Wind Wolves Preserve

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Sandstone geology at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, California

Sandstone geology at the Reflection Pond site, Wind Wolves Preserve

Panoramic view of the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, California

View from the Reflection Pond Trail, Wind Wolves Preserve

Wind Wolves Preserve

  • Location: South San Joaquin Valley, south of Bakersfield. The entrance is on Highway 166, 13 miles east of the junction with Highway 33 and 10 miles west of the junction with I-5. The physical address is 16019 Maricopa Highway, Bakersfield, CA 93311. If you’re coming from the east, the entrance will be on the left; the west, the right. Follow the access road three miles south and bear right to enter the preserve. After signing in at the booth, bear left at a Y-junction and follow the road to its end at a day use parking area (about 2.6 miles from the entrance to the park). Parking is free but donations of $5 per individual or $10 per family are suggested.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance: 9.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo maps: Eagle Rest Peak
  • More information: Wildlands Conservancy page here; Yelp page here; TV report about the preserve here; trip report here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
Information boards at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:00 – Info boards at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Wildlands Conservancy is known for the properties it oversees on the eastern slope of the San Bernardino Mountains such as Mission Creek and Whitewater Canyon. However, they also operate this large preserve south of Bakersfield, located in the transitional zone between the San Emigdio Mountains and the Central Valley. The preserve is about a two hour drive from downtown L.A. and just over an hour from the Santa Clarita Valley. It could loosely be described as Chino Hills State Park on steroids, weighing in at an impressive 93,000 acres. The rolling terrain of San Emigdio Canyon resembles that of Chino Hills State Park but the preserve also includes the forested slopes of the taller mountains, providing runoff for a seasonal stream and waterfall.

Waterfall at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:02 – Waterfall (times are approximate)

Camping is available in the park with a reservation. Day hikers can choose from several possible routes. The park is an enjoyable place for wandering but for hikers who want a specific goal, the Reflection Pond is a good destination. Even if the seasonal pond is dry, which is the case of this writing, the hike to and from it is a good workout that offers a nice sampling of the reserve’s scenery.

El Camino Viejo (The Old Road), Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:06 – Heading south on El Camino Viejo

The two main trails through the park are the single-track San Emigdio Trail and the El Camino Viejo bike path, a fire road. A few short trails connect the two at various intervals. The route described here takes the El Camino Viejo outbound and San Emigdio back, creating a very long, thin loop with a spur to the pond.

From the parking area, follow the El Camino Viejo path, passing the start of the San Emigdio Trail, to a concrete apron crossing the stream. A paved path on the right leads down a staircase to a small seasonal waterfall (really just a check dam, but still a nice little spot.) After visiting the waterfall, follow El Camino Viejo south into the canyon, ascending gradually. This path follows the original El Camino Viejo, the oldest inland north-south road in California.

The Willows picnic area and campground, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:55 – The Willows

At about 0.7 miles, you pass the Twin Fawns Picnic Area. The trail continues for a pleasant if uneventful 1.5 miles to the Willows, a wetland with many trees (one of which has a low limb that requires support from two metal poles.) Here there are picnic tables, full-service restrooms and camping. Beyond, El Camino Viejo continues to a junction with the Reflection Pond Trail (3.4 miles from the start.)

Reflection Pond trail, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

1:30 – Reflection Pond trail head

Turn left and follow it across the canyon, passing an unmarked junction with the south end of the San Emigdio Trail; note this spot if you want to take that route back. The trail then begins a steep climb, ascending 350 feet in 0.4 miles. At the top, pass through a fence and follow the trail into a meadow, bearing right at a junction and soon arriving at the site of the pond. The official trail ends at a jumble of sandstone boulders, one of which has a small cave carved inside it. From here, you can enjoy panoramic views of the mountains to the south and the rolling hills and meadows to the east, north and west. This is the turnaround point for the hike.

Panoramic views of hills and mountains, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

2:00 – Site of the reflection pond (turnaround point)

After descending back into the canyon, take a right on the San Emigdio Trail and follow it in and out of the creek, heading north and downhill toward the Willows. Shortly before the Willows, stay straight as a trail branches off to the left. You reach a picnic table and a Y-junction; this time you’ll bear left and walk into the heart of the wetlands, ducking under some branches. At 6.7 miles, you reach a clearing with a few benches. The trail continues straight, crossing the stream again before crossing under a wooden arch and reaching a junction with the short Bobcat Loop, an option if you want to extend the hike.

San Emigdio Canyon Trail, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

2:30 – Heading back on the San Emigdio Canyon Trail

The San Emigdio Trail then branches off to the right (if you go straight, you’ll reach El Camino Viejo). Follow it along the creek, passing a few gnarled willows and another junction that heads off to El Camino Viejo before arriving at a picnic area called the Patio. You soon reach another junction; the two trails soom reconnect (the left route sticks closer to the canyon while the right is on higher, dryer ground). Soon after the trails rejoin, you reach the end of the Sam Emigdio Canyon Trail, completing the loop.

Picnic area at the Willows, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:00 – Returning to the Willows from the other side

Interestingly, “Wind Wolves” does not actually refer to the animals, but to the tall grasses that are found throughout the park. In high winds, the grasses wave, creating the impression of animals moving through them.

Clearing with benches in the wetlands at the Willows, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:10 – Clearing in the wetlands (stay straight)

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.

Patio picnic area, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:45 – “The Patio”

Upper Altadena Crest Trail

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View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, Pasadena, CA

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail

Ocean view from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

Dusk over the ocean from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail

Upper Altadena Crest Trail

  • Location: Staging area on the north side of Loma Alta Drive at the intersection with Dabney St. From I-210, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on Loma Alta Drive and go 0.2 miles to the staging area on the north side of the road, across from Loma Alta Park.
  • Agency: Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy/County of Los Angeles
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – June (sunrise to sunset)
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Everytrail report here; LA County Trails page here
  • Rating: 6
Altadena Crest Trail Head, Pasadena, CA

0:00 – Trail head at the Loma Alta Staging Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This northwestern segment of the Altadena Trail connects Loma Alta Drive with Mt. Lowe Road, climbing about 800 vertical feet with a few ups and downs, adding up to a fairly vigorous workout. The trail’s convenient location and panoramic views make it a worthwhile excursion for anyone in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys; it’s not far from downtown L.A. either.

From the staging area, follow the signed trail leading alongside the debris basin. The first few hundred yards might not seem promising but you quickly climb away from civilization, reaching the top of a ridge a quarter mile from the start. From here, you descend to a T-junction. Take a hard right and head into a shallow canyon. Stay straight, ignoring the cut switchback on the left and make your way up to another ridge, taking in some nice views of the San Gabriel Mountains dead ahead.

Fall colors on the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

0:09 – Heading right at the T-junction (times are approximate)

After another brief descent, you begin a steady climb to a Y-junction (0.9 miles from the start). Bear left and continue climbing a quarter mile to reach the paved Chaney Trail. The trail continues on the opposite side of the road and a wooden step makes a nice resting spot before the steep ascent ahead.

View of the mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Foothills, CA

0:24 – Bear left at the Y-junction

The trail continues its climb, quite steeply at times and over increasingly loose and washed out terrain. The good news is that for your efforts you are rewarded with views that are wider and wider, as well as an interesting aerial perspective on Cheney Trail. Finally the grade levels out you meet up with a paved road leading a few yards to a junction at a saddle with great views to the south, including the Santa Ana Mountains, Catalina Island and downtown L.A., and Millard Canyon to the north.

This is the turnaround point (1.6 miles from the start), but you can easily extend the hike along the Sunset Ridge Trail or the Mt. Lowe Fire Road if you see fit. As an alternate to the loose, steep trail, you can also descend via Cheney Trail by heading left on the Mt. Lowe Fire Road and following it a short distance.

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Altadena Crest Trail, California

0:29 – View from the Cheney Trail intersection

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 San Gabriel Valley from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:49 – Southeast view from the top

Ryan Mountain (Joshua Tree National Park)

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View of San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak from Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from Ryan Mountain

Boulders on the Ryan Mountain Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Boulders near the Ryan Mountain trail head

Ryan Mountain  (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62, about six miles past the junction with Highway 247 and 26 miles northeast of I-10, take Park Boulevard (signed for the park) south (turn right if you’re coming from the west, left if from the east). Follow the road for a total of 17.6 miles to the signed Ryan Mountain Trail Head on the right side of the road, shortly past the junction with Keys View Road. Admission is $15 per vehicle for a week. Annual Joshua Tree National Park passes are $30. The inter-agency America the Beautiful pass ($80 per year) is also accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – April (day use only; gate shuts at sunset)
  • USGS topo maps: “Indian Cove”, “Keys View”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; video of the hike here
  • Rating: 9

Excellent views and an easy-to-follow trail make Ryan Mountain (elevation 5,457) one of Joshua Tree National Park’s most popular destinations. The trail is steep but the scenery is beautiful and varied from start to finish. You’re likely to have company on the trail but the hike still manages to feel isolated, thanks to the vastness of the terrain surrounding the mountain.

Ryan Mountain trail head, Joshua Tree National Park

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

From the parking area, follow the trail as it makes its way between some giant boulders. In 0.2 miles, a trail from the sheep pass campground joins up from the left. The trail to Ryan mountain stays straight, climbing steeply up a northwestern facing ridge. As you ascend, your efforts yield great views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.

San Jacinto Peak as seen from the Ryan Mountain Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:18 – View of San Jacinto Peak (times are approximate)

At about o.8 miles, the trail reaches a saddle dotted with a few pinyon pines. Continue uphill to a bench (1.1 miles) where a lone Joshua tree presides over the steeply dropping eastern slope of the mountain. The grade levels out here and the last 0.3 miles to the summit are the easiest.

On the long, almost flat peak, you enjoy a panoramic view including the giants to the west, the Santa Rosas, the Little San Bernardinos and a nearly aerial view of Wonderland of Rocks, Lost Horse Valley and more. A metal sign identifies the peak by name for photo ops. After enjoying the view descend via the same route.

0:28 - Pinyon pines at the saddle, about 2/3 of the way up

0:28 – Pinyon pines at the saddle, about 2/3 of the way up

In case you were wondering, Ryan Mountain was named after brothers Thomas and Jep Ryan, former owners of the nearby Lost Horse Mine, another one of the park’s popular destinations.

0:40 - Lone Joshua Tree at an overlook near the top

0:40 – Lone Joshua Tree at an overlook near the top

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

Panoramic view from Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

0:43 – Looking northeast from the summit

Elsmere Canyon

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Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon

Geology in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

The Towsley geological formation, Elsmere Canyon

Elsmere Canyon

  • Location: Santa Clarita.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit.  If you’re coming from the south, turn right; the north, left, and drive to the end of the street and park in the dirt lot.  (If the lot is full, you may need to use the lower lot, where there is a $5 fee.)
  • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round (best after recent rains)
  • USGS topo maps: Oat Mountain, San Fernando
  • More information: here; trip description here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report (loop route) here
  • Rating: 7
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:00 – Elsmere Canyon Open Space trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The small seasonal waterfall in Elsmere Canyon is a pleasant surprise for hikers who may feel as if they know all of the trails in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Even during the summer months when the waterfall is likely to be dry the enjoyable stroll along the Creek Trail is a good way to beat the heat. Elsmere Canyon is large (over 1,200 acres) and the 6-mile loop around the perimeter of the park is a challenging workout, but power lines and exposure to freeway noise detract from the experience. The short hike to and from the waterfall is the most enjoyable one in the park and one of the best easy hikes in the area.

Creek Trail, Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:06 – Bear left on the Creek Trail (times are approximate)

From the Whitney Canyon Trail Head, which also serves as an entry point to Elsmere Canyon, follow the trail signed for Elsmere Canyon as it heads south along the border of the parking lot, up a ridge and downhill to a junction (0.2 miles.) Bear left on the signed Creek Trail which follows a pleasant course along a seasonal stream, crossing it several times. Soon you’re under the shade of oaks and you’ll also notice the tall rock walls, part of the Towsley Formation, rising high on the west side of the canyon.

Single track trail in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:27 – Turnoff for the waterfall

At 0.9 miles, you reach a junction with a wide fire road. Bear right, go a short distance and then head left on a single-track trail leading deeper into the woods. You will have to negotiate a few  creek crossings, some of which may be tricky if water levels are high. Adding to the challenge are several fallen trees, the result of the Foothill Fire of 2004 and other blazes. Overall though the navigation and terrain aren’t too difficult and after 0.4 miles, you find yourself at the base of the waterfall.

The lower tier which is about 10 feet can be climbed fairly easily for those with experience, assuming that the water level isn’t high enough to present a hazard. The upper tier is about 20 feet tall and pours down into a shallow pool. Whether you observe the waterfall from the bottom or the middle, it’s an attractive, peaceful spot, only a few miles from civilization but virtually isolated.

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:45 – Elsmere Canyon waterfall

There are more waterfalls beyond this one that can be reached by climbers who possess the necessary equipment and knowledge, but for hikers who don’t want to risk becoming part of the conversation about what steps managing agencies should take to regulate open spaces, this is the turnaround point. On the way back, if it’s a cool day and you’re looking for a little more of a workout, consider taking the Elsmere Canyon Loop instead of the Creek Trail, adding 0.2 miles and about 200 feet of elevation gain. It lacks the serenity of the Creek Trail but does provide some nice views of the Santa Clarita Valley, including the distant Sierra Pelona range.

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

Olinda Oil Museum Trail

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Olinda Oil Museum Trail, Brea, CA

In the canyon on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

Historic oil well, Olinda Oil Museum

Historic oil well and museum field house

Olinda Oil Museum Trail

    • Location: Olinda Oil Museum, 4025 Santa Fe Rd, Brea. From the 57 Freeway, take the Lambert Road exit and head east for a total of 2.4 miles (Lambert becomes Carbon Canyon/Highway 142). Turn left on Santa Fe and go 0.3 miles to the park entrance, which is on the right. Parking is free but museum donations are encouraged.
    • Agency: City of Brea/California State Parks
    • Distance: 1.9 miles
    • Elevation gain: 350 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour for hike; 30 minutes for museum
    • Best season: All year (Trail is open daily 9am-4pm; museum is open from 10am-2pm Wednesday and noon to 4pm Sunday)
    • USGS topo map: Yorba Linda
    • More information: Trip description here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 4
Olinda Oil Museum Trail beginning

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

Long before Disneyland or reality television made Orange County famous, oil was discovered. The Olinda Oil Museum pays homage to the history of oil in north Orange County, featuring vintage equipment, historical photographs and a short hiking trail that climbs into the hills above. The 12-acre parcel was deeded to the city in 2003 by real estate developers as part of a deal that allowed them to build new housing tracts in the area.

Service road on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:07 – Crossing the second service road; note the trail marker on the right (times are approximate)

The houses and the noise from traffic on nearby Carbon Canyon Road prevent this from being much of a wilderness experience, but the trail still offers a convenient workout with some nice views of north O.C. The historical interest adds appeal. In some ways, this could be considered Orange County’s answer to Griffith Park’s Travel Town, although it would be more accurately called Oil Town.

Interpretive plaque on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:12 – Plaque describing the geology of the area

From the parking area, follow the trail which soon changes from concrete to dirt and makes its way up the hillside, crossing two service roads. The numbered trail markers don’t have any interpretive significance; they are simply there to clearly sign the route. You pass by a few active oil drills and interpretive plaques as you switchback up the hill.

View from the top of the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:15 – View from the top of the trail

At about half a mile–and almost 300 feet of elevation gain – you reach the top of the trail, marked by a lone willow tree. Here you can get a panoramic 180-degree view of the Santa Ana Mountains and Chino Hills to the east and south, and of Orange County’s suburban sprawl to the left. The trail then descends, dropping into a shallow canyon before emerging at a fire road, a mile from the start.

Descending into the canyon, Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:18 – Descending into the canyon

Follow the fire road downhill to another paved service road, which leads out of the canyon, through a grove of eucalyptus trees. The trail emerges at Santa Fe Road, where you turn right and follow it back uphill toward the museum, completing the loop.

Fire road, Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:30 – Joining the fire road, about a mile from the start

If you visit on a Wednesday or Sunday, make sure you allow enough time to visit the museum, the main building of which is a field house from 1912. Other attractions include vintage oil pumps and gears, steam engines, drills, gears, tools and a working klaxon horn which museum volunteers will enthusiastically demonstrate.  (It’s loud.)

Paved road leading out of the canyon on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:36 – Paved road leading out of the canyon

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

Rattlesnake Canyon (Santa Barbara)

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Hills above Rattlesnake Canyon as seen from just below Gibraltar Road

Hills above Rattlesnake Canyon as seen from just below Gibraltar Road

Greenery in lower Rattlesnake Canyon

Greenery in lower Rattlesnake Canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon

    • Location: Santa Barbara.  From the south, take Highway 101 to Salinas St.  Follow Salinas 0.8 miles to a rotary.  Take the second exit on the rotary, signed as Highway 144 and Sycamore Canyon.  Go 1.1 miles and merge onto Foothill Road/Highway 192.  Go 1.1 miles and turn right onto El Cielito.  Follow El Cielito for a mile to Las Canoas Road.  Turn right and follow Las Canoas for 0.4 miles to a small bridge, just past Skofield Park.  The trail starts on the right side of the road, but parking is not permitted right in front of the trail.  Park where available on the left side of the road.  From the north and west, take Highway 154 to Highway 192.  Head east on Highway 192 for 3.2 miles.  Turn left on Mission Canyon and follow it 0.5 miles.  Turn right on Las Canoas and follow it 1.2 miles to the trail head.  Park on the right side of the street and pick up the trail across the way, by either end of the bridge.
    • Agency: City of Santa Barbara
    • Distance: 4.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, terrain)
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Best season:  All year but hot during the summer
    • USGS topo map: Santa Barbara
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; detailed trail guide here; Yelp page here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead on Las Canoas Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Las Canoas Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Rattlesnake Canyon is one of the more popular hikes in the Santa Barbara foothills among both humans and canines.  With ocean and mountain views, thick woodlands and a seasonal stream, it’s one of the most scenically varied and with the extension to Gibraltar Road as described here, it’s quite challenging.  About half of the hike is shaded; with an early start it can be done during the summer.

0:15 - Bear left at the junction about half a mile from the start (times are approximate)

0:15 – Bear left at the junction about half a mile from the start (times are approximate)

From the trail heads on either side of the bridge, head up into the canyon, making a few switchbacks to ascend a ridge.  You climb steadily, reaching a junction at 0.5 miles.  Bear left and stay left again at another junction, descending into a wooded area.  You cross a stream bed and on the opposite side the trail splits.  Both routes soon merge so you can take either.  More climbing brings you to an area dotted with thin pines, resembling landscapes usually found at higher altitudes.

0:36 - Creek crossing

0:36 – Creek crossing

Continuing along, you enter another woodland at about 1.2 miles and cross the creek twice.  Another climb brings you to an attractive meadow with a somewhat unattractive name (Tin Can) where peaks tower above.  On the opposite side of the meadow in a grove of oaks you reach a T-junction, 1.7 miles from the start.  This can be a good turnaround point if you’re out of gas or if the day is hot.  If you want more, head right on the trail signed for Gibraltar Road.

0:51 - Tin Can Meadow, shortly before the junction with the spur trail to Gibraltar Road

0:51 – Tin Can Meadow, shortly before the junction with the spur trail to Gibraltar Road

The trail is flat for a short distance before beginning a morale-testing climb.  The views, however, are worth the effort and there’s a little bit of shade to help out.  When you make a few final switchbacks and get excellent views of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Island and the greater Santa Barbara area, you’ll be glad you went the extra mile (or 0.7 miles, to be exact.)  At 2.4 miles, the trail reaches Gibraltar Road.  At a small turnout, you can sit and admire the panorama before heading back.  Make sure you give yourself time not just to enjoy the view but to rest your legs for the steep descent.

1:15 - Panoramic ocean view from Gibraltar Road (turnaround point)

1:15 – Panoramic ocean view from Gibraltar Road (turnaround point)

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

Falls Canyon Falls (Orange County)

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Falls Canyon Falls

Falls Canyon Falls

Greenery in Falls Canyon

Greenery in Falls Canyon

Falls Canyon Falls (Orange County)

    • Location: Trabuco Canyon, eastern Orange County.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take El Toro Road northeast for 6 miles.  At Cook’s Corner, take a hard right onto Live Oak and drive four miles.  Shortly past O’Neill Park, right after Rose Canyon Road, take a left on Trabuco Creek Road, an unmarked dirt road.  Note that 4-wheel drive vehicles with high clearances are recommended. At 3 miles you pass by an information board marking the entrance to the Cleveland National Forest; the roasd becomes noticeably rougher here.  After half a mile, keep a sharp eye out for a narrow trail heading downhill on the left (north) side of the road.  The road widens here, leaving enough room for a few cars to park.  Trail head GPS coordinates are N 33 40.433/W 117 32.166.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
    • Distance: 1 mile
    • Elevation gain: 300 feet
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season: Year round (best following rain)
    • USGS topo map: “Santiago Peak”
    • Recommended gear: Long sleeved shirts and pants; Poison oak cream; insect repellent; hiking poles
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here; Video of the waterfall here
    • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead on Trabuco Creek Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Trabuco Creek Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Falls Canyon – not to be confused with the similarly named Falls Creek Falls in the Angeles National Forest – is a tributary of Trabuco Creek in a remote corner of the Santa Ana Mountains.  While most people who endure the drive down Trabuco Creek Road have Holy Jim Falls as a destination, Falls Canyon Falls makes a nice side-trip.  The hike loses points due to its requirement of virtually constant poison oak vigilance, but following recent rains, the waterfall is an impressive sight.  With a little navigation, scrambling and bush-whacking required, Falls Canyon Falls is a good training hike for the considerably more difficult Black Star Canyon Falls.  If you’ve considered doing Black Star but are worried about the challenges it presents, try this one first.

0:02 - Crossing Trabuco Creek (times are approximate)

0:02 – Crossing Trabuco Creek (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head sharply downhill into the woods. The terrain can be slippery if it’s rained recently so be careful; hiking poles may be helpful. At the bottom, navigate through poison oak and bear left, heading down toward Trabuco Creek. You head downstream briefly before emerging on the opposite side. If you don’t mind getting wet or if water levels are low, you can continue downstream; otherwise your best bet is to climb onto a narrow but navigable rock ledge a few feet above the water. Keep an eye out for poison oak as you make your way across.

0:03 - Climbing the rock ledge on the north side of the creek (be careful!)

0:03 – Climbing the rock ledge on the north side of the creek (be careful!)

After the rock ledge, a loosely defined trail heads uphill to the right. Work your way through yet another minefield of poison oak before dropping down to Falls Creek.

0:04 - Leaving the stream bed

0:04 – Leaving the stream bed

At this point you’ve only come 0.1 miles, although it will probably seem like more given the tricky terrain. Your job gets somewhat easier as you work your way in and out of Falls Creek. Continue keeping an eye out for poison oak, although the worst of it will be behind you by now.

At 0.3 miles, negotiate a bunch of fallen tree trunks. Soon afterward, you come to a 10-foot rock wall on the right side of the creek. There are plenty of handholds and you should be able to reach the top without much difficulty, although as always exercise caution.

0:07 - Falls Canyon creek bed

0:07 – Falls Canyon creek bed

A few dozen yards beyond this rock, you may get your first glimpse of the waterfall. After crossing the creek again you reach it (0.5 miles), where the water falls about 30 feet in a thin plume into a small pool. A few rocks make ideal spots to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of Falls Canyon Falls before retracing your steps downstream and back to the car.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM JOEL ROBINSON OF WWW.NATURALISTFORYOU.ORG:

0:16 - Climbing the rock wall

0:16 – Climbing the rock wall

Just past the 10-foot rock on the left, there are clusters of giant chain fern, the largest native species of fern in California, capable of growing taller than a person!  Giant chain fern only occurs in shady, wet places, which restricts its distribution in Orange County.  Because of the intact ecosystem, the superior water quality supports California newts, caddisflies, California treefrogs, giant water bugs, and other sensitive aquatic organisms.  The water table is high enough to support an abundance of thirsty trees, such as bigleaf maple, white alder, and California bay laurel.  Wild grape vines entangle many of the trees along with poison oak and blackberry.  When the sun hits the waterfall, you can watch hummingbirds and butterflies catch drinks from the cascade.

0:25 - Falls Canyon Falls

0:25 – Falls Canyon Falls

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