey Terrace

1:08 – Wooded canyon just before the trail emerges onto Zane Grey Terrace

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Coyote Trail (Puente Hills)


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View of the San Gabriels from the Coyote Trail

View of the San Gabriels from the Coyote Trail

Trees on the Coyote Trail

Trees on the Coyote Trail

Coyote Trail (Puente Hills)

  • Location: Hacienda Heights.  From route 60, take the 7th St. exit and go south for 0.7 miles to its end at Orange Grove.  Park in the lot on the south side of Orange Grove.
  • Agency: Habitat Authority
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season: September – June
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • USGS topo map:  El Monte
  • More information: Hacienda Hills Trails Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4
0:00 - 7th St. Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – 7th St. Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the Skyline Trail Loop, with which it shares the 7th St. trailhead, the Coyote Trail offers a good workout conveniently located to the San Gabriel Valley, east Los Angeles and north Orange County.  Like most of the trails in the Puente Hills, this one is pretty much always within earshot and sight of the freeways and the suburban sprawl and it also suffers from trash and graffiti, but on clear days, it offers excellent views of the San Gabriel Mountains.  If visibility is good you can see San Jacinto and San Gorgonio far off to the east.

0:08 - Turnoff for the Coyote Trail (times are approximate)

0:08 – Turnoff for the Coyote Trail (times are approximate)

From the 7th St. trailhead, pass through the gate and begin your ascent on a gravel walkway, passing by an outhouse.  At 0.3 miles you reach an information board, where the Coyote Trail branches off.  Turn left and begin your ascent, steeply at first, passing by the backs of some houses.  The Coyote Trail heads uphill, makes a few switchbacks and provides some nice views into the canyon below.

0:36 - Following a ridge near the top of the Coyote Trail

0:36 – Following a ridge near the top of the Coyote Trail

After a mile, the grade levels out somewhat. You continue to head generally southwest, reaching a ridge at 1.3 miles. You make a final ascent, reaching the trail’s end at the Skyline Trail, 1.5 miles from the start. Here you can sit and enjoy a good view of Mt. Baldy (ignoring the barbed wire fence in back of you). You can turn around here or extend your hike along the Skyline Trail in either direction, accessing more of the Puente Hills’ extensive network of trails.

Oaks near the top of the Coyote Trail, shortly before the turnaround point

Oaks near the top of the Coyote Trail, shortly before the turnaround point

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Skyline Mountain Way/Brand Motorway Loop (Verdugo Mountains)


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San Gabriels from the Verdugo Fire Road

San Gabriels from the Verdugo Fire Road

Los Angeles skyline from the Brand Motorway

Los Angeles skyline from the Brand Motorway

Skyline Mountain Way/Brand Motorway Loop (Verdugo Mountains)

    • Location: Intersectionof Via Montana and Camino de Villas, Burbank.  From L.A. take I-5 to the Olive Avenue exit.  Turn left on First St. and then right on Olive, and drive a total of 1.5 miles.  (Olive becomes Country Club Drive).  Turn right on Via Montana, go 0.2 miles and park where available on the street.  (Check the signs for parking restrictions).  From the north, take I-5 to Verdugo Avenue.  Turn left on Front St., cross under the freeway and merge onto Verdugo Avenue.  Go 0.4 miles to Glenoaks, turn left and go 0.2 miles to Olive.  Turn right and drive 1.1 miles to the intersection with Via Montana, turn right and go 0.2 miles to the intersection with Camino De Villas.
    • Agency:  City of Glendale Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 8.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain,  distance, trail condition)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Best season:  November – April
    • USGS topo maps: “Burbank”
    • Recommended gear: sun block; sun hat; hiking poles; long sleeved shirts and pants
    • More information: Verdugo Mountains Yelp page here; description of the Skyline Mountain Way portion of the hike here; Verdugo Mountains Summit Post page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike; cross over to the Skyline Mountain Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike; cross over to Skyline Mountain Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is one of the more challenging of the many possible hiking routes in the Verdugo Mountains.  It features an interesting mix of abandoned and modern fire roads, fire breaks and city streets.  Like the other hikes in the Verdugo Mountains, if the air is clear, the views are extensive, including downtown L.A., Catalina Island, the San Gabriels and much more. The loop can be hiked in either direction but when done clockwise, as described below, the ridge shields you from the morning sun on the western-facing ascent.

0:40 - Lone oak on the Skyline Mountain Way (times are approximate)

0:40 – Lone oak on  Skyline Mountain Way (times are approximate)

From the corner of Via Montana and Camino de Villas, head across a dirt lot and climb a steep embankment to the Skyline Mountain Way, an abandoned fire road. The hike starts of gradually but soon begins a steady ascent; you’ll climb about 1,600 feet in less than three miles. As you get higher the views open up. The trail becomes more overgrown although the going shouldn’t be too difficult.

0:45 - Difficult terrain on Skyline Mountain Way

0:45 – Difficult terrain on Skyline Mountain Way

At about 1.6 miles you pass a solitary oak; this is a nice spot to take a breather. Soon afterward you encounter a tricky stretch where the trail is washed out. Expect to use your hands and feet as you make your way across this short but potentially treacherous section, climbing up a particularly steep and loose embankment before making a hairpin right turn and continuing the climb.

1:15 - Enjoying the view of the San Gabriels from the top of the loop

1:15 – Enjoying the view of the San Gabriels from the top of the loop

The ascent becomes more moderate and at 2.5 miles, you meet up with the Verdugo Fire Road, the main route across the top of the range, at a saddle with some great views of the San Gabriel Mountains. You can bear left on the fire road or head uphill on a steeper fire break. The two routes soon meet at a junction where a bench allows you to enjoy views both to the north and the south.

2:30 - Sycamores near the bottom of the Brand Motorway

2:30 – Sycamores near the bottom of the Brand Motorway

The rest of the hike is rather tame by comparison; some hikers might want to turn around at this point and return via the same route. However, for those who want to continue and make the hike a loop, start your descent on the Brand Motorway. It drops steadily for the next 3.3 miles, winding around the ridges. At 6 miles from the start, the road becomes paved; stay right at a junction and continue your descent, arriving at Brand Park, where you can take a look at the former estate of the Brand family and the public library dating back to the early 1900s.

2:50 - The road becomes paved above Brand Park

2:50 – The road becomes paved above Brand Park

At 6.8 miles, you pass through a gate and end up on Mountain Street. Turn right and follow it for 1.2 miles, during which it becomes Sunset Canyon. Several blocks do not have sidewalks, so exercise appropriate caution. When you reach Tujunga Avenue turn right and begin a steep climb uphill (again, no sidewalks so watch out for cars, especially since this section of the road has several blind curves.) Tujunga becomes Camino de Villas, which you will follow back to your starting point.

3:00 - Back to civilization: Brand Park

3:00 – Back to civilization: Brand Park

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Maidenhair Falls (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)


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Maidenhair Falls

Maidenhair Falls

Climbing the boulders in Hellhole Canyon below Maidenhair Falls

Jumbled boulders in Hellhole Canyon below Maidenhair Falls

Maidenhair Falls (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park southwest of the town of Borrego Springs.  From Highway 79, head east on San Felipe Road (County Road S2).  The junction is 4.3 miles north of Highway 76 and 3.6 miles south of Warner Springs.  Take S-2 for 4.7 miles and turn left onto Montezuma Valley Road.  The large parking lot for trailhead will be on the left side of the road near mile marker 16.5, just before you reach the town.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, navigation, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: December – April
  • USGS topo map:  “Tubb Canyon”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here; video about the hike here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Maidenhair Falls trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Maidenhair Falls trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This trip is similar to the popular Borrego Palm Canyon trail nearby, but longer and more difficult.  Challenges include negotiating some tough terrain, navigation and avoiding cholla and cat claw cacti that closely border the trail.

0:20 - Words of wisdom (times are approximate)

0:20 – Words of wisdom (times are approximate)

The hike starts easily enough as you gradually make your way up a wash.  You cross the California Hiking & Raiding Trail after a quarter mile and continue toward Hellhole Canyon.  There are a few false trails and washes that branch off but the main route is pretty clear.

At about a mile and a quarter you enter the canyon and soon cross the wash for the first of several times.  You make your way deeper into the canyon, occasionally scrambling over a jumble of boulders.  From here on in, your exact route may vary somewhat as you head generally west.  In addition to the first grove of wild palms (2.1 miles) and the cacti, you’ll also start noticing sycamore trees and ferns in this moist area of the canyon.

0:40 - Crossing the wash for the first of several times

0:40 – Crossing the wash

You stay on the north side of the canyon with the palms on your left, work your way over more rocks and around fallen trees.  A slanted rock at the end of the first grove requires some scrambling, though nothing too difficult.

1:00 - Rock scrambling at the end of the first palm grove

1:00 – Rock scrambling at the end of the first palm grove

Working your way farther into Hellhole Canyon, you reach the second grove.  Here, you dip down into the grove, crossing the canyon floor and emerging on the rocky south wall. (You may notice a trickle coming from your right; this is a smaller waterfall but it’s not Maidenhair Falls.)

1:15 - Climbing out of the canyon after the second grove of palms

1:15 – Climbing out of the canyon after the second grove of palms

You climb over a jumble of rocks (keep an eye out for a “window” at the bottom of the pile) and make your way to the third grove.  Duck back into the canyon, slip around a large rock and enter a small grotto where seasonal Maidenhair Falls trickles down a 20 foot wall into a small pool.  Even if the flow is just a trickle, it’s still a pleasant spot to enjoy some quiet and solitude.  The lush, cool alcove is all the more remarkable for being located in the middle of a desert.

1:25 - Fallen palms in the third grove before Maidenhair Falls

1:25 – Fallen palms in the third grove before Maidenhair Falls

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

1:30 - You made it!

1:30 – You made it!

Sierra Pelona Loop


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Baldy and the San Gabriels from Sierra Pelona

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Sierra Pelona

Rolling hills below Sierra Pelona

Rolling hills below Sierra Pelona

Sierra Pelona Loop

  • Location: Sierra Pelona Mountains west of Palmdale and north of Santa Clarita.  From L.A. take the 14 Freeway to the Red Rover Mine exit.  Merge onto Ward Road, go 0.3 miles and continue onto Sierra Highway.  Go a mile and bear right on Shannondale Road.  Go 0.7 miles and turn right on Shannon Valley Road.  Go 0.8 miles and turn left on Via Famero.  Go 0.1 miles and turn right on Shannon View Road, a narrow single-lane that climbs up the side of the mountain (be careful).  Along the way it becomes Telephone Road.  After a total of 2.6 miles, just past a run-down metal gate, you reach a junction with the Sierra Peloma West Mountainway.  Park in a small dirt turnout at the junction.
  • Agency: Ritter Ranch Park
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Sleepy Valley; Ritter Ridge
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

The Sierra Pelona Mountains lie between the Santa Clarita Valley and Antelope Valley.  If the weather is clear, views of both are great and you can also see the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Susanas and a little bit of the Tehachapis.  This loop–entirely fire roads and paved roads–tours Ritter Ranch, a large park under the jurisdiction of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.  There is no shade but depending on the time of day, the sun may be blocked by the hills.  Since the loop reaches a mile above sea level, it can be cold (and windy) during the winter so plan accordingly.

0:00 - Start of the hike on the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The loop can be hiked in either direction but this post will describe the counter-clockwise direction, allowing a scenic ascent through a canyon (as opposed to an exposed climb on a fire road). Though the loop never gets too far away from civilization–notably due to its proximity to the 14 Freeway and the high presence of power lines and communications towers–it often feels pleasantly rugged and isolated.

0:46 - Bear left at the junction (times are approximate)

0:46 – Bear left at the junction (times are approximate)

From the junction of Telephone Road and the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway, head right and start a long, crooked descent along the eastern side of the ridge. On the way down you are treated to wide-ranging views of the Antelope Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains. Ignoring several short spurs that branch off (when in doubt, keep descending), you arrive at a junction at 2 miles. Bear left and continue to a 5-way junction where you will follow the second fork from the left, resuming the descent.  The trail makes a few switchbacks as it drops into a shallow canyon, reaching a T-junction 3 miles from the start.

0:54 - Left turn at the 5-way junction

0:54 – Left turn at the 5-way junction

Turn right and begin a gradual descent down the canyon. Unlike the higher terrain, the canyon is pleasantly wooded, with a grove of juniper trees on the left side. The trail heads north and then west, entering a wide pasture with a nice view of the rounded hills ahead.

1:17 - Turn right and follow the trail down the canyon

1:17 – Turn right and follow the trail down the canyon

At about 3.8 miles, you begin a long, steady ascent, first heading southwest into a canyon and then making a twisting ascent along the north side of the ridge. At 5.4 miles, stay left as you join the Ana Verde Motorway.

Continuing your ascent, you arrive at a saddle after about 1,200 feet of climbing (6.7 miles from the start). Here you are rewarded for your efforts with nice views to the west. When you’re ready to continue, turn left on the Ana Verde Motorway. Stay left again at the next junction and resume your ascent, following a portion of the shorter Ritter Ranch Loop.

2:15 - Stay left at the junction with the Ana Verde Motorway

2:15 – Stay left at the junction with the Ana Verde Motorway

Your long ascent finally ascends at 8.3 miles as you reach the top of Sierra Pelona. There’s not much of a summit, per se, but at the top of the ridge you get excellent views in both directions. The next mile or so is more or less level as you pass some communication towers before making a final descent back to the parking area.

3:00 - View from the saddle (turn left)

3:00 – View from the saddle (turn left)

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

4:00 - Antennas near the top of Sierra Pelona

4:00 – Antennas near the top of Sierra Pelona

Coachella Valley Preserve (Pushwalla, Horseshoe & Hidden Palms)


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Morning sun at the Pushwalla Palm Grove, Coachella Valley Preserve

Morning sun at the Pushwalla Palm Grove, Coachella Valley Preserve

Following the ridge on Bee Rock Mesa, Coachella Valley Preserve

Following the ridge on Bee Rock Mesa, Coachella Valley Preserve

Coachella Valley Preserve (Pushwalla, Horseshoe & Hidden Palms)

  • Location: East of Palm Springs, Coachella Valley.  From I-10, take the Bob Hope Drive exit.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn left and go 4.8 miles to Thousand Palms Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 1.8 miles to a turnout on the right side of the road. This is the trailhead but you can also visit the visitor’s center, a little farther down the road, for more information.  Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency:  Coachella Valley Preserve
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo map: “Myoma”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information:  Preserve homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The expansive (over 20,000 acres) preserve features several oases of wild California Fan palms, the only palm species native to California, which can live up to 250 years.  With 25 miles of trails, there are plenty of options for hiking (or horseback riding, which is popular here).  The route described in this post is based on the entry in “Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire”, visiting three of the palm groves and taking in some nice views of the San Jacinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains. There are a few spots where the terrain is somewhat rough and navigation can be a little tricky, although the trails are well signed for the most part and well used; odds are there will be footprints to point you in the right direction. Several small washes cross the valley but the trails typically just go right through them and continue on the other side.

0:05 - The stairs (times are approximate)

0:05 – The stairs (times are approximate)

From the parking area just south of the visitor center, follow the signs for the Pushwalla Trail. The trail heads southeast toward a steep staircase cut into a ridge known as Bee Rock Mesa. After climbing the stairs you reach a junction with the Hidden Palms Trail, your return route.

0:07 - Junction at the top of the stairs; turn left on the Pushwalla Trail

0:07 – Junction at the top of the stairs; turn left on the Pushwalla Trail

Bear left and continue your ascent, following what might be described as the Coachella Valley’s version of Mt. Baldy’s Devil’s Backbone. The trail cuts along the narrow top of the ridge; hiking poles aren’t necessary but they may provide some security for hikers who are sensitive to heights.

0:36 - Descending toward the first junction (stay right and on the ridge)

0:36 – Descending toward the first junction (stay right and on the ridge)

A mile of ups and downs brings you to a junction. Both forks lead to the Pushwalla grove, but the quicker route is to stay right. You climb again and then make a twisting, roller coaster-like descent off the ridge to another junction (1.8 miles from the start.)

0:47 - Descending into the canyon toward the Pushwalla Palms

0:47 – Descending into the canyon toward the Pushwalla Palms

Turn left and begin a mile-long detour to the Pushwalla Palms. The trail drops into a narrow slot canyon; the terrain is rugged but not too hazardous. Following the canyon, you reach the south end of the grove. Turn north and head toward the main group of pines (2.3 miles). The trail continues, eventually looping back toward Bee Rock Mesa, but to follow the route as described in the guidebook, retrace your steps to the junction.

0:55 - Main grove at Pushwalla; turnaround point for the spur

0:55 – Main grove at Pushwalla; turnaround point for the spur

Back on the main trail, continue south for a short distance before making a sharp right turn (look for a sign) toward the Horseshoe Palms. You pass by this grove, meeting up with a jeep trail (3.2 miles.) Bear right and head west, then south, toward Hidden Palms.

1:15  - Take a sharp right and head toward the Horseshoe Pines

1:15 – Take a sharp right and head toward the Horseshoe Pines

At 3.9 miles, you make another right turn to reach the Hidden Palms Oasis. The dirt road continues northwest past the palms, although you can wander among them as you like. Past the oasis, the trail becomes a single-track, signed for the visitor’s center.

You climb out of the canyon on the single-track, staying left at the first two junctions.  At the third, shortly before you reach some power lines, bear right and complete the loop by returning to the junction with the Pushwalla Trail.  Descend the steps and return to the parking area.

1:50 - Hidden Palms Oasis

1:50 – Hidden Palms Oasis

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

2:20 - Bear right at the fork before the power lines and return to the junction at Bee Rock Mesa

2:20 – Bear right at the fork before the power lines and return to the junction at Bee Rock Mesa

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