Sycamore Canyon Park (Claremont)

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Southeast view from the top of the Sycamore Canyon Trail

Southeast view from the top of the Sycamore Canyon Trail

Climbing the stairs, Sycamore Canyon

Climbing the stairs, Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon Park (Claremont)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:13 - View of Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks

0:13 – View of Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks

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

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

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

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

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Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

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Franklin Creek, Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

Franklin Creek, Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

    • Location: Carpinteria, on the corner of Ash Avenue and Sandyland Road.  From Ventura/L.A., take Highway 101 to the Casitas Pass Road exit.  Turn left on Casitas Pass Road and go 0.2 miles to Carpinteria Avenue.  Turn right and go 0.3 miles to Linden Avenue.  Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Sandyland Road.  Turn right and go 0.3 miles and park where available on the corner of Ash and Sandyland. From Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 to the Linden Avenue exit.  Turn right and go 0.6 miles to Sandyland Road.  Turn right and follow Sandyland to the corner of Ash and park where available.
    • Agency: City of Carpinteria
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: Level
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round
    • USGS topo map: Carpinteria
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 1
0:00 - Carpinteria Salt Marsh trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Carpinteria Salt Marsh trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short nature trail visits some coastal wetlands near downtown Carpinteria, providing nice views of the surrounding mountains and a good opportunity to see migratory waterfowl including herons, egrets and terns.  You also might see hummingbirds, wrens and goldfinches.  To be sure the trail’s purpose is primarily educational; don’t expect much in the way of solitude or physical challenge.  If you’re driving on Highway 101 the park is a nice place to stop to stretch your legs, located less than a mile from the freeway.  Scenic downtown Carpinteria also invites exploration before or after your visit here.

0:06 - View of the wetlands shortly after leaving Ash Avenue (times are approximate)

0:06 – View of the wetlands shortly after leaving Ash Avenue (times are approximate)

From the corner of Ash and Sandyland, enter the preserve and stop by an observation deck where interpretive plaques describe the ecology and geology of the area. The trail bends right and parallels Ash Avenue for 0.2 miles before bending left and heading northwest. (A short loop branches off, leading to an amphitheater where you can get some more views of the wetlands.)

0:11 - View of the mountains after crossing Franklin Creek

0:11 – View of the mountains after crossing Franklin Creek

At 0.3 miles you reach a T-junction. Turn left (the right fork heads toward a mobile home park) and cross Franklin Canyon on a footbridge. On the opposite side, continue following the trail, first northeast and then northwest toward Sunnyland Cove Road. Just before you reach it, bear left at a fork and follow the boardwalk to a clearing where you can sit on some rocks and look out over the marsh. This is the turnaround point.

0:15 - View from the turnaround point

0:15 – View from the turnaround point

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


Pinhead Peak (Caspers Wilderness Park)

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Old Saddleback from Pinhead Peak

Old Saddleback from Pinhead Peak

Pinhead Peak (Caspers Wilderness Park)

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:08 - Hard right turn

0:08 – Hard right turn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zev Yaroslavsky Las Virgenes Highland Park

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View from near the top of the Yaroslavsky Open Space

View from near the top of the Yaroslavsky Open Space

Oak woodland in the Yaroslavsky Open Space

Oak woodland in the Yaroslavsky Open Space

Zev Yarosolavsky Las Virgenes Highland Park

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

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

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

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

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

0:07 - Hollow tree (times are approximate)

0:07 – Hollow tree (times are approximate)

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

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

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

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

0:30 - Looking southwest from the top

0:30 – Looking southwest from the top

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

Lower Monroe/Poopout Hill Loop (Big Dalton Canyon)

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View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Poopout Hill Trail

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Poopout Hill Trail

Oaks on the Lower Monroe Truck Trail

Oaks on the Lower Monroe Truck Trail

Lower Monroe/Poopout Hill Loop (Big Dalton Canyon)

  • Location: Angeles National Forest foothills north of Glendora.  From L.A. and points west, take I-210 to Grand Avenue.  Head north on Grand Avenue for 2.2 miles and turn right on Sierra Madre.  Go 2 miles and turn left on Glendora Mountain Road.  In 0.6 miles, park on the left side of the road in a dirt turnout just past the intersection with Big Dalton Canyon.  From San Bernardino/Riverside, take I-210 to Lone Hill.  Turn right on Lone Hill, go a mile and turn left on Foothill.  Go 0.5 miles and turn right on Valley Center.  Go 0.8 miles and turn left on Sierra Madre.  Make a quick right on Glendora Mountain Road and go 0.6 miles to the parking area.
  • Agency: City of Glendora/Angeles National Forest
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time:  2 hours
  • Best season: Year-round
  • USGS topo map:  Glendora
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles
  • More information: Park map here; description of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail here; Every Trail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike, Glendora Mountain Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This enjoyable hike combines city streets, single-track trail, fire road and ultimately a very steep descent, providing nice variety and seclusion just a short drive from the busy San Gabriel Valley. It can be done as described here, as a point-to-point with a short shuttle or perhaps as a longer hike, continuing along the Monroe Truck Trail to Summit 2760 and beyond.

0:21 - Beginning of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail (times are approximate)

0:21 – Beginning of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail (times are approximate)

You start with a pleasant, if not terribly interesting, 3/4 of a mile on Glendora Mountain Road. While the shoulder is narrow, car traffic is likely to be light (although you’ll probably see quite a few cyclists.) As the road makes a hairpin turn to the left, cross it and look for the signed Lower Monroe Truck Trail. Truck Trail is somewhat of a misnomer as the route is a single-track. The hike instantly becomes more scenic as you work your way through the wooded canyon.At 1.4 miles, a short spur leads to an abandoned water tank with some graffiti that I will forgive because it doesn’t interfere with the beauty of the hike, and because it displays a certain wit (but because NHLA is a family blog, I cannot report what the graffiti says.)

0:45 - Beginning the ascent from the canyon

0:48 – Beginning the ascent from the canyon

Shortly afterward, you make a sharp right turn and begin your ascent from the canyon. You get nice views of the San Gabriel Valley as you make your way along the west-facing slope. At 3.1 miles, you reach a saddle where the Monroe Truck Trail continues uphill and the signed Mystic Canyon Trail heads downhill. Mystic Canyon is a slightly longer alternative route, descending a mile to Big Dalton Canyon Road, where a half-mile walk will bring you back to the parking area. This route, however, descends on the uber-steep Poopout Hill Trail. Take a few minutes to enjoy the view and make sure your legs are rested before beginning this stretch.

1:30 - Beginning the steep descent of Poopout Hill

1:30 – Beginning the steep descent of Poopout Hill

The Poopout Hill Trail is an unsigned firebreak that branches off to the right, just before the Mystic Canyon sign. You make a short but steep descent, a brief climb and another steep descent before the trail levels out for a little while. The last 0.3 miles, however, drop nearly 500 feet – requiring hiking hiking poles, or perhaps the use of the “fifth limb.” Not helping is the fact that the trail is loose and washed out in spots.After navigating down the grade, you are deposited back at the corner of Glendora Mountain Road and Big Dalton Canyon. Cross the street to return to the parking area.

1:50 - Completing the loop at the bottom of Poopout Hill, Glendora Mountain Road

1:50 – Completing the loop at the bottom of Poopout Hill, Glendora Mountain Road

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.


Lizard Rock via Hill Canyon

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Sunset from Lizard Rock

Sunset from Lizard Rock

Looking south toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Lizard Rock

Looking south toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Lizard Rock

Lizard Rock via Hill Canyon

      • Location: Northwest of Thousand Oaks.  From Highway 101, take Moorpark Road north for 5.5 miles.  At a four-way intersection, stay straight to get on Santa Rosa Road.  Go 3.7 miles and turn left on Hill Canyon Road (signed for Santa Rosa Regional Park).  Go half a mile and park in the dirt lot on the right side of the road.  From Highway 23, take the Tierra Rejada Road exit and head west for 0.5 miles.  Turn left on Moorpark Road, go 1.4 miles and turn right on Santa Rosa and follow it to the park.  Note: As of September 10, 2013, a moratorium has been placed on park fees (previously $2 per car on weekdays, $4 on weekends) so parking is free.  Check the Santa Rosa Park link below for up to date information.
      • Agency: Conejo Open Space Foundation/Santa Rosa Park
      • Distance: 2,4 miles
      • Elevation gain: 900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Best season: October-May (open daily from 7:30 am to between 5 and 8 pm depending on season)
      • USGS topo map: Newbury Park
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
      • More information: Video of the beginning of the hike here; Everytrail report here; Trail map here
      • Rating: 7

0:00 - Trail head, Hill Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Lizard Rock is Wildwood Park’s second most famous landmark, after Paradise Falls.   The 932-foot outcrop can be reached by several possible routes starting from the park’s main entrance, but in this post we’ll look at a less traveled, challenging and scenic approach from the west, starting at Hill Canyon.

0:15 - Looking down into the canyon from one of the switchbacks (times are approximate)

0:15 – Looking down into the canyon from one of the switchbacks (times are approximate)

A single-track trail starts on the east side of the road, directly across from the entrance to the parking area. (The “official” trail beginning is a little farther down the road, but since cars aren’t allowed past the parking lot, you would have to walk there, so you can save some time by cutting across.) The single-track soon meets the main trail. Turn left and begin a steep series of switchbacks, gaining about 550 feet 3/4 of a mile. The good news is that as you climb you get better and better views, in particular Hill Canyon and Boney Mountain to the south.

0:20 - Bench for some well deserved relaxation

0:20 – Bench for some well deserved relaxation

At 3/4 of a mile, you reach a saddle where you can get some well-earned rest on a bench, enjoying a nice view of the park to the east. The trail continues ascending briefly before beginning a descent. You pass by an unofficial trail heading down into the canyon and soon begin climbing, soon reaching a Y-junction (1 mile). Bear right and begin a steep ascent on a trail that is a little overgrown in places but overall pretty easy to follow. In 0.2 miles and 200 vertical feet, you arrive on a summit. Head left and find Lizard Rock, an outcrop that is pretty easy to climb.

0:23 - Descent to the saddle past the bench

0:23 – Descent to the saddle past the bench

From Lizard Rock, you get a 360-degree view that includes Mt. Clef and the rest of the park to the east, the Santa Monica Mountains to the south and, if visibility is good, the ocean and Santa Cruz Island to the east. It’s a particularly good place to watch the sunset. You can return via the same route, or extend your hike on Wildwood Park’s network of trails.

0:27 - The split: Head right and uphill toward Lizard Rock

0:27 – The split: Head right and uphill toward Lizard Rock

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.

0:40 - Looking down from just below Lizard Rock

0:40 – Looking down from just below Lizard Rock

Thomas Mountain via Ramona Trail

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View of the Desert Divide and Garner Valley from the Ramona Trail

View of the Desert Divide and Garner Valley from the Ramona Trail

Cedars on the northern flank of Thomas Mountain

Cedars, black oaks and pines on the northern flank of Thomas Mountain

Thomas Mountain via Ramona Trail

  • Location: San Jacinto Mountains on Highway 74, 8.3 miles southeast of the intersection with Highway 243 and 28.4 miles west of Palm Springs.   The trailhead is located in a large lot signed for the Ramona Trail on the southwest side of the road (left if you’re coming from Palm Springs; right if from Idyllwild.)  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for a year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Idyllwild Ranger Station
  • Distance: 12.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 6.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Best season:  Year-round (depending on conditions)
  • USGS topo map: “Anza”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sun block; insect repellent; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip report here (slightly different route); here (shorter hike from Toolbox Springs Campground); Summit Post page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Ramona Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The long ridge of Thomas Mountain rises above Garner Valley to the south of the San Jacinto Mountains.  The hike is like a longer version of nearby Cahuilla Mountain.  There are a few parts of this lengthy trip that some might find a little monotonous, but you have several options for climbing Thomas: the loop described here, a straight out-and-back or a point to point hike with a vehicle left on top or at the base of Thomas Mountain Road, farther northwest up Highway 74.  If you’re short on time, Toolbox Springs, 3.5 miles up the Ramona Trail, is a worthwhile goal.

0:03 - Bear left and begin the ascent (times are approximate)

0:03 – Bear left and begin the ascent (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Ramona Trail west, staying left at a fork with a dirt road. The trail soon begins its ascent, making switchbacks up the side of the mountain. As the steadily graded trail climbs, you get nice views of Garner Valley, the San Jacintos and the Santa Rosas. A few pines start poking up above the ribbonwoods as you ascend and you may be surprised to hear the sound of windchimes, hanging from one of them.

1:00 - Windchimes on a pine

1:00 – Windchimes on a pine

At about 2.5 miles, the trail becomes shaded by pines, black oaks and cedars. You continue your ascent, arriving at another fork (3.5 miles) where you may notice a fallen sign with the trail’s name misspelled, “ROMONA.” Take a hard right (the left spur leads to Toolbox Springs) and soon you arrive at a dirt road (3.7 miles.)

1:42 Crossing the dirt road; single track continues on the opposite side

1:42 Crossing the dirt road; single track continues on the opposite side

The shortest route to the summit from here is to head left, but to make the hike a more interesting loop, stay straight on the single-track. You follow it around the side of the mountain for a pleasant 2.1 miles, alternating between the shade of the trees and open stretches where you get a nice view of the Desert Divide across the valley. Shortly before it meets with Thomas Mountain road, you climb to a field where you get a good look at San Jacinto Peak.

2:45 - View of San Jacinto from just before the junction with the road

2:45 – View of San Jacinto from just before the junction with the road

At 5.8 miles, you reach Thomas Mountain Road. Make a hard left and follow the road a quarter mile to a junction. Turn right on the spur that leads 0.4 miles to the summit. You pass a solitary communication antenna and reach the peak, where you can sit on the foundations of an old lookout tower and enjoy the view.  Part of it is blocked by the trees, but you still can see the Anza Valley and Cahuilla Mountain to the south and the San Jacinto and Desert Divide to the north.

2:50 - Hard left on Thomas Mountain Road

2:50 – Hard left on Thomas Mountain Road

To make the hike a loop, follow the spur back down to Thomas Mountain Road and head right, passing some campsites. The road descends through the pine woodland for 1.6 miles before reaching a junction. Turn left and continue your descent for 0.4 miles, arriving back at the junction with the Ramona Trail. Follow the single-track for 3.7 miles back down to the trail head.

3:05 - Welcome to Thomas Mountain (looking southwest)

3:05 – Welcome to Thomas Mountain (looking southwest)

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

4:30 - After enjoying the summit and descending to the east on Thomas Mtn. Road, take a left on this spur to complete the loop back to the Ramona Trail.

4:30 – After enjoying the summit and descending to the east on Thomas Mtn. Road, take a left on this spur to complete the loop back to the Ramona Trail.

Camarillo Grove Community Park

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Geology in Camarillo Grove Park

Geology in Camarillo Grove Park

Prickly pear in Camarillo Grove Park

Prickly pear in Camarillo Grove Park

Camarillo Grove Community Park

  • Location: Camarillo.  From Highway 101, take the the Camarillo Springs Road exit.  Head east (turn left if you’re coming from Ventura or right if from L.A.) and drive 0.8 miles to the park’s entrance.  Entrance fees are $2 per vehicle on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $8 on holidays.   Drive to the back of the lot and park in front of the fence near the beginning of the trail.
  • Agency:  Pleasant Valley Recreation & Parks District
  • Distance: 0.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: Newburry Park
  • More information: Trip report here; park website here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 3
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Nestled beneath the 101 Freeway as it descends from Thousand Oaks to the Ventura coastal plain, Camarillo Grove is a popular dog park that also features a short nature trail.   Though it suffers from graffiti and nearby traffic noise, the trail is still a nice place to stretch your legs if you’re traveling on Highway 101. Though the trail is certainly not difficult, there are a few steep, loose spots where parents with small kids should be careful.

0:02 - Junction at the beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

0:02 – Junction at the beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

From the back of the parking area, start hiking uphill on the signed trail. A short walk brings you to a junction. You can hike the loop in either direction but to get the majority of the climbing out of the way quickly, head left. You make your way up the side of the hill, passing some interpretive signs describing the local plants including  fennel, California buckwheat, purple sage, prickly pear cacti and poison oak.

0:09 - Sharp right turn at the top of the hill, descending into the canyon

0:09 – Sharp right turn at the top of the hill, descending into the canyon

At a quarter of a mile, you reach the top of the switchbacks, where you get a nice view of the western Santa Monica Mountains. Look for an obscure trail heading off sharply to the right and downhill. You drop into the canyon, reaching another junction at 0.4 miles. Head right, passing by some interesting geological formations in the bottom of the canyon. A gentle ascent of about 50 feet brings you to the beginning of the loop. Turn left and follow the spur back downhill to your car.

0:14 - Trail junction at the bottom of the canyon (head right)

0:14 – Trail junction at the bottom of the canyon (head right)

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.

0:18 - Completing the loop (turn left and head back to the parking lot)

0:18 – Completing the loop (turn left and head back to the parking lot)

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.

Crest Canyon (Del Mar)

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On the trail in Crest Canyon

On the trail in Crest Canyon

View from the stairs descending into Crest Canyon

View from the stairs descending into Crest Canyon

Crest Canyon (Del Mar)

  • Location: Durango Drive and Lozana Road, Del Mar.  From I-5, take the Del Mar Heights Road exit and head west for 0.5 miles.  Turn right on Durango Drive and follow it 0.3 miles where you can park on the corner of Lozana Road.
  • Agency: San Diego City Open Space Division
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: Del Mar
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report (route in opposite direction, from Racetrack View to Durango) here
  • Rating: 5

This short but enjoyable hike is conveniently located to Del Mar, La Jolla and north San Diego.  If you’re coming from L.A. or Orange County for some longer hikes, it makes a nice stop on the way. Highlights of the hike include nice views of San Dieguito Lagoon, a few Torrey Pines and some sandstone geology.

0:00 - Crest Canyon Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Crest Canyon Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the corner of Durango and Lozana, pass the information board and descend via stairs into the canyon. At the bottom, an informational plaque describes some of the avian wildlife in the area.

You can hike the loop in either direction. Some hikers might prefer the right route, which is a little more rugged. The left trail might be better for hikers with dogs or small children as it is easier to follow, paralleling Oribia Road for a short distance.

0:03 - Interpretive plaque at the bottom of the stairs, Crest Canyon (times are approximate)

0:03 – Interpretive plaque at the bottom of the stairs, Crest Canyon (times are approximate)

Both trails lead about 3/4 of a mile down to Racetrack View Drive, where you can enjoy a wide view of San Dieguito Lagoon. You may get a look at a hawk or egret if you’re lucky.

You can return by either route. If you feel like extending the hike when you return to the trail head, you can continue following the trail south, where it parallels Durango for a third of a mile before turning around at Del Mar Heights Road.

0:20 - San Dieguitos Lagoon from Racetrack View Drive, the turnaround point

0:20 – San Dieguitos Lagoon from Racetrack View Drive, the turnaround point

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve

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Los Penasquitos Creek, below the waterfall

Los Penasquitos Creek, below the waterfall

Looking east from the canyon above the waterfall

Looking east from the canyon above the waterfall

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve

  • Location: North San Diego.  From Highway 56, take the Black Mountain Road exit and head south for a mile.  Turn right into the Canyonside Community Park, drive past the ballfields, turn right and park.  From I-15, take the Mercy Road exit and head west for 1.4 miles.  Turn right on Black Mountain Road and make a quick left into the park.
  • Agency: Los Pensasquitos Canyon Preserve/County of San Diego
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: “Del Mar”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information:  Here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report (slightly different route) here; trail map here
  • Rating: 6

San Diego hikers who assume they have to travel to the eastern part of the county to experience solitude will be pleasantly surprised by Los Penasquitos Canyon.  Although the preserve doesn’t feel as remote as the Palmoar or Laguna Mountains, it is surprisingly quiet, considering how close it is to civilization.  You are likely to have company from fellow hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians and airplanes will buzz overhead, but the park is still a nice, convenient place to get away from it all.

0:00 - Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

There are over ten miles of trails crossing the preserve, so it is possible to do several different routes. The 6-mile round trip described here uses the park’s main trail, on the south side of the creek, and visits a small waterfall.  Unfortunately fallen boulders obscure most of the waterfall but it’s still a nice place to sit and relax, and perhaps dip your feet.

0:03 - Footbridge in Los Penasquitos Canyon (times are approximate)

0:03 – Footbridge in Los Penasquitos Canyon (times are approximate)

From the south side of the parking lot, follow the signed trail into the preserve.  You cross a footbridge and reach the main trail, a fire road, at 0.2 miles.  Turn right and head east. For the next nearly 3 miles, you head in and out of groves of oaks and sycamores and also pass through some open fields. Several trails branch off on the right side of the road, looping back to the main trail; you can explore some of these for variety.

0:35 - Grove of sycamores on the Los Penasquitos Trail

0:35 – Grove of sycamores on the Los Penasquitos Trail

You pass a couple of big junctions, one on each side of the trail, after about a mile. Continue heading east, passing a four-way junction (“Carson’s Crossing”) at 2.4 miles.  Shortly after the 3 mile mark, follow a sign for the waterfall.  You head down a steep staircase to the banks of the creek.

0:53 - Sign at "Carson's Crossing" intersection on the way to the waterfall

0:53 – Sign at “Carson’s Crossing” intersection on the way to the waterfall

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can cross the creek and climb down the rocks and sit by the water.  Although the waterfall is hidden behind the boulders, this is a nice place to dip your feet and enjoy the sound of the stream before turning around.  Keep an eye out for crawfish that may be swimming in the pools. You can return via the same route or by the trail on the north side of the creek.

1:10 - Sign for the waterfall

1:10 – Sign for the waterfall

In case you were wondering, Penasquitos means “the little cliffs.” Near the parking lot, you can visit the historic Rancho Penasquitos adobe, dating back to the mid 19th century.

1:15 - Los Penasquitos Stream above the waterfall

1:15 – Los Penasquitos Stream above the waterfall

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.

Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

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View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

    • Location: Angeles National Forest near Mt. Wilson.  From I-210 in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 10 miles to the road for the Switzer Picnic Area (mile marker 34.19).  Drive downhill to the picnic area.  The hike begins at the eastern end of the lot, by an information board and a vault toilet.  A United States 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: 8.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Everytrail report (descent only) here; description of the trail as a mountain bike route here; description of the whole trail (scroll down for this section) here
    • Rating: 7

Linking two major stops on the Gabrielino Trail, the Switzer Picnic Area and Red Box, this hike can be done as a moderate day trip, as part of a backpacking trip or with a short car shuttle, as a point to point. The beginning of the hike suffers somewhat from freeway noise as it travels through an area heavily burned in the Station Fire, but the payoff comes higher up as you travel through shaded woodlands while taking in great aerial views of the upper Arroyo Seco and the surrounding hills. The area gets hot in the summer but there’s a decent amount of shade, and the steep walls of the canyon help block out the sun, so the hike can be done in the summer months with appropriate preparation. Keep an eye out for poison oak, no matter what season, however.

0:00 - Trail beginning at the east end of the Switzer Picnic Area

0:00 – Trail beginning at the east end of the Switzer Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the eastern end of the parking lot, follow the trail past the picnic area, crossing the stream on a concrete walkway. You pick up the trail on the south side of the canyon, passing a yellow sign warning of the dangers of hiking through a burn area.

0:03 - Picking up the trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

0:03 – Picking up the trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

After a little more than a mile, during which the trail parallels the freeway, progress is blocked by a big fallen tree. Bypass it by following a rough path to the left into the creek bed, following the creek bed for a few yards and almost immediately heading out and back to the trail.

0:30 - Turn left before the fallen tree and into the creek bed

0:30 – Turn left before the fallen tree and into the creek bed

The trail continues its ascent on the south side of the canyon, with the views getting better and better as you ascend. At about 1.7 miles you enter a big S-curve, briefly heading northwest before continuing south and then east.

1:10 - Looking east toward Red Box from the switchbacks

1:10 – Looking east toward Red Box from the switchbacks

At 2.4 miles, a giant pine tree welcomes you to the upper reaches of the trail, and you enjoy some shade as you cross a tributary canyon of the Arroyo Seco. You continue on to another S-curve with more wide-ranging views before the last stretch of the trail brings you to the Red Box area. This makes a good turnaround point (4.1 miles), but if you’ve got more gas in the tank, you can continue downhill on the Gabrielino Trail toward Valley Forge, or up Mt. Wilson Road a short distance to the San Gabriel Peak Trail.

1:20 - Into the pines

1:20 – Into the pines

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

2:00 - Red Box parking area

2:00 – Red Box parking area

San Dieguito County Park

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On the trail at San Dieguito County Park

On the trail at San Dieguito County Park

Geology in San Dieguito County Park

Geology in San Dieguito County Park

San Dieguito County Park

  • Location: North San Diego County, near Del Mar and Solana Beach.  From I-5, exit at Lomas Santa Fe and drive east (turn left if you’re coming from the north, right if from the south) for one mile.  Turn left on Highland Drive and go 0.7 miles to a T-junction with El Camino Real.  Turn right and park in a dirt turnout on the right side of the road, just before the entrance to the park.  If no parking is available you can park inside for $3 per vehicle.
  • Agency: County of San Diego
  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: Del Mar
  • More information: here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 4
0:00 - North entrance to San Dieguito County Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – North entrance to San Dieguito County Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Though it’s basically a suburban recreation park, San Dieguito County Park is a pleasant surprise for hikers, with a few trails that climb up the hillside and provide some nice views of the surrounding area. Water features, picnic areas and playground equipment make the park and its trails a great destination for families with small children.

0:04 - Beginning of the hiking trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

0:04 – Beginning of the hiking trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

The 1.7-mile loop described here, one of many possible routes, circles the park, stopping at three lookout points. Enter the park’s north gate, passing by some fountains and turn right at the first intersection (the left road is your return route). Almost immediately, turn left into a small parking lot and look for a trail leading into the bushes past some picnic tables. Across a field, look for a signed hiking trail and begin climbing some stairs.

0:08 - View from the first lookout point

0:08 – View from the first lookout point

The ascent is short but surprisingly steep. The trail splits and soon rejoins just below the first lookout point. After enjoying the scenery, continue following the trail past some playground equipment which can be accessed by a footbridge. Past the bridge you reach the second lookout point.

0:16 - Dirt service road past the second lookout

0:16 – Dirt service road past the second lookout

The trail then heads briefly downhill and back up to a dirt service road.  Bear right onto the road and pass by some interesting geological formations before joining another picnic area near the park’s south entrance.

0:25 - Turn left onto the paved road

0:25 – Turn left onto the paved road

From here, look for another sign indicating the hiking trail on the right side of the picnic area. Follow it to the south end of the park, where it heads east, following Lomas Santa Fe Drive (about 3/4 of a mile from the start.)

0:30 - View from the third lookout

0:30 – View from the third lookout

After a short distance, the trail heads back into the park, bearing left on an abandoned paved road. A dirt trail heads off to the left, bringing you to the third and highest lookout point, about a mile from the start.

0:37 - Bear left and follow the trail through the trees

0:37 – Bear left and follow the trail through the trees

After enjoying the view, head downhill on a trail to the right of the platform. As you pass by another picnic area, bear left and follow the trail through a grove of trees. Walk down the grass to the end of a paved road, which you will follow back to the park’s entrance.

0:38 - Head through the picnic area to the paved road back to the park's entrance

0:38 – Head through the picnic area to the paved road back to the park’s entrance

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.

Upper Canyonback Trail

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Returning on the Upper Canyonback Trail

Returning on the Upper Canyonback Trail

Western panorama from the Canyonback Trail

Western panorama from the Canyonback Trail

Upper Canyonback Trail

  • Location:  Northeastern Santa Monica Mountains, near the Getty Center.  From I-405, take Mulholland Drive west for 2.1 miles.  At the corner of Muholland and Encino Hills Drive, take a sharp left onto the dirt road.  Drive a short distance and park in the area before Mulholland  bends to the right, and begin hiking on the trail past the yellow metal gate.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area/Westridge Canyonback Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 325 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot in summer)
  • USGS topo map:  “Canoga Park”
  • Recomended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: here; description of both Lower and Upper segments here;  Yelp page here
  • Rating: 6

This enjoyable hike visits the northeastern corner of the so-called “Big Wild”, a large open space between I-405 and Topanga State Park.  It’s moderate enough to be a good summer hike; although the route is almost entirely exposed, with an early start you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.  It also makes a nice evening walk too; navigation couldn’t be easier.

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

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

From the parking area, pass the metal gate and head south on the Canyonback Trail. After a few hundred yards, you pass the first of several knolls with use trails running up them. You can climb to the top for a better view or continue along the fire road, which curves around the knoll and begins descending. (There are several ups and downs along the way; the total net gain is more on the return than on the way out).

0:10 - Following the ridge past the first knoll (times are approximate)

0:10 – Following the ridge past the first knoll (times are approximate)

You continue, getting nice views of Sullivan Canyon on the right and, with clear air, the Hollywood Hills, downtown L.A. and the San Gabriel Mountains on the left. At 1.2 miles, you pass through a metal fence and soon afterward, you get a nice aerial perspective on the Mountain View Golf Club.

0:27 - Trees on the Canyonback Trail

0:27 – Trees on the Canyonback Trail

The trail then dips rather abruptly, reaching an unceremonious stop at a metal fence. Beyond it is a residential area, and farther south, the trail continues toward Kenter Avenue. You can sit beneath a shade tree and enjoy the view of the canyon before turning around.

0:32 - "Fore!"

0:32 – “Fore!”

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.

0:45 - End of the Upper Canyonback Trail

0:45 – End of the Upper Canyonback Trail

Doane Nature Trail (Palomar Mountain State Park)

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Ponderosa Pines on the Doane Nature Trail

Ponderosa Pines on the Doane Nature Trail

Incense Cedar tree on the Doane Nature Trail

Incense Cedar tree on the Doane Nature Trail

Doane Nature Trail (Palomar Mountain State Park)

  • Location:  Palomar Mountains in northeastern San Diego County.  From I-15 at Fallbrook, take highway 76 east for 21 miles, and take a left on county road S6.  Follow it for 6 1/2 miles and take a left on S7 (signed for the park).  Drive 3 miles and enter the park, where a $8 per day fee is charged.  At the first intersection, turn right and drive 1.8 miles to the Doane Pond day use area, making a right turn at the only intersection along the way.  The road is narrow and drops off sharply, so be careful.
  • Agency: Palomar Mountain State Park
  • Distance: 1.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 45 minutes
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map:  “Boucher Hill”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Description here; video of the trail here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Doane Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This trail packs more scenery in a mile than can be found in many longer trails. Highlights include Ponderosa pines, oaks, a huge incense cedar, a trickling stream and green meadows.

0:03 - Footbridge and paved road crossing (times are approximate)

0:03 – Footbridge and paved road crossing (times are approximate)

From the parking area, look for the signed Doane Nature Trail, leaving from the southwest corner of the lot. Pick up an informative brochure which will describe some of the sights along the way, indicated by numbered sign posts.

0:05 - Stream crossing

0:05 – Stream crossing

You follow the trail into the woods, crossing a sketchy-looking but secure footbridge and picking up the path on the opposite side of the paved road. The trail crosses the stream and continues into a thick forest of pines, oaks, fir and cedar.

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

0:10 – Stay right at the junction with the Weir Trail

At 0.3 miles, stay right as the Weir Trail branches off. You cross the stream again, and shortly after passing by a giant incense cedar, the trail enters an open meadow. You follow a staircase past some Ponderosa pines (unfortunately, damage from bark beetles is evident) and a black oak that was burned in a 1987 wildfire.

0:21 - Meadow view on the Doane Trail

0:21 – Meadow view on the Doane Trail

Continuing through another meadow, you meet up with the French Valley Trail. Turn right and cross a bridge to reach the end of the loop, at the Doane Valley Campground. Here, you’ll turn right and follow the paved road back to the day use area.

0:25 - Fire damaged black oak on the Doane Trail

0:25 – Fire damaged black oak on the Doane Trail

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:35 - Bridge to the campground at the end of the Doane Trail

0:35 – Bridge to the campground at the end of the Doane Trail

Vetter Mountain

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This post is dedicated in memory of the 19 firefighters who died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, June 2013.  To donate to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, click here.

Vetter Baldy view

Looking east toward Mt. Baldy from Vetter Mountain

Pines and clouds on the slope of Vetter Mountain

Pines and clouds on the slope of Vetter Mountain

Vetter Mountain

    • Location: Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 23.3 miles.  Turn left into the signed Charlton Flats  Picnic Area.  Quickly turn right and head toward the picnic area.  The signed Vetter Mountain trail begins on the left side of the road, half a mile down (before a metal gate.)  No parking is allowed immediately next to the trail, but you can park a few dozen yards before it.  The entire picnic area may be closed during the winter, requiring hikers to park on the highway itself; check the links below for updated information.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 4  miles
    • Elevation gain: 700 feet
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season:  Year-round (depending on conditions)
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking polesinsect repellent
    • More information: here and here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head with sign warning about poodle dog bush (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

0:00 – Trail head with sign warning about poodle dog bush (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

Vetter Mountain is perhaps best known for its historic lookout tower which, sadly, was lost in the 2009 Station Fire.  Still, the peak’s unique vantage point which made it ideal for a tower location provides some great views from the summit.  On clear days, you can see not only the neighboring peaks of the Angeles – Baldy, Wilson, Strawberry and Markham to name a few – but San Jacinto, Catalina Island, Old Saddleback and the Palomars of San Diego.

0:03 - Turn left on the Silver Moccasin Trail (times are approximate)

0:03 – Turn left on the Silver Moccasin Trail (times are approximate)

There are several possible routes to the top. The Vetter Mountain Trail itself, as of this writing, is very overgrown and is difficult to navigate; the trail also presents the problem of poodle dog bush, a plant that grows in burned areas and can potentially create poison oak-like symptoms if one were to come in contact with it. Therefore, the advisable route to the top is via the Silver Moccasin Trail, a paved service road and a fire road.

0:25 - Hard right to continue along the trail

0:21 – Hard right to continue along the trail

From the parking area, follow the signed Vetter Mountain Trail across a stream bed, doing what you can to avoid the large quantities of the poodle dog bush, and hike 0.1 miles to a junction. Take a hairpin left turn on the Silver Moccasin Trail and begin a gentle climb through woodlands still showing signs of the Station Fire. At another junction, take a hard right and soon you will arrive at a service road. The trail continues on the other side of the road and soon meets up with it again at a saddle, where there are some nice views of Mt. Wilson.

0:24 - Crossing the service road

0:24 – Crossing the service road

Turn right, passing by a sign indicating 1.2 miles to the lookout site. You pass an outhouse and picnic table. Continuing, you reach a Y-junction where you head uphill on the left fork, which becomes a dirt road. As you approach the summit, you will notice a portable shade structure that has been set up.

0:30 - View of Mt. Wilson from the service road

0:30 – View of Mt. Wilson from the service road

A staircase leads you to the top, where you can sit on the stone foundation of the lookout tower and enjoy the view. While the Vetter lookout was certainly a sad loss for the Angeles National Forest, hikers can take some consolation in being able to once again have access to the summit and its panoramic vistas. The hike serves too as a potent reminder of the danger of wildfire.

0:58 - Shade shelter near the summit

0:58 – Shade shelter near the summit

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:00 - Looking west toward Strawberry Peak from the summit

1:00 – Looking west toward Strawberry Peak from the summit

Heller’s Bend Preserve

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Under the oaks in the Heller's Bend Preserve

Under the oaks in the Heller’s Bend Preserve

 Heller’s Bend Preserve

    • Location: Fallbrook.  From Highway 76, turn north on South Mission Road  (12.7 miles east of I-5; 4.6 miles west of I-15).  Go 1.4 miles and turn left on Heller’s Bend.  (This intersection is easy to miss; if you reach Via Monserate or Paseo del Lago, you’ve come too far.)  Go 0.4 miles to the white sign indicating Heller’s Bend Preserve.  Park on the narrow shoulder on the left side of the road by the sign, making sure you are not blocking traffic.
    • Agency: Fallbrook Land Conservancy
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: 250 feet
    • Suggested time: 45 minutes
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Best season:  All year, sunrise to sunset
    • USGS topo map: “Bonsall”
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
    • More information: Article about the hike here; video of the hike here
    • Rating: 5

This short but enjoyable hike explores one of several properties overseen by the Fallbrook Land Conservancy.  Though the ascent has a few steep stretches, it should be easy for almost anyone to accomplish.  It makes a perfect before- or after- work excursion; it is dog friendly as well.

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

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

From the parking area, step inside the gate and follow the trail down into a plesant woodland of oaks and sycamores, to a seasonal stream. Cross it on a concrete ford, and begin the ascent on a paved road. Watch out for clusters of poison oak on the side.

0:03 - Stream crossing (times are approximate)

0:03 – Stream crossing (times are approximate)

The trail makes a hairpin turn and comes out into an open area. Bear right at a junction (0.2 miles) and continue climbing uphill, passing a bench where you can sit and take a breather. You get some wide-ranging views as you ascend.

Finally the trail levels out at the top of a ridge (0.5 miles), where more benches allow you to sit and look out at the Palmoar and San Jacinto ranges, and the valley below.

0:10 - Turn right and continue up the paved road

0:10 – Turn right and continue up the paved road

This flat area makes a good turnaround point. Beyond, the trail becomes dirt again and continues up the hill (watch out for more poison oak), taking in some more panoramic views before reaching private property.

0:20 - Looking north from the benches (turnaround point)

0:20 – Looking north from the benches (turnaround point)

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mt. Lowe from Eaton Saddle

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Looking north from just below Mt. Lowe's summit

Looking north from just below Mt. Lowe’s summit

Looking west from the Mt. Lowe Trail

Looking west from the Mt. Lowe Trail

Mt. Lowe from Eaton Saddle

    • Location: Eaton Saddle, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) northeast for 14 miles.  Take a right on the Mt. Wilson Red Box Road and go 2.3 miles to Eaton Saddle.  Park on the right side of the road in a small turnout.   A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 3.2  miles
    • Elevation gain: 500 feet
    • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season:  Year-round (depending on conditions)
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking polesinsect repellent
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
    • More information: Trip report here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Sign at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

This perennial favorite among L.A. hikers offers wide views and interesting history.  In the winter, snow is not likely to be too much of an obstacle (though you should still check conditions before going) and in the summer, it can be a nice place to escape the heat, although since the trail is exposed, plan accordingly.

0:08 - View of Mt. Markham and the remains of the Cliff Trail, just before the tunnel (times are approximate)

0:08 – View of Mt. Markham and the remains of the Cliff Trail, just before the tunnel (times are approximate)

From the parking area, pass by the metal gate (look for an interpretive plaque describing the history of the Mt. Lowe Railroad) and follow the dirt road. Right in front of you is the cone-like shape of Mt. Markham.

0:12 - Turn left on the Mt. Lowe Trail at the junction

0:12 – Turn left on the Mt. Lowe Trail at the junction

At 0.3 miles, you reach Mueller Tunnel, built to bypass the infamous Cliff Trail, which allowed literally no room for error (and severe consequences if an error did happen.) Remnants of the trail can still be seen.

0:25 - Approaching the saddle between Markham and Lowe

0:25 – Approaching the saddle between Markham and Lowe

On the opposite side of the tunnel, you reach a four-way junction. Head left on the single-track Mt. Lowe Trail, climbing through an area burned in the Station Fire. You get nice views of the canyon as you ascend, following the ridge along Mt. Markham’s north slope. At about a mile, you reach a saddle between Markham and Lowe, where you can see the latter’s summit looming ahead. Hikers with a fear of heights might want to take their time on this stretch; although it’s not as scary as the Cliff Trail, the route does cut pretty close to the edge here.

0:35 - Hard right at the junction

0:35 – Hard right at the junction

At 1.3 miles, take a sharp right at a junction and continue your climb. The views continue to be good; you can see Mt. Disappointment with its antenna installations on top. If you’re a long-time hiker, you probably know the story of how Mt. Disappointment got its name, but if you don’t and are interested, you can read about it here.

0:42 - Spur to the summit (turn left)

0:42 – Spur to the summit (turn left)

At 1.5 miles, take a left on a short spur leading to the summit. Even if the air quality is bad (which it usually is during the summer), the view is still impressive: Mt. Baldy, San Jacinto, Saddleback and more. A bench provides a nice resting spot for enjoying the view before heading back down.

0:45 - Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel and Markham from the Mt. Lowe summit

0:45 – Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel and Markham from the Mt. Lowe summit

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.

Smuggler’s Cove and Yellow Banks (Santa Cruz Island)

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Anacapa Island from Santa ruz Island

Anacapa Island from Santa Cruz Island

Native Channel Islands Fox near Smuggler's Cove

Native Channel Islands Fox near Smuggler’s Cove

Smuggler’s Cove and Yellow Banks  (Santa Cruz Island)

    • Location:  Channel Islands National Park, off the Ventura coast.   Island Packers is the main travel provider to the Channel Islands National Park.  Visit their site here for schedules, fares and other information.
    • Agency:  Channel Islands National Park/National Park Service
    • Distance: 10.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
    • Suggested time: 5.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Best season:  Year-round (pending boat availability)
    • USGS topo map: “Santa Cruz Island C” and “Santa Cruz Island D”
    • Recommended gear: Dramamine (boat ride); sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trip description (through Smuggler’s Cove) here; S.C.I. Yelp page here; National Park Service page here
    • Rating: 8

The most popular day hike on Santa Cruz Island is Potato Harbor, but ambitious hikers might want to set their sights on Smuggler’s Cove, or farther still to the Yellow Banks Overlook. Although the schedules may vary, day trips typically allow five hours on the island; easily enough time to reach Smuggler’s Cove (a 7.4 mile round trip with 1,400 feet of total elevation gain) and, if a brisk pace is maintained, the Yellow Banks Overlook 1.7 miles farther.

0:00 - Scorpion Anchorage, beginning point for the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Scorpion Anchorage, beginning point for the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From Scorpion Anchorage, follow the dirt road toward the information center, where you can look at interpretive exhibits and learn about Santa Cruz Island. Continuing, you pass the trail to Cavern Point branching off to the right and the visitor center, and soon you reach a 4-way intersection. Head left and begin a short but steep climb. For your efforts, you get a nice aerial view of the bay and Cavern Point.

0:03 - Model of Santa Cruz Island, with the route to Smuggler's Cove outlined, at the information center (times are approximate)

0:03 – Model of Santa Cruz Island, with the route to Smuggler’s Cove outlined, at the information center (times are approximate)

The trail reaches a ridge where you can see Anacapa Island and the rugged coastline on the eastern shore of Santa Cruz. You make a sharp right turn and head through an open field, with the mountains distant.

0:06 - Turn left and begin the ascent past the windmill

0:09 – Turn left and begin the ascent past the windmill

At about 1.5 miles, you reach a split where the Montanos Trail heads off to the right. Stay left and continue a gradual ascent, enjoying more great views to the east. You reach the high point of the hike, approximately 700 feet above sea level, and then begin a steep descent (which, of course, you will have to climb on the return, and odds are the temperature will be hotter.)

0:55 - Turn left at the junction to continue to Smuggler's Cove

0:55 – Turn left at the junction to continue to Smuggler’s Cove

At the bottom of the hill, you make a sharp S-curve, taking in your first views of the island’s south side. Another steep descent, through a grove of trees, brings you to Smuggler’s Cove. Here you can sit at a picnic table beneath a grove of eucalyptus trees and watch the tide. The crescent-shaped bay resembles Little Harbor on Catalina Island.

1:40 - Approaching Smuggler's Cove

1:40 – Approaching Smuggler’s Cove

This makes a good turnaround point, but if you have time and energy you can continue on by following the dirt road north from Smuggler’s Cove through the trees, signed for Smuggler’s Ranch and Yellow Banks. You reach the old ranch house, built in 1889, with an interpretive plaque describing its history. Passing the house, the trail makes a sharp left turn and begins a steep ascent. On the way up, look for some caves carved into the rocks of the deep canyon beyond the ranch house.

1:45 - Smuggler's Cove

1:45 – Smuggler’s Cove

The climb levels out and the trail passes through a big field, following a fence, before bending back to the south. The trail rises and falls before leveling out and reaching an ending in a clearing just beyond a solitary tree.

1:50 - Historic ranch house

1:50 – Historic ranch house

Here, you can stand and look at the ocean below. There are several informal paths that lead down to the ocean (300 feet below), but hikers who attempt these routes put themselves at risk. If you have visited Santa Cruz Island as a day trip, odds are you will not have time to explore much further, regardless of terrain and trail condition, so consider this vista your turnaround point.

2:35 - Yellow Banks Vista (turnaround point)

2:35 – Yellow Banks Vista (turnaround point)

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.

Highland Valley Trail

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Through a field on the Highland Valley Trail

Through a field on the Highland Valley Trail

Oaks on the Highland Valley Trail

Oaks on the Highland Valley Trail

Highland Valley Trail

      • Location: 12373 Highland Valley Road, south of Escondido, near Rancho Bernardo.   From I-15, take the W. Bernardo Drive/Pomerado Road exit.  Turn right (regardless of what direction you’re coming from) on Pomerado Road and go about a quarter mile to Highland Valley Road.  Turn left and almost immediately turn right into the parking area.  The trail head is open from 6am-6pm from November to March and 6am-730pm from April to October.
      • Agency: San Dieguito River Park
      • Distance: 4.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 150 feet
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round
      • USGS topo map: Escondido
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
      • Reommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Trip description here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 5
0:00 - Information board by the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Information board by the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

The San Dieguito River Park is quietly becoming one of Southern California’s major networks of hiking trails. The goal is to provide a chain of continuous public lands and recreational trails that reaches 55 miles from the Volcan Mountain Preserve near Julian to the coastline at Del Mar. This segment, just south of Escondido, is a pleasant 2-mile walk through some fields and oak woodlands, with nice views of the mountains nearby. It never really escapes the noise of the freeway and busy Highland Valley Road, but it’s still a nice excursion if you’re in the area.

0:07 - Crossing the dirt service road (times are approximate)

0:07 – Crossing the dirt service road (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, the trail begins near the information board, where you can pick up a brochure describing the plant life along the way, including coastal sage, cottonwood and more. At 0.3 miles, you cross a dirt service road and the trail dips into a wooded ravine, crossing a footbridge. Leaving the shade, the trail continues along the side of a hill through terrain that may remind some of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve in Riverside County. You go in and out of pockets of oak trees, while large granite boulders dot the hillside.

0:08 - Footbridge

0:08 – Footbridge

At 1.2 miles, you cross a paved service road, and soon after, the trail bends to the south, following Sycamore Creek Road. As you head farther from Highland Valley Road, the noise of the traffic dies down.

0:28 - Crossing the paved service road

0:28 – Crossing the paved service road

At 1.9 miles, you cross Sycamore Creek Road and continue south. There are a couple of small but sudden dips in the trail to watch out for as it crosses a few more dirt roads. At 2.1 miles, shortly before the end of Sycamore Creek Road, you reach a picnic area, the end of the trail. Shaded by oaks, this is a nice, quiet place to sit and relax before turning around.

0:43 - Heading down toward Sycamore Creek Road

0:43 – Heading down toward Sycamore Creek Road

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.

1:00 - Picnic area (the turnaround point)

1:00 – Picnic area (the turnaround point)