Tag Archives: Cardio

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

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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.

Table Mountain Nature Trail


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Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Table Mountain Nature Trail

  • Location:  Table Mountain Campground, Angeles National Forest near Big Pines.  From I-15, take Highway 138 west for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) and drive 8.7 miles to the town of Big Pine.  Just before the turnoff for Palmdale, past the ranger station, turn right on Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  Park in the large lot, taking care to note signed restrictions (if in doubt, park by the picnic area, a few hundred yards past the turnoff for the campground.)  If you’re coming from the Antelope Valley, take Highway 138 east to 131st St/Longview Road.  Turn left and go 2.2 miles to Fort Tejon Road.  Go 2.5 miles and turn right on Valyermo Road.  Drive 14 miles to Big Pines (Valyermo Road becomes Big Pines Road along the way).  At the junction with the Angeles Crest Highway, turn left and make an immediate hard left on to Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest/Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: April-October
  • USGS topo map:  Mescal Creek
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Like the nearby Big Pines and Lightning Ridge Trails, the Table Mountain Nature Trail offers a nice sampling of the Angeles National Forest high country.  The trail starts and ends at the Table Mountain Campground and leads through an attractive woodland of pines and oaks. The intermittent views of Mt. Baden-Powell and the high desert aren’t quite as panoramic as those of the Lightning Ridge Trail but this is still a nice spot to visit, a good place to stretch one’s legs while driving the Angeles Crest Highway. If you’re not used to hiking at high altitude, this hike is a good trip to acclimate yourself.

0:02 - Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

0:02 – Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head toward the white metal gate at the top of the Table Mountain Campground. Even if the campground is closed (which it us until May each year) you can still access the trail, which heads off to the left. You make a few switchbacks, descending through the trees. Numbered metal plaques guide the way; they refer to a brochure that is available at the nearby Grassy Hollow Visitors Center.

0:04 - Cluster of black oaks

0:04 – Cluster of black oaks

At about 0.3 miles (between markers 5 and 6) you make a hard right; ignore the faint trail that continues downhill. You get some nice views of Baden-Powell and other peaks to the west as you make your way along the southwest facing slope.

At 0.6 miles you reach a clearing with a picnic table. Just beyond the table is the road that leads through the campground. Turn right and follow the road 0.4 miles uphill back to your starting point. On the way, see if you can get a glimpse of the flat expanse of the high desert in between the trees.

0:10 - Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

0:10 – Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

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.

0:18 - The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

0:18 – The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

Guadalasca Trail via La Jolla Canyon (Point Mugu State Park)


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Old Boney Mountain from near the top of the Guadalasca Trail

Old Boney Mountain from near the top of the Guadalasca Trail

Old and new growth in Wood Canyon

Old and new growth in Wood Canyon

Guadalasca Trail via La Jolla Canyon (Point Mugu State Park)

  • Location: Ray Miller Trailhead in Point Mugu State Park between Malibu and Oxnard.  From Highway 101 in Oxnard, take Highway 1 south for 13 miles.  The Ray Miller/La Jolla Canyon trailhead parking lot will be on your left, about two miles past the Chumash Trailhead.  From Santa Monica, take highway 1 north for 34 miles.  The trailhead parking lot will be on the right, about two miles past the Sycamore Canyon Campground.  From the San Fernando Valley, take Highway 101 to Highway 23 and head south to P.C.H.  Parking is $8.  Automated machines accept exact cash payments, MasterCard and Visa.
  • Agency: Point Mugu State Park
  • Distance: 10.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • Recommended gear:  sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • USGS topo maps: “Point Mugu”
  • More information: Trail map here; Everytrail report here; video shot by a mountain biker on the Guadalasca Trail (opposite direction from description below) here;  Point Mugu State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike, La Jolla Canyon Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike, La Jolla Canyon Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The long but easily graded Guadalasca Trail is one of Point Mugu State Park’s more enjoyable routes. It’s popular with mountain bikers (expect to see a few on the trail) but due to its remote location within the park, it can be tricky to do as a day hike. The easiest way to hike the Guadalasca Trail is the trip described here; a “balloon” type hike consisting of a 2.6-mile out and back segment and a 4.9-mile loop.

0:18 - Steps by the seasonal waterfall (times are approximate)

0:18 – Steps by the seasonal waterfall (times are approximate)

Starting at the Ray Miller Trailhead, take the La Jolla Canyon Trail north. As of this writing the park is still recovering from the effects of the 2013 Spring Fire. New growth is starting to take place but the area is still largely dry and burned.

0:30 - Keep right at the fork

0:30 – Keep right at the fork

At about 0.7 miles, you pass by a small, two-tiered seasonal waterfall. Unless there have been recent heavy rains, don’t expect much from the waterfall, although at this point, where a tributary joins La Jolla Canyon, the trail starts to feel more rugged and remote. You climb into the narrow canyon, clinging to the east wall. A few burned stumps of coreopsis plants can be seen poking up through the rocks; hopefully future wet seasons will help bring them back into bloom. Sadly, graffiti and trash take away from the appeal of this section of the trail; while most people come to Point Mugu and other parks to enjoy nature, keep an eye out for those who might not have such a worthwhile reason for being here.

0:41 - View of La Jolla Valley

0:41 – View of La Jolla Valley

At 1.2 miles (and almost 600 feet of elevation gain) you reach a Y-shaped split. The left fork heads toward Mugu Peak, but our route heads right, toward La Jolla Valley. Things get a little easier here as the trail grade levels out considerably and chaparral and scrub oaks provide shade. At about 1.7 miles, you get a nice view of La Jolla Valley to the left, pleasantly green with spring rains, contrasting the burnt hills around it.

1:02 - Descending Hell Hill with Boney Mountain in the distance

1:02 – Descending Hell Hill with Boney Mountain in the distance

Soon after you reach another split where you stay right. At 2.4 miles, turn right on the La Jolla Fire Road and follow it uphill 0.2 miles to a four-way junction; the start of the loop. Hiking the loop counter-clockwise, as described here, will spare you having to ascend the appropriately nick-named Hell Hill (650 feet elevation change in 0.8 miles.)

1:10 - Turn left on to the Wood Canyon Fire Road at the bottom of Hell Hill

1:12 – Turn left on to the Wood Canyon Fire Road at the bottom of Hell Hill

As you descend Hell Hill, you’ll get a nice view of Boney Mountain and the northern end of Sycamore Canyon. At the bottom of the steep road, turn left on the Wood Canyon Fire Road and head north for a pleasant 0.3 miles beneath the shade of some oaks to the lower end of the Guadalasca Trail.

1:20 - Start of the Guadalasaca Trail

1:23 – Start of the Guadalasaca Trail

The first part of the Guadalasca Trail follows a wooded tributary of Wood Canyon; then it climbs into an open area. At 4.5 miles from the start, bear left at a fork. You cross the shallow canyon and start a long, gradual ascent. A solitary oak marks the approximate halfway point of the hike and makes a good rest spot.

Past the oak, the trail makes a few long switchbacks, providing good views of Boney Mountain, the Ventura coastal plain and the northern end of the park. If visibility is good, you may be able to see Ojai’s Topatopa Mountains.

1:50 - Bear left to stay on the Guadalasca Trail

1:50 – Bear left to stay on the Guadalasca Trail

At 6.2 miles, the trail becomes an abandoned fire road. Bear left and continue ascending briefly to a vista point (the high point of the hike) at 6.5 miles, where you can get a nice aerial view of La Jolla Canyon and a little slice of ocean. From here, the trail gradually descends a mile back to the junction with the Overlook Fire Road. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the Ray Miller Trailhead.

2:10 - Loan oak on the Guadalasca Trail

2:10 – Lone oak on the Guadalasca 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.

2:36 - Ocean view from the high point of the Guadalasca Trail

2:45 – Ocean view from the high point of the Guadalasca Trail

Marshal South Cabin/Ghost Mountain (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)


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View of the desert from the Marshal South Homestead site on Ghost Mountain

Marshal South Cabin/Ghost Mountain (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park southeast of Julian.  From Highway 79 head southeast on San Felipe Road (4.3 miles north of the junction with Highway 76 and 4.3 miles south of Warner Springs.)  Go 16.3 miles to Highway 78 at “Scissors Crossing” and turn right.  Take your first left to continue southeast on Highway S-2 (“Great Southern Overland Stage Route”).  Go 5.9 miles and turn left on a dirt road signed Blair Valley.  High clearance vehicles are recommended but not necessary.  These roads are popular with RVs and campers so exercise caution as you make your way toward the trail.  Follow the signs for 3.2 miles to the Marshal South Cabin trailhead.  The coordinates are N 33 0.200, W 116 23.383.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map:  “Earthquake Valley”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here; video of the homestead here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Marshal South Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This hike mixes panoramic desert and mountain views with interesting local history.  In addition to vistas of the Blair Valley, Granite Peak, the eastern end of the Laguna Mountains and more, this hike provides a glimpse into the past, visiting the ruins of Yaquitepec, the Marshal South homestead.  South was a writer who “lived off the land” with his family in the 1930s and 40s and is somewhat of a local legend.  Though short (park signage and several guidebooks list the distance as a mile each way, but Everytrail measures it as 0.6 for a round trip of 1.2 miles) the hike packs in a pretty good workout.

0:12 - Looking south from the ridge (times are approximate)

0:12 – Looking south from the ridge (times are approximate)

From the parking area, begin hiking up the north side of Ghost Mountain, making switchbacks, occasionally climbing over rocks. At 0.3 miles you reach a ridgeline where you get good views to the south. Head east, staying level for a short distance before continuing your ascent. You climb a “natural staircase” through the rocks, again with some light scrambling, and then you find yourself at the homestead site.

0:16 - Climbing the "natural staircase"

0:16 – Climbing the “natural staircase”

Here, you can see the remains of South’s cabin, including a rusted mattress, water tanks and other heavy items that were carried up. The views in all directions are excellent, but it’s not hard to imagine that living here must have been a tough existence. For more information about Marshal South, click here.

0:22 - View of Grainte Mountain from just below the homestead

0:22 – View of Grainte Mountain from just below the homestead

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

0:25 - Ruins of the Marshal South Homestead

0:25 – Ruins of the Marshal South Homestead

Mentally Sensitive Trail (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)


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Climbing back up the Mentally Sensitive Trail

Climbing back up the Mentally Sensitive Trail

Looking east from the Mentally Sensitive Trail

Looking east from the Mentally Sensitive Trail

Mentally Sensitive Trail (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

  • Location: Laguna Beach.  From the north, take Pacific Coast Highway south of downtown Laguna Beach and turn left on Bluebird Canyon.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Summit Ave.  Go 0.7 miles and make a slight right onto La Mirada.  Go 0.1 miles and turn left on Del Mar.  Park on the corner of Del Mar and Balboa, just north of Moulton Meadows Park.  Alternately, from points south, take P.C.H. to Nyes Place.  Turn right and drive 1.4 miles (Nyes becomes Balboa along the way) and park on the corner of Balboa and Del Mar.
  • Agency:  Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: PG
  • Best season: All year (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “San Juan Capistrano”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

It may sound like a touchy-feely new age experience but the Mentally Sensitive Trail–which climbs almost 800 feet in less than 3/4 of a mile–is more like a boot camp.  Dedicated in 2011, the trail’s name supposedly comes from a sign that originally read “Environmentally Sensitive Area” – bumped by a mountain biker so part of it folded back, leaving “Mentally Sensitive.”

0:00 - Trailhead by Moulton Meadows Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead by Moulton Meadows Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Meadows Trail, the Mentally Sensitive Trail connects the paved service road running through the bottom of the canyon with the Aswut Trail above.  The quickest way to hike the Mentally Sensitive Trail, as described here, is to do it as a reverse hike starting at Moulton Meadows Park.

From the corner of Del Mar and Balboa, follow the Aswut Trail north.  In 0.1 miles, take a hairpin turn to the right on a wide dirt path and in another 0.1 miles, you reach the top of the Mentally Sensitive Trail. The trail soon begins its steep descent, dropping precipitously toward the canyon. The views of Old Saddleback can be great but make sure you watch your footing as you negotiate the trail.

0:05 - Beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

0:05 – Yes, that’s really its name: start of the trail (times are approximate)

About halfway down, as the trail reaches a wooden fence, there’s a particularly treacherous spot where extra caution should be used. Following this, the trail drops to a ridge and levels out for a short stretch before making one last steep descent to the service road.

0:10 - The descent steepens

0:10 – The descent steepens

This is the turnaround point for the Mentally Sensitive Trail. You can tackle the calf-burning ascent back to the Aswut Trail for a round trip of 1.8 miles, or you can extend the hike by heading north on the road. Options include looping back via the Meadows Trail or, with a car shuttle on Alicia Parkway, continuing to the park’s main entrance as a point-to-point hike.

0:16 - Feet don't fail me now! (About half way down)

0:16 – Feet don’t fail me now! (About half way down)

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.

0:35 - Bottom of the Mentally Sensitive Trail (service road)

0:35 – Bottom of the Mentally Sensitive Trail (service road)

High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)


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Looking southeast from High Point

Looking southeast from High Point

Oak woodlands near the summit

Oak woodlands near the summit

High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)

  • Location:  Oak Grove Fire Station, northeast San Diego County.  From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 24 miles to the Oak Grove Fire Station on the right side of the road.  Turn into the lot and park in between the two buildings.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Mountain Ranger District
  • Distance: 13.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 7 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Aguanga, Palomar Mountain Observatory
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information:  Trip descriptions here, here, here (slightly different route) and here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Start of the hike in the parking lot behind the fire station (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike in the parking lot behind the fire station (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

High Point (elevation 6,140) is the highest point in the Palomar Mountains.  The hike to reach High Point from Highway 79 is one of the most scenic and challenging in San Diego County.

0:08 - Crossing the service road (times are approximate)

0:08 – Crossing the service road (times are approximate)

From the parking lot behind the fire station, follow the paved road to the campground where signs will direct you to the trail.  At 0.3 miles, bear left on a single-track (as of this writing, fallen tree branches block the way but they’re easy to circumvent.)  The single-track joins a service road (0.5 miles) and then splits off again (0.7 miles.)

The trail soon begins an intense climb, ascending about 1,200 feet over the next 1.2 miles. To be sure, it’s a difficult stretch, but as you slug it out, you’re rewarded with great views including San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Toro Peak and possibly Mt. Baldy if the air is clear. The lower part of the trail is exposed but as you get higher scrub oak provides a little shade.

0:10 - Start of the Oak Grove Trail

0:10 – Start of the Oak Grove Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, the Oak Grove Trail ends at Oak Grove Road. Turn right (west) and continue your ascent. The grade is more moderate, although your legs will likely feel tired from the steep ascent before. The road follows the ridge, providing more panoramic views; you may be able to pick out Old Saddleback in the distance.

1:10 - View from the top of the Oak Grove Trail

1:10 – View from the top of the Oak Grove Trail

At 3.6 miles, just after you pass a gate, turn left at a fork and begin ascending High Point Road. You climb steadily for another 1.4 miles until the grade finally flattens and you can enjoy some great views to the east. You also might get a glimpse of the lookout tower on the summit, providing some motivation for the home stretch.

1:50 - View from the junction with High Point Road

1:55 – View from the junction with High Point Road

At 5.4 miles, you enter a pleasant oak woodland and come to another junction. This is a nice place to rest before making the final push to the top. Turn right and ascend on Palomar Divide Road, ignoring a side road coming in from the left. This is one of the more enjoyable parts of the hike, as oaks provide some shade and you can still get some good views on your right.

After making a hairpin turn the cover of oaks becomes even thicker, resembling parts of the Angeles National Forest. Take a left on a spur (6.4 miles) leading up to the summit.

2:50 - Oaks on Palomar Divide Road after the junction with High Point Road

2:50 – Oaks on Palomar Divide Road after the junction with High Point Road

The watchtower and some equipment sheds cut down on the view a little bit but it’s still a very impressive tableau: the mountains of Anza-Borrego; the Santa Rosas; the San Jacintos; the San Gabriels; the Santa Anas and the ocean.  According to “Afoot and Afield”, if visibility is excellent, the Channel Islands can be seen.  You also have an unusual view of the Palomar Mountain Observatory from above.  Picnic tables allow you to sit and enjoy a snack before beginning the long trip back.   Make sure you rest your legs before descending the steep Oak Grove Trail back to the campground.

3:25 - Aerial view of the observatory just below the summit

3:25 – Aerial view of the observatory just below the summit

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.

3:30 - San Jacinto from the summit of High Point

3:30 – San Jacinto from the summit of High Point

Arroyo Conejo/Lynnmere Loop


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Looking west from near the top of the Lynnmere Loop

Looking west from near the top of the Lynnmere Loop

Red tailed hawk, Arroyo Conejo Trail

Red tailed hawk, Arroyo Conejo Trail

Arroyo Conejo/Lynnmere Loop

  • Location: Thousand Oaks.  Parking access is at Rancho Conejo Playfields, 950 Ventua Park Road.  From Highway 101, take the Ventu Park exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and drive 0.3 miles.  The parking lot will be on the right.
  • Agency: Conejo Recreation and Parks District (Phone: 805-495-6471)
  • Distance: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1.300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map:  Newbury Park
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: Area trail maps here and here; Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfield (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfield (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

For a suburban hike, this trip is pleasantly varied and secluded, featuring mountain and canyon views, geology, a stream, woodlands and even a small seasonal waterfall.  Though the trail never reaches 1,000 feet above sea level, the significant number of ups and downs along the way add up to a substantial 1,300 feet of elevation gain-and there are some surprisingly wide vistas to be enjoyed from the ridges that the hike climbs. One caveat: following rains, the trail can be muddy in places and the stream crossing is a little tricky if the water is flowing heavily so be careful, especially if you’re hiking with kids.

0:18 - Stay straight at the four-way junction and begin the descent (times are approximate)

0:18 – Stay straight at the four-way junction and begin the descent (times are approximate)

From the parking area, pass by the information board and follow the single-track on the left (not the road to the right, which descends to a dead-end at the creek.) For about 3/4 of a mile, the trail skirts the edge of a neighborhood, providing a good aerial view of Arroyo Conejo and its steep-walled canyon.

0:25 - Small seasonal waterfall

0:25 – Small seasonal waterfall

At a four-way junction, head straight and begin a descent to the creek. Along the way you’ll pass by a small seasonal waterfall which may be trickling following substantial rain. You reach the bottom of the creek at about 1.3 miles, where you make your way across on strategically placed rocks. (If the water level is low, it’s easy to ford, especially if you don’t mind getting wet.)

On the opposite side of the creek, turn right at a T-junction and follow a dirt road through an attractive oak woodland. Soon after you’ll turn left at another fork and begin a steady climb (300 feet in 0.4 miles) out of the canyon, with some good views of Mt. Clef to reward your efforts.

0:30 - Crossing the creek

0:30 – Crossing the creek

At 1.8 miles, you reach the start of the Lynnmere Loop. It can be hiked in either direction, but by turning left and heading counter-clockwise, you can break up the climbing. The trail passes the backs of some houses, dips into a woodland and emerges into a meadow. At 2.3 miles, you reach a junction where you get a panoramic view to the west. Here, you’ll turn right and begin another climb.

0:41 - Beginning of the Lynnmere Loop

0:41 – Beginning of the Lynnmere Loop

At the top of the ridge, you get a good view to the east and an aerial view of Wildwood Park (sharp-eyed hikers may be able to pick out the park’s landmark teepee.) The trail descends to a junction (3.3 miles) where you’ll turn left and make an immediate right (the other trail continues downhill toward Wildwood Park.)

The next 3/4 of a mile isn’t particularly interesting but it’s easy enough with no major elevation gain or loss. At 4 miles, you turn right at another junction and begin a climb, crossing private residential Lynnmere Road.

0:52 - View of Mt. Clef Ridge from the Lynnmere Trail

0:52 – View of Mt. Clef Ridge from the Lynnmere Trail

You reach a T-junction at 4.4 miles where you’ll turn right and make another ascent to the highest point on the hike, where you get a great view of the western Santa Monicas on the left (south) and Mt. Clef on the right. If visibility is good you may see the Topa Topa Mountains north of Ojai. A vista spot at about 4.8 miles, marked by a spiral of stones and a makeshift bench, is a nice place to sit and enjoy the payoff of your efforts.

1:23 - Turn left then right

1:23 – Turn left then right

The trail then descends steeply, dropping about 400 feet in half a mile. You pass the end of Calla Yucca and soon after return to the start of the loop (5.3 miles.) Retrace your steps on the Arroyo Conejo Trail back to the parking lot.

2:00 - Spiral of rocks just before the vista point

2:00 – Spiral of rocks just before the vista point

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

2:10 - Descending through the trees on the Lynnmere Trail toward the end of the loop

2:10 – Descending through the trees on the Lynnmere Trail toward the end of the loop

Inaja Memorial Trail


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View from the top of the Inaja Memorial Trail

View from the top of the Inaja Memorial Trail

View of the upper San Diego River canyon from the top of the trail

View of the upper San Diego River canyon from the top of the trail

Inaja Memorial Trail

  • Location: Eastern San Diego County, a mile east of Santa Ysabel, during the stretch of overlap between Highway 78 and Highway 79.  It’s located on the south side of the road, a mile southeast of where the two roads meet, and six miles west of Julian.  From Ramona, follow Highway 78 east for 17 miles.  From Escondido it’s 34, and from Oceanside, 55.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map:  “Santa Ysabel”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Yahoo Travel page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Named for 11 firefighters who died in 1956, the Inaja Memorial Trail offers an excellent variety of scenery, especially for such a short hike.  At 3,300 feet above sea level, it features the pines, manzanitas and oaks characteristic of higher elevations as well as the lowland chaparral.  Also noteworthy are the terrific views both above (the Palomar Mountains, Volcan Mountain) and below (the upper San Diego River canyon.)

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

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

The trail begins on the east side of the parking area (opposite the entrance.) Pass by a few picnic tables and an outhouse where a sign indicates the start of the trail.  Check the box to see if interpretive brochures are available, describing the numbered sign posts on the route. You make a hairpin turn by a large stack of granite boulders and soon come to a split, the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. If you head counter-clockwise, you’ll get a nice aerial view of Highway 78 and the rolling terrain of Santa Ysabel; clockwise provides a striking view of the San Diego River canyon. A few unofficial trails branch off and can be explored a well.

0:01 - Sign at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

0:01 – Sign at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

About half way through the loop, a short spur leads to a summit where you can enjoy some sweeping views. Head back to the loop (another trail leads off the summit but soon dead-ends.) You’ll return to the split and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

0:02 - Split at the beginning of the loop

0:02 – Split at the beginning of the loop

As short as the trail is, it might not be worth a long drive, but it’s convenient location on Highway 78 makes it an ideal stop en route, say, from San Diego to Julian. L.A. and Orange County hikers who are looking to explore the trail-rich Santa Ysabel/Julian area won’t want to miss this trail.

0:12 - Looking west from the top of the trail

0:12 – Looking west from the top of the 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.

Sycamore Canyon Park (Claremont)


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Southeast view from the top of the Sycamore Canyon Trail

Southeast view from the top of the Sycamore Canyon Trail

Climbing the stairs, Sycamore Canyon

Climbing the stairs, Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon Park (Claremont)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:13 - View of Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks

0:13 – View of Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks

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

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

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

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

Terri Peak (Lake Perris State Recreation Area)


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Lake Perris from Terri Peak

Lake Perris from Terri Peak

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Terri Peak

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Terri Peak

Terri Peak (Lake Perris State Recreation Area)

  • Location: Lake Perris State Recreation Area, between Moreno Valley and Perris, Riverside County.  From the 60 Freeway, take the Moreno Beach Drive exit and head south for a total of 3.2 miles (turn left if you’re coming from Palm Springs; from the west, merge onto Auto Mall Parkway and turn right on Moreno Beach Drive.)  At 3.2 miles, turn left on Vista Del Lago, signed for the park.  At 1.3 miles, after passing the front gate where you pay the $10 per day vehicle use fee*, turn right on Alta Calle (first paved road you’ll come to), go 0.4 miles and turn right on a dirt service road signed for Horse Camp.  Follow it 0.4 miles to a junction where you turn left and park in the corral area. *As of this writing (Feb. 2014), to pay the day use fee, drive about 0.5 miles past the turnoff for the camp, turn left on Transition Road and drive to the kiosk.
  • Agency: Lake Perris State Recreation Area
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Perris, Sunnymead
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Hike descriptions here; here (loop configuration), Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead by the horse corral (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Lake Perris is best known for its boating and horseback riding, but the park also features a few hiking trails, the most famous of which is the moderate trip to Terri Peak.  The hike loses a few points due to trash and graffiti on the summit, as well as the proximity to civilization (including the noise of watercraft) but on clear days, Terri Peak offers some of the best views around. If you live or work in the area it’s well worth a visit.

0:05 - Bear right at the four way junction by the water tank and head uphill (times are approximate)

0:05 – Bear right at the four way junction by the water tank and head uphill (times are approximate)

From the corral, follow the service road east. You can shave a minute or two off by bearing left on a single-track that joins the road farther up. At a four-way junction by the water tank, bear right and begin the bulk of the ascent.

0:19 - Looking north to the San Bernardino Mountains

0:19 – Looking north to the San Bernardino Mountains

The trail heads through a jumble of pink and tan boulders, taking in nice views of Moreno Valley, the San Bernardino Mountains, San Jacinto Peak and the lake. There are a few spots where the trail is a little vague due to hikers and bikers who have cut corners, but every time it splits it soon rejoins.

At 0.9 miles, stay left as another trail joins in from an alternate starting point on Vista Del Lago. You make a steep ascent, reaching a crest at 1.2 miles where the trail drops into a valley. At 1.5 miles, you reach a T-junction where you’ll turn left, making a steep ascent to the summit. Right before you reach the peak, a faint trail branches off; this can be an option for extending the hike into a 6-mile loop.

0:28 - Steep climb after meeting the alternate trail

0:28 – Steep climb after meeting the alternate trail

On the wide, flat summit of Terri Peak, you get an excellent aerial view of Lake Perris. With good visibility, you may see the following mountain ranges: the San Gabriels, Box Springs, Santa Anas, Palomars, Santa Rosas, San Jacintos, San Bernardinos and the Bernasconi Hills.

0:50 - Spur to the summit

0:50 – Spur to the summit

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.

0:53 - Old Saddleback as seen from Terri Peak

0:53 – Old Saddleback as seen from Terri Peak

Santa Ysabel Open Space (East)


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Looking west from the Kanaka Trail

Looking west from the Kanaka Trail

Sycamores on the eastern leg of the Kanaka Trail

Sycamores on the eastern leg of the Kanaka Trail

Santa Ysabel Open Space (East)

  • Location: North of Julian.  From Highway 78/79, take a left on Wynola Road (about 35 miles east of Escondido; 17 miles east of Ramona; about 3 miles east of Santa Ysabel) and go 3.4 miles to Farmer Road.  Turn left and drive 1.3 miles to the trailhead, on the left side of the road.  Alternately, from Temecula/Warner Springs, take Highway 79 south to the juncture with Highway 78.  Turn left and head southeast for 3.2 miles to Wynola Road.  From downtown Julian, take Farmer Road north for 2.1 miles.  Turn right on Wynola Road and an immediate left to continue north on Farmer Road, 1.3 miles to the trailhead.
  • Agency: County of San Diego
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June; 8am – 5pm daily
  • USGS topo maps: Julian, Santa Ysabel
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Yelp page here; Flickr photo album here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This is one of the best hikes in the Julian area, offering a little bit of everything: pine-covered mountains, oak woodlands, wide meadows and even a glimpse of the ocean if visibility is good.  The 7.2-mile hike described here – a 2 1/4 mile out and back stretch with a 2.7 mile loop – is a good workout which can either be shortened or extended as time and energy permit.

0:16 - Entering the oak woodland (times are approximate)

0:17 – Entering the oak woodland (times are approximate)

From the staging area on Farmer Road, follow the trail downhill into a pleasant meadow. Don’t be surprised to see cattle grazing. You cross Santa Ysabel Creek and walk through an open field, passing a lone sycamore and reaching a grove of oaks at about 0.7 miles. Under the shade of the large live oaks, you continue west, through another meadow and into another woodland. At 1.5 miles, the trail makes a hairpin turn, crosses the creek and begins the only noticeably steep ascent on the route, climbing about 400 feet over 3/4 of a mile. The efforts are made more enjoyable by the fact that much of the ascent is in the shade and when it leaves the woods, it follows a scenic ridge line with great views to the west, including the Palomar Mountains (if you look carefully, you can pick out the observatory.)

0:33 - Crossing Santa Ysabel Creek

0:35 – Crossing Santa Ysabel Creek

At 2.25 miles from the start, you reach the loop portion of the hike. The Kanaka Loop can be traveled in either direction, but by turning right and going counter-clockwise, it allows you to take a break from climbing, also saving the best views for later in the hike.

0:50 - Beginning of the loop

0:51 – Beginning of the loop

The loop circles a wide open space called Kanaka Flat. At 0.3 miles into the loop, stay left as the Coast to Crest Trail branches off, heading west toward Highway 79. You head east through more pastoral land where you’re likely to see cattle, and begin a gradual ascent. At about 3.7 miles – the approximate half way point of the trip – you reach a summit and the trail dips back down toward another meadow. With pines providing shade, this makes a good rest spot.

The trail heads down into the meadow before beginning its final ascent to the high point on the hike (about 4,300 feet above sea level.) Here you get an excellent vista of the open space, the mountains and perhaps a glimpse of the ocean; you might even be able to pick out the long, flat shape of San Clemente Island in the distance.

1:20 - Descending through the pines

1:20 – Descending through the pines

From here, the trail drops into a shallow canyon before briefly rising to complete the loop (just under 5 miles from the start.) Turn right at the junction and retrace your steps back to the trail head.

1:50 - View from the high point of the loop

1:50 – View from the high point 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.

Zanja Peak (West Approach)


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Looking west from Zanja Peak

Looking west from Zanja Peak

Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Zanja Peak (West Approach)

  • Location: Crafton Hills near Yucaipa.  From San Bernardino, take I-10 to Yucaipa Blvd.  Turn left and go 1.5 miles to Sand Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 0.2 miles to Chapman Heights Road.    Go 0.3 miles to 13th St. and park where available.   From Palm Springs, take I-10 to Oak Glen/Live Oak Canyon Road.  Turn right and make a quick left on 14th St.  Go 1.1 miles, cross Yucaipa Blvd. and continue onto Sand Canyon Road.  Go 0.2 miles and turn right on Chapman Heights Road.  Go 0.3 miles and park where available on 13th St.
  • Agency:  Crafton Hills Open Space Conservancy
  • Distance:  8.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, Elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • USGS topo map: Yucaipa
  • More information: Here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on 13th St. and Chapman Heights Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Start of the hike on 13th St. and Chapman Heights Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Zanja Peak, the highest point in the Crafton Hills at 3,543 feet, can be reached by several routes.  The short but steep approach from Oak Glen Road has already been written up on this site, so on this post we’ll look at the longer route from the west, using the Thunderbird Trail and Hilltop Trail. Except for a very steep push to the summit, most of the hike is at a pleasantly moderate grade.

0:08 - Heading into a canyon on the Thunderbird Trail

0:08 – Heading into a canyon on the Thunderbird Trail

From the corner of 13th St. and Chapman Heights, head west briefly and pick up the Thunderbird Trail. You cross a small wooden footbridge and begin your ascent, weaving in and out of two shallow canyons. After 1.2 miles of moderate ascent, you reach a four-way junction. Turn right and follow the trail up a ridge. This is not the “official” Crafton Hills Ridge Trail but it’s a more interesting and challenging route. (You can continue straight along the Thunderbird Trail for a short distance to meet the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail, a fire road.)

0:31-  View from the ridge near the top of the Thunderbird Trail (turn right to continue up the ridge)

0:31- View from the ridge near the top of the Thunderbird Trail (turn right to continue up the ridge)

From the top of the ridge, a steep descent brings you to the fire road. Though the road makes a few switchbacks, you can save a few minutes by following a use trail that continues the steep descent into the valley, passing by a lone oak ideally situated for a resting spot.

0:35 - View from the top of the ridge, descending to join the fire road

0:35 – View from the top of the ridge, descending to join the fire road

After rejoining the fire road, you continue to head east, enjoying good views of Redlands, Mentone and the San Bernardino Mountains on the left and the Yucaipa area on the right. You may get a glimpse of Old Sadddleback behind Box Springs Mountain.

At 3.4 miles, a bench makes another scenic rest spot; you get a good aerial view of Mill Creek and might see cars passing by on Highway 38, far below. At 4 miles, keep an eye out for a break heading sharply uphill. Bear right and climb 0.2 miles, gaining about 250 feet, to the summit.

1:20 - View of Mill Creek and Highway 38, about 3.4 miles from the trail head

1:20 – View of Mill Creek and Highway 38, about 3.4 miles from the trail head

From here you get a panoramic view of San Bernardino and San Gorgonio; San Jacinto; the Palomars; the San Gabriels and more, pending of course, good visibility. You can retrace your steps or if you’ve set up a shuttle, you can descend to one of several other trail heads.

1:40 - Bear right on the spur to the summit

1:40 – Bear right on the spur to the summit

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 - Welcome to Zanja Peak (looking south)

1:50 – Welcome to Zanja Peak (looking south)

San Clemente Loop


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Looking east from the Cristianitos Trail

Looking east from the Cristianitos Trail

Sycamores on the Talega Trail

Sycamores on the Talega Trail

San Clemente Loop

      • Location: San Clemente.  As described here, the hike starts from one of several possible points, the end of Cristianitos Road.  From I-5 in San Clemente, take the Avenida Pico exit and go northeast for 3.2 miles (turn right if you’re coming from the south or left if from the north.)  Turn left on Camino La Pedriza and take a quick right on Cristianitos Road.  Park where available on the street.
      • Agency: City of San Clemente
      • Distance: 10.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
      • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
      • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
      • Best season: October – April
      • USGS topo map: San Clemente
      • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat
      • More information: Trail map here; San Clemente trail descriptions including ones in this loop here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike, end of Cristianitos Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This long loop features several of San Clemente’s city trails. While its highest elevation is 1,000 feet, the many ups and downs add up to about 1,700 feet of climbing, making it a great training hike. Don’t expect much in the way of solitude, but on clear days the mountain and ocean views are impressive. The trail’s convenience to south O.C., as well as north San Diego County, makes it a worthwhile recreational resource.  The entire route is exposed, so plan accordingly.

0:50 - Bridle path on the north side of Avenida Pico (times are approximate)

0:50 – Bridle path on the north side of Avenida Pico (times are approximate)

There are numerous access points. By hiking clockwise from the end of Cristianitos Road, you save the best scenery for last and don’t have to tackle the major ascents until several miles in.

1:40 - Talega Sign at the corner of Calle Saluda and Avenida La Pata

1:40 – Talega Sign at the corner of Calle Saluda and Avenida La Pata

From the end of the road, head right on the Cristianitos Trail, which soon brings you to Avenida Pico. Cross the street and pick up the Prima Deshecha Trail, which heads uphill, passing several side trails. In general the rule of thumb is that the side-trails often quickly lead to utility poles, making the main route pretty clear. In addition, fences usually border the main trails, at least on one side.

2:05 - Beginning of the steep descent on the Talega Trail

2:05 – Beginning of the steep descent on the Talega Trail

The Prima Desecha Trail drops into a valley with an office park on one side, Bella Colina Golf Club on the other and power lines overhead. At 1.8 miles it bends sharply to the right, soon reaching Avenida Pico again. You cross it and continue on the north side of the street, heading west past the Talega Golf Club. You head north, roughly following Avenida La Plata, crossing under a bridge at Avenida Vista Hermosa (3.2 miles.)

2:45 - Footbridge above the end of Via Alcamo

2:45 – Footbridge above the end of Via Alcamo

The trail takes on a more secluded feel at this point, although the sights and sounds of civilization are still near. You climb to an intersection at Calle Saluda (3.8 miles) where you’ll cut around the side of a stone sign reading “TALEGA” and make a descent, paralleling the street. At the bottom of the hill, turn left and begin the first major ascent of the loop, climbing about 400 feet over the next mile. As you ascend, keep an eye out for ocean views to the left.

3:00 - Live oaks below the vista point

3:00 – Live oaks below the vista point

You brush up against the Forster Ridgeline Trail (about 5 miles from the start) and then reach a junction where you’ll stay right and begin a sharp descent. Keep an eye out for some sycamore trees growing in the canyon. You make your way to the bottom of the hill, staying left at a junction. The longest ascent of the hike begins here (5.8 miles), climbing in back of some houses and ascending about 600 feet over 1.3 miles. reaching a high point at about 7.1 miles where you can sit on a small bench and enjoy the view, including the Santa Ana Mountains, the ocean and the neighborhoods of San Clemente.

3:05 - View of houses near the water tanks at the north end of the Cristianitos Trail

3:05 – View of houses near the water tanks at the north end of the Cristianitos Trail

Past the vista point, the trail continues northeast. On the left, behind a wire fence, some stately live oaks add a nice touch. At a large water tank, the trail takes a hard right and begins a descent along the edge of the Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve. This section of the trail, which parallels a service road, is one of the more quiet and secluded portions of the loop.

3:45 - Stay left and begin the descent on the Cristianitos Trail

3:45 – Stay left and begin the descent on the Cristianitos Trail

At just over 8 miles, you reach the end of Avenida Talega. Pick up the Cristianitos North Trail on the opposite side, making your final major ascent of the loop. The trail climbs steeply, gaining about 250 feet over half a mile. At the top, stay left and begin a descent. A spur leads to a vista point, an optional side trip if you want to extend the hike. To continue the loop, however, head right on an obscure trail leading through some bushes. As you descend toward the water tanks, take note of the sandstone cliffs on the right, featuring shallow caves.

3:50 - Turn right and head through the bushes

3:50 – Turn right and head through the bushes

The remainder of the loop is an easy, moderate descent. You follow the trail around the back of some residential streets, live oaks on the left side making the journey more appealing. Finally you complete the loop, returning to the end of Cristianitos 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.

3:52 - Sandstone on the Cristianitos Trail

3:52 – Sandstone on the Cristianitos Trail

Tin Mine Canyon


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Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Tin Mine Canyon

  • Location: Corona.  From the south, take I-15 to El Cerrito.  Turn left and go a total of 4.4 miles on El Cerrito, which becomes Foothill Parkway.  At Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park on Foothill Parkway facing east in one of the few spots designated for the Skyline Trail.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Lincoln Exit and head south (left if you’re coming from the west, right if from Riverside) and go 2.6 miles to Foothill Parkway.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to the intersection with Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park where available facing east on Foothill Parkway.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps:  Corona South
  • Recommended gear: Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here;  Yelp page here; Meetup page with photos and trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Located on the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains, just beyond the fringes of Corona’s residential neighborhoods, Tin Mine Canyon feels pleasantly secluded and rugged.  Highlights include a seasonal stream, geology, live oaks and sycamores, good mountain views and, yes, an abandoned tin mine.

0:26 - Trees near the beginning of the Tin Mine Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

0:26 – Trees near the beginning of the Tin Mine Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

The actual Tin Mine Canyon trail can be accessed by walking just over a mile on the Skyline Trail.  When the Skyline Trail makes a hairpin right turn, begin hiking on the Tin Mine Canyon trail just past an information board.  The trail quickly leaves civilization behind as it heads east into the canyon.   You cross the stream bed several times, generally keeping the bottom of the canyon on your left.  A bench beneath a large oak makes for a good rest spot.

0:28 - Bear left and head across the stream bed, deeper into the canyon

0:28 – Bear left and head across the stream bed, deeper into the canyon

At 1.7 miles, the canyon narrows and the trail clings to the rock wall on the left.  You’ll pass by the sealed off entrance to the tin mine.  The trail then passes by a dramatic cluster of oaks beneath a tall pink sandstone wall before re-emerging into the open, where you get some nice views of the hills above.

0:48 - The mine

0:48 – The mine

Farther up, the trail continues to weave in and out of the stream bed; you may well see at least some water by this point.  Keep an eye out for poison oak as you make your way deeper into the canyon.  The thick vegetation and tight canyon walls lock in much of the moisture from the stream, making the air surprisingly humid.

0:52 - Oaks and sandstone

0:52 – Oaks and sandstone

At about 2 1/4 miles from the start, you reach the end of the official trail.  A little bit of rock scrambling will bring you to a pleasant grotto where water trickles down a 5-foot rock face into a pool.  This makes a good turnaround point although intrepid hikers can continue up the canyon, eventually reaching all the way up to Main Divide Road.

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

 In the spring, Tin Mine creek is a convenient place to observe California newts, a species of salamander that requires a healthy riparian (natural stream) ecosystem to survive.  Wild grape vines, blackberry, bigleaf maple, bay laurel, cottonwoods, alder, and willow occur in the shadier spots where there is a higher water table.  Various species of mountain lilac (Ceanothus sp.) bloom white and lavender over the emerald slopes of mature chaparral.  Canyon sweet pea, yellow bush penstemon, stinging lupine, Matilija poppy, and other showy wildflowers can also be see in the spring.  Be mindful of the poison oak, which grows in abundance along the creek, especially near the waterfalls.

0:55 - End of the trail

0:55 – End of the trail

The USFS closed the mine entrances with metal grates to preserve wildlife habitat for cave dwelling organisms, such as Monterey ensatina (lungless salamander), tree frogs, and bats.  Supposedly, the only real tin came from the Cajalco Tin Mine near Lake Matthews in the Gavilan Hills.

1:00 - Waterfall shortly past the trail's end; turnaround point for the hike

1:00 – Waterfall shortly past the trail’s end; turnaround point for the hike

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.

Summit to Summit Motorway


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Morning mist over Topanga Canyon from the Summit to Summit Motorway

Morning marine layer over Topanga Canyon from the Summit to Summit Motorway

Summit to Summit Motorway

    • Location: Top of Topanga Overlook, Topanga Canyon.  From Highway 101, take Topanga Canyon Blvd/Highway 27 south for 3.3 miles to the turnout (on the left) for the Top of Topanga Overlook.  Carefully make a U-turn and pull into the lot.  From Pacific Coast Highway, take Topanga Canyon Blvd/Highway 27 north for 9.2 miles and park in the lot on the right side of the road.  You can also start the hike at the southwestern end, from Old Topanga Canyon Blvd.
    • Agency:  Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 6.2 miles
    • Elevation gain:  850 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo map: Calabasas; Malibu Beach; Topanga; Canoga Park
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
    • More information: Photo gallery here; article about the SMMNRA’s acquisition of the motorway here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6
0:00 View from the Top of Topanga Overlook at the start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 View from the Top of Topanga Overlook at the start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

The Summit to Summit Motorway links the Top of Topanga Overlook with Old Topanga Canyon Road.  While it doesn’t have the geological or botanical variety of nearby Topanga State Park or Malibu Creek, it does offer some good views of those two parks and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. There are many small up and down stretches which add up to about 850 total feet of elevation gain. The two ends of the hike are approximately the same altitude. The Topanga Overlook trailhead is more easily accessible, but some hikers may find that by starting on Old Topanga Canyon Road, the view from the overlook is more of a payoff for the end of the hike. This route can also be done point-to-point with not too much difficulty.

0:15  - Turn left at the second water tank (times are approximate)

0:15 – Turn left at the second water tank (times are approximate)

Assuming you start at the overlook on the northeastern end of the hike, carefully cross Topanga Canyon Boulevard (there’s no traffic light or crosswalk and heading back across the street from the west side is particularly treacherous as the curves in the road create a blind spot for cars). Pass by a metal gate and begin an ascent along the Summit to Summit Motorway. You’ll pass by a water tank and the road becomes dirt.

0:35 - Gate just before Adamsville Avenue

0:35 – Gate just before Adamsville Avenue

You descend to a junction by another water tank (0.6 miles) where you’ll turn left.  Follow the road along the ridge, passing by a few scattered oaks and willows. You’ll get a good view of Calabasas Peak to the southwest and in the distance, the Goat Buttes of Malibu Creek State Park and Castro Peak beyond. At 1.4 miles, you merge with a paved road (watch out for cars) and head left, passing by a private home and arriving at a five-way junction; the approximate halfway point of the hike.

0:39 - Right turn at the five-way junction

0:39 – Right turn at the five-way junction

From here, continue on the motorway by taking a hard right. You pass a few more private homes and several spurs heading off the main route. The trail reaches a high point at about 2 miles from the start and makes a gradual descent over the next mile. Just before it reaches Old Topanga Canyon Road, there’s a spot where you get a nice panorama of Calabasas. If you still have gas in the tank, you can cross Old Topanga Canyon Road and continue another 2.1 miles to Calabasas Peak.

0:55 - Following the fence

0:55 – Following the fence

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.

1:15 - Nice view from just before Old Topanga Canyon Blvd

1:15 – Nice view from just before Old Topanga Canyon Blvd

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)


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Sunset over Old Saddleback from the Big C

Sunset and Old Saddleback from the Big “C”

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big "C"

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big “C”

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

  • Location: Northeast Riverside at the end of Big Springs Road, by Islander Park.  From San Bernardino, Los Angeles or Orange County, take the 60/I-215 freeway  to the 3rd St/Blaine St. exit.  Turn left and follow 3rd, which immediately becomes Blaine, a mile to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn left and drive 0.4 miles to the end of Big Springs Road and park where available on the south (right) side of the street.  Note the parking restrictions.  From the east, take the 60/I-215 freeway to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Mt. Vernon.  Bear right and go 0.6 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn right and drive 0.2 miles to the end of the road.
  • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Riverside East
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Map My Hike report here; unflinching account of the vandalism on the trail here
  • Rating: 5

You already know how to reach the big “M” on the south slope of Box Springs Mountain, so in this post, we’ll look at the short–but very steep–hike to the big “C” on the mountain’s west side.  Sadly, there’s a lot of graffiti and trash, but on clear days hike provides one of the Inland Empire’s best 180-degree views.

0:00 - Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike almost came in at PG-13 due to its unrelenting steepness, often loose and difficult terrain and tricky route-finding, but anyone who’s reasonably active and allows themselves enough time shouldn’t have a problem.  Hiking poles will be a huge help.  There is an actual Google Maps-recognized Big C trail, although many other routes have been blazed across the mountain’s western slope.  Your exact route up and down may vary, but the trail’s popularity makes it hard to get too lost; when in doubt you shouldn’t have a problem finding other hikers to follow. With a western exposure, the hike can be done even on hot days with an early enough start and it’s also an excellent place to watch the sunset, although make sure you allow enough daylight to safely negotiate the steep slope.

0:03 - Look both ways (times are approximate)

0:03 – Look both ways (times are approximate)

Start just before the end of Big Springs Road by bearing left on a trail leading up to the railroad tracks. After crossing them you begin your ascent. Typically, you will choose between steep, eroded wash-like breaks and slightly less steep single-track. The first occurs on the east side of the railroad tracks. After the single-track reunites with the steeper route, the ascent continues, heading generally southeast. You can take advantage of a strip of grass running up the middle of the path which may help give you traction.

0:06 - Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

0:06 – Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

At about 0.3 miles, you reach another split where the trails briefly separate before rejoining. The left route is slightly less steep. You soon reach a ridge (about 0.5 miles) where the trail levels out briefly. Here you may be encouraged by a glimpse of the top half of the “C” off to your left.

0:15 - Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

0:15 – Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

At another split, you can choose between a steep but not too difficult climb up some rocks (left) or a single-track branching off to the right. The two trails meet just below the “C”. Make your final scramble up to the marker, where despite huge amounts of graffiti–some rather graphic in nature–you can enjoy an excellent view of the Santa Ana Mountains, the San Gabriels, and the Inland Valley. You get a nearly aerial perspective on the immediate neighborhood, some thousand feet below.

0:30 - Junction below the C (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

0:30 – Junction below the “C” (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

If you still have feeling in your legs, you can continue past the “C” to connect with other trails in Box Springs Mountain Park. It’s even possible to make it to the “M”, which is about three miles farther and 900 feet higher.

The “C” honors nearby University of California Riverside. Several UC campuses feature giant “C” markers. This “C” is the highest of all of them, at about 2,100 feet. It was completed in 1957 and at the time was the largest (132 feet tall by 70 feet wide) poured concrete block letter of its kind in the world.

0:40 - Respect the C

0:40 – Be a man: Respect the “C”

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.

Dripping Springs Trail/Agua Tibia Wilderness


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San Gorgonio and San Jacinto from the Dripping Springs Trail

San Gorgonio and San Jacinto from the Dripping Springs Trail

Dusk in the Agua Tibia Wilderness

Dusk in the Agua Tibia Wilderness

Dripping Springs Trail/Agua Tibia Wilderness

  • Location: Cleveland National Forest, east of Temecula.  From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 10.5 miles to the Dripping Springs Campground.  Turn right and park in the signed day use area.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.  The $5 day use fee can also be paid at the trailhead.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Mountain Ranger District
  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 7.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: Vail Lake
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead at the Dripping Springs Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead at the Dripping Springs Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The hot and dry Agua Tibia Wilderness doesn’t seem very inviting – and it isn’t. Most of the terrain is exposed and while the trail does take in some excellent views of the surrounding area, it doesn’t have the scenic variety of the higher country of the Palomar Mountains.  However, with easy terrain, straightforward navigation and a moderate grade, the Dripping Springs Trail is a great training hike. It can be done as a day trip from Riverside or San Diego; even L.A. or Orange County given an early start. Another advantage of starting early is that most of the ascent is on west-facing slopes, meaning that despite the lack of shade, the sun won’t be too hot.

0:09 - Information board at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

0:11 – Information board at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

From the day use area, walk 0.4 miles on a paved road through the campground. The oaks and sycamores you see are, sadly, bait-and-switch; you won’t be seeing more of them until much higher up on the hill. At the far end of the campground, you reach an information board where you’ll sign a register and begin your climb on the Dripping Springs Trail.

1:20 - Ascending the side of the canyon t

1:25 – Ascending the side of the canyon

Cross the streambed of Arroyo Seco, exercising caution if water is flowing, and stay right at a junction. (The Wildhorse Trail on the left would be your return route if you decide to make an ambitious 20-mile loop hike, an option for backpackers or day hikers who don’t mind a very long day.) You begin a steady ascent, negotiating some switchbacks, and as you climb you get some nice views of Toro Peak, San Jacinto, Vail Lake, San Gorgonio and farther up, Old Saddleback and the San Gabriels.

2:10 - Can you spot the Palomar Mountain Observatory?

2:20 – Can you spot the Palomar Mountain Observatory?

The vegetation becomes a little thicker as you cross the top of a tributary of the Arroyo Seco. At 5 miles, the trail descends to a saddle where you may be able to pick out the white dome of the Palmoar Mountain Observatory on the left. The trail continues its ascent, reaching some pines and then a pleasant oak woodland; a good camping spot.

2:50 - Pines

3:05 – Pines

Shortly after, you reach the end of the Dripping Springs Trail. If you’ve still got gas in the tank, head left on the Palmoar Magee Trail and go 0.2 miles to a vista point (7 miles). With great views to the south, including the ocean, this is a good turnaround point for day hikers. More intrepid souls might want to continue 3 miles to the Crosley Truck Trail, which descends back (becoming the Wildhorse Trail) to the trail head for an impressive 20 miles.  Note: as of this writing the trail is easy to follow and in good shape, but it is susceptible to the weather.  If there have been recent heavy rains, contact the ranger station via the link above to check on the trail conditions.

3:20 - Oak grove near the top of the Dripping Springs trail

3:20 – Oak grove near the top of the Dripping Springs trail

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM JOEL ROBINSON OF WWW.NATURALISTFORYOU.ORG: The Chaparral features some intriguing textures, colors, and smells, including the shredded red bark of the Ribbonwood, the silvery fuzz of the Thick-leaved Yerba Santa, the minty fragrance of the Black Sage and the stretched taffy-like trunks of the Hoary-leaved Ceanothus.  Scan the trail for the rarely seen San Diego Horned Lizard, an adorable “miniature dinosaur,” who forages for harvester ants.  Matilija poppies, popcorn flower, bush lupine, and peony can be seen in the spring time. The principal rocks of the primitive area are crystalline and consist of both metamorphic and plutonic varieties.

3:30 - Ocean view from the Palomar Magee trail; suggested turnaround point

3:30 – Ocean view from the Palomar Magee trail; suggested turnaround point

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

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