Category Archives: Season: All year

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

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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)

Thunder Spring/Chimney Flats Loop (Palomar Mountain State Park)


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Chimney Flats

Chimney Flats

Looking south from the Silvercrest Trail

Looking south from the Silvercrest Trail

Thunder Spring/Chimney Flats Loop (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: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot in  the summer, snowy in the winter – call the park to check the conditions)
  • USGS topo map:  “Boucher Hill”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sun hat; Poison oak cream
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Beginning of the hike at the Cedar Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike at the Cedar Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This great hike has a lot of scenic variety, including panoramic mountain views, trickling streams, green meadows, tall trees and even the ruins of a cabin.  The only downside is the large amounts of poison oak that grow on the wooded slopes.

0:05 - Doane Pond (times are approximate)

0:05 – Doane Pond (times are approximate)

From the parking area, take the signed Cedar Trail. You pass a spur leading to restrooms and come to a picnic area where the trail splits. Head left (right is the return route) and walk around peaceful Doane Pond. Turn left at the T-junction and begin hiking on the Thunder Spring Trail. You enter a thick forest of oaks, reaching Thunder Spring in 0.6 miles and a junction with the Upper Doane Trail at one mile.

0:17 - Stream below Thunder Spring

0:17 – Stream below Thunder Spring

Staying straight at the intersection, you cross the stream and begin climbing. Watch out for the poison oak as you ascend the switchbacks. The trail levels out and follows alongside a fence for a short distance before reaching Chimney Flats (1.5 miles), a pleasant green meadow that resembles Tahquitz Valley in the San Jacinto range.

0:28 - Junction with the Doane Trail (stay straight)

0:28 – Junction with the Doane Trail (stay straight)

After Chimney Flats, the trail, now a fire road, enters another attractive grove of trees. A few stumps make good resting spots. You reach a paved service road, the approximate midpoint of the hike.  You have two options: you can continue straight through an open field and more woodlands to Scott’s Cabin, or you can turn left on the service road which soon brings you to the the main park road.  Across the way, pick up the Silvercrest Trail, passing by a grave marker for a certain William Pearson, killed when a tree fell on him in 1898.  Past the grave site, the Silvercrest Trail enters an open area where you get excellent views of Pauma Valley on the left and Boucher Hill ahead.

0:52 - Woodlands past Chimney Flat

0:52 – Woodlands past Chimney Flat

The trail ends at a picnic area where you cross the street and pick up a spur leading back to the Scott’s Cabin Trail.  Turn left at a T-junction and soon after, you reach the remains of Scott’s Cabin, little more than a bunch of neatly stacked logs. The trail leaves the woods and begins a descent with nice views to the north, before reaching a junction with the Cedar Trail.

1:00 - Grave marker on the Silver Crest Trail

1:00 – Grave marker on the Silver Crest Trail

Turn right and begin the last leg of the hike, during which the poison oak is at its worst. Fallen trees that require climbing over make avoiding the poison oak particularly difficult. If you want to bypass this section, you can take the Scott’s Cabin Trail to the paved road, turn right and follow it back to the starting area.

1:20 - Scott's Cabin foundation

1:25 – Scott’s Cabin remains

The Cedar Trail, steep and loose in some spots, is scenic, despite the poison oak. It descends through a forest, finally reaching Doane Pond. Turn left and follow the trail back to the picnic area and the parking lot.

1:30 - View from the Scott's Cabin Trail descent

1:35 – View from the Scott’s Cabin Trail descent

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.

1:40 - Turn right on the Cedar Trail and avoid the poison oak

1:45 – Turn right on the Cedar Trail and avoid the poison oak

Granite Loop (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)


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Looking across the plateau from the Granite Trail

Looking across the plateau from the Granite Loop Trail

Huge oak on the Granite Trail

Huge oak on the Granite Loop Trail

Granite Loop (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)

    • Location: Murrieta, in southwest Riverside County.  From I-15, take the Clinton Keith road exit.  Turn right and head southwest for 4.1 miles.  Park in the visitor center (open 9am-5pm daily) on the left side of the road.   There are restrooms inside the visitor center and portables outside.  Admission fee is $3 per adult or $2 per child.
    • Agency: Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
    • Distance:  1.2 miles (with optional 0.4 mile side-trip)
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes (plus extra time for side trips and Visitor’s Center)
    • Best season:  Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map:  Wildomar
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
    • More information: here; park map here; trail description here
    • Rating: 6

Like the Oak Tree Loop, this short but scenic hike is proof that there’s more to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve than the famed Vernal Pools and historic adobes, and that the large park can be a nice summer hiking destination.  To be sure, in hot weather, precautions should be taken even on a short hike, but if you have water, sun protection and an hour or so, the Granite Loop is a great little excursion.

0:00 - Heading north from the parking lot on the Granite Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Heading north from the parking lot on the Granite Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

The loop can be hiked in either direction, but for the sake of this post, it’ll be described clockwise. Head north out of the lot on the signed Granite Trail Loop, and descend into a picnic area shaded by the park’s characteristic Engelmann Oaks. At 0.4 miles, bear left to continue on the Granite Loop (the straight spur heads back to the visitor center). A slight climb brings you to a spot where you can get a glimpse of San Jacinto Peak.

0:05 - Picnic area under the oaks (times are approximate)

0:05 – Picnic area under the oaks (times are approximate)

The trail descends, passing by some boulders, and enters a meadow. You can take a detour on the Vista Grande Trail (left at the first junction) to a view point, 0.2 miles south.

0:10 - Turn left to continue on the Granite Loop

0:10 – Turn left to continue on the Granite Loop

Continuing on the Granite Loop, you pass the dirt Waterline Road, and come to an oak with branches so long they touch the ground. A few benches allow you to rest in the shade; this is the approximate half way point in the hike. After leaving the oaks, you cross a footbridge, continue through a meadow, cross another footbridge and begin a slight climb before dropping back down into the parking lot.

0:15 - Stay straight at the junction with the Waterline fire road

0:15 – Stay straight at the junction with the Waterline fire road

If you have time, there are plenty of other great trails to explore here. The visitor center, which has several exhibits on local wildlife, is worth dropping by as well.

0:25 - Granite boulders near the end of the loop

0:25 – Granite boulders near the end of the loop

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

0:30 - Returning to the parking lot

0:30 – Returning to the parking lot

Valley Forge Trail Camp from Red Box via Gabrielino Trail


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Stream crossing just before the Valley Forge Campground

Stream crossing just before the Valley Forge Campground

Old and new growth on the Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Valley Forge Trail Camp

Old and new growth on the Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Valley Forge Trail Camp

Valley Forge Trail Camp from Red Box via Gabrielino Trail

    • Location: Red Box Picnic Area, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway northeast for 14 miles and park at the Red Box Picnic Area, at the junction with the road to Mt. Wilson.  From the high desert, take the Angeles Forest Highway south to Big Tujunga Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 9 miles to the Angeles Crest Highway.  Turn right and go 4.3 miles to Red Box, which will be on the left.  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: 4.8  miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain)
    • Best season:  Year-round (depending on conditions)
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: insect repellent
    • More information: Red Box trail head information here; Valley Forge Campground information here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the hike, at Red Box Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike, at Red Box Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is an enjoyable reverse hike in the front country of the Angeles National Forest, leaving from the popular Red Box picnic area and descending to the Valley Forge Trail Camp, via the Gabrielino Trail.  While it lacks the dramatic scenery and variety of the nearby Devil’s Canyon and Shortcut Saddle hikes, it offers a good workout in a secluded part of the Angeles National Forest.  The Station Fire damage is obvious, but new growth can also be seen.  A seasonal stream and a nice variety of plant life, including pines, sycamoers, black oaks and manzanitas, adds to the appeal.

0:21 - Crossing the service road; trail picks up on the other side (times are approximate)

0:21 – Crossing the service road; trail picks up on the other side (times are approximate)

From the signed Red Box trailhead information board, descend the stone staircase to the Gabrielino Trail and head left. You follow the highway for 0.2 miles, with some nice views of Mt. Baldy to the east, before descending into the canyon on some switchbacks. Beneath the shade of some black oaks, the descent continues, roughly following the stream bed of the San Gabriel River’s west fork’s upper reaches.

0:31 -First stream crossing

0:31 -First stream crossing

At 0.7 miles, you reach a dirt road where you pick up the trail on the opposite side. Soon after you pass Camp Hi-Hill, an outdoor education facility. The trail makes a hairpin turn to the left and a sign reads “Valley Forge Trail Camp.” That doesn’t mean you’ve arrived; the bottom of the sign, indicating a distance of 1.5 miles, is missing. After passing the broken sign, continue toward the stream, making the first of several crossings.

0:49 - Continuing past the cabin on the Gabrielino Trail

0:49 – Continuing past the cabin on the Gabrielino Trail

At 1.7 miles, you come to a private cabin in a clearing. Continue following the trail, making another stream crossing and passing two more cabins. At 2.2 miles, you reach a split. The Valley Forge Trail heads uphill, leading to Mt. Wilson Road, three miles away. To reach the trail camp, however, bear left and make a few switchbacks down to the creek. On the opposite side is the trail camp, where you can sit on a picnic bench and enjoy the sound of the stream and the shade of the trees.

1:07 - Bear left and descend to the trail camp

1:07 – Bear left and descend to the trail camp

You can return via the same route, or to make a loop, you can use the service road just beyond the camp.  If you want to extend the hike, you can make it into a loop by taking the Valley Forge Trail up to Mt. Wilson Road and descending back to Red Box; you can also continue following the Gabrielino Trail to the West Fork Trail Camp and take the Silver Moccasin Trail up to the Angeles Crest Highway, an option if you’ve arranged for a shuttle.

1:12 - Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

1:12 – Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

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.

Montecito Overlook via Cold Spring Trail Loop


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Looking south from the Montecito Overlook

Looking south from the Montecito Overlook

Through the oaks on the Cold Spring Trail, descending from the overlook

Through the oaks on the Cold Spring Trail, descending from the overlook

Montecito Overlook via Cold Springs Trail Loop

      • Location: Montecito, south of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, take the Olive Mill Road exit (94A) and head north (left if you’re coming from Santa Barbara; right if from Ventura or L.A.)  Go a total of 2 miles (Olive Mill becomes Hot Springs Road along the way) to East Mountain Drive.  Turn left and go 1.1 miles to the trail head, just before the road crosses the stream.  Park on the right side of the road, or wherever is available and begin hiking on the second trail leading up from the road.
      • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
      • Distance: 2.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 950 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
      • USGS topo map: Santa Barbara
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
      • More information: here (slightly different route); Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Cold Springs trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

The front country of the Los Padres National Forest has many great trails, and the hike to the Montecito Overlook via the Cold Springs Trail is understandably a popular one. With ocean and mountain views, interesting geology and a seasonal stream with a small waterfall, the hike packs a lot of scenery into a short distance – and quite a workout.

0:08 -Bench at the junction (times are approximate)

0:08 -Bench at the junction (times are approximate)

From East Mountain Drive, look for the signed Cold SpringTrail. The first trail you come to is your return route (if you do the hike as a loop, clockwise is strongly recommended; that allows you to make the ascent almost entirely in the shady side of the canyon.) The second trail is signed as the Cold Springs Trail, with distance markers to the overlook and Montecito Peak.

0:20 - Waterfall on the Cold Spring Trail

0:20 – Waterfall on the Cold Spring Trail

Follow the Cold Springs Trail along the creek, arriving at a bench at a quarter mile. Stay straight on the east fork of the Cold Spring Trail, which starts to climb up along the east side of the canyon. You reach a stream crossing at about half a mile, where a small waterfall pours over rocks into a pool.

0:29 - Crossing the stream

0:25 – Crossing the stream

You continue along the west side of the creek, soon crossing it again (be careful on the rocks, which may be slippery), and stay right at a junction. At 1.1 miles, you make a hairpin left turn and make your way around a north facing slope, getting views of the mountains above and of power lines on the fire road.

0:26 - Continuing the ascent

0:26 – Continuing the ascent (stay right)

You reach the fire road at 1.4 miles. Turn right and look for a single-track, which will take you to the high point of the overlook. Here, you get a nice view of Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz Island; if the air is clear, you can see as far as the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:35 - Hairpin turn to the left, approaching the fire road

0:35 – Hairpin turn to the left, approaching the fire road

At this point, you can return via the same route. However, if you want to make a loop hike, continue along the Cold Spring Trail, which descends steeply from the west end of the overlook. After passing the end of the fire road, it drops sharply back toward the canyon. The trail splits but both paths soon meet again, so you can take either. The views of the ocean and the mountains are good, but make sure you are careful on the rocks; the trail is steep and loose.

0:44 - Turn right on the fire road

0:44 – Turn right on the fire road

At 1.8 miles, turn left (even though the right fork is signed as the trail.) You continue dropping down the ridge, reaching a saddle. Here, you dip into the shade, a welcome change after the exposed terrain higher on the ridge (aren’t you glad you went clockwise?) Through the oaks and chaparral, you get some nice views of the ocean.

0:47 - Southwest view from the overlook

0:47 – Southwest view from the overlook

At 2.2 miles, turn right and continue your descent. Again the trail splits, soon reconnecting. You make a few more switchbacks, and finally the road comes into sight. Follow the trail down to the road, completing the loop at 2.6 miles.

0:55 - Leaving the fire road, beginning the descent into the canyon

0:53 – Leaving the fire road, beginning the descent into the canyon

Hikers who want a challenge can continue from the overlook up to Montecito Peak, two miles and 1,600 feet higher. The west fork of the Cold Spring Trail also serves as an access point for Tangerine Falls, one of the area’s popular hiking destinations, accessible by scrambling through a poison oak-heavy canyon.

1:00 - Left turn at the junction, into the open

1:00 – Left turn at the junction, into the open

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.

1:17 - Right turn, back into the shade, beginning the final descent into the canyon

1:17 – Right turn, back into the shade, beginning the final descent into the canyon

South Arroyo Trabuco Trail (Avery Parkway to Crown Valley)


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Wildflowers on the South Arroyo Trabuco Trail, Mission Viejo

Wildflowers on the South Arroyo Trabuco Trail, Mission Viejo

Cat tails on the Arroyo Trabuco Trail

Cat tails on the Arroyo Trabuco Trail

South Arroyo Trabuco Trail (Avery Parkway to Crown Valley)

        • Location: End of Avery Parkway in Mission Viejo.  From I-5, take the Avery Parkway exit.  Head southeast (left if you’re coming from the north; right if from San Diego) and go 0.7 miles to the end of the road, just before the golf course.  Turn right and park in the small lot.
        • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation
        • Distance: 3.6 miles
        • Elevation gain: 100 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: G
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Best season:  Year round (hot during the summer)
        • USGS topo map: San Juan Capistrano
        • Recommended gear: sun hat
        • More information:  Trip report here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 5
0:00 - Beginning of the hike at the end of Avery Parkway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike at the end of Avery Parkway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This hike starts by a golf course and ends at a busy overpass, but in between, it achieves a pleasantly isolated feel.  Power lines run overhead and the nearby houses are never really out of sight, but overall, it’s a surprisingly quiet escape from the nearby suburbs of south Orange County.  This segment of the Mountains to Sea trail is nearly level, making it a perfect place for a stroll after work (or during lunch), and a nice introduction to the outdoors.  Even veteran hikers will appreciate the nice views of Old Saddleback and the variety of vegetation.

0:02 - Continuation of the trail across the end of Avery Parkway (times are approximate)

0:02 – Continuation of the trail across the end of Avery Parkway (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the trail across the end of Avery Parkway, by the entrance to the golf course. It continues north, following the golf course, with nice views of the Santa Ana Mountains. At 2/3 of a mile, bear left at a split and continue north.

0:12 - View of Old Saddleback

0:12 – View of Old Saddleback

The trail gets narrower, passing by some tall sycamores, dipping in and out of some wetlands. Sharp-eyed hikers might recognize the shade structures of the Ladera Ridge Trail, perched on the rolling hills to the east.

0:15 - Bear left at the fork

0:15 – Bear left at the fork

At 1.5 miles, you get a glimpse of the Crown Valley Parkway overpass. The trail then enters another wetland, this one filled with trees, blocking out virtually all signs and sights of civilization.  Upon leaving the wetlands, the trail reaches a concrete walkway at 1.8 miles, the turnaround point.  Hikers who want a longer trip can continue north, eventually reaching O’Neill Regional Park.

0:40 - Through the wetlands

0:40 – Through the wetlands

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 - Turnaround point at the Crown Valley Parkway overpass

0:45 – Turnaround point at the Crown Valley Parkway overpass

Vanalden Caves


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Looking up through the roof of the Vanalden Cave

Looking up through the roof of the Vanalden Cave

Vanalden Caves

  • Location: San Fernando Valley.  From Highway 101, take the Tampa Ave. exit and head south (left if you’re coming from L.A., right if from the west).  Take a quick left on Ventura Blvd., go 0.2 miles and turn right on Vanalden Ave.  Follow Vanalden three miles to a dead end, where the trail starts.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Canoga Park”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information: Article here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4
0:00 - Trailhead at the end of Vanalden Ave. (Click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

0:00 – Trailhead at the end of Vanalden Ave. (Click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

Like Bonita Canyon Falls in the San Gabriels, the Vanalden Caves on the south edge of the San Fernando Valley is an example of how something that seems too good to be true is just that.  In this case, the destination is a large sandstone cave, with several holes in the top that allow looking in from above, only a short drive from the Valley.  The catch: graffiti, trash, and lots of it.  Still, the trail makes a nice excursion and allows San Fernando Valley hikers to see some interesting geology, even if it’s not exactly as nature intended it. The Vanalden Trail also serves as an access point to longer hikes on Dirt Mulholland and the northern end of Topanga State Park.

0:05 - Turn left at the junction (times are approximate)

0:05 – Turn left at the junction (times are approximate)

From the end of Vanalden, head south on the single-track trail. At 0.2 miles, head left at the fork (the right trail heads up to the dirt road.) Follow the trail around the side of the ridge, and descend into a wooded area. The trail drops to a creek bed and continues east, but you will turn right and head south into a small canyon. A short walk along the left side of the creek bed brings you to the cave.

0:08 - Entering the woodland (head left and down to the creek bed)

0:08 – Entering the woodland (head left and down to the creek bed)

The cave is large, and you can see the sky through some holes in its ceiling. If you are feeling brave, you can climb a narrow trail along the right side of the cave, to its roof. The trail is short and easy to follow, but it also leads along the very edge of a 20-foot drop, so be careful.

0:10 - Turn right and head into the canyon toward the cave

0:10 – Turn right and head into the canyon toward the cave

On top of the cave, you can see through the holes–again being careful–providing an interesting perspective. A few informal trails lead up to Dirt Mulholland if you want to extend your hike. Despite the graffiti and trash, the uniqueness of the geology and the convenient location make this a good hike to know about.

0:14 - Outside the cave

0:14 – Outside the cave

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.

Backbone Trail: Old Topanga Canyon to Trippet Ranch


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Meadow near the turnaround point at Trippet Ranch

Meadow near the turnaround point at Trippet Ranch

Footbridge on the Dead Horse Trail, before the ascent from the canyon

Footbridge on the Dead Horse Trail, before the ascent from the canyon

Backbone Trail: Old Topanga Canyon to Trippet Ranch

        • Location: Topanga Canyon.  From Pacific Coast Highway, head north on Topanga Canyon Boulevard (Highway 27) for 4.3 miles and turn left on Old Topanga Canyon Road. Go 0.4 miles and look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road. From Highway 101, go south on Topanga Canyon Blvd. for 8.3 miles and turn right on Old Topanga Canyon Road.
        • Agency:  Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy/Topanga State Park
        • Distance: 3.8 miles
        • Elevation gain:  850 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG
        • Suggested time:  2 hours
        • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
        • USGS topo maps: Topanga
        • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
        • More information: Dead Horse Trail description here, area trail map here, Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 6
0:00 - Beginning the hike on the north side of Old Topanga Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full size version)

0:00 – Beginning the hike on the north side of Old Topanga Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full size version)

This pleasant hike links Hondo Canyon to the popular Trippet Ranch area of Topanga State Park. It uses a lightly traveled section of the Backbone Trail which becomes the Dead Horse Trail on the east side of Topanga Canyon Blvd. The hike isn’t too difficult, but there are two street crossings with no crosswalks or lights (one right at the beginning of the hike), and poison oak, so exercise caution, especially with children.

0:08 - Sharp left on the Henry Ridge Motorway (times are approximate)

0:08 – Sharp left on the Henry Ridge Motorway (times are approximate)

The first 0.7 miles of the hike, from Old Topanga to Topanga, doesn’t have the scenic variety of the neighboring section through Hondo Canyon, and also suffers from the noise of the two nearby roads, but it also adds considerable challenge (about 1.4 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain) to the hike.

0:12 - Up the stairs just before the amphitheater

0:12 – Up the stairs just before the amphitheater

From the turnout on the south side of Old Topanga, carefully cross the street and pick up the Backbone Trail, just before the bridge. Stay left at the first junction and begin your climb, taking in some nice views of the canyon. You reach a water tank, pass beside a fence and arrive at a paved road above the school. Take a hard left onto the Henry Ridge Motorway, a fire road.

0:16 - View just before the descent to Greenleaf Canyon Road

0:16 – View just before the descent to Greenleaf Canyon Road

Almost immediately, look for the Backbone Trail heading off to the right. You enter a wooded area and take a left turn on a staircase, just above an amphitheater. At the top, take a right and head out into a meadow that slopes down the side of the hill. You get a picturesque view of the higher summits of Topanga State Park.

0:18 - Bear left to continue on the Backbone Trail

0:18 – Bear left to continue on the Backbone Trail

The trail makes a sharp descent, dropping back into the woods. Stay left at the next junction, passing by some signs describing the flora (including purple sage, toyon and poison oak). At 0.7 miles, you arrive at Greenleaf Canyon Road. Turn right and carefully cross Topanga Canyon Blvd, picking up the Backbone Trail a little ways to the left.

0:24 - Crossing Topanga Canyon Blvd (note the trail continuation on the far side, slightly to the left)

0:24 – Crossing Topanga Canyon Blvd (note the trail continuation on the far side, slightly to the left)

The Backbone Trail heads uphill, soon reaching the Dead Horse Trail parking lot. When the lot is open, you can park there for $7 per day as an alternative. Head uphill, staying straight and following the signs at the next two intersections. You drop down into a canyon, cross a footbridge, and begin an ascent along some stairs.

0:39 - Bear left to stay on the Backbone Trail, following the signs

0:39 – Bear left to stay on the Backbone Trail, following the signs

The trail enters an exposed area, and finally you reach a wide green meadow, scenically perched beneath some higher summits. A fence runs along the pasture. Follow it to the end of the Dead Horse Trail, a road that leads to Trippet Ranch (right) or Musch Camp (left). Either of those are options if you want to extend the hike.

0:53 - Following the ridge toward Trippet Ranch

0:53 – Following the ridge toward Trippet Ranch

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 - Along the meadow, nearing the fire road that marks the turnaround point

1:00 – Along the meadow, nearing the fire road that marks the turnaround point

Gaviota Wind Caves


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View from the upper cave

View from the upper cave

Ocean view from between the wind caves

Ocean view from between the wind caves

Gaviota Wind Caves

      • Location: Gaviota State Park, 33 miles north of Santa Barbara.  From Santa Barbara and Ventura, take Highway 101 to Gaviota Beach Road and turn left.  If you hit the rest area or the tunnels, you’ve come too far.  Drive 0.3 miles into the park and just before the entrance gate, bear right on Hollister Ranch Road.  After the road makes a hard right, park in the lot by the fence at the beginning of the paved trail (8am until sunset.)   If you’re coming from the north, Gaviota Beach Road will be your first right turn after the tunnel.  Drive down to the park , turn right just before the entry booth on Hollister Ranch Road and follow it to the trail head as described above.
      • Agency: Gaviota State Park
      • Distance: 2.5 miles
      • Elevation gain: 600 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
      • USGS topo map:  Gaviota
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; long pants and shirt
      • More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here; Trip Advisor page here
      • Rating: 7

Shaped by the elements, the caves in the bluffs above Gaviota are one of the more popular hiking destinations in the Santa Barbara area.  The moderate hike to reach the caves takes in nice ocean, mountain and valley views.  On the downside, the trail never really escapes the noise of nearby Highway 101, and the caves have an unfortunate amount of graffiti and carvings in the rocks.  Makes you wonder.

0:00 - Gaviota Wind Caves trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

0:00 – Gaviota Wind Caves trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

But such drawbacks aside, this is certainly a very worthwhile hike to do if you’re in the area. L.A. residents traveling up the coast might find it a fun place to stop and stretch their legs.  Keep in mind that the trail is entirely exposed, and there are many steep, loose and rocky stretches.

0:12 - Turn left onto the single track trail (times are approximate)

0:12 – Turn left onto the single track trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the paved path heading north, toward the tunnels on Highway 101. You get nice views of the mountains, and in the spring, they’re covered with yellow mustard flowers.

0:23 - View from the ridge at the T-junction

0:23 – View from the ridge at the T-junction

At 0.5 miles, look for a narrow trail heading left, toward the hills. If it’s spring, expect the flowers to grow over the trail, and that you will have to push them aside (and watch out for bees.)

0:24 - Turn left and follow the ridge

0:24 – Turn left and follow the ridge

At about 0.8 miles, you reach the top of the ridge, where you can take a short spur to the right and enjoy some nice views down into the canyon. The trail continues to the left, climbing over some rocks and soon arriving at the lower caves at just under a mile.

0:33 - The lower wind cave

0:33 – The lower cave

After exploring the caves, continue up the ridge. A short spur leads you to the top of the cave, where you get a nice ocean view. You can also see your destination: a round window in a rock perched on the bluff above.

0:39 - Turn left and follow the trail around the side of the caves to the top

0:39 – Turn left and follow the trail around the side of the caves to the top

Continuing along the ridge, the trail begins to get steep and loose. Stay left at the next two forks, and you reach the cave at 1.2 miles. Heading through a narrow gap in the rocks, you arrive at the cave, where you can peer through the round window at the valley far below.

0:44 - Heading through the rocks just before the wind cave

0:43 – Heading through the rocks just before the wind cave

After enjoying the unusual topography and panoramic views, head back down via the same route, taking care on the loose, rocky surface of the trail.

0:45 - View from just outside the wind cave

0:45 – View from just outside the wind cave

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.

Thompson Creek Trail (Claremont)


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Deer on the hill across from the Thompson Creek Trail

Deer on the hill across from the Thompson Creek Trail

Foliage and mountains, Thompson Creek Trail

Foliage and mountains, Thompson Creek Trail

Thompson Creek Trail (Claremont)

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

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

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

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

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

0:18 - Higginbotham Park (times are approximate)

0:18 – Higginbotham Park (times are approximate)

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

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

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

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

1:00 - End of the trail at Mills Avenue

1:00 – End of the trail at Mills Avenue

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

Sand Dune Park (Manhattan Beach)


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Looking up from the bottom of the dune

Looking up from the bottom of the dune

Heading back down the stairs into the park

Heading back down the stairs into the park

Sand Dune Park (Manhattan Beach)

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:10 - Top of the sand dune

0:10 – Top of the dune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:25 - Heading back down into the park

0:25 – Heading back down into the park

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

0:30 - Following the walkway back to the stairs

0:30 – Following the walkway back to the stairs

Crescent Bay, Shaw’s Cove & Sea Cave (Laguna Beach)


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Tidepools, Crescent Bay, Laguna Beach

Tidepools, Crescent Bay, Laguna Beach

Inside Shaws Cove Sea Cave

Inside Shaws Cove Sea Cave

Crescent Bay, Shaw’s Cove & Sea Cave (Laguna Beach)

    • Location: Laguna Beach, on the corner of Cliff Drive and Circle Way.  From Newport Beach, take Pacific Coast Highway south (9.5 miles from Highway 55)  and turn right on Cliff Drive.  From downtown Laguna Beach, head north on P.C.H. and turn left on Cliff Drive (one mile from Highway 133).  Park on the corner, near the signed entrance to the reserve.
    • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Best season: All year during low tide (see here for more info)
    • USGS topo map: Laguna Beach
    • More information:  here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 5
Beginning of the hike from Cliff Drive (click pictures to see the full sized version)

Beginning of the hike from Cliff Drive (click pictures to see the full sized version)

If you like tidepools and caves, don’t miss this enjoyable rock-hop along the coastline between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. While the sea cave isn’t quite as big as the one at nearby Corona Del Mar, it’s well worth a visit. Make sure you go during low tide, and even then, be prepared to do some scrambling and don’t be afraid to get wet.

0:02 Crescent Bay (times are approximate)

0:02 Crescent Bay (times are approximate)

From the corner of Cliff Drive and Circle Way, follow the steep walkway down to the beach. You’ll head left (south), walking along scenic Crescent Bay. At the end of the beach, you’ll climb up on the rocks at the bottom of the bluffs, carefully making your way through some tidepools. This brings you to a tiny, quiet cove, in between the rocky promontory you just negotiated, and the one you are about to climb.

0:04 - Climbing the rocks on the eastern edge of Crescent Bay

0:04 – Climbing the rocks on the eastern edge of Crescent Bay

This second climb is also tricky, and the descent is perhaps the most difficult part of the route. As you climb onto a flat area of the rock, next to a fence, look for a crevice to your right that appears to drop straight down to the ocean. In fact, there are a few handholds you can use to lower yourself down, although caution is required. If the tide is high, forget it; even if it’s low, expect to get wet on the descent.

0:13 - Between Crescent Bay and Shaws Cove

0:13 – Between Crescent Bay and Shaws Cove

Once you’re on the rocks at the bottom, continue making your way along the coastline. You arrive at Shaw’s Cove, another beach, and make your way over yet another jumble of rocks (easier than the previous two). You cross another beach, where the walls of rock take on a yellow-orange hue.

0:14 - "She sells sea shells by the sea shore."

0:14 – “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”

On the opposite side of a beach, beneath a big white building, look for the entrance to a small sea cave. The cave is decent sized; easily big enough to stand up inside.

0:18 - Descending to the ocean before Shaws Cove - be careful!

0:18 – Descending to the ocean before Shaws Cove – be careful!

After exploring the cave, you can return either by the same route, or if you’ve had your fill of tidepools, look for a staircase ascending from Shaw’s Cove. It will take you back to Cliff Drive, where you turn left and walk 0.2 miles back to the starting point.

0:25 - Beach at Shaw's Cove

0:25 – Beach at Shaw’s Cove

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of

0:27 - Moss on the rocks, Shaws Cove

0:27 – Moss on the rocks, Shaws Cove

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

0:30 - Inside the sea cave

0:30 – Inside the sea cave

from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Green Valley Falls


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Lower level of Green Valley Falls

Pines and manzanitas on the way to Green Valley Falls

Green Valley Falls

  • Location: Cuyamaca Mountains, eastern San Diego County.  From I-8, 40 miles east of San Diego, take Highway 79 north for 7 miles to the Green Valley Campground.   (Note the sharp left turn after 2 miles on Highway 79; follow the signs for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park).  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 15 miles and turn right into the parking area.  Day parking is $8 per vehicle.  Once you’re in the park, follow the signs to the picnic area, staying left at both intersections.  Park in the dirt area, a total of 2.7 miles from the park entrance, and begin hiking on the trail.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: Year round (best in the spring, or after rains)
  • USGS topo map: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • More information: Trip report here; maps here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

Stonewall Peak may be the big draw for hikers in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, but if you’ve come this far, make sure you check out Green Valley Falls.  It can be reached from the end of the Green Valley Falls campground with a short, quarter mile walk, but for hikers who want to explore more, there’s a lot to see in this corner of the park.

0:07 – Upper level of the waterfall (Times are approximate)

From the small parking lot at the picnic area, look for the signed Green Valley Falls trail heading downhill into a forest of oaks, pines and manzanitas. (The fire road at the other end of the lot also leads to the falls, but the trail is more scenic.) After a tenth of a mile, head right at a T-junction, where you soon arrive at the upper level of the waterfall. If you are careful, you can cross rocks and sit at the top of the waterfall, or you can scramble down the rocks to get a closer view.

0:10 – On the side of the canyon between the two waterfalls

The trail continues along the stream and descends through the woods, soon reaching the lower waterfall. The rocks can be deceptively slippery, but you can carefully traverse them to get a nice look at the two-tiered waterfall, about 15 feet tall, which spills into a wide pool.   After enjoying the pleasant sound and sights of the grotto, you can either retrace your steps, or continue to the trail, which soon reaches the fire road, where you’ll head right to return to the parking area.

0:13 – Lower level of the waterfall

Interestingly, the pleasant creek is actually a tributary of the Sweetwater River, which flows underneath I-8 a few miles west of Highway 79.  On your return, while heading toward San Diego on I-8, keep an eye out for a sign indicating the river; it may seem hard to believe that the same water flowing through the dry landscape has trickled down the waterfall you just saw.

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.

Blufftop Trail: Palos Verdes Drive West to Paseo del Mar


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Looking north on the Blufftop Trail

Ocean view from the Blufftop Trail

Blufftop Trail: Palos Verdes Drive West to Paseo del Mar 

  • Location:  Palos Verdes Estates, on the corner of Paseo del Mar and Palos Verdes Drive West.  From I-110, take the Pacific Coast Highway exit and head north/west for 5.6 miles.  Turn left onto Calle Mayor, go 1.3 miles and turn right on Palos Verdes Blvd.  Go 0.5 miles and turn right on Palos Verdes Drive West and go 1.8 miles to the intersection with Paseo del Mar.  Park either on Paseo del Mar or in the small lot on the corner.   From the LAX area, follow Pacific Coast Highway/Sepulveda Blvd. south from I-105 for 8 miles, and turn right on Palos Verdes Blvd.  G0 1.4 miles and turn right on Palos Verdes Drive West and go 1.8 miles to the intersection with Paseo del Mar.
  • Agency: City of Palos Verdes Estates
  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 45 minutes
  • Best season: Year-round
  • USGS topo map:  Redondo Beach
  • More information: video of the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4

The Blufftop Trail is a non-contiguous path that circles the western and southern edges of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, providing great coastal views. The short section described here is similar to the trails at nearby Point Vicente, although it’s dirt, not paved. On clear days, you can see the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance. This part of the trail makes for a nice little excursion, and you can easily extend your trip on the nearby streets or other segments of the trail. The luxury homes that overlook the trail make it hard to forget about all the nearby development, but it’s far enough off the main road so that peace and quiet can be expected.

From the corner of Palos Verdes Drive West and Paseo del Mar, look for a trail heading toward the ocean, dipping down below the road. It follows Paseo Del Mar, briefly rejoining it, and then splitting off again. You walk along the top of the cliffs (there’s no railing, so be careful), taking in some nice views of Bluff Cove and the western peninsula coastline.

At 0.7 miles, shortly before the trail once again joins Paseo del Mar, you come to a small clearing where a tree–its roots exposed by soil erosion–provides some shade while enjoying the panoramic perspective in both directions. This makes a good turnaround point, although you can continue farther south on Paseo del Mar and visit the southern segments of the trail.

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.

Chaparral Neighborhood Trail & Native Plant Garden (Lytle Creek)


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Looking west toward the mountains on the Chaparral Neighborhood Trail

Gazebo in the Native Plant Garden

Chaparral Neighborhood Trail & Native Plant Garden 

    • Location: Lytle Creek Ranger Station, 1209 Lytle Creek Road, Lytle Creek.  From I-15 in Fontana, take the Sierra Ave. exit and head northwest (turn left if you’re coming from the south, right if you’re coming from the north) for 4.9 miles.  Sierra becomes Lytle Creek Road.  The ranger station will be on the right.
    • Agency:  San Bernardino National Forest/Lytle Creek Ranger Station
    • Distance: 0.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Devore
    • Recommended gear: sun hat
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 4

Located at the Lytle Creek Ranger Station, the Chaparral Neighborhood Trail and the nearby Native Plant Garden offer a convenient escape into nature. While the sights of overhead power lines and forest service buildings, and the sounds of traffic on Lytle Creek Road prevent it from feeling like a true wilderness experience, the views of the mountains are good, and it feels pretty isolated for being only five miles from the freeway. It can get hot during the summer, but the trail is short enough so that heat isn’t likely to be a big problem.

From the ranger station, head east on an unsigned dirt road. Shortly before it reaches a power installation, head left on a single-track trail that ascends gradually. You cross another service road and continue to a T-junction, where you’ll turn left (west). As you follow the trail, you’ll get nice views of the eastern slope of the Three T’s (Timber, Telegraph and Thunder Mountains).

You cross a wash and then the trail ends unceremoniously at a parking area for forest service vehicles, where some debris has been strewn around. However, the scenery gets better at the Native Plant Garden, on the opposite side of the paved road. A few paths lead through the garden, where interpretive plaques describe the plant life, including chaparral, coastal sage and more. An ivy-covered gazebo makes a nice place to sit and relax. And don’t worry about the large silhouette of a bear – it’s just a prop.

After visiting the garden, return to the ranger station and the parking area. If you have time, and are looking for a little more of an adventure, check out Bonita Falls, farther up Lytle 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.

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