Devil Canyon (San Fernando Valley)

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Devil Canyon Trail, Chatsworth, CA

Hills above the Brown Fire Road at the top of the Devil Canyon Trail

Geological formations in Devil Canyon, Chatsworth, CA

Sandstone geology in Devil Canyon

Devil Canyon (San Fernando Valley)

  • Location: Chatsworth. From the 118 Freeway, take the Topanga Canyon Blvd/Highway 27 exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from L.A.; left if from Simi Valley) to its almost immediate dead end at Poema Place. Turn left on Poema, drive 0.3 miles and park by the Summerset Village Apartment complex numbered 11500. The trail can be accessed through the parking lot as described below. (Note: since you are walking across private property to reach the trail, act accordingly).
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Best season: September – May
  • USGS topo map: “Oat Mountain”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • More information: Trip descriptions here (different access point), here and here (both descriptions up to the gate at 2.3 miles); Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 7
Staircase descending into Devil Canyon, Chatsworth, CA

0:00 – Staircase leading from the apartment complex into the canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with Devil’s Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains, Devil Canyon of Chatsworth is an understandably popular destination, due to its seclusion, scenic variety and proximity to the Valley. While many hikers enjoy exploring the jungle-like confines of the lower canyon with its numerous sandstone caves and other geological formations, the pastoral upper reaches of the canyon, consisting of rolling hills, oak woodlands and ultimately excellent city and mountain views, are also worth a look. “Afoot and Afield: Los Angeles County” and several online writeups of the hike describe a gate 2.3 miles into the canyon, blocking off progress, but as of this writing, the gate is no longer there, allowing hikers to go as far as they want. The entire 10-mile round trip with its easy slope and ample shade is an enjoyable and efficient training hike.

Devil Canyon Trail, Chatsworth, CA

0:02 – Start of the Santa Susana/Devil Canyon trail (times are approximate)

While access to the canyon has changed and may change again in the years to come, it can currently be reached by walking through the parking lot of a private condo complex on N. Poema Place. As this is private property, access to the trail cannot be guaranteed, but it is likely that hikers who exercise common sense and don’t create a disturbance will not be given difficulty by residents. Bear right at the first major “intersection” (by building 11504) and you’ll see an open metal gate with a staircase descending steeply. The staircase drops to short use spur leads you to the main trail, signed here as the Santa Susana Pass Trail. Bear left and continue your descent into Devil’s Canyon, arriving at the floor in about 0.3 miles.

Stream bed in Devil Canyon, Chatsworth, CA

0:38 – Following the stream bed

From here, make your way up canyon, keeping an eye out for poison oak which frequently encroaches the trail, sometimes from both sides at once. If the water level is high, some of the stream crossings can be tricky and the trail follows the stream bed itself from time to time, but while it is a little overgrown in some places, it’s fairly easy to follow; if you find yourself bushwhacking, you’ve likely strayed from the course.

Oaks in Devil Canyon, Chatsworth, CA

0:44 – Nice spot for a picnic

At 1.3 miles, bear right as a trail steeply ascends to the left. You briefly follow the stream before emerging into an attractive wooded area where several rocks and logs make it a nice place for a break. Soon after, the trail emerges into the open, passing a junction with Ybarra Canyon (1.9 miles.) After passing over a concrete flood dam, the trail continues through more scenic terrain, in and out of shade. Poison oak, while still present, isn’t as much of an issue from here on out.

Devil Canyon Trail, Chatsworth, CA

1:25 – Passing through a fence

At 3.3 miles, the trail enters a meadow and bears northwest, climbing briefly away from the stream bed. You pass by a particularly impressive oak that makes a good turnaround point if you’re short on time and continue, ascending slightly more steadily, into another pocket of trees, crossing a tributary of Devil Canyon (4 3/4 miles) and finally making the final climb to the trail’s end at the Brown Mountain Fire Road.

Hills above Devil Canyon, Chatsworth, CA

1:32 – Open space as the trail bends northwest

Hikers with additional time and energy can explore this road in either direction but for most casual visitors this the recommended turnaround point. On the way back, you can enjoy a particularly good view of the Santa Susana foothills, the Simi Hills and the western San Fernando Valley.

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Top of Devil Canyon, Chatsworth, CA

2:15 – Looking back from the turnaround point

Wildwood Canyon (Santa Clarita)

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Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Panoramic view from the Highland Loop Trail

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

Oak grove on the Wildwood Loop Trail

Wildwood Canyon (Santa Clarita)

        • Location: Santa Clarita. From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit and head west (left if you’re coming from L.A.; right if from Palmdale). Follow Newhall Ave. a total of 1.7 miles. Note that you will need to stay in the left lane to stay on Newhall when it intersects with Railroad Avenue. Past the William Hart Museum, follow Newhall through the rotary and then turn left on Market. Go 0.6 miles and turn left on Cross. Go 0.3 miles to Haskell Vista Lane and turn right. The signed trail head is just past the last house, where the street makes a hairpin right turn and becomes a private way. Park where available, noting posted restrictions.
        • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
        • Distance: 3 miles
        • Elevation gain: 350 feet
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG
        • Best season: October – June
        • USGS topo map: Newhall
        • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
        • More information: here; Yelp page here
        • Rating: 6
Wildwood Canyon Park trail head, Santa Clarita, CA

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

Not to be confused with Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks, Santa Clarita’s Wildwood Canyon Park (also known as Wildwood Canyon Open Space) is a 95-acre open space nestled between the 5 and 14 Freeways. Compared to Santa Clarita’s other nature parks, Wildwood feels more like wilderness, in part due to the variety of plant life (oaks, manzanitas, chaparral and more) and also due to the somewhat confusing network of official and unofficial trails and lack of signage distinguishing the two. The good news is that due to the park’s proximity to civilization and relatively small size it’s hard to get too seriously lost here and it’s a fun place to wander around without any specific agenda.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:15 – View from the first junction; head straight down into the canyon (times are approximate)

Those who do want to follow an exact route however will enjoy the 3-mile hike described below, which circles the perimeter of the park on some of the more clearly, better maintained trails. From the trail head on Haskell Vista Lane, follow the path as it climbs uphill, making a series of switchbacks before gaining a ridge at half a mile where a panoramic view of the canyon awaits. It descends briefly to a junction with the Cross Motorway. Stay straight and descend into the canyon, reaching another intersection at 0.8 miles. This is the start of the loop which can be done in either direction. If it’s warm or hot, consider going counter-clockwise as described here, allowing you to save an enjoyable shaded stretch for last.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:20 – Start of the loop portion of the hike

Continue straight and begin a steep ascent to a clearing with a trash can and a makeshift fire pit. As a detour, you can follow a use trail on the left down into an attractive wooded canyon but watch out for poison oak. The trail continues uphill, now marked as the Highland Trail on the official park map. It skirts the upper rim of the canyon, crossing two small wooden footbridges. Shortly after the second, you reach the highest spot on the route, signed as a vista point on the map, although there are no benches, shade structures or other facilities here. Still you can enjoy a nice view of the Santa Clarita Valley and the Sierra Pelona mountains beyond.

Highland Loop Trail, Wildwood Canyon, Santa Clarita, CA

0:24 – Highland Loop steeply ascending past the picnic area

The trail continues past a junction with a spur that drops back into the canyon. Stay straight and begin descending, passing by a large red water tank and making a switchback. To the east, you can see the end of the San Gabriel Mountains towering beyond the buildings of the nearby Hart Museum and Ranch.

Water tank in Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:47 – Passing the water tank on the descent

At 2 miles, you reach the end of the Highland Loop Trail. Turn left and follow the trail into a grove of oaks. At dusk, this area is particularly attractive; but for the presence of some graffiti (and bugs during the evening) it would match up favorably against the best woodlands of the Santa Monica Mountains. Ignore a trail branching off to the left before exiting the woods and returning to the junction, completing the loop. Turn right and retrace your steps up to the other junction and back down the hill to Haskell View.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

1:05 – Left turn on the Wildwood Loop Trail, heading into the woods

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

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Sunset over Simi Valley from Coquina Mine, Ventura County, CA

Sunset from Coquina Mine

Panoramic view of Las Llajas Canyon, Simi Valley, CA

Descending into Las Lllajas Canyon on the return

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

  • Location: Evening Sky Drive, Simi Valley. From the 118 Freeway, take the Yosemite Ave. exit. Head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and go 1.3 miles to Evening Sky Drive. Turn right and drive 0.5 miles to the signed trail head on the left side of the road. Park where available.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Simi Valley East
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Panoramic city and mountain views, abandoned mining gear, limestone formations, a quiet oak canyon and a rigorous workout are the highlights of this enjoyable trip on the outskirts of Simi Valley. The destination is Coquina Mine, a limestone quarry that was abandoned in the 1930s, although the expansive network of trails in Marr Ranch Open Space, Las Llajas (YA-has) make it easy to extend the hike.

Las Llajas Trail Head, Simi Valley, CA

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

From the Las Llajas trail head, follow the paved road to a T-junction. Bear right and descend into Las Llajas Canyon. The road becomes dirt and you follow it for an attractive if not terribly varied 1.5 miles or so, passing a few private inholdings and private roads branching off, including a bee colony about 1.1 miles from the trail head. As you head up the canyon, keep an eye out for interesting limestone formations on the hills above. If there have been recent rains, the sounds of a seasonal stream accompanies your walk.

Oaks in Las Llajas Canyon near Simi Valley, Ventura County, CA

0:18 – Oaks in Las Llajas Canyon (times are approximate)

At 1.8 miles, shortly after the trail crosses the stream, look for a faint but unambiguous single-track trail branching off to the left. The trail begins a steep, crooked ascent, clinging to the hillside, providing a nice aerial view of Las Llajas Canyon. After 0.6 miles of steady climbing, the trail briefly levels out. You pass by some rusting mining equipment as the trail winds around the north side of a ridge.

0:38 - Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

0:38 – Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

At 2.7 miles, you reach a T-junction. Follow the trail as it makes a hard left, climbing a few more switchbacks with excellent views to the south of Simi Valley, the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. As you pass by an abandoned engine on the left side of the trail, you’ll also notice a large steam shovel perched on the hill in the distance; that is the destination. At another T-junction, turn left and walk the last few yards to the steam shovel. Shortly beyond it, you get an outstanding view which includes Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. In the distance to the north is the round, antenna-covered summit of Oat Mountain, the highest peak in the immediate area.

Trail in the hills above Las Llajas Canyon near Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

1:07 – Left turn at the T-junction

After enjoying the view, retrace your steps. If you want to extend the hike, you can walk farther up Las Llajas Canyon; back at the first T-junction, you can also explore more by following the vague path to the right. This reaches a saddle where you can climb to a vista point with more all-encompassing views.

Steam shovel, Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

1:18 – Steam shovel at the Coquina Mine site (turnaround point)

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

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Wilderness Gardens Preserve, Pala, CA

View of Wilderness Gardens Preserve from the Upper Meadow Trail

Oaks and sycamores in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

Oaks and sycamores on the Upper Meadow Trail

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

  • Location: Highway 76 between Pala and Pauma Valley, 27 miles east of I-5 and 9.7 miles east of I-15. Turn right onto Bodie Blvd, signed for the park.  From the Riverside/Temecula area, take I-15 south to Temecula Parkway. Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Pechanga Parkway. Follow it for a total of 9 miles (it becomes Pala Road and Pala-Temecula Road en route) to its ending at Pala Mission Road. Turn left and follow Pala Mission Road 0.5 miles to Highway 76. Bear left onto Highway 76 and follow it 3 miles to the park entrance. Parking is $3 per vehicle (cash only).
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October-June; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – 4pm. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Pala
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; articles about the park here and here
  • Rating: 6
Wilderness Gardens Preserve trail head, San Diego County, CA

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

This attractive 676-acre park occupies the site of a former retreat of Los Angeles newspaper magnate Manchester Boddy. The park’s vegetation is a mix of non-natives such as eucalyptus, holly, oleander and native oak, sycamore and even a few cacti.

Fire road in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:02 – Junction with the Upper Meadow Trail (times are approximate)

There are several miles of trails, making for multiple possible routes. One can enjoy a stroll here without having a particular destination or itinerary but a complete circuit of the park, as described here, doesn’t take much time or effort.

From the parking area, follow the main dirt road heading west, almost immediately crossing the San Luis Rey River (virtually dry as of this writing, but during rainy winters, expect calf-high water) and arriving at a junction with the Upper Meadow Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction but by going counter-clockwise, as described here, you’ll save the most interesting scenery for last.

Indian motreros, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:07 – Motreros

Follow the fire road, keeping an eye out for some Indian morteros in a rock on the left. You pass by a few nice oak specimens before arriving at a junction. The two routes soon rejoin so take either. Once they meet up again, turn right and walk a short distance to the Pond Trail. Turn right and follow it 0.2 miles around the circumference of a small seasonal pond and continue to a junction with the Camelia View Trail. This 0.7 mile loop (part single-track, part fire road) can be hiked in either direction, taking you to the western boundary of the preserve.

Pond at Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – The pond

After completing the loop, head back, following the trail past the pond to the beginning of the Upper Meadow Trail. You begin ascending (the only significant climbing on the entire route) through an attractive oak and sycamore woodland, arriving at Upper Meadow, where you get a good view of the Palomar Mountains. Shortly beyond is a bench located at a spot with panoramic views to the west of the entire preserve and beyond.

Upper Meadow Trail, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County

0:50 – Start of the Upper Meadow Trail

After enjoying the vistas, make a steep descent on a wooden beam staircase, soon arriving back on the river bed floor. Bear right and follow the trail back to the first junction and to the trail head. If you have time consider exploring the half-mile Alice Fries Nature Trail, which starts and ends in the parking lot.

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

0:58 - View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

0:58 – View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

 

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

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Panoramic view from the trails of East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Looking west from the Walker Loop

Rolling hills and grasslands, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

Ascending the Walker Loop

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

        • Location: Santa Clarita, Placerita Canyon.  From L.A., take the 14 Freeway north to Placerita Canyon Road.  Turn right and go 3.4 miles and look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road.  From Lancaster, take the 14 Freeway south to the Sand Canyon Road exit.  Turn left on Soledad Canyon Road and make a quick left on Sand Canyon.  Go 3.3 miles and turn right on Placerita Canyon.  Go 1.5 miles and park in the turnout on the right side of the road.
        • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
        • Distance: 3 miles
        • Elevation gain: 550 feet
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG
        • Best season: October – June
        • USGS topo maps: Mint Canyon
        • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
        • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here
        • Rating: 6
Trail head for Golden Valley Ranch and East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

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

Named for local settler Frank Walker who lived in the area in the early 20th century, Walker Ranch is a 140-acre open space adjacent to Placerita Canyon Park and operated by the city of Santa Clarita. Highlights include the panoramic views of the Santa Clarita Valley, majestic oaks and the ruins of Walker’s homestead.

Ruins of the Walker Homestead, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:07 – East Walker homestead (times are approximate)

The various trails that cross the property, allowing for multiple possible hikes. The 3-mile route described here samples the park’s best scenery and can be lengthened or shortened as needed. This post assumes you will be starting at the Golden Valley Ranch trail head, the closer of the two trail heads to the 14 Freeway and hiking clockwise, allowing yourself a chance to warm up on a level grade before tackling the first steep ascent, while enjoying excellent westbound views on the way down.

Trail head at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:18 – Alternate access point 0.6 miles from the start

From the parking area, head into Golden Valley Ranch and almost immediately take a right on a footbridge. You follow the trail through rolling grasslands to another footbridge and continue east, following Placerita Canyon Road. At 0.3 miles, you reach a short spur leading to the ruins of the homestead, now little more than two stone columns.

Pine tree in a clearing, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:27 – Clearing at the end of the gravel road before the ascent on the single-track

After retracing your steps, follow the trail under the road through a narrow metal tunnel (ignore the unmaintained trail that continues east, following the road.) On the south side of Placerita Canyon Road, you face your first ascent, a short but steep (100 feet in just over a tenth of a mile) climb that will likely have your calves burning when you reach the top. This is followed by a descent and another climb of about the same distance, bringing you to a parking lot that serves as an alternate trail head (0.6 miles.)

Panoramic view of the Santa Clarita Valley from East Walker Ranch, California

0:48 – Looking north from the vista point

Follow a paved road out of the lot to a junction. Head left (the right route gets you to the same spot but is steeper and not as scenic) and walk along a gravel road to a clearing with a tall pine tree (0.9 miles.) A single-track trail passes through a fence on the opposite side of the clearing, steadily ascending a grassy hill side. As you climb, you enjoy views to the north including the formations of Vasquez Rocks and the San Gabriel Mountains straight ahead to the east.

At 1.2 miles, you reach a bench where you can catch your breath and take in a good view to the west. More climbing brings you to a Y-junction (1.5 miles.) The Raynier Trail heads off to the left; this shaded but not as scenic route is an option if you want to extend the hike. To continue following the Walker Loop, bear right and make a brief ascent to another vista point.

Sunlight through trees at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:51 – Four-way junction (stay straight)

The trail then descends to a four-way junction (1.7 miles.) Head straight on the Allen Trail, reaching a third vista point shaded by an impressive oak (2 miles.) The trail then makes a short but steep and loose descent into the upper reaches of Placerita Canyon. As you follow the trail downhill, you can pick out the Los Pinetos Trail in Placerita Canyon State Park, ascending the ridge on the opposite side of the valley on its way to Wilson Canyon Saddle and Manzanita Peak.

Sunlight through oak branches, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

1:00 – Vista point on the descent

At 2.8 miles, the trail reaches a junction at the bottom of the hill. Turn right and follow the trail back to Placerita Canyon Road, carefully crossing it to complete the loop. If you still have time and energy, Golden Valley Ranch Park offers multiple miles of challenging and scenic trails, as does Placerita Canyon Park down the street.

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Dusk panorama at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

1:10 – Looking west at dusk in upper Placerita Canyon

Josephine Peak via Colby Trail

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Looking east from Josephine Peak, Angeles National Forest, California

Strawberry Peak with Mt. Baldy distant from Josephine Peak

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from just below Josephine Peak, Angeles National Forest, California

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from just below Josephine Peak

Josephine Peak via Colby Trail

    • Location: Angeles National Forest. From I-210 in La Canada, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 10 miles to a dirt turnout by mile marker 34.55 (shortly beyond the Switzer parking area, about a mile past Clear Creek Junction). The trail head is unsigned. While no signs indicate that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required and while the new policies don’t require a pass at unimproved trail heads such as this one, if you want to be safe and purchase one ($5 per day or $30 for the year) click here.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 8.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,050 feet
    • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here; description of the route via the fire road here
    • Rating: 8
Colby Canyon Trail Head, Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains, CA

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

Popular Josephine Peak (elevation 5,558) was one of the last Angeles National Forest destinations to reopen following the Station Fire. It is now possible to legally hike to the summit, either via the Josephine Peak Fire Road or, as described here, from Colby Canyon. The route via Colby is quite steep but scenically rewarding, with excellent views of Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and a nearly aerial perspective on the canyon. Terrain isn’t too much of an issue, but a few spots are washed out, loose and rocky, requiring your attention on the descent, which will likely be on tired legs. Keep an eye out too for poodle dog bush, common in areas such as this that were recently burned.

Waterfall in Colby Canyon, Angeles National Forest, California

0:03 – Seasonal waterfall in Colby Canyon (times are approximate)

Start hiking on the faint, unsigned (it was burned in the fire) trail at the west side of the turnout. Immediately you are immersed in scenic Colby Canyon, soon passing a seasonal waterfall. You begin climbing out of the canyon, following a ridge over the top of another intermittent waterfall at about 0.4 miles. The trail then clings closely to the side of the ridge, dropping sharply into Colby Canyon, before crossing the stream again and reaching a bench (0.9 miles.)

Aerial perspective of Colby Canyon, Angeles National Forest, California

0:21 – Aerial view of Colby Canyon before the intensive climbing begins

Now the work begins. The trail ascends relentlessly, making switch backs up the exposed south-facing slope before finally reaching Josephine Saddle, just over two miles from the start and almost 1,400 feet higher. Here you can rest and enjoy the reward for your efforts: an excellent view of Big Tujunga Canyon to the northwest and Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and the canyon to the southeast.

With the hardest work behind you, continue west (bear left) on the unsigned Josephine Peak Trail, which is pleasantly flat and shaded by pines. Soon the peak itself comes into view. After an easy 0.6 miles, you join the fire road from Clear Creek Station and begin a moderate ascent. The shaded, north-facing slope is forgiving and progress is quick. You make a pair of long switchbacks and soon find yourself just below the antennas of the summit. The fire road then gives way to a short but steep and somewhat loose single-track leading a few dozen yards to the top.

Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak as seen from Josephine Saddle, Angeles National Forest, California

1:14 – Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak as seen from Josephine Saddle

Although the antenna installation blocks some of the view, the panorama is still impressive. To the east, Strawberry Peak, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson dominate but you can still see Baldy behind them. No peak in the Angeles west of Josephine is taller, so the views in that direction are the best: the Santa Monica Mountains, downtown L.A., the Verdugos, the Sierra Pelona, and the ocean. If visibility is optimum, San Clemente can be seen as a flat mass behind Catalina; Santa Barbara is visible as a lone bump on the ocean with remote San Nicolas faint behind it and the peaks of Santa Cruz Island can be seen west of the Santa Monicas. After enjoying the vista, return via the same route, or if you’ve arranged for a car shuttle at Clear Creek, you can descend via the fire road.

1:33 - View of the summit shortly before the fire road junction

1:33 – View of the summit shortly before the fire road junction

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

View of the ocean from the summit of Josephine Peak, Angeles Nationanl Forest, California

2:11 – Ocean view from the summit

Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve

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View of Rodriguez Mountain in the Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

View of Rodriguez Mountain on the descent to Hell Creek

Sunset, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

Sunset in Hellhole Canyon

Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve

  • Location: Inland San Diego County near Valley Center. From San Diego, take I-15 north to E Via Rancho Parkway. Turn right and follow Via Rancho Parkway, which soon becomes Bear Valley Parkway. After 6 miles, turn right on East Valley Parkway and go 1.3 miles. Turn right on Lake Wohlford Road and go 5.9 miles. Turn right on Paradise Mountain Road and go 3.3 miles. Turn right on Los Hermanos Ranch Road and make an immediate left on Kiavo Drive (signed for the preserve). Go 0.5 miles to the end of Kiavo Drive and turn left into the parking lot. From the north, take I-15 to Gopher Canyon Road. Turn left, cross the freeway and turn right on Champagne Blvd. Go 0.2 miles and turn left on Old Castle Road. Go 5.5 miles and continue onto Lilac Road for another 3.3 miles. Turn right on Valley Center Road, go 1.2 miles and turn left on Woods Valley Road. At 3.9 miles, Woods Valley Road crosses Lake Wohlford Road and becomes Paradise Mountain Road. Follow it for another 3.3 miles to the intersection with Los Hermanos Ranch Road. Turn right and make an immediate left on Kiavo Drive. Follow it half a mile to its end and turn left into the preserve. Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – sunset. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Rodriguez Mountain
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • Recommended gear: sun screen; sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here; Friends of Hellhole Canyon page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

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

How does an attractive wilderness preserve in northern San Diego County get a name like “Hellhole?” One explanation is that in the 1800s, ranchers had a “hell” of a time getting their wagons across the creek, a tributary of the San Luis Rey River. Indeed, history abounds here in the remains of the Escondido Canal which diverted water from the San Luis Rey River to Escondido Creek.

Oaks on the banks of Hell Creek, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:19 – On the banks of Hell Creek (times are approximate)

There are over 13 miles of trails throughout the preserve, making several possible routes of varying difficulty levels. The balloon-shaped hike described here offers a good workout that takes in a nice sample of the area’s scenery. Keep in mind that like most hikes in the preserve, it’s a reverse hike that requires a 300-foot ascent out of the canyon on exposed terrain, notoriously hot during the summer.

From the parking area, descend the main trail, enjoying an excellent view of Rodriguez Mountain and an aerial perspective on Hell Creek. On the way down, interpretive plaques describe the plant life including black sage, inland scrub oak and laurel sumac. At about 0.7 miles, you reach the stream bed (dry as of this writing, but sometimes high waters can make it treacherous). You climb along the north side of the creek under the shade of some oaks before entering the open again.

Trail junction, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:32 – Junction with the Horsethief Trail

At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction with the Horsethief Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction, but by going clockwise, you can hold off on the major climbing. Follow the trail over a footbridge and continue around the side of Rodriguez Mountain. An interpretive plaque points out the canal, visible on the opposite side of the creek.

Canyon View Trail, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:50 – Start of the Canyon View Trail

At 1.9 miles, stay straight as the Horsethief Trail rejoins. Soon after you reach another junction where you’ll stay straight, now on the Canyon View Trail. You begin a steady ascent, ignoring a side trail branching off to the left just before you briefly drop down to a shallow and usually dry stream bed. At 2.6 miles, you reach the high point of the loop, a junction with the trail leading higher still to Rodriguez Mountain. Here, you an enjoy a panoramic view of the valley before continuing.

Trail crossing over a stream bed, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

1:00 – Crossing a stream bed on the slopes of Rodriguez Mountain

From here, the trail descends and makes one more ascent to a junction with the Paradise Mountain Trail (3.2 miles from the start). Take a hard right and continue downhill, soon meeting up with the Horsethief Trail. Bear left and follow it a short distance to the main Hell Creek Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the parking area.

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Panoramic view from the slope of Rodriguez Mountain, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

1:10 – Panoramic view from the junction with the Rodriguez Mountain Trail (high point of the loop)