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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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.

Saddle Peak (East Approach)

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Sunset from Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

Sunset from Saddle Peak

View of the Santa Monica Bay from Saddle Peak, Malibu CA

Ocean view from Saddle Peak

Saddle Peak (East Approach)

    • Location: Santa Monica Mountains between Topanga and Malibu. From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway 9.5 miles to Las Flores Canyon.  Go right and take Las Flores Canyon 3.4 miles to Rancho Pacifico.  Go right on Rancho Pacifico for 0.6 miles and go right on Schueren for 1.8 miles.  Park at the Lois Ewen Overlook (Topanga Lookout Trailhead on Google Maps) at the intersection of Schueren, Stunt and Saddle Peak Roads. From the San Fernando Valley, take Highway 101 to Valley Circle/Mulholland. Turn left and follow Mulholland 0.3 miles. Turn right and follow Mulholland another 0.3 miles to Valmar. Turn right and follow Valmar, which becomes Old Topanga Canyon Road, 1.2 miles to Mulholland Highway. Turn right and follow Mulholland Highway 3.8 miles to Stunt Road. Turn left and follow Stunt Road 4 miles to the overlook at the junction with Schueren and Saddle Peak Roads.
    • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 1.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 400 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Best season: All year
    • USGS topo maps: “Malibu Beach”
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
    • More information: Backbone Trail information here; trip description here
    • Rating: 5

This approach to Saddle Peak doesn’t offer the scenic variety or same level of challenge as the route from the north, but it’s still an enjoyable hike. Sunsets are particularly enjoyable: the distance from the summit back to the car is short enough that you can watch the sun dip into the ocean and still have a little bit of light when you make your descent. Like the approach from the north, this hike utilizes the Backbone Trail.

Lois Ewen Overlook, Backbone Trail, Malibu, CA

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

The vistas from the trail head, the Lois Ewen Overlook, are almost as good as those from the summit; you get a nearly aerial view of the Santa Monica Bay and the San Fernando Valley. After enjoying the panorama, follow Stunt Road briefly downhill and pick up a signed trail on the south side, opposite mile marker 3.99. The Backbone Trail climbs quickly, following the south side of a ridge with good ocean views before meeting a service road at 0.4 miles.

Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

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

Follow the road uphill around the back of a water tank. After a few yards of semi-pavement, the trail becomes dirt again and enters an oak woodland. Keep an eye out for some interesting sandstone geology on the left, as well as some views of the Valley through the trees on the right.

Crossing the service road on the Backbone Trail

0:10 – Service road

At three quarters of a mile, you reach a junction. The Backbone Trail continues straight ahead but to reach Saddle Peak, turn left and follow a spur to a dirt road. Turn left again and climb a short distance to the summit.

Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains near Saddle Peak

0:20 – Junction on the Backbone Trail (left turn)

Saddle Peak is actually two different summits but this is the only one with public access (the other summit houses various radio and communications towers). You get a nearly 360-degree view including the ocean to the south, Castro Peak and Boney Mountain to the west, the Simi Hills, Santa Susana Mountains and Hollywood Hills to the north and the San Gabriels to the east. On a recent day with particularly good visibility, I was able to see Old Saddleback, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.

Dirt road on Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:22 – Dirt road toward the summit

After enjoying the view, descend by the same route. If you’ve arranged a shuttle at the lower trail head, you can descend north on the Backbone Trail; if you’re willing to walk 1.2 miles on Stunt Road, you can take the Backbone Trail north to the lower trailhead and then take the street back to the overlook for a loop of about 3.5 miles.

 

View from Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu CA

0:25 – Looking north from Saddle Peak

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.

Ventura River Preserve: Rice and Willis Canyons

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View from the top of the Rice Canyon Trail

View from the top of the Rice Canyon Trail

Oaks in Willis Canyon

Oaks in Willis Canyon

Ventura River Preserve: Rice and Willis Canyons

    • Location: End of Meyers Road, Ojai.  From Highway 101, take Highway 33 north for 11.2 miles.  Turn left on Highway 150/Baldwin Road.  Take a quick right on South La Luna Road.  Go 1.5 miles to El Roblar Drive and turn left.  Go 0.2 miles to Rice Road.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Meyer Road.  Follow Meyer Road into the park (watch out for speed bumps.)  The park is open daily at 8am until 7:30pm from April to October; until 5pm from November to March.
    • Agency: Ojai Valley Land Conservancy/Los Padres National Forest(Ojai Ranger District)
    • Distance: 4.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 400 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Matilija
    • Recommended gear: insect repellent
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Area trail map here; Trip description (different route) here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The 1,591-acre Ventura River Preserve is one of the newer (2003) pockets of open space in Ventura County.  There are many possible routes of all distances in the park and it’s an enjoyable place to wander without having a specific plan, but if you’re not sure where to start, try this nearly 5-mile loop that explores two canyons that feed into the Ventura River.  Novice hikers will enjoy the moderate grades, scenic variety and easy navigation and even veterans will likely be impressed.

0:08 - Start of the Rice Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

0:08 – Start of the Rice Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

From the trail head, follow the signs into the park.  Turn immediately right (the left fork leads to an alternate trail head, an option if you want a longer hike).  The trail curves down into the Ventura River, which is completely dry as of this writing.  In the spring, following heavy rains, the water may present an obstacle, but online reports have indicated that even under such conditions it’s a doable rock-hop.  Follow the trail out of the river bed and merge with a fire road, soon reaching the junction of the Willis and Rice Canyon Trails.

0:17 - Oak in Rice Canyon

0:17 – Oak in Rice Canyon

The loop can be done in either direction, but by going counter-clockwise, you can knock out the less attractive portions of the hike first and save the scenic descent through Willis Canyon for last.  Follow the trail through a fenced-in easement and stay left as the Kennedy Ridge Trail branches off.  You drop into oak-shaded Rice Canyon and begin a gradual ascent, passing by a green metal gate into the Los Padres National Forest about a mile from the start.

0:45 - View from the high point of the Rice Canyon Trail

0:45 – View from the high point of the Rice Canyon Trail

More ascent–first under oaks, then exposed–brings you to the top of a ridge (1.8 miles) where you get an excellent view to the south and west.  Below you is El Nido Meadow.  The trail drops back toward Willis Canyon, reaching a junction.  The left fork heads through El Nido Meadow while the right fork heads toward Willis Canyon.  The two trails soon meet up, but if you take the right route, make sure you stay left at the next intersection.

1:10 - Oaks near the start of the Willis Canyon Trail

1:10 – Oaks near the start of the Willis Canyon Trail

At about 2.7 miles, the trails meet in an attractive oak woodland where a bench makes for a perfect rest spot.  (The Chaparral Crest Trail branches out here too, climbing out of the canyon, but as of this writing its upper reaches are blocked by a barbed wire fence.)  Follow the Willis Canyon Trail over a footbridge and begin a very enjoyable descent through the thick cover of oaks and sycamores.

1:20 - Footbridge in Willis Canyon

1:20 – Footbridge in Willis Canyon

You cross the Willis Canyon stream bed and leave the woods, making a brief climb.  Stay left at a junction with a trail leading to the Riverview Trail Head and descend to a paved road.  On the opposite side of the road, stay straight as a dirt road branches off to the left.  Follow the road as it also bends to the left, heading north back toward the junction with the Rice Canyon Trail.  Retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

1:45 - Junction with the Riverview Trail after leaving Willis Canyon

1:45 – Junction with the Riverview Trail after leaving Willis 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.

2:05 - Heading back on the River Bluff Trail

2:05 – Heading back on the River Bluff Trail

Stair Steps Trail (Laguna Beach)

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Descending the Stair Steps Trail

Descending the Stair Steps Trail

Geology on the canyon wall as seen from the Stair Steps Trail

Geology on the canyon wall as seen from the Stair Steps Trail

Stair Steps Trail (Laguna Beach)

  • Location: Laguna Beach. As of this writing, parking is available in a vacant lot on the south side of the Canyon Animal Hospital, 20732 Laguna Canyon Road.  The hospital is 5.2 miles south of the 405 Freeway on the left side of the road (just past the main entrance to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.)  It is 3 miles north of Pacific Coast Highway.  Note: The city plans on developing an artist residence on the site of the lot, which may influence whether parking is available.  For more information about the project, click here.  The Stair Steps Trail can also be done in reverse (down then up) starting from the West Ridge Trail of Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.  This requires a longer hike starting from the northern entrances to the park (Hollyleaf or Canyon View Park) or from the south, via Alta Laguna Park.
  • Agency: Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park; City of Laguna Beach
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: PG
  • Best season: All year (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Laguna Beach
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Writeup on a mountain biking site here; video of mountain biking down the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike, Laguna Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Popular with mountain bikers – at least in the downhill direction – the Stair Steps Trail climbs the east side of Laguna Canyon, linking Highway 133 to the West Ridge Trail in Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

0:03 - Right turn on Phillips St (times are approximate)

0:03 – Right turn on Phillips St (times are approximate)

Assuming you park in the lot next to Canyon Animal Hospital, follow Laguna Canyon Road north for a short distance (there’s no sidewalk but a reasonably wide shoulder).  After less than 0.1 miles, turn right on an unsigned street, marked as a private way.  Google Maps lists it as Phillips St.  The paved road ascends steeply, passing by some private homes before reaching a gate by a water tank, about 0.4 miles from the start.

0:12 - Sandstone cave on the Stair Steps Trail

0:12 – Sandstone cave on the Stair Steps Trail

This is the “official” beginning of the Stair Steps Trail, which branches to the left.  The steep ascent continues.  You pass a large boulder with a cave cut inside; this can be a good place to stop and rest, enjoying panoramic views of the canyon below.  After this landmark, the grade lessens slightly.  At about 0.6 miles from the start, you reach a junction.  The Stair Steps Trail continues steeply uphill; an alternate trail branches off to the right, ascending at a more moderate grade.  Though still fairly steep, this trail can be a more enjoyable route to the top.  While this trail isn’t listed on park literature, it is smooth and easy to follow and has clearly been in regular use by mountain bikers and hikers.  Follow it for about a quarter mile to the West Ridge Trail.

0:17 - "Split" (Main trail heads steeply uphill to the left; alternative trail heads right)

0:17 – “Split” (Main trail heads steeply uphill to the left; alternative trail heads right)

Here you can enjoy an excellent view of both Laguna Canyon and Wood Canyon; you can also see most of inland Orange County up to the Saddleback.  Given time and energy, you can extend your trip on the West Ridge Trail in either direction, providing access to Aliso & Wood Canyon Wilderness Park’s interior.  However, if you want to call it a day, return either via the more moderately graded route you climbed or by the signed Stair Steps Trail.  Keep in mind that while it’s only about 0.1 miles back to the junction from on the Stair Steps Trail, the grade is very steep and rocky; exercise caution, especially since your legs may be tired from the rigorous climb before.

0:24 - Old Saddleback as seen from the West Ridge Trail, top of the Stair Steps Trail

0:24 – Old Saddleback as seen from the West Ridge Trail, top of the Stair Steps 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.