San Antonio Creek Trail (Santa Barbara)

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Oaks on the San Antonio Creek Trail

Oaks on the San Antonio Creek Trail

San Antonio Creek Trail (Santa Barbara)

      • Location: Tucker’s Grove County Park, Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, take the Turnpike Road exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east, left if from the west) for 0.8 miles to the park.  Drive 0.3 miles to the easternmost parking lot where the trail begins.
      • Agency: County of Santa Barbara
      • Distance: 3.4 miles
      • Elevation gain: 350 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Best season: Year round
      • USGS topo map: Goleta
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
      • More information: Hike descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 5
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Considering its proximity to several major roads, the San Antonio Creek Trail feels pleasantly secluded.  You can expect to hear some traffic noise and the trail does pass by several private properties, but on the whole there are few signs of civilization.  The trail is popular with human and canine hikers.  Birds provide a soundtrack for the hike and following spring rains, the stream adds to the atmosphere.  With Santa Barbara’s temperate climate and the trail’s moderate distance and elevation gain, it can certainly be done as a summer hike, although sometimes moisture locked in by all the trees can make it feel surprisingly humid.

0:05 - Picnic table in the dog park (times are approximate)

0:05 – Picnic table in the dog park (times are approximate)

From the north end of the Kiwanis Meadow parking lot, look for the signed trail head.  You follow the path to a T-junction by a fenced-in dog park and head left into the oak and sycamore shaded canyon.  Several spurs branch off the main route.

0:18 - Left turn at the junction in the field

0:18 – Left turn at the junction in the field

At about 1 mile, you cross the stream bed twice.  Soon after, you pass by a flood control dam (walking across it is an option but it’s more pleasant to stick to the trail that parallels it) and then the trail begins its ascent to its upper terminus, a dirt parking lot at the side of Highway 154.  The destination may be a little anti-climatic, but you can sit on some rocks and enjoy a nice view to the southwest before heading back.

0:31 - Flood control dam

0:31 – Flood control dam

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

0:45 - View from the turnaround point at Highway 154

0:45 – View from the turnaround point at Highway 154

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Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks

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View from the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

View from the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

Geology on the Santa Cruz Trail

Geology on the Santa Cruz Trail

Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks

    • Location: Upper Oso Campground, Santa Ynez Recreation Area north of Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, head southeast on Highway 154 for 22 miles if you’re coming from the north; northwest on Highway 154 for 10.6 miles if you’re coming from the south, to Paradise Road.  Head east on Paradise Road for 5.8 miles and turn left onto Camuesa Road, signed for the Lower Oso Campground.  Drive a mile to the campground and park in the day use area in the northeastern corner, just past the out houses.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  Year round
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; photos here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8

0:00 - Trail head at the Upper Oso Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

It’s hard to go wrong in the oak-shaded canyons, wide meadows and tall mountains of the Santa Ynez Recreational Area and the hike to the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp is about as close as you can get to a hike that will please everyone.  It’s easy enough that novices shouldn’t have too much trouble and it also serves as a gateway for more challenging hikes, such as Little Pine Mountain.  The scenery includes both flora and geology (including limestone, sandstone and shale) of interest; the views are panoramic and the sense of solitude is strong.  Though the area can be hot during the summer, with an early start the hike can be enjoyable even on warm days.

0:21 - Start of the Santa Cruz Trail (times are approximate)

0:21 – Start of the Santa Cruz Trail (times are approximate)

From the end of the campground, follow the dirt road (signed as Buckhorn Road or Cameusa Canyon Road on some maps) up hill for a gentle 3/4 of a mile along side a seasonal stream.  Much of the route is shaded by oaks and sycamores.  At 3/4 of a mile, continue straight on a single-track while the dirt road makes switchbacks up the hill.  The going becomes a little more challenging here (watch out for poison oak) as you traverse some rocky and sometimes slippery terrain, although most hikers shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

0:34 - Crossing the stream bed on the Santa Cruz Trail

0:34 – Crossing the stream bed on the Santa Cruz Trail

For the next mile-plus, the trail follows the east side of the canyon, weaving in and out of more woodlands, crossing a stream bed and taking in some impressive mountain views.  At 1.8 miles from the start, you reach a junction.  Take a hairpin right turn and begin a short but steep climb to a meadow where the trail splits.  Bear left and follow the path to Nineteen Oaks, where you can sit at a shaded picnic table and enjoy the view.

0:55 - Turnoff to Nineteen Oaks

0:55 – Turnoff to Nineteen Oaks

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.

1:00 - Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

1:00 – Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

Challenger Park (Simi Valley)

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Meadow and hills in the trails behind Challenger Park

Meadow and hills in the trails behind Challenger Park

Oaks in a canyon behind Challenger Park

Oaks in a canyon behind Challenger Park

Challenger Park (Simi Valley)

  • Location: South Simi Valley.  From Highway 118, take the First St. exit and go south (turn right if you’re coming from the west, left if from the east) for 2.8 miles.   Turn left into the parking lot signed for Challenger Park (just past the intersection with Stonebrook.  From Highway 23, take the Olsen Road exit and go northeast for 1.9 miles to Wood Ranch Parkway. (Olsen becomes Madera Road en route).  Turn right on Wood Ranch and go 1.9 miles to the junction with Long Canyon Road.  Turn left onto Long Canyon Road and go 1.7 miles.  Challenger Park will be on the right, shortly before Long Canyon Road becomes First Street.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
  • USGS topo maps: Moorpark
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trail head at Challenger Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Located on the south side of Simi Valley, Challenger Park is a hub from which a variety of hiking and equestrian trails branch off.  The short loop described here showcases some of the scenery of Simi Valley, from rolling hills to shady oak canyons.  The hike can easily be done before or after work, but despite its brevity, there’s enough climbing to burn a few calories.  If you have extra time, you can extend the hike with a trip into nearby Long Canyon.

0:04 - Bear right at the Y-junction (times are approximate)

0:04 – Bear right at the Y-junction (times are approximate)

From the park, follow the dirt road east through a meadow and into an oak grove.  (The steep trail descending behind you is the return route; by hiking clockwise, as described here, you can warm up on a level stretch of trail before making the first climb.)

0:07 - Beginning the climb from the canyon (hard right)

0:07 – Beginning the climb from the canyon (hard right)

Bear right at a Y-junction and at 0.25 miles, beneath a large sycamore tree, make a hairpin right turn.  You begin the first ascent of the hike, climbing about 200 feet over the next quarter mile to reach the top of a ridge.  Here you get a panoramic view of the Simi Hills and the meadow below.  Turn left and follow the ridge to another trail which descends into the meadow, passing a few picnic tables.

0:12 - View from the top of the ridge

0:12 – View from the top of the ridge

The trail drops back into the canyon, winding along the foothills.  Stay left at a junction (the right fork heads back to the park, an option if you want to shorten the hike) and at about 1.1 miles from the start, you join the east Long Canyon Trail.  Bear right, heading toward the street, and almost immediately make a right onto an obscure-looking single track trail that leads back toward the park.  This last section of the loop feels pleasantly remote and secluded, despite being only a few dozen yards from Long Canyon Road.

0:14 - Descent toward the picnic area

0:14 – Descent toward the picnic area

Soon the trail leaves the shaded canyon bottom and climbs back to the ridge.  Take a left at at T-junction and follow along a fence line before reaching a saddle where several trails merge.  Head straight and make the final descent to complete the loop at the Challenger Park lot.

0:29 - Heading back toward the park on the single track

0:29 – Heading back toward the park on the single track

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

0:43 - Following the fence line at the top of the ridge before the final descent

0:43 – Following the fence line at the top of the ridge before the final descent

Aliso Canyon Loop (Los Padres National Forest)

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Sunset in the Los Padres National Forest from the Aliso Canyon Loop Trail

Sunset in the Los Padres National Forest from the Aliso Canyon Loop Trail

Descending the Aliso Canyon Loop

Descending the Aliso Canyon Loop

Aliso Canyon Loop (Los Padres National Forest)

    • Location: Sage Hill Campground, Santa Ynez Recreation Area north of Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, head southeast on Highway 154 for 22 miles if you’re coming from the north; northwest on Highway 154 for 10.6 miles if you’re coming from the south, to Paradise Road.  Head east on Paradise Road for 4.5 miles and turn left into the Sage Hill Campground.  Turn left into the campground, make a hard right, make another right and bear left into the lot signed for the Aliso Canyon Trail.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 3.5 miles
    • Elevation gain: 800 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  Year round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here,  here and here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This hike has a little bit of everything: pleasant oak and sycamore shaded woodlands, narrow canyons, panoramic mountain and valley views and some rather steep climbing to get to it all.  Though the upper ridges are exposed, with an early or late start, the hike can be done during warm days.  Sunsets here can be exceptional; the Santa Ynez Valley resembles Ojai but feels even more remote.

0:07 - Beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

0:07 – Beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signed Aliso Trail into the canyon.  You stroll for a peaceful 0.3 miles beneath the oaks before reaching a junction.  The loop can be hiked in either direction; by hiking clockwise (staying straight) you can wait a little before tackling the major ascents (if you head right, you will be climbing immediately).

0:27 - View across Aliso Canyon from the ascent

0:27 – View across Aliso Canyon from the ascent

Assuming you opt for clockwise, continue north into the canyon which quickly narrows.  You climb briefly up from the stream bed and drop back down briefly before beginning the major ascent: almost 600 feet in 0.7 miles.  The good news is that you get some excellent aerial views of Aliso Canyon on your ascent.

0:40 - View across Oso Canyon from the T-junction (turn right and continue climbing)

0:40 – View across Oso Canyon from the T-junction (turn right and continue climbing)

The trail gradually levels out, bending to the east and heading through a meadow (watch out for burrs on the plants; wear long pants if possible) before reaching a T-junction.  Here you get a good view down into the neighboring canyon, Oso.  Turn right and make another steep but short ascent to an unnamed summit where you can sit and enjoy a 360-degree vista.

0:45 - View from the first high point on the ridge

0:45 – View from the first high point on the ridge

From here, follow the ridge between the two canyons, heading south, making one more brief climb to another knoll before descending back into Aliso Canyon.  You drop down to another meadow and make a final series of steep switchbacks – sometimes cutting right up to the edge of the hill – completing the loop at 3.2 miles.  Retrace your steps back to the campground.

1:20 - Making the steep switchbacks back down into the canyon

1:20 – Making the steep switchbacks back down into 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.

Five Oaks Trail to Moulton Peak (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

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View from just below Moulton Peak on the Five Oaks Trail

View from just below Moulton Peak on the Five Oaks Trail

Woodlands on the lower end of the Five Oaks Trail

Woodlands on the lower end of the Five Oaks Trail

Five Oaks Trail to Moulton Peak (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

  • Location: Canyon View Park, Aliso Viejo.  From I-5, take the Oso Parkway exit and head west (turn left if you’re coming from the south, right if from the north) for 5 miles to Canyon Vistas.  Oso Parkway becomes Pacific Park along the way.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Canyon View Park.  Park on the street where available, being aware of parking restrictions.
  • Agency:  Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty: PG
  • Best season: All year (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map:
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Video about the geology of the area here; Peakbagger page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike at Canyon View Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at Canyon View Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Climbing steeply from the bottom of Wood Canyon to Moulton Peak, the Five Oaks Trail is popular with mountain bikers and makes a good workout for hikers as well.  It used to be possible to reach the peak from the adjacent residential neighborhood, but to do the hike by the book, you have to start at one of the official trail heads.

0:11 - Sign at the entrance to the park (times are approximate)

0:11 – Sign at the entrance to the park (times are approximate)

The shortest route is from the northern end of the Wood Canyon Trail, at Canyon View Park in Aliso Viejo.  From Canyon Vistas, follow the paved path on the right side of the park downhill into the canyon.  At 0.4 miles, the path becomes dirt and you enter the park (Moulton Peak is visible to your left at this point.)

You follow Wood Canyon downhill for a pleasant mile, passing junctions with the Lynx Trail and Coyote Run.  At about 1.4 miles from the start, the trail enters a meadow and the Five Oaks Trail branches to the left.

0:36 - Meadow shortly before the junction with the Five Oaks Trail

0:36 – Meadow shortly before the junction with the Five Oaks Trail

The trail crosses the meadow, passing by some sandstone caves on the left and a few tall sycamores on the right.  You cross a footbridge and enter an attractive grove of oaks; a tributary of Wood Canyon.  The bill soon comes due however as the trail leaves the shade of the canyon and begins a rugged and steep ascent to Moulton Peak.  The good news is that when you stop and catch your breath, the views of the park get better and better.

0:38 - Sandstone caves at the beginning of the Five Oaks Trail

0:38 – Sandstone caves at the beginning of the Five Oaks Trail

Near the top, you cross a service road, pass by some water tanks and arrive at the scrubby summit of Moulton Peak.  A radio installation prevents the view from being 360 degrees, but you can still see an impressive distance especially on clear days, including Catalina Island, the coastal foothills of San Diego County, Old Saddleback and more.  You also get a nearly aerial perspective of the park itself.  If anything, the best views are on the descent, which are unobstructed by power lines.

0:40 - Crossing the footbridge on the Five Oaks Trail

0:40 – Crossing the footbridge on the Five Oaks Trail

Return via the same route or if you have time and energy, continue exploring Wood Canyon and the rest of the park.  With a car shuttle at the Alicia Parkway trailhead, you can continue toward Dripping Cave and Aliso Canyon.

1:05 - View from Moulton Peak

1:05 – View from Moulton Peak

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

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

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View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

    • Location: Idyllwild.  From I-10 in Banning, take Highway 243 south for 24 miles to Idyllwild.  Turn right on Maranatha Drive and almost immediately bear left onto Lower Pinecrest Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Riverside County Playground Road and follow the signs to the park.  From Highway 74, take Highway 243 north for 4 miles.  Bear left onto Riverside Couty Playground Road and follow it 0.1 miles to the park entrance.  Day use fees are $3 per adult, $2 per child and $1 per dog, cash only, change not given.  The day use area is just past the entrance kiosk.
    • Agency: Riverside County Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 3.3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 750 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: April-October
    • USGS topo maps: Idyllwild; San Jacinto Peak
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Home page here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trail map here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Ernie Maxwell Trail, the trails of Idyllwild County Park offer the scenic perks of the San Jacinto Mountains–majestic pines, black oaks, wide-ranging mountain views–without requiring the commitment to hike to one of the major summits.  While the Maxwell Trail suffers less from the noise and sights of civilization, this one has more variety, plus an enjoyable and informative nature center.

0:22 - Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

0:22 – Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

The trails, while well signed, can be a little confusing.  The Perimeter Trail, for example, overlaps with several others; at the junctions, the same trail is often signed twice.  There are a few spots (particularly on the Summit Trail) where the route is a little vague, although if you find yourself having to go off-trail beyond some basic rock scrambling, you’ve likely just lost the trail and should be able to retrace your steps not too far before finding it.  The Perimeter Trail, as described here, is a good, moderate route that takes in pretty much all that the park has to offer, but it doesn’t have to be followed exactly.  Idyllwild County Park is a nice place to just wander around.

0:28 - Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

0:28 – Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

To follow the Perimeter Trail, take the paved road toward the campground.  After a few hundred yards, make a hard right on the signed trail and begin walking uphill through an attractive forest of pines and oaks.  You will pass several junctions; keep following the signs for the Perimeter Trail.  On the right, keep an eye out for views of Tahquitz Rock, Tahquitz Peak and San Jacinto.

0:31 - Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

0:31 – Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

After 1.1 miles, cross the paved road (an alternate entrance to the park) and pick up the Perimeter Trail on the opposite side.  It descends to a T-junction.  Both routes lead toward the nature center, but the right trail is more interesting.  Take it and then almost immediately turn left.  Follow the trail through the woods, passing by a pair of benches overlooking a flat rock with a few morteros.

0:35 - Sticks out like a sore thumb!

0:35 – Sticks out like a sore thumb!

Continuing south on the trail, you pass by a granite boulder with an outcrop resembling a thumb.  Just beyond you reach a junction.  Turn left, briefly leaving the Perimeter Trail and follow the Yellow Pine Trail to the nature center.  Here, you can take a few minutes to enjoy interpretive exhibits including taxidermy of bobcats, mountain lions, owls and coyotes; Cahuilla artifacts and more.  You can also pick up a park map here.

0:40 - Stuffed cougar at the nature center

0:40 – Stuffed cougar at the nature center

When you’re done at the nature center, return to the Yellow Pine Trail and head left, following it to another T-junction.  Turn right and rejoin the Perimeter Trail.  Follow it a short distance to another junction just past a gigantic black oak, turn left and turn right at the next junction (the map will come in handy.)

1:15 - Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

1:15 – Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

At 1.7 miles from the start, you’ll reach the beginning of the Summit Trail, also signed as the Summit Loop.  Stay straight and begin a steep climb, making switchbacks up the ridge.  Keep an eye out for the white trail markers if you are not sure about the route.  After half a mile and about 350 vertical feet, the trail levels out and you get views of San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak to the left.  As you follow the ridge south, you can see Garner Valley, Thomas Mountain and the Palomars. If visibility is good, you may even be able to pick out the observatory.

1:20 - San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

1:20 – San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

The trail begins a steep descent, at times rocky (be careful; use your hands as well as your feet).  Again the route can be a little tricky but if you look for the white trail markers you should stay on course.  The trail drops back into the woods, reaching another junction (2.7 miles.)  Stay right and then take a left, following the trail down to the end of Delano Drive.  Cross the street and follow the trail back into the park, threading your way between the camp sites on the left and a mobile home park on the right.  Ignoring a few false trails that branch off, follow the trail half a mile back to the meadow and the parking area.

1:30 - Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

1:30 – Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

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

1:40 - Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

1:40 – Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

Prisoner’s Harbor to Del Norte Campground (Santa Cruz Island)

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Looking east from the ascent to the Del Norte Trail

Looking east from the ascent to the Del Norte Trail

View of Prisoner's Harbor from near the Del Norte Campground

View of Prisoner’s Harbor from near the Del Norte Campground

Prisoner’s Harbor to Del Norte Campground (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: 6.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
    • Suggested time: 3 hours, or as permitted by the boat schedule
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
    • Best season:  Year-round (pending boat availability)
    • USGS topo map: “Santa Cruz Island C”
    • Recommended gear: Dramamine (boat ride); sun hat; sunblock
    • More information:  S.C.I. Yelp page here; National Park Service page here; Everytrail report here; information about the Del Norte Campground here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at Prisoner's Harbor (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at Prisoner’s Harbor (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

For the 600th hike posted on this site, we leave the mainland and head out to the largest of the Channel Islands.  At 96 square miles of land area, Santa Cruz has been described as a miniature continent.  With mountains towering half a mile above sea level, valleys, bays, canyons, native and non native trees, sea caves and more, the island offers plenty of variety and this trip, departing from the Prisoner’s Harbor location, showcases several of Santa Cruz’s facets.  Boats to Prisoner’s Harbor, the mid-Santa Cruz Island landing, are not scheduled as frequently as to the more popular Scorpion Anchorage, but for those seeking solitude, it’s worth the effort.  One could think of Prisoner’s Harbor as Two Harbors to Scorpion’s Avalon.

0:39 - Turnoff for the Del Norte Trail (times are approximate)

0:39 – Turnoff for the Del Norte Trail (times are approximate)

Del Norte,  just over three miles away, is Santa Cruz Island’s only active back-country campground.  For day hikers who may have limited time on the island, it makes a good hike.  From the landing area, follow the road past a brick house, through a grove of non-native eucalyptus trees and bear left at a junction.  The dirt road begins a steady ascent.  Vehicles do still travel the road so be careful.  As you climb, you get a panoramic aerial view of Prisoner’s Harbor.

0:48 - Descending into Canada del Agua

0:48 – Descending into Canada del Agua

At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction.  Turn left on the Del Norte Trail and begin a descent, first gradually then sharply into Canada de Agua.  True to its name, this canyon sometimes retains water into the summer months–a rare site on the Channel Islands.

0:52 - Agua in Canada del Agua

0:52 – Agua in Canada del Agua

After crossing the bottom of the canyon, the trail wastes no time in quickly ascending almost 200 feet.  Another descent brings you to a second canyon, which you make your way across and make your final ascent of the outbound portion of the hike.  At 3 miles, turn right at a junction and follow the trail 0.2 miles to the Del Norte Campground.  Here, you can enjoy a wide-ranging view of the ocean from the shade of a native island oak.

1:26 - Turnoff for the Del Norte campground

1:26 – Turnoff for the Del Norte campground

From Del Norte, you can retrace your steps back to Prisoner’s Harbor for a round trip of 6.4 miles.  If you have time and energy, you can continue another quarter mile up the trail to Navy Road and make a loop, returning to the first junction and retracing your steps to the harbor for a total of about 8 miles.

In case you were wondering, Prisoner’s Harbor actually once was used as a penal colony.  For more information about the area’s history, click here.

1:30 - Del Norte Campground

1:30 – Del Norte Campground

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.

Jack Creek Meadow Loop (Daley Ranch)

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Jack Creek Meadow

Jack Creek Meadow

Engelmann Oak in Jack Creek Meadow

Oak in Jack Creek Meadow

Jack Creek Meadow Loop (Daley Ranch)

  • Location: 3024 La Honda Drive, Escondido, CA.  From I-15, take the El Norte exit and head east for 3.1 miles.  Turn left on La Honda and drive a mile to the dirt parking lot.
  • Agency: City of Escondido
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Valley Center
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: Description on the park homepage here; trip descriptions here and here; Daley Ranch Yelp page here
  • Rating: 6

The historic ranch house is the most popular site in Daley Ranch Park.  Not as many visitors explore the 3.2-mile Jack Creek Meadow Loop, which starts just beyond the ranch and travels through open fields and groves of oaks.

0:00 - Trailhead by the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead by the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

To reach the loop, follow the main paved road uphill, climbing about 200 feet in 0.4 miles (the only significant climbing of the entire hike.)  You descend into a pleasant oak grove, passing the two ends of the Boulder Loop and the East Ridge Trail, arriving at the ranch house in 1.1 miles.  The house is only open sporadically, but you can still enjoy looking at the various old buildings or sit for a break at a picnic table before continuing onto the loop.

0:28 - Daley Ranch House (times are approximate)

0:28 – Daley Ranch House (times are approximate)

The Jack Creek Loop begins shortly past the ranch.  It can be hiked in either direction.  The eastern leg features slightly more climbing and less shade, so you might want to get it out of the way first. To do so, head right (stay straight as the Sage Trail branches off), and follow the trail north into a valley reminiscent of Bell Canyon in Caspers Wilderness Park.

0:29 - Sign on a shed just past the ranch house

0:29 – Sign on a shed just past the ranch house

A bench beneath an impressive oak tree makes a good rest spot.  Continue north, making a few small ascents and descents, curving west at the end of the loop.  A fence marks the park boundary; an abandoned car sits on the other side.

0:55 - Large oak on the eastern leg of the Jack Creek Meadow Loop

0:55 – Large oak on the eastern leg of the Jack Creek Meadow Loop

Heading back, your work is easy as the trail descends gradually back into the meadow.  You return to the start of the loop, where you can retrace your steps along the paved Ranch House Road or perhaps explore some of the other trails in the park, such as the Boulder Loop or East Ridge.

1:16 - Heading back on the western leg of the loop

1:16 – Heading back on the western leg of the loop

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.

 

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

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View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest back country on Highway 2.  From the 210 freeway in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 40 miles to Islip Saddle, just beyond the two short tunnels.  Park in the lot on the left (north) side of the highway.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest, Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 10.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, steepness)
  • Best season: Year round, but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter (check conditions before going)
  • USGS topo maps: Crystal Lake, Valyermo
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sun block
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Los Angeles County
  • More information: Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The South Fork Trail is the shortest and arguably the most scenic route between the Angeles Crest Highway and the high desert on the north slope of the San Gabriels, linking Islip Saddle with the South Fork Campground near Valyermo and Pearblossom.  The hike can be done in either direction, or with a rather lengthy drive between the ends, as a point-to-point uphill or downhill.  There are a few advantages of doing it as a “reverse” (down then up) hike as described here.  The upper end, Islip Saddle, is closer to most of the L.A. area; going downhill first allows hikers sensitive to altitude to more easily acclimate and while the grade is consistently moderate, there are a few tricky spots where the trail is covered by rock slides; while these areas don’t require any special technical skill they’re easier to negotiate in the downhill direction on fresher legs. Almost the entire route hugs the west side of the canyon, so during a late-afternoon/early evening ascent, your sun exposure will be minimal.

0:29 - Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)

0:29 – Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)

From Islip Saddle, pick up the South Fork Trail heading downhill (not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail which heads uphill toward Mt. Williamson).  You descend through open areas and pockets of mixed woodland: Douglas fir, pines, black oaks and more.  At about 1.1 miles, you cross a tributary of Big Rock Creek’s south fork, fed from Reed Spring higher up on the hill.  The trail continues its descent, providing striking views of the steep canyon carved by Big Rock Creek and the mountains opposite.
1:47 - Hanging on to the side of the canyon

1:47 – Hanging on to the side of the canyon

As you drop farther along, you’ll start to notice more of the high desert vegetation: pinyon pines, mountain mahogany and manzanita.  The trail descends a few steep switchbacks, finally meeting Big Rock Creek (4.9 miles.)  This can be a good turnaround point, but if you want to hike the entire trail or have set up a shuttle at the South Fork Campground, cross the creek (water levels may be high in the spring) and follow the trail another half mile to the High Desert Recreational Trail, which continues toward the Devil’s Punchbowl.  You can turn right on the dirt road and head a short distance to a picnic area, where you can sit and charge your batteries for the long ascent back to Islip Saddle.

2:04 - Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp

2:04 – Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp

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

2:15 - Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail

2:15 – Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail

Arroyo Verde Park (Ventura)

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Top of "The Wall", descending into Arroyo Verde Park

Top of “The Wall”, descending into Arroyo Verde Park

Oak in Arroyo Verde Park

Oak in Arroyo Verde Park

Arroyo Verde Park (Ventura)

  • Location: Ventura, on the corner of Foothill Road and Day Road.  From L.A., take Highway 101 to Victoria Avenue.  Turn right and follow Victoria 2.3 miles to Foothill Road.  Turn left and go 0.7 miles to the signed park entrance.  Once in the park, drive past the entrance gate 0.4 miles to an elongated parking area in between the two main parking lots.  A trail leads directly off the right (east) side of the parking area.  From Highway 126, take the Victoria Avenue exit.  Head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) for 0.9 miles to Foothill.  Turn left and proceed as described above.  Parking is $2 on the weekends; free on weekdays.
  • Agency:  City of Ventura
  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  Year round (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “Saticoy”
  • More information: here; trail map here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4
0:00 - Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Ventura’s Arroyo Verde Park is an understandably popular destination for joggers, dog walkers, families and hikers.  While the front end of the park is a typical suburban recreational spot with picnic areas and manicured lawns, the back end of the park features a surprisingly challenging network of trails.  The roller coaster-like loops, with their sharp turns and quick drops, provide a short but vigorous workout.  It’s possible to hike Arroyo Verde Park several times without doing the exact same route.  The following double-loop is one of several possible hikes in the park.

0:05 - Single track leaving the service road (times are approximate)

0:05 – Single track leaving the service road (times are approximate)

From the east side of the parking area, take the left of the two trails. This is the Caretaker Trail, which continues to the south, but for this hike, head north, climbing briefly, paralleling the paved road. The trail soon joins a service road where you bear right, go a few yards and bear right again on a single-track. Another trail, the Mini Wall (not to be confused with the Wall, which we will see later) merges from the right. You make a steady climb, taking in nice views of the canyon below and the hills across the way. As you curve around and head back to the west, you’ll see the ocean and you might catch a glimpse of Anacapa Island.

0:13 - Ocean view from the top of the first ascent

0:13 – Ocean view from the top of the first ascent

The trail drops into the canyon. Another route (your return) branches off to the left; stay straight and go a few dozen yards to a T-junction (1.1 miles). To avoid having to tackle the short but steep stretch known as the Wall, head left. The trail curves around the side of a ridge, first heading south and then taking a hairpin turn to head north. You follow the top of the ridge, getting an aerial view of some baseball fields on the left and a nice look at the park on the right.

0:24 - The more gradual ascent up the wall

0:24 – The more gradual ascent up the wall

After reaching a high point where you can enjoy a nice view, the trail drops sharply, descending the Wall and returning to the junction. Turn left and almost immediately right on the trail you saw before, signed on the park map as Barranaca. It descends gently through a shallow, tree-lined canyon for 0.3 miles before reaching the parking lot. Turn left and follow the paved road back to the parking area.

0:40 - Heading back into the park on the Barranca

0:40 – Heading back into the park on the Barranca

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.

Acorn Trail (Wrightwood)

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View of the high desert from the Acorn Trail

View of the high desert from the Acorn Trail

Through the pines on the Acorn Trail

Through the pines on the Acorn Trail

Acorn Trail (Wrightwood)

  • Location: Wrightwood, at the corner of Acorn Drive and Quail Road.  From I-15, take the Highway 138 exit and head west for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) and go 5.4 miles into the town of Wrightwood.  Turn left on Spruce St. and go 0.3 miles to Oriole Rd.  Turn right and go 0.1 miles to Acorn Drive.  Turn left and follow Acorn Drive 0.3 miles and park on the right side of the road in a small dirt turnout between Finch Road and Quail Road.  Though there is no indication that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required for parking, if you have one, you might want to display it.  If ou want to purchase one ($5 per day or $30 for the year) click here.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest (Santa Clara/Mojave Rivers Ranger District)
  • Distance: 5.2 miles (from the corner of Acorn and Quail)
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet (from the corner of Acorn and Quail)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, altitude)
  • Best season: April – November
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. San Antonio”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Here; discussion board about the trail here; video of the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike, Acorn Drive

0:00 – Start of the hike, Acorn Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Acorn Trail links a private residential community in Wrightwood with the Pacific Crest Trail.  The scenery–including stately pines, tall mountain slopes and views of the high desert–is similar to that of the nearby Blue Ridge Trail, although this one is longer, steeper and overall more difficult.  The actual trail is less than two miles, but due to its location at the end of a private road, hikers must tack on an extra 0.8 miles in each direction if they want to do it “by the book.”  Stories abound of hikers being harassed by landowners; while there is no guarantee that this won’t happen, as with other hikes in or around private land, such as Black Star Canyon, if you are respectful of their space odds are they will leave you alone.

0:15 - Beginning of the dirt road at the end of Acorn Drive (times are approximate)

0:15 – Beginning of the dirt road at the end of Acorn Drive (times are approximate)

From the corner of Quail, begin hiking steadily up Acorn Road, reaching its terminus in half a mile and almost 400 feet of elevation gain.  Pass by a gate and follow a dirt road past a water tank for an additional 0.3 miles to the signed start of the trail.  The trail, now a single-track, curves along the side of a ridge, soon providing a good aerial view of Wrightwood, with the high desert beyond.  A tree stump, about a mile (650 vertical feet) from the start makes a perfect spot to catch your breath and enjoy the panorama.

0:24 - Beginning of the Acorn Trail

0:24 – Beginning of the Acorn Trail

The trail continues switchbacking its way up the mountain, sometimes quite steeply.  You get a dramatic view of steep Acorn Canyon, where a few rogue oaks cling to the hillside in the midst of the taller pines.

0:30 - View from the tree stump about a mile in

0:30 – View from the tree stump about a mile in

Near the top, the grade levels out somewhat.  You pass under an “arch” made by a fallen tree caught between two that are still standing, and then you reach an intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail and a dirt road.  On the opposite side of the dirt road, you get an excellent view of Pine Mountain, the second tallest peak in the San Gabriels – but one that is not often visible due to being blocked out by its taller neighbor to the south, Mt. Baldy.  From this vantage point, however, Pine actually blocks out Baldy; you can also see a little bit of Dawson Peak, the third highest summit in the San Gabriels, in back of Pine.

1:00 - View through some fallen trees

1:00 – View through some fallen trees

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.

1:20 - View of Pine Mountain from the Pacific Crest Trail (turnaround point)

1:20 – View of Pine Mountain from the Pacific Crest Trail (turnaround point)

El Cariso Truck Trail: Lake Elsinore to Main Divide Road

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Lake Elsinore from the El Cariso Truck Trail

Lake Elsinore from the El Cariso Truck Trail

Pines near the top of the El Cariso Truck Trail

Pines near the top of the El Cariso Truck Trail

El Cariso Truck Trail: Lake Elsinore to Main Divide Road

  • Location: Grand Avenue and Toft Drive, Lake Elsinore.  From the north, take I-15 to the Lake Avenue exit.  Turn right on Lake Ave. and follow it 4.1 miles to Plumas St. (Lake becomes Grand Avenue along the way).  Turn left on Plumas, go 0.5 miles and turn right on Grand.  Park on the corner of Grand Avenue and Toft Drive.  From the south, take I-15 to Central Avenue/Highway 74.  Turn left and go 0.2 miles to Collier Ave.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Riverside Drive.  Turn left and go 3.2 miles to Grand Avenue.  Turn right and go 1 mile to the corner of Grand and Toft.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,350 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo maps: Alberhill
  • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • More information: Video of a dirt biker riding the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating:6
ECTT Beginning

0:00 – Start of the hike on Grand Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with the El Cariso Nature Trail, the El Cariso Truck Trail (Forest Road 6S06 on some maps) forms a link between Lake Elsinore and Main Divide Road near its intersection with Highway 74.  The trail is basically a shorter and easier version of the Indian Truck Trail near Corona.  Popular with mountain bikers and dirt bikers, the trail tends not to see much foot traffic.  While it suffers from trash and graffiti (particularly in its lower reaches), on a cool, clear day, it can be a very enjoyable trip.  Hikers who feel as if they’ve seen it all when it comes to the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains might want to give this one a look.

0:48 - Prickly Phlox flowers on the side of the trail (times are approximate)

0:48 – Prickly Phlox flowers on the side of the trail (times are approximate)

From the corner of Toft and Grand, follow Grand briefly southeast before seeing the beginning of the trail.  Take a sharp right turn and begin your climb, passing by the tops of a few houses.  Unfortunately the first quarter of a mile has become a dumping ground, but the trash soon thins out.  Your ascent soon gives you an aerial view of Lake Elsinore and while the trail is still exposed, chaparral growing on the sides provides some shade at least if you’re off to an early start.

At about 1.6 miles, the trail splits; stay right (the left route goes toward a private residence, the first of several you’ll see along the way).  After passing another trail merging in from the left, you reach the welcome shade of oaks and sycamores (1.9 miles.)  True, there’s a fence running along the left side of the road, but this is still a nice place to stop and take a break.

0:57 - Shade!

0:57 – Shade!

The trail climbs out of the woodland and continues toward Main Divide, weaving its way in and out of a few more stands of oaks.  The trail reaches Main Divide Road at 3 miles; a pile of rocks shortly before the junction makes a good spot for sitting and enjoying the view.  While the road might seem a slightly anti-climatic destination, the wide-ranging views of the lake – and, given good visibility, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio and Mt. Baldy – on the way back make the descent a very enjoyable experience.

1:30 - Trail's end at Main Divide Road

1:30 – Trail’s end at Main Divide Road

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.

Metate Trail (San Bernardino National Forest)

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Black oaks on the Metate Trail

Black oaks and pines on the Metate Trail

Metate Trail

      • Location:  Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Lake Arrowhead.  From I-210 in San Bernardino, take Highway 18 (Waterman Ave. exit) and go north for 14.2 miles.   Turn left on Lake Gregory Drive and make an immediate right on Highway 189.  Go a total of 2.7 miles on 189, through the town of Twin Peaks, and turn left on Grass Valley Road.  (There’s a gas station at the intersection).  This intersection can be a little tricky, so be careful.  Go a total of 4.2 miles on Grass Valley Road (at 1.9 miles, look for a sharp left turn; if you stay straight, you’ll end up on Peninsula Drive.)  Grass Valley Road dead-ends at Highway 173.  Turn left and drive 0.2 miles to the signed Metate Trail Head on the left side of the road.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 1.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 100 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: G
      • Suggested time: 45 minutes
      • Best season: Year round
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent
      • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Pronounced “meh-TAH-tay”, this trail – also known as the Rock Camp Trail and Indian Rock Trail and signed as 3W15 – is located in a remote area of the San Bernardino National Forest that’s popular with cyclists, but largely overlooked by hikers.  Indeed, hikers in the Lake Arrowhead/Big Bear area may be pleasantly surprised by this short but scenic trail.  Close to a mile above sea level in elevation, the Metate Trail explores a grassy woodland populated with manzanita, black oaks and pines.

0:02 - Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

0:03 – Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

There are several single-track trails that cross the area and hikers can also extend their trip on Forest Road 3W11 which is nearby. The 1.2-mile loop described here is a nice introduction to the area; a perfect escape into nature about an hour’s drive from the Riverside/San Bernardino area. If you’re up here for the day to check out other nearby trails, such as the Pinnacles or Bradford Ridge, the Metate is a worthwhile stop.

0:08 - Bear left again

0:08 – Bear left again

From the parking area, cross Highway 173 and follow the paved road to the Rock Camp Ranger Station. You reach a Y-junction that marks the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. In this post we’ll be describing it clockwise. Bear left and follow the trail past a gate signed “Interpretive Area” and continue to an unsigned junction (0.3 miles) where you’ll stay left. At the next junction, also unsigned, about 0.1 miles later, turn right (the left fork leads to 3W11, an option if you want to extend the hike.)

0:12 - This time turn right.

0:12 – This time turn right.

You follow the trail through an attractive woodland, reaching a T-junction by a meadow 3/4 of a mile from the start. Turn left and keep an eye out for some morteros pounded into rock on the right side of the trail.  Native Americans used these holes to grind and prepare their food.

0:23 - Indian Morteros in the rocks

0:23 – Indian Morteros in the rocks

After crossing a creek, the trail curves through the meadow. You cross the creek again on the far side and follow the trail back to the junction, completing the loop. Cross Highawy 173 again to return to the parking area.

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

0:26 - Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

0:26 – Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

Tarantula Hill (Thousand Oaks)

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Looking northeast from Tarantula Hill

Looking northeast from Tarantula Hill

 Tarantula Hill (Thousand Oaks)

  • Location: Thousand Oaks.  From Highway 101, take the Lynn Road exit.  Head north (turn left if you’re coming from the west; right if from the east) and go 0.8 miles to Gainsborough Road.  The trail head is a small dirt turnout on the left side of the road in 0.7 miles, shortly past the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens.  From Highway 23, take the Janss Road exit.  Turn right and go 0.6 miles to Moorpark Road.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Gainsborough Road.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to the trailhead.  If you see the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens, you’ve come too far.
  • Agency:  City of Thousand Oaks/Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: Newbury Park
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3

Known also as Dawn’s Peak, pyramid-like Tarantula Hill towers above the surrounding areas.  A short but steep hike up a paved trail (closed to vehicles) yields panoramic views of the area, including a nearly aerial perspective on Gainsborough Rd.

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

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

From the signed trailhead on the west side of the street, begin your climb, passing by a few oaks and clusters of cacti. The grade is mellow at first but soon becomes fairly steep, gaining almost 200 feet in about a third of a mile.

The trail curves around the north side of the mountain, passing by a rope tied between two metal posts. You get aerial view of Redwood Middle School to the north and Madrona Elementary to the west. Curling around to the east side of the hill, you can see Boney Mountain and the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:10 - Looking north about 2/3 of the way up

0:10 – Looking north about 2/3 of the way up (times are approximate)

At half a mile, the road ends at the summit. Much of the summit is fenced off, but you can still sit on the side of the hill and enjoy a view of the area before heading back down (the bench that appears in some photos of Tarantula Hill is no longer there.)  In case you were wondering, Tarantula Hill is in fact named for the spider, which according to the city website, is commonly found in the area.

0:15 - Looking southeast toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Tarantula Hill

0:15 – Looking southeast toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Tarantula Hill

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.

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

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Lake Hodges from the overlook, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Lake Hodges from the overlook, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Olivenhain Reservoir, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Olivenhain Reservoir, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

    • Location: 8833 Harmony Grove Road, Escondido.  From the 78 Freeway, take the Nordhall Rd. exit.  Go south for 0.3 miles (Nordhall becomes Auto Club) and take a right on Country Club Drive.  Go 2.4 miles and turn right on Harmony Grove Road.  Go 1.6 miles and the signed entrance to the park will be on the left.  From I-15, take the Valley Parkway exit.  Head west on Valley Parkway for 0.5 miles and turn right on 9th Ave.  Follow 9th to a left turn where it becomes Hale and then turn right on Harmony Grove Road.  Follow Harmony Grove Road for a total of 3.4 miles (watch for two left turns) and the park entrance will be on the left.
    • Agency: Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
    • Distance: 7 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Best season:  November – May
    • USGS topo map: Rancho Santa Fe
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
    • More information: Yelp page here; Facebook page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Way Up trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Way Up trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This large (784 acre) park is a popular spot for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.  Though it’s essentially suburban, never really leaving the sights or sounds of civilization–and there’s not much in the way of a “forest”–the hike offers wide-ranging views and a good workout, making it one of the better trips in the Escondido area. It also has a dog-friendly reputation.

0:09 - Junction with the Botany Trail (times are approximate)

0:09 – Junction with the Botany Trail (times are approximate)

There are a variety of possible routes one can take over the park’s 13 miles of trails. The trip described here – the same one written up in “Afoot and Afield” – is a long out and back with a short loop. Start on the Way Up Trail, which lives up to its name – climbing about 700 feet in a mile and a half. At 0.3 miles you reach a junction with the Botany Trail, an alternate route. Your climb continues, reaching a vista point at 0.9 miles where you can take a break.

0:27 - View from the first overlook

0:27 – View from the first overlook

Past the vista point, the grade levels somewhat and the trail widens into a fire road. You pass by a pair of smaller trails and reach a four-way junction with another fire road (1.3 miles.) A short spur straight ahead leads to a picnic area with good views of Olivenhain Reservoir.

Back at the junction, head northeast and make a short but steep climb. The trail bends to the right and climbs a little more to another picnic area, then descends toward the reservoir. At 2.3 miles from the start, bear right on a single-track trail that switchbacks up and down a ridge. You reach a junction with the Witch Trail (2.8 miles), an alternate way to the Lake Hodges Overlook Loop. To follow this route though, bear left and follow the trail down a series of tight switchbacks and make another ascent to the overlook (3.1 miles.) Here you can see both Lake Hodges (right) and the reservoir (left).

0:45 - Olivenhain Reservoir as seen from the Ridgetop Picnic Area

0:45 – Olivenhain Reservoir as seen from the Ridgetop Picnic Area

The 0.8 mile Lake Hodges Overlook Loop starts here. It can be hiked in either direction; going counter clockwise allows you to have some downhill before climbing again. If you go counter clockwise, you’ll soon reach the lower end of the Witch Trail. You get some good views of the reservoir before doubling back up the hill, passing some boulders, and completing the loop at the overlook area. From here, retrace your steps 3.1 miles back to the parking area, or if time permits, explore some of the other trails along the way.

1:06 - Single track toward the Lake Hodges Overlook

1:06 – Single track toward the Lake Hodges Overlook

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.

1:33 - Lake Hodges Overlook

1:33 – Lake Hodges Overlook

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

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Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

      • Location: San Bernardino National Forest, between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake, near Green Valley.  From Highway 18, just east of Running Springs, turn left on Green Valley Road.  Go 2.6 miles and turn left on a dirt road signed for Crab Flats (forest road 3N16).  Follow the signs to the campgrounds, ignoring several side roads that branch off.  Road 3N16 is in pretty good shape, but after about 3 miles, you will have to ford Crab Creek, which, according to the guidebook, is “impassable” in high water.  Even in low water, high clearance vehicles are best.  After crossing the creek, continue to a junction (3.8 miles from Green Valley Road) and turn left on forest road 3N34.   Go 0.5 miles and park in a turnout at the side of the road, near the vehicle trail numbered 1W17.  The trailhead coordinates are N 34 15.888, W 117 05.408.   A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 5.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
      • Best season:  March – June; September – November
      • USGS topo maps: Butler Peak
      • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
      • More information: Description of a backpacking trip including Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp (longer route) here; Description of Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable loop explores some of the less-traveled area of the San Bernardino National Forest east of Lake Arrowhead.  Highlights include a variety of plant life (black oaks, manzanitas, pines and more); panoramic views of the eastern San Gabriel and western San Bernardino Mountains and interesting geology, including an almost spherical boulder. Timing can be important: a lot of the trail is exposed, so if you hike during the summer, plan accordingly. Conversely you have to drive about 4 miles of dirt road, including a fording of Crab Creek, to reach the trail head, so heavy rains will likely prevent you from doing this hike during the winter or early spring. Expect to battle bugs as well.

0:20 - Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

0:20 – Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

From the parking turnout, follow road 3N34 due west for a pleasant if not particularly interesting 0.8 miles to the Tent Peg Group Camp (ignore a road branching off to the right about half way there.) Just past the camp by an information board, turn right on a single-track trail signed for Hawes Peak; it’s also listed as 2W08 on some maps. The trail descends for an enjoyable 1.6 miles, yielding views of Hawes Peak and its neighboring summits straight ahead and Lake Arrowhead and the distant San Gabriels on the left (you may also get a glimpse of the Pinnacles). You pass the spherical boulder, negotiate a few fallen trees, duck in and out of a woodland and meet the Pacific Crest Trail at 2.4 miles.

0:30 - Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

0:35 – Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

Turn right and head east on the P.C.T., passing a junction with the Cox Creek Trail.  This stretch is largely shaded and fairly level, making it one of the more enjoyable sections of the loop.  After about a mile you reach a 4-way junction. You can shorten the hike by heading right (uphill) on 1W17, a steep vehicle trail. However, if you have time take a scenic 1/2 mile detour by heading straight on the P.C.T. to Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp.

1:00 - Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

1:00 – Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

Here, beneath some tall pines, you can sit and enjoy the sound of nearby Holcomb Creek. It’s fairly easy to work your way down to its banks. When ready, retrace your steps to the junction. Complete the loop by heading southwest on 1W17. A steep and sometimes tedious ascent brings you back to the parking area.

1:28 - 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

1:28 – 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

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.

1:40 - Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

1:40 – Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

Upper Hot Spring Canyon

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Pool in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Pool in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Over the rocks in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Over the rocks in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Upper Hot Spring Canyon

  • Location: Cleveland National Forest, Falcon Group Campground.  From Orange County, take I-5 to Highway 74/Ortega Highway.  Go northeast for 25.8 miles to unsigned Long Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 3 miles, following the signs to Blue Jay and Falcon Group Camps.  Just past the entrance to Falcon Group Camp, park in a turnout on the left side of the road.  From Riverside, take I-15 south to Lake St.  Turn right and go a total of 5.9 miles (Lake becomes Grand en route) and turn right on Highway 74/Ortega Highway.  Go 5.1 miles and turn right on El Cariso/Main Divide.  Go a total of 4.5 miles and park in a turnout just before the entrance to the Falcon Group Campground.  From Temecula, take I-15 north to Baxter.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Central.  Turn left and go 1.3 miles to Grand Ave.  Turn right and go 7 miles to Highway 74/Ortega Highway and follow the directions above.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, trail condition, navigation)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season:  December – May
  • USGS topo map: “Alberhill”
  • Recommended gear: Poison oak cream; long sleeved shirts and pants
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start outside the Falcon Group Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start outside the Falcon Group Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike explores the headwaters of Hot Springs Canyon, perhaps Orange County’s most remote.  The challenges include rock scrambling, negotiating fallen trees, perhaps some stream wading, poison oak and navigation.  Unfortunately the real payoff–a 25-foot waterfall–can only safely be seen from the top; the precipice represents the end of the line for anyone without rock climbing/canyoneering expertise and reliable equipment.  Still, the scenic rewards of this area make it worth the drive; three smaller waterfalls along the way are all enjoyable spots to sit and enjoy the wilderness and you’ll get to experience peace and quiet that makes it hard to believe you’re in California’s second most densely populated county.

0:04 - Leaving the Falcon Trail and heading into the canyon (times are approximate)

0:03 – Leaving the Falcon Trail and heading into the canyon (times are approximate)

Start by walking into the entrance to the Falcon Group Camp. Almost immediately, turn left on the signed Falcon Trail which leads through a pleasant meadow filled with pines and oaks. After crossing a small wooden plank footbridge, look for a trail branching off to the right (just before the Falcon Trail heads uphill.) This is the route into Hot Spring Canyon.

0:18 - Junction with a canyon about half a mile in

0:18 – Junction with a canyon about half a mile from the start

The first 0.4 miles are fairly easy going as the trail follows the stream bed. You briefly enter the stream as it leads into a wooded area and walk out on the opposite side, continuing to follow the faint path. Watch out for a large oak with a low branch on which I’ve bumped my head at least once.

After entering an open area, you’ll meet with another canyon coming in from the north, about 0.5 miles from the start. Continue on the opposite side, making your way through ferns, around rocks, generally sticking to the north canyon wall (keeping the stream on the left.) There are a few spots where you have your choice of wading through the stream or scrambling up the side; use caution either way.

0:24 - Climbing rocks out of the stream bed

0:24 – Climbing rocks out of the stream bed

A smaller pseudo-canyon joins on the right side at about 0.9 miles and soon after you reach the top of the first waterfall, about 15 feet high. If you’ve had enough off-trail scrambling and poison oak lookout this is a nice spot to turn around; you can easily climb down the rocks and get close to the pool at the bottom.

0:31 - Ducking under a sycamore in the stream bed

0:31 – Ducking under a sycamore in the stream bed

Farther downstream, another canyon merges on the right. Continue forging your way ahead, navigating a gigantic fallen oak. You come to two smaller waterfalls, both of which can be easily negotiated by climbing rocks on the side, but as always exercise caution. If your shoes/boots are wet from the stream the rocks will be slippery.

0:39 - The first waterfall

0:39 – The first waterfall

At 1.6 miles from the start you reach the top of the large waterfall. You can get something of an aerial view, although it’s hard to get the full effect. Still, this is a nice place to sit and enjoy the sound of the waterfall and have a snack before heading back.

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.

1:06 - Turnaround point at the top of the big waterfall, looking down canyon

1:06 – Turnaround point at the top of the big waterfall, looking down canyon

Long Canyon Loop (Simi Valley)

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Geology on the Long Canyon Trail

Geology on the Long Canyon Trail

Oaks in Long Canyon

Oaks in Long Canyon

Long Canyon Loop (Simi Valley)

  • Location: Simi Valley, at the corner of Long Canyon Road and S. Wood Ranch Parkway.  From Highway 118, take the First St. exit and go south (turn right if you’re coming from the west, left if from the east) for 4.5 miles.  En route First St. becomes Long Canyon Road.  Follow it to the junction with S. Wood Ranch and continue onto Bannister Way.  Turn left into the parking lot.  From Highway 23, take the Olsen Road exit and go northeast for 1.9 miles to Wood Ranch Parkway. (Olsen becomes Madera Road en route).  Turn right on Wood Ranch and go 1.9 miles to the junction with Long Canyon Road.  Turn right onto Bannister and left into the parking lot.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Moorpark; Thousand Oaks
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: here; trip description (first part of the hike) here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - View of geological outcrops from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of geological outcrops from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike, conveniently located to Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, has a little bit of everything: wide-ranging mountain and suburban views, interesting geology and secluded oak-shaded canyons.  With three main ascents totaling about 1,400 feet, it’s a pretty fair workout too.

0:18 - View from the top of the ridge; turn left at the T-junction (times are approximate)

0:18 – View from the top of the ridge; turn left at the T-junction (times are approximate)

The Long Canyon Trail is one of several in the network overseen by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District. With the Lang Ranch/Woodbridge trail system near by, many different routes are possible when starting from the Long Canyon Trailhead. The route described here is a good, challenging half-day hike, an out-and-back with a long loop.

From the trailhead, you make a steady ascent. As you climb, the views of Simi Valley open up and you pass some small sandstone caves. Ignore a few false trails branching off; the main route is pretty obvious. It soon levels out, skirting the upper edge of a canyon, and reaches a T-junction 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead.

0:24 - Left turn at the junction with the Lang Ranch Trails

0:24 – Left turn at the junction with the Lang Ranch Trails

Turn left and begin a descent to a multi-trail junction (a point also visited on the Lang Ranch Loop.) Take the immediate left and continue your descent. At 1.1 miles, make a hard right, climb briefly and then begin another long descent into a secluded canyon.  At 1.7 miles, after passing some abandoned farm equipment, you reach the beginning of the loop. You can hike it in either direction, but clockwise has a more gradual ascent. Follow the trail through the pleasant, oak-lined canyon, emerging at a point just below Long Canyon Road. You can shorten your hike by following Long Canyon Road about a mile west, back to the trailhead.

0:43 - Abandoned farm equipment in Long Canyon

0:43 – Abandoned farm equipment in Long Canyon

To continue on this route, however, turn right and follow the trail southeast, staying left at a junction and right at a second one before entering another oak canyon. Emerging from the woodland, the trail makes a hairpin turn to the right and makes a considerably steeper ascent, following the top of a ridge with good views on both sides. At 4 miles, you begin your descent back into the canyon, enjoying more panoramic vistas along the way. You reach the bottom at 4.7 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps up out of the canyon and back down to the trailhead.

1:40 - Following the knife ridge at the top of the second ascent

1:40 – Following the knife ridge at the top of the second ascent

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

1:50 - Descending back into the canyon toward the end of the loop

1:50 – Descending back into the canyon toward the end of the loop

Lower Doane Valley/Lower French Valley (Palomar Mountain State Park)

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Pines, meadows and hills in French Valley

Pines, meadows and hills in French Valley

Oak woodlands on the Lower French Valley Trail

Oak woodlands on the Lower French Valley Trail

Lower Doane Valley/Lower French Valley (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: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map:  “Boucher Hill”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report 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 pleasant loop in the lower country of Palomar Mountain State Park is like a longer version of the Doane Nature Trail, with which it shares its first and last segments.  Highlights include an impressive variety of trees, open meadows, a seasonal stream and nice mountain views.  The hike isn’t at all difficult but there are a few stream crossings and logs to duck under; parents with kids will want to exercise extra caution.  There’s also a significant amount of poison oak; most of it is away from the trail but keep an eye out for it nonetheless.

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

0:10 – Left turn onto the Weir Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Doane Nature Trail across a footbridge and service road.  You cross a seasonal stream and reach a junction (0.3 miles) where you’ll turn left on the signed Weir Trail.  You follow it through the forest, passing a junction with the Baptist Trail on the left and getting a glimpse of French Valley on the right.

0:15 - Fallen pines, Weir Trail

0:15 – Fallen pines, Weir Trail

At about 0.9 miles, you’ll cross Pauma Creek (either wading, jumping or walking on a wooden board) and reach another junction.  Turn left and go 0.1 miles, following the stream (watch out for poison oak) to a pool above which an abandoned stone tower stands (built in the ’20s to test the hydroelectric potential of the stream.)  This is a nice place to sit and enjoy the trickling sound of the stream while dunking your feet.

0:24 - Creek crossing

0:24 – Creek crossing

After retracing your steps to the junction, turn left, walk a short distance through the valley and make another left turn on the French Valley Trail. You follow it for a pleasant third of a mile, walking past tall pines with rolling hills in the distance. At a junction, you make a hairpin right turn (look for a fallen sign on the ground indicating the trail) and head back toward the Doane Valley Campground. You enter a grove of massive oaks; a nice place to sit for a spell (although watch out for poison oak growing between the rocks.)

0:29 - Abandoned gauging station

0:29 – Abandoned gauging station

Shortly beyond the grove, you’ll have to cross under a massive fallen oak and climb around another one. You pass junctions with the Lower Doane and Doane Valley Nature Trails and reach the campground (2.5 miles from the start.) Turn right and follow the paved road half a mile back to the parking lot by Doane Pond. As an alternate, just before the campground you can make a hard right on the Doane Valley Nature Trail and follow it back to the junction with the Weir Trail, then turn left and head back to the parking area.

0:40 - Left turn on the French Valley Trail

0:40 – Left turn on the French Valley Trail

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

1:05 - Low bridge (heading back to the campground on the French Valley Trail)

1:05 – Low bridge (heading back to the campground on the French Valley Trail)

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

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Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

  • Location:  Santa Monica Mountains, north of Malibu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway north for 6.1 miles and then take Topanga Canyon Boulevard north 4.7 miles to Entrada (just past the center of town), take a right and drive a mile.  The park entrance is on the left.  From the Valley, take the 101 freeway to Topanga Blvd. and go south for 7.8 miles, and take a hard left on Entrada.  There is a $10 per day parking fee.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 6.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and and here; area trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead at Trippet Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead at Trippet Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The scenic Topanga Overlook (also known as the Parker Mesa Overlook) can be reached from Pacific Palisades in the east or, as described here, from the west, starting at the Trippet Ranch area of Topanga State Park.  While this trailhead has a $10 per vehicle price tag (compared with free parking for the east approach) the payoff includes panoramic views of Topanga Canyon and the ocean, up-close looks at sandstone geology and an attractive grove of oaks.  Overall it feels more secluded than the eastern approach, save for the noise from cars on Topanga Canyon Blvd.

0:08 - Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

0:08 – Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

From Trippet Ranch, take the East Topanga Fire Road past a picnic area and head uphill, bearing right at the first intersection and left at the second. At 0.3 miles, you reach a signed junction where your route, the East Topanga Fire Road, branches off to the right. (The left fork heads uphill to Eagle Rock.)

0:16 - Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

0:16 – Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

The fire road continues its climb through an oak woodland. At 0.6 miles, the ascent levels out and a solitary bench provides a resting spot with a nice view of Topanga Canyon. Continuing south, you descend to a ridge and follow it, making another moderate climb of about 200 feet followed by another descent.

0:56 - Geology

0:56 – Geology

At about 2.3 miles, you pass some pink sandstone geology on the left. You then begin the last major ascent of the outbound half of the hike, climbing about 250 feet over the next half mile to reach the spur to the overlook. The East Topanga Fire Road continues to Pacific Palisades.

1:10 - Spur to the Topanga Overlook

1:10 – Spur to the Topanga Overlook

Turn right on the spur to the overlook and head south for half a mile, negotiating a few moderate ups and downs before reaching the end. Here, you can enjoy a great view of Santa Monica Bay from two benches. On clear days you can see east to Mt. Baldy and southeast to Old Saddleback. Return via the same route or, if you’ve left a car shuttle, you can continue east to the Pacific Palisades trailhead.

1:25 - Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

1:25 – Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

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.