Mason Regional Park

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Open space in Mason Regional Park

Open space in Mason Regional Park

Shade trees in Mason Regional Park

Shade trees in Mason Regional Park

Mason Regional Park

  • Location: Irvine.  Free parking is available on the corner of Rosa Drew Drive and Tamarack Way.  From I-405, take the Jeffrey Rd./Unviersity Dr. exit.  Head west (left if you’re coming from the south, right if from the north) and go 0.7 miles to Rosa Drew Drive.  Turn right, go a short distance and park where available.
  • Agency:  Orange County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Tustin”
  • More information:  Mason Park homepage here; Yelp page here; park descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 2

The eastern part of William Mason Regional Park is known as the “Wilderness Area”, which may be a little generous (the majority of the trails are paved), but it’s still a nice and convenient place to get some fresh air and exercise.  Though some traffic noise can be heard, this section of the park has a pleasantly secluded feel. Dogs are allowed with a 6-foot leash.

0:00 - Beginning of the hike on Rosa Drew Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike on Rosa Drew Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the parking area on the east side of Rosa Drew Drive, cross the street and head south. Cross University, continue south and make a hard right on a paved walkway leading into the park. You cross a seasonal stream and head west on the path. Signed as the Sand Canyon Wash on park maps, this is the main artery through the wilderness area.

0:03 - Turn right into the park (times are approximate)

0:03 – Turn right into the park (times are approximate)

A few benches make for a nice place to sit and there’s a decent amount of shade from the willows. At 0.7 miles you reach a junction. The two paths soon rejoin but the left route, which briefly leaves the pavement, is more pleasant. If you go this way take an almost immediate right and continue walking on the trail before rejoining the paved walkway (0.9 miles.)

0:14 - Bear left onto the dirt trail

0:14 – Bear left onto the dirt trail

Soon after the paths converge, you reach an intersection. You can extend the hike by heading left but for this route, head right, continuing west. Stay straight at another intersection (the right route is a spur to University Drive). You make another stream crossing and travel in and out of shade.

0:21 - Turn right at the junction

0:21 – Turn right at the junction

At 1.3 miles, you reach a final junction, shortly before Culver Drive. Both routes lead a short distance to Culver, a good turnaround point. However, if you want to extend your hike, you can cross Culver Drive and walk through the more developed part of Mason Regional Park; this might be a fun option for families with small kids.

0:32 - Turnaround point (Culver Drive)

0:32 – Turnaround point (Culver Drive)

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.

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Thompson Creek Trail (Claremont)

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Deer on the hill across from the Thompson Creek Trail

Deer on the hill across from the Thompson Creek Trail

Foliage and mountains, Thompson Creek Trail

Foliage and mountains, Thompson Creek Trail

Thompson Creek Trail (Claremont)

  • Location: Claremont.  From I-210, take the Towne Ave. exit and head north (left if you’re coming from the west, right if from the east.)   Cross Base Line Road and follow Towne for a short distance.  Park in the dirt turnout on the left side of the road, before the church entrance.  Look for the signed trail, heading right, following the concrete drainage channel.
  • Agency: City of Claremont
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Baldy”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 2

Veteran hikers might not get too excited about a paved path that parallels a concrete channel, but the popular Thompson Creek Trail is worth a visit if you’re in the area. Inland Empire and San Gabriel hikers might want to keep it in mind during the hot summer months; area residents who want to get out into nature but are a little intimidated by the tall San Gabriels might well also find the Thompson Creek Trail a worthwhile destination. The trail is popular with bikers, joggers and dog walkers, so expect a lot of company.

0:00 - The trail at Towne Avenue's north end (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – The trail at Towne Avenue’s north end (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the parking area at the end of Towne Avenue, turn right at the gate and begin your walk. The trail passes Mountain Avenue at 0.5 miles, and soon afterward comes to Higginbotham Park, where there are restrooms. Across the channel from the park, the Sycamore Canyon area is currently being refurbished, and will hopefully soon become accessible.

0:18 - Higginbotham Park (times are approximate)

0:18 – Higginbotham Park (times are approximate)

At just over a mile, the trail bends slightly and starts heading northwest. Your view is livened up by bright red toyon berry bushes, and you’ll get glimpses of the Ontario/Cucamonga Ridge between the tall eucalyptus trees lining the path. At 1.6 miles, you cross Pomello Drive and enter a flood plain, with the mountains prominently off to the left and straight ahead.

0:42 - Nearing the upper end of the Thompson Creek Trail

0:45 – Nearing the upper end of the Thompson Creek Trail

The trail ends at Mills Avenue (2.1 miles). If you have time, you can head north on Mills and explore the Claremont Hills Wilderness Area.

1:00 - End of the trail at Mills Avenue

1:00 – End of the trail at Mills Avenue

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.

Sand Dune Park (Manhattan Beach)

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Looking up from the bottom of the dune

Looking up from the bottom of the dune

Heading back down the stairs into the park

Heading back down the stairs into the park

Sand Dune Park (Manhattan Beach)

  • Location: 33rd St. and Bell Avenue, Manhattan Beach.  From the 405 Freeway, take the Rosecrans Avenue exit and head west for 2.5 miles.  Turn left on Bell Avenue and drive 0.2 miles to the park entrance.  From the 105 Freeway, take the Sepulveda/Highway 1 South exit.  Head south for 2.4 miles, turn right on Rosecrans, go 0.9 miles and turn left on Bell Avenue, and drive 0.2 miles to the park.   To visit Sand Dune Park, you need to make a reservation online and pay a dollar bill (coins not accepted, change from larger bills not given.)
  • Agency: City of Manhattan Beach
  • Distance: 0.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 45 minutes
  • Best season: Year-round
  • USGS topo map: Venice
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 2
0:00 - Bottom of the stairs and the sand dune (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Bottom of the stairs and the sand dune (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Hiking purists may not be impressed with it, but the giant sand dune in Manhattan Beach has to be considered one of So-Cal’s more unusual outdoor recreation spots. According to an L.A. Times article, the dune is not only popular with locals, but has also been visited by a wide range of athletes, including Kobe Bryant and Troy Palomalu. It seems as if climbing what basically amounts to an enormous sandbox should be easy–but it’s tougher than it sounds.

0:01 - Beginning the climb (times are approximate)

0:01 – Beginning the climb (times are approximate)

Rising nearly 100 feet, the dune is the dominant feature of the park. Using it requires making an online reservation (see link above). It may seem like a lot of hoops to jump through for a neighborhood hike, but I made my reservation in less than ten minutes.

0:10 - Top of the sand dune

0:10 – Top of the dune

After paying your $1 fee (dollar bills only) at a table by the base of the dune, you enter through a fence and begin your climb. If you’re not used to walking in sand–especially at a nearly 45 degree angle–expect progress to be slow. Even veterans will feel the burn in their calves by the time they reach the top.

0:20 - Walking up the stairs next to the dune

0:20 – Walking up the stairs next to the dune

At the top of the dune, you get a nice view to the east of residential Manhattan Beach. The descent is fun – while the grade would be very steep for a single-track hiking trail, the sand slows you down, so you don’t have to worry about falling. And even if you fell, it would be on…well, sand.

0:23 - Walkway at the top of the stairs, heading south toward 30th St.

0:23 – Walkway at the top of the stairs, heading south toward 30th St.

At the bottom, you can challenge yourself with multiple “reps” on the dune, or you can explore the rest of the park. A staircase runs parallel to the dune, climbing to the end of 32nd St. Turn left and follow a narrow walkway for a few blocks, re-entering the park at the end of 30th St. Head down a staircase through a pleasantly wooded hillside before meeting with another walkway. Turn left and follow the path back to the staircase, where you descend to the park. If you have time and energy, you can try the sand dune again.

0:25 - Heading back down into the park

0:25 – Heading back down into the 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.

0:30 - Following the walkway back to the stairs

0:30 – Following the walkway back to the stairs

Stetson Ranch Park/Saddletree Trailhead

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View of the San Fernando Valley from the Saddletree Trail

View of the San Gabriels from the Saddletree Trail

 Stetson Ranch Park/Saddletree Trailhead

  • Location: Sylmar.  From I-5, take I-210 east to the first exit, Yarnell.  Turn right onto Yarnell and make a quick left on Foothill.  Go 0.6 miles on Foothill, turn left on Glenoaks, go under the freeway and park by the signed trailhead on the left side of the road, before the entrance to the gated community.  From Pasadena and points east, take I-210 to Rexford.  Turn left on Rexford and make a quick right on Foothill.  Go 0.5 miles and turn right on Glenoaks, cross under the freeway and park by the trail head sign.
  • Agency: City of Los Angeles/Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map:
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3

Start of the Saddletree Trail (Click pictures to see the full sized version)

The good news is that the Saddletree Trail Head and Stetson Ranch Park are very conveniently located to the northern San Fernando Valley, and on clear days, the views include the San Gabriels, the Verudgos, Hollywood Hills, Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountains.  The bad news is that the trail never escapes the sights and sounds of civilization nearby, and that the same rains that clear the air also make conditions less than optimum.  Still, this trail is worth a visit if you’re in the area.

0:04 (Times are approximate) – If you are bringing kids, this is how you make sure they behave.

The first 0.2 miles follow a paved road that parallels I-210, which is about as inspiring as it sounds. (If the gate is open, you may be able to drive this stretch and park in the lot). At the parking lot, head right and uphill toward the mountains, passing by a fence and some equestrian rings. Turn left after the second, smaller ring, pass by it and then turn right on a dirt road. Almost immediately, look for a single-track trail heading off sharply to the left (0.4 miles from the start.)

0:08 – Turn right and head uphill past the equestrian arenas

You begin an ascent, taking in some nice views to the south, and soon you reach the official trailhead for the Marge Feinberg Rim of the Valley Trail, named for the woman who conceived it. As you make your way up along a ridge, overlooking a canyon, the noise from the freeway starts to fade away.

0:13 – Sharp left on the switchbacks

At 0.9 miles, you reach the top of the ridge, and the trail makes some switchbacks, descending to a paved road. You can explore farther along a series of service roads, but as of this writing, recent rains have made the conditions difficult. The prevalence of power lines also cuts down on the scenic appeal, although the view of the mountains to the north is impressive. Turning around here and returning by the same route provides a good workout that can be done in about an hour.

0:17 – Rim of the World Trail Head

Text and photography copyright 2012 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

0:21 – View of the Verdugos and the Hollywood Hills

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

0:30 – Dirt road marking the turnaround point

trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

West Coyote Hills Tree Park (Fullerton)

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View from the top of the Coyote Hills Tree Park

On the trail in the tree park

West Coyote Hills Tree Park  (Fullerton)

    • Location: Coyote Hills Drive and Vintage Way, Fullerton.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Beach exit (highway 39) and head north for 3 miles.  Turn right on Rosecrans, go 1.2 miles and turn left on Gilbert.  Make a quick right on Coyote Hills Drive, and go 0.6 miles to the corner of Vintage Way.  From the 57 Freeway, take the Imperial Highway exit and head west for 4.3 miles.  Turn left on Idaho, and go 1.2 miles (Idaho becomes Gilbert along the way).  Turn left on Castlewood, go 0.2 miles and turn right on Coyote Hills.  Go 0.3 miles to Vintage.
    • Agency: City of Fullerton Parks and Recreation
    • Distance: 0.5 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Best season: Year-round
    • USGS topo map: Anaheim
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 2

Located in a quiet residential neighborhood, West Coyote Hills Tree Park is a great little place for an urban oasis. While the larger nature reserve nearby is still entangled in a legal controversy as the public fights for access, hikers can enjoy a nice stroll before or after work, or even during their lunch break, on a half-mile loop through this park.

From the corner of Vintage Way, take the path into the park and turn left. You follow the wide fire road through a pleasant grove of trees, and then bear right and begin heading uphill. The trail leads to North Parks Road, but you can make your route a little more interesting by turning right on a rough, single-track trail that has been cut through the bushes. You zigzag up the side of the hill and meet another trail. Head right, and follow the upper rim of the hillside, under the shade of more trees.

This brings you to a wide fire road that descends at a surprisingly steep angle. You get nice views of the Fullerton area, and possibly farther beyond if the weather is clear, but take care as you make your way down. At the bottom, turn right to complete the loop.

Like Fullerton’s other trails and natural areas, the West Coyote Hills Park is a nice place to know about if you want to get outdoors. It’s also a good way to keep kids active during the summer.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Elfin Forest Nature Trail

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On the Elfin Forest Trail

Elfin Forest Nature Trail

  • Location:   Lower San Antonio Fire Station, 3000 N. Mountain Ave, Upland.  From I-210, take the Mountain Ave. exit and head north for 4 miles.  (Note that Mountain Ave. makes a few turns on the way up, so be sure to follow the street signs.)  The fire station is on the right, shortly before Mountain Ave. becomes Shinn Road and meets Mt. Baldy Road.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel River Ranger District
  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: Year-round
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Baldy
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3

This short trail takes in nice views of Mt. Baldy, San Antonio Canyon and the Inland Empire. Although it never really escapes the sights and sounds of nearby civilization, it is a nice introduction to the San Antonio Canyon area, and is conveniently located to many Inland Empire residents. It makes a fun outing with the kids on a weekend (although it does tend to get crowded), or a nice little evening hike after work; stretching your legs here surely beats sitting in traffic on the 210 Freeway.

From the parking area near the fire station, head up into the canyon. A somewhat obscure trail follows the canyon’s east wall (you’ll be climbing over rocks) before heading uphill, past the back side of the fire station and up to a viewing platform. Here, you can see Mt. Baldy to the north.

The trail continues, clinging to the side of the canyon, crossing a couple of bridges. There are also interpretive plaques describing the natural history of the area, including its recovery since the 2003 Padua Fire. Stay left at the split and continue along the trail, which continues east for a little ways before heading back. After a slight uphill grade, you descend back to the road on a few switchbacks, arriving at the fire station.

There’s plenty more to check out here; with caution, you can scramble up the rocks of the canyon, or you can walk along the fire road on the south side of the street. It’s also not far to Mt. Baldy Village and the many trails that branch off from there.

The Elfin Forest trail is also known as the Joatngna Trail, which means “Village at the Snowy Mountain.”

Text and photography copyright 2012 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.

Vista Del Norte Trail

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View from the Vista Del Norte Trail

Ascending the Vista Del Norte Trail

Vista Del Norte Trail

  • Location: Rolling Hills Estates, on the corner of Indian Peak Road and Norris Center Drive. From I-405, take the Hawthorne Blvd. exit and drive south for 8.5 miles.  Turn left on Indian Peak Road, go 0.4 miles and park in the lot at the Norris Center, on the right.  From I-110, take the Pacific Coast Highway exit and head north (west) for 3 miles.  Turn left on Crenshaw Blvd., go 3 miles and turn right on Indian Peak.  The parking lot at Norris Center will be on your left, in 0.4 miles.
  • Agency: Palos Verdes Land Conservancy (Vista Del Norte Reserve)
  • Distance: 0.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: Year-round (any day with clear skies)
  • USGS topo map: San Pedro
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3

If you like instant gratification, check out the Vista Del Norte, where a short climb gives you some great views of the L.A. Basin.  The Vista Del Norte Reserve is one of the many small parcels of land on the Palos Verdes Peninsula operated by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy.

From the parking area by the Norris Center, head east along the sidewalk on Indian Peak Road.   Almost immediately, turn right and follow the single-track trail leading uphill.  Take a right on the Vista Del Norte Trail, which switchbacks up the side of the hill.  (The Indian Peak Loop Trail, which heads straight, is poorly maintained and hard to follow.)

As you climb, the views get wider and wider.  After a quarter mile, you arrive at a bench, just below the communication towers, where you can sit and enjoy the view.  If you prefer you can continue past the bench to a summit where clear-day vistas include the Santa Monica Mountains, the ocean, the San Gabriels, San Gorgonio and more.

Obviously, this trail is a little bit short to be a major hiking destination, but if you do the route a couple of times, making it nature’s version of a stair climb, it can be a good workout; it’s also near several other trails on the peninsula that are worth visiting.  While the trail never escapes the sights and sounds of civilization nearby, it just goes to show that even in places that seem unlikely, one can still get out into nature.

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.