Knapp’s Castle

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View from Knapp's Castle, Santa Barbara, Los Padres National Forest

Looking northwest from Knapp’s Castle

View of the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara, CA from Knapp's Castle

Looking northeast from Knapp’s Castle

Knapp’s Castle

    • Location: Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, head north on Highway 154 for 7.8 miles.  Make a hard right on East Camino Cielo and follow it 3 miles (0.9 miles past Painted Cave Road). Park in dirt turnouts on either side of the road.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 0.8 mile
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 7
View of the Santa Ynez Valley, Los Padres National Forest, Knapp's Castle trail head

0:00 – View from the trail head on East Camino Cielo (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Excellent views and historic ruins for very little effort (unless you use the more challenging Snyder Trail) make this understandably one of the most popular hikes in the Santa Barbara area. The hike is on private land but as of this writing, the public is allowed access by the grace of the owners.

The original owner was George Knapp, who completed his mansion in 1920. Unfortunately, like its counterpart in the Santa Monica Mountains the Tropical Terrace, the mansion fell victim to fire; the Paradise Canyon Fire of 1940 to be precise.

On the trail to Knapp's Castle, Los Padres National Forest

0:08 – Junction with the Snyder Trail; stay right (times are approximate)

The hike to reach the mansion could hardly be simpler. From East Camino Cielo, follow the dirt road downhill, taking in outstanding views of the Santa Ynez Valley the entire way. At about 0.3 miles, stay right as the Snyder Trail heads left and downhill toward Paradise Road, almost 2,000 feet below. Pass a fence and follow the trail to the ruins of the house.

Here you can enjoy a 270-degree panorama. Stone arches that were once windows frame the landscape; the old chimney still stands in the midst of a small oak grove. After taking it all in, retrace your steps or, if you’ve left a car a the bottom of the Snyder Trail, you can continue downhill for a point-to-point hike.

Ruins of Knapp's Castle, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:11 – Chimney among the ruins of Knapp’s Castle

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


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Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Panoramic view of fields, mountains and sky, Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Panorama from the Soapstone Grade Fire Road

Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north for 2.7 miles, turn left and continue another 7.3 miles on Highway 79 to the West Mesa Parking Area, on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 13 miles.  The parking area will be on the left side of the road.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: September – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; description from a mountain biking website here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

0:00 – Trail head, West Mesa Parking Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This loop explores several mesa, valleys and canyons east of Stonewall Peak, whose distinctive shape can be seen for much of the hike. The views aren’t as varied or as panoramic as from the summits, but it’s still an enjoyable hike that explores some of the park’s remote terrain. Most of the ascent happens on west-facing slopes, so on warm days, if you get an early start, you can climb in the shade (assuming you hike clockwise, as described here).

Crossing the bed of Stonewall Creek

0:35 – Crossing the bed of Stonewall Creek (times are approximate)

Begin by following the trail signed for the Cold Stream Trail. After crossing the creek bed, turn left on the Cold Stream Trail and follow it a short distance to the Cold Spring Trail.  Bear right and follow it for a pleasant, if not particularly memorable, 1.2 miles. After reaching a ridge, it drops down to cross the Stonewall Creek bed, which is usually dry. This brings you to the Stonewall Creek Fire Road.

Panoramic view from the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:10 – Looking north at the junction with the Soapstone Grade Fire Road

Bear left and start climbing gradually, soon reaching a meadow, across which Stonewall Peak stands impressively. You enter a pleasant grove of oaks and after passing the turnoff for the Whitaker Trail, you reach the Soapstone Grade Fire Road (2.8 miles from the start).

Descending the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:35 – Starting the descent toward the Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Now, with most of your climbing done, you can enjoy a great view of the valley to the north; on clear days you can see up to the Palomars and perhaps even the Santa Rosa Mountains. Turn right and follow the road as it contours along the south edge of the valley. Adding to the appeal of this stretch is the likelihood of a cool breeze along the ridge. After about a mile, the California Riding & Hiking Trail splits off and you begin a steep descent, reaching the Upper Green Valley Fire Road (4.5 miles from the start.)

Descending the Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:50 – Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Turn right and begin a more gradual descent along the Sweetwater River. Most of the oaks and pines are still recovering from the fires of 2003 and 2007, but a few still provide some shade. After about two miles, a particularly tall oak with a few flat granite boulders beneath it makes for a perfect picnic spot.

Large oak on the Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2:40 – Large oak on the Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Continuing along, you’ll bear right at the next intersection and follow the Upper Green Valley Fire Road to its junction with the lower end of the Stonewall Creek Fire Road. Continue south, passing a short spur leading to a view point beneath a pine where an interpretive plaque describes some of the park’s avian wildlife.

Hill Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2:58 – Start of the Hill Trail

At 7.3 miles from the start, turn right on the Hill Trail, a single-track which climbs to a ridge and then drops back down to the Cold Stream drainage. Turn right on the Cold Stream Trail and follow it for a pleasant 0.7 miles back to your starting point.

View of Stonewall Peak from the junction of the Hill Trail and Cold Stream Trails, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

3:10 – Stonewall Peak as seen from the bottom of the Hill Trail

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

Mountain Home Flats

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Canyon of Mountain Home Creek in the San Beranrdino National Forest

Panoramic view of the canyon carved by Mountain Home Creek

Sunlight through the pines, Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Sunlight through the pines, Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Mountain Home Flats

  • Location: San Bernardino National Forest. The trail head is located by mile marker 18.45 and the coordinates are N 34 07.632, W 116 59.017 but the only practical parking area is a quarter mile north, across the bridge at a turnout on the right side of Highway 38, about 18 miles northeast of Redlands and 3.4 miles north of the hairpin turn at the intersection with Valley of the Falls Drive. While no signage indicates that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is necessary for parking, many trail heads in the San Bernardino National Forest do require the pass. If you do not have the pass and want to be safe, click here to purchase. The pass can also be bought at the Mill Creek Ranger Station.
  • Agency:  San Bernardino National Forest/Mill Creek Ranger Station
  • Distance:  4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Trail condition, navigation, terrain, steepness, elevation gain, altitude)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: April – November
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; hiking poles; long sleeved shirt and pants
  • Recommended guidebook: San Gorgonio Wilderness Map (Tom Harrison Maps); Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • USGS topo map: Big Bear Lake
  • More information: Trail maps here and here; video shot at the trail camp here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike, a quarter mile north on Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike, a quarter mile north on Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Though it’s relatively close to civilization as the crow flies, the Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp feels very remote, accessible by an unmaintained trail leading into the wilderness from a hard-to-find trail head. In an only four mile round trip assuming a start from the turnout a quarter mile above the trail head) this hike presents multiple challenges, including navigation, negotiating fallen trees, difficult terrain and steep ascents. The bugs can be annoying as well.

Begining of the Mountain Home Flats Trail, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

0:07 – Start of the Mountain Home Flats Trail (times are approximate)

Despite these drawbacks, the hike is still a worthwhile experience, especially for those who want to enjoy the San Gorgonio Wilderness without having to tackle some of the more intimidating peaks in the area. Highlights of this trip include the peaceful destination of Mountain Home Flat, panoramic views of Mountain Home Creek, black oaks, pines and more.

Following the creek bed on the Mountain Home Flats Trail

0:17 – The trail drops to the creek and follows for a short distance

Assuming you start from the turnout, follow south on Highway 38 for a quarter mile. This is easier said than done: the shoulder of the road is narrow and becomes nonexistent at the bridge over Glen Martin Creek. Your safest bet is to stay outside the fence separating the road and pick your way through the vegetation, which tends not to be too thick.

Following a tributary canyon of Glen Martin Creek, San Bernardino National Forest

0:22 – Bear right at the tributary and leave Glen Martin Creek

At a quarter mile, you reach the beginning of the trail. The first half mile is fairly easy going, save for a few fallen tree trunks and one slightly difficult stretch that has been washed out. The trail dips down to the streambed of Glen Martin Creek (dry as of this writing) and briefly follows the north side before reaching a junction. Bear right, leaving the main stream bed for a tributary and head up canyon, negotiating more fallen tree trunks. Soon you come to another junction where you again stay right, continuing to follow the stream bed.

Fallen logs in the San Bernardino National Forest

0:24 – Climbing logs on the tributary of Glen Martin Creek

At about a mile from the start of the hike (3/4 of a mile on the trail), leave the stream bed by heading right, climbing over a fallen log and climbing through an attractive grove of black oaks. The trail then makes a hairpin right turn and engages in a steep series of switchbacks.

Leaving the canyon, heading toward Mountain Home Flats, San Bernardino National Forest

0:32 – Leaving the tributary of Glen Martin Creek

After huffing and puffing, you attain a ridge and are treated to an excellent view of the canyon carved by Mountain Home Creek. Your work, however, is not done: the trail now clings tightly to the north side of the canyon, often quite loose and washed out. A particularly tricky spot shortly after the ridge requires special attention; expect to use your hands as well as your feet. Shortly beyond, the trail makes an easy-to-miss “S” curve to the left before beginning its descent to Mountain Home Creek. Again, take extra care when negotiating the washed-out sections of the trail.

0:36 - View from the ridge, looking down into the canyon of Mountain Home Creek

0:41 – View from the ridge, looking down into the canyon of Mountain Home Creek

On the south side of Mountain Home Creek, the trail begins a series of switchbacks. The lower portion of the trail is somewhat loose. Keep an eye out for metal poles that once were part of a retaining wall but now unfortunately present tripping hazards. As you climb steeply up the south side of the canyon, the trail becomes more solid. After the sharp ascent, the trail levels out and finally reaches the destination, Mountain Home Flats trail camp.

Difficult stretch of the Mountain Home Flats Trail, San Bernardino National Forest

0:47 – Difficult stretch of the trail on the descent to Mountain Home Creek

Here, you can sit on a log beneath the shade of pines and oaks, charging your batteries for the steep descent back to Mountain Home Creek and the precarious cliff-hugging that awaits you on the return. The GPS coordinates of the trail camp are N 34 07.726, W 116 57.674 and the elevation is 6,373 feet.

Crossing Mountain Home Creek, San Bernardino National Forest

1:02 – Crossing Mountain Home Creek

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.

Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp, San Bernardino National Forest

1:25 – Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Olinda Oil Museum Trail

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Olinda Oil Museum Trail, Brea, CA

In the canyon on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

Historic oil well, Olinda Oil Museum

Historic oil well and museum field house

Olinda Oil Museum Trail

    • Location: Olinda Oil Museum, 4025 Santa Fe Rd, Brea. From the 57 Freeway, take the Lambert Road exit and head east for a total of 2.4 miles (Lambert becomes Carbon Canyon/Highway 142). Turn left on Santa Fe and go 0.3 miles to the park entrance, which is on the right. Parking is free but museum donations are encouraged.
    • Agency: City of Brea/California State Parks
    • Distance: 1.9 miles
    • Elevation gain: 350 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour for hike; 30 minutes for museum
    • Best season: All year (Trail is open daily 9am-4pm; museum is open from 10am-2pm Wednesday and noon to 4pm Sunday)
    • USGS topo map: Yorba Linda
    • More information: Trip description here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 4
Olinda Oil Museum Trail beginning

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

Long before Disneyland or reality television made Orange County famous, oil was discovered. The Olinda Oil Museum pays homage to the history of oil in north Orange County, featuring vintage equipment, historical photographs and a short hiking trail that climbs into the hills above. The 12-acre parcel was deeded to the city in 2003 by real estate developers as part of a deal that allowed them to build new housing tracts in the area.

Service road on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:07 – Crossing the second service road; note the trail marker on the right (times are approximate)

The houses and the noise from traffic on nearby Carbon Canyon Road prevent this from being much of a wilderness experience, but the trail still offers a convenient workout with some nice views of north O.C. The historical interest adds appeal. In some ways, this could be considered Orange County’s answer to Griffith Park’s Travel Town, although it would be more accurately called Oil Town.

Interpretive plaque on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:12 – Plaque describing the geology of the area

From the parking area, follow the trail which soon changes from concrete to dirt and makes its way up the hillside, crossing two service roads. The numbered trail markers don’t have any interpretive significance; they are simply there to clearly sign the route. You pass by a few active oil drills and interpretive plaques as you switchback up the hill.

View from the top of the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:15 – View from the top of the trail

At about half a mile–and almost 300 feet of elevation gain – you reach the top of the trail, marked by a lone willow tree. Here you can get a panoramic 180-degree view of the Santa Ana Mountains and Chino Hills to the east and south, and of Orange County’s suburban sprawl to the left. The trail then descends, dropping into a shallow canyon before emerging at a fire road, a mile from the start.

Descending into the canyon, Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:18 – Descending into the canyon

Follow the fire road downhill to another paved service road, which leads out of the canyon, through a grove of eucalyptus trees. The trail emerges at Santa Fe Road, where you turn right and follow it back uphill toward the museum, completing the loop.

Fire road, Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:30 – Joining the fire road, about a mile from the start

If you visit on a Wednesday or Sunday, make sure you allow enough time to visit the museum, the main building of which is a field house from 1912. Other attractions include vintage oil pumps and gears, steam engines, drills, gears, tools and a working klaxon horn which museum volunteers will enthusiastically demonstrate.  (It’s loud.)

Paved road leading out of the canyon on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:36 – Paved road leading out of the canyon

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

Mt. Wilson/Devore Camp Loop

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View from near the top of the Rim Trail, Mt. Wilson

View from near the top of the Rim Trail, Mt. Wilson

Stream crossing in the Angeles National Forest

Stream crossing on the Gabrielino Trail between West Fork and Devore Camps

Mt. Wilson/Devore Camp Loop

  • Location:  Just below the summit of Mt. Wilson.  From I-210, follow Highway 2 (the Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 14 miles to Mt. Wilson/Red Box Road.  Turn right and follow Mt. Wilson/Red Box Road 4.2 miles.  Legally, you are required to turn right on Mt. Wilson Circle (a one-way street) and follow it 0.6 miles as it circles the antennas before arriving back at Mt. Wilson/Red Box Road and the signed Kenyon Devore Trail Head.  Several parking spots are designated on the left side of the road.  If parking is unavailable here, you can park farther up at the large lot below the Cosmic Cafe and start the loop from there.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 11.5  miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, trail condition, terrain, navigation)
  • Suggested time: 6.5 hours
  • Best season: Year-round, depending on conditions (hot during the summer, potentially treacherous after rain, possible snow during the winter)
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles; Insect Repellent; long sleeved shirts and pants
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Trip reports here and here
  • Rating: 8
Kenyon Devore Trail Head, Mt. Wilson

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

This loop offers a different perspective on Mt. Wilson from the approaches from Chantry Flat, Sierra Madre and Altadena.  Starting from just off of the summit, the hike drops down to the West Fork of the San Gabriel River via the Kenyon Devore and Gabrielino Trails and returns via the Gabrielino and Rim Trails, creating a prime example of a “reverse hike.”  Although the elevation gain isn’t as big as the hikes from below, terrain and sometimes navigation add to the challenges.  Many sections of the trails have been washed out, requiring extra caution, and the stretch between the two trail camps requires multiple potentially tricky stream crossings.  You will also need to keep an eye out for poison oak and poodle dog bush.  Despite these difficulties, this hike is a very enjoyable one, exploring some of the lightly traveled country of the San Gabriels and providing an excellent workout.  Adding to the appeal is the fact that the majority of the route is shaded.

Rope to help cross a creek, Angeles National Forest

0:45 – Rope to help navigate a creek crossing on the Kenyon Devore Trail (times are approximate)

From the Kenyon Devore trailhead, follow the trail downhill, heading generally north.  There are a few sudden switchbacks that may be easy to miss; keep in mind that if the navigation and terrain become too difficult, you have probably lost the trail and should back track.  You follow the contour of Strayns Canyon and as you descend the pines and black oaks give way to alders and maples.  There are a few spots where fallen trees can make the route a little bit obscure, but it never strays too far from the canyon.

1:12 - Bear right on the Gabrielino Trail

1:20 – Bear right on the Gabrielino Trail

At about 2.8 miles, bear right on the Gabrielino Trail.  Follow it into a meadow where you will see Mt. Baldy and its neighbors to the east.  The going is fairly easy, although you will want to keep an eye out for poodle dog, which grows in abundance during this stretch.  The trail leaves the meadow and heads back into the shade for a little bit before dropping down to the West Fork Trail Camp (4.2 miles.)  Just before reaching the camp, you’ll make a tricky hairpin turn to the left–not helped by the fact that the trail has been washed out, likely requiring use of hands as well as feet–and that there’s a fair amount of poison oak.

West Fork Trail Camp

2:10 – West Fork Trail Camp

From West Fork, look for the sign indicating the continuation of the Gabrielino Trail.  You cross the stream bed and follow the trail farther down the canyon of the West Fork.  Although there’s not much elevation change here, this is one of the tougher parts of the hike: much of the trail becomes over grown and the spots where the trail crosses the stream aren’t always obvious.  Expect to do a little bit of bushwhacking.  After several crossings, the trail rises to the north side of the canyon, staying above for a little while before dropping back down.  One final stream crossing brings you to the Devore Trail Camp (5.5 miles.)  Here you can sit at a picnic table and rest up for the major ascent that now awaits you.

Bushwhacking deep in the Angeles National Forest

2:20 – Bushwhacking after the first creek crossing past West Fork Trail Camp on the Gabrielino Trail

Continue southeast on the Gabrielino Trail which rises quite steeply at first and maintains a steady incline for the next mile, when it climbs about 900 feet to cross Rincon Red Box Road.  On the opposite side, switchbacks bring you up another 400 feet in half a mile to reach a junction called Newcomb Pass (7 miles from the start.)  Here you can sit at another picnic table and relax before starting the final leg of the hike.

Stream crossing in the Angeles National Forest before Devore Trail Camp

2:55 – Another stream crossing, shortly before Devore Trail Camp

Follow the Rim Trail, which climbs more gradually, heading west toward Mt. Wilson.  On the way, you get some nice glimpses of the Angeles National Forest to the north and as you climb higher, you can see the San Gabriel Valley to the south; if visibility is good you can see Old Saddleback.  Other than a few short open stretches, the Rim Trail is shaded, mainly by black oaks.

Devore Trail Camp

3:10 – Devore Trail Camp

The incline becomes a little more noticeable as you near Mt. Wilson.  As you climb you’ll spot antennas between the trees.  At about 10 miles, you’ll see the first of several golf ball-shaped telescopes.  The Rim Trail skirts along the north side of the broad Mt. Wilson summit, finally reaching the paved road at 10.6 miles from the start.  Bear right and follow the road to the large parking area by the Cosmic Cafe, where you can get your best view of the hike from a picnic table.  Though it’s not a 360-degree panorama, pending good visibility, you can see Catalina Island, the Santa Monica Mountains, downtown L.A. and more.  (If you have time and energy, you can walk up to the observatory for an even better view.)

Newcomb Pass, Angeles National Forest

4:00 – Newcomb Pass

From the parking lot, follow the paved road just over half a mile back to the Kenyon Devore trailhead.  If you were wondering, Kenyon Devore (1911-1995) was a former L.A. County employee and Angeles National Forest volunteer.

North view from the Rim Trail, Angeles National Forest

5:10 – Looking north from the Rim Trail

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

Skyline Park, Mt. Wilson

6:15 – View from Skyline Park, summit of Mt. Wilson

Chatsworth Trails Park

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Oaks, sycamores and eucalyptus trees in the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

Oaks, sycamores and eucalyptus trees in the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

Sandstone geology, Chatsworth Trails Park

Sandstone geology, Chatsworth Trails Park

Chatsworth Trails Park

  • Location: Chatsworth. From the San Fernando Valley, take the 118 Freeway west to DeSoto Ave. Turn left and go 0.7 miles to Chatsworth St. Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Canoga Ave. Turn right and follow Canoga 0.8 miles back toward the freeway. As Canoga Avenue becomes Mayan Drive, look for a trail head with a small dirt parking area on the right side of the road.  From Simi Valley, take the 118 Freeway east to Topanga Canyon Blvd. Turn right and go 0.9 miles to Chatsworth St. Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Canoga Ave. Turn left and follow Canoga 0.8 miles to the trail head, just on the opposite side of the freeway overpass.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Oat Mountain”
  • More information: Article about the restoration of the park here; Wikimapia entry here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3
Chatsworth Trails Park trail head

0:00 – Trail head on Mayan Drive at the north end of Canoga Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with the nearby Chatsworth Park South and North, Chatsworth Trails Park re-opened to the public in 2006, restored thanks to the efforts of community volunteers. The small parcel of land sits between Browns Creek and Michael Antonovich Regional Parks to the north and Stoney Point to the south. A large network of trails cross through and circle the park, some official and some not, making many different trips possible. The loop described here is short enough to be a convenient before or after work (or lunch break) excursion, but it also samples the area’s natural scenery, including geology, canyons and woodlands. Despite its proximity to civilization, other than some freeway noise, it feels pleasantly isolated. Adding to the appeal is the fact that this hike is one of the few in the San Fernando Valley that can be done even on hot days, due to its short distance and large amounts of shade. Chatsworth Trails Park is a great example of what happens when communities appreciate the value of public lands and come together to prioritize their existence.

Descending into the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

0:01 – Descending into the canyon (times are approximate)

From the parking area, walk past the metal gate and follow the fire road. Almost immediately, bear left on a narrow trail heading down into the canyon. There are several trails branching off but this is the only one that goes downhill. (The fire road that continues straight ahead is your return route).

Bottom of the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

0:04 – Reaching the canyon bottom

The trail drops down into the canyon, reaching the stream bed.  Bear right and head up canyon into a woodland, reaching a junction at about 0.3 miles. The trail that branches off to the left is an option for further exploration, but to follow this loop, bear right. You head into an attractive woodland in which the eucalyptuses play nicely with the oaks and sycamores, all working together to provide shade from the Valley’s infamous heat.

Woodlands in the canyon, Chatsworth Trails Park

0:09 – Right turn at the junction in the canyon

The trail climbs out of the canyon to a T-junction (half a mile from the start). Both routes head back to the parking lot, but taking a hard right provides more scenic variety. You curve around the upper edge of the canyon where you just were, taking in some views of Oat Mountain to the north and Rocky Peak to the west. The trail then bends south, providing views of Stoney Point, the northern San Fernando Valley and the distant Simi Hills before returning to the parking area.

Dirt road in Chatsworth Trails Park

0:15 – Right turn on the trail leading out of the canyon

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

Sweetwater River Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Pines and oaks on the Sweetwater River Trail

Pines and oaks on the Sweetwater River Trail

Sunlight through oaks on the Merigan Fire Road

Sunlight through oaks on the Merigan Fire Road

Sweetwater River Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north on Highway 79 for 1.3 miles to Riverside Drive.  Bear left on Riverside Drive and follow it a total of 1.5 miles (along the way it becomes Viejas Blvd.) to the signed Merigan Day Use Area for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, on the left side of the road.  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 20 miles, past the main entrances to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and turn right on Viejas Blvd.  The trail head is on the right side of the road in 1.1 miles.  Parking is $8 per day (checks or exact change accepted).
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Everytrail report here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Merigan Fire Road trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Merigan Fire Road trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This balloon-shaped hike explores the lower country in the southern end of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  You’re still between 3,400 and 4,100 feet above sea level and while much of the route is exposed, with an early start, it can easily be done even on warm days.  This hike doesn’t have quite the scenic variety of panoramic views that can be found in the park’s higher terrain, but it does offer a nice sense of isolation less than an hour’s drive from San Diego and about two hours from Orange County.

0:34 - Oaks on the Merigan Fire Road shortly before the junction (times are approximate)

0:34 – Oaks on the Merigan Fire Road shortly before the junction (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the Merigan Fire Road north through a field and into the shallow canyon of the Sweetwater River (which may be just a trickle or completely dry depending on the time of year and amount of rainfall).  At 0.7 miles, pass a junction with the Dead Horse Trail and continue north, eventually entering a pleasant oak woodland.

0:44- On the Saddleback Trail

0:44- On the Saddleback Trail

At about two miles from the start, you reach a four-way junction in a pleasant meadow, where a tall pine stands above the oaks and chaparral shrubs.  The Merigan Fire Road bends right.  The Sweetwater Trail, straight ahead of you, is your return route.  Turn left and follow the Saddleback Trail, a single-track, down to the river.  (The loop can be done in either direction but by hiking clockwise, you have a more pleasant ascent).  The Saddleback Trail is overgrown in spots but never too difficult to follow.  It climbs steadily through the riparian habitat of the river, through some oak-dotted fields and finally gains the top of a ridge, where it meets the California Riding & Hiking Trail (3.6 miles.)  Here, you get the best views of the hike, notably imposing Cuyamaca Peak to the north and Oakzanita Peak to the east.

1:17 - Cuyamaca Peak from the top of the Saddleback Trail

1:17 – Cuyamaca Peak from the top of the Saddleback Trail

Turn right and follow the CR&H Trail.  In addition to the views of the summits, if the air is clear, you may be able to get a glimpse of the ocean in the distance.   At 4 miles from the start, you reach a junction with the South Boundary Fire Road.  Bear right and begin a steep descent back into canyon.  At 4.4 miles from the start, turn right to continue following the South Boundary Fire Road down the canyon, under the shade of oaks.  After crossing the headwaters of the Sweetwater River, turn right on the Sweetwater Trail (4.7 miles).

1:27 - Junction with the Boundary Fire Road (bear right)

1:27 – Junction with the Boundary Fire Road (bear right)

The Sweetwater Trail head south, paralleling the river bed, for just over a mile. At 5.7 miles from the start, you return to the four-way junction, completing the loop.  Retrace your steps on the Merigan Fire Road back to the parking lot.

1:38 - Heading south back into the woods on the Boundary Fire Road

1:38 – Heading south back into the woods on the Boundary Fire 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.

1:46 - Start of the Sweetwater Trail, last leg of the loop

1:46 – Start of the Sweetwater Trail, last leg of the loop