Challenger Park (Simi Valley)

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Meadow and hills in the trails behind Challenger Park

Meadow and hills in the trails behind Challenger Park

Oaks in a canyon behind Challenger Park

Oaks in a canyon behind Challenger Park

Challenger Park (Simi Valley)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:12 - View from the top of the ridge

0:12 – View from the top of the ridge

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

0:14 - Descent toward the picnic area

0:14 – Descent toward the picnic area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

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Wetlands in the south end of the park

Wetlands in the south end of the park

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

  • Location: Del Mar Avenue and Virginia Vista Court, Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach.  From the 405 Freeway, take the Long Beach Blvd. exit and head north for 0.2 miles.  Turn left on 36th St., go 0.3 miles and bear right on Country Club.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Los Cerritos Park Place.  Follow it past the side of the park to a T-junction and turn right on Del Mar.  The entrance (unmarked, just a gap in the fence) to the wetlands will be on the left in half a mile, just before Virginia Vista (a private road).  Park on the street for free, keeping in mind posted restrictions about time and days.
  • Agency: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works
  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: Long Beach
  • More information: Park description here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 1
0:00 - Entrance to the park on Del Mar Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Entrance to the park on Del Mar Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Most hikers probably won’t drive too far to visit the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, but for residents of Long Beach – the Bixby Knolls area in particular – this pleasant little pocket of open space is an enjoyable place to explore.  The park occupies a thin corridor between the 710 Freeway and the Virginia Country Club.  In addition to the attractive pools of water, this spot is a good one for birdwatching.  Ducks, blackbirds, hawks and cormorants are among the fowl that might be seen here. From Del Mar Avenue, enter the park through a gap in the chain linked fence.  Follow a wide walkway a short distance to the beginning of the loop.  There are a few benches beneath a shade structure and interpretive plaques describing the restoration process of the wetlands.

0:05 - Interpretive plaque beneath the shade shelter (times are approximate)

0:05 – Interpretive plaque beneath the shade shelter (times are approximate)

The loop can be hiked in either direction.  To go clockwise, look for a dirt walkway descending slightly (as opposed to the spur leading to the paved bike trail).  The opposite end of the loop branches off on the right in a similar manner; use this if you would prefer to hike counter-clockwise.

0:12 - Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

0:12 – Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

The trail borders the wetlands, briefly sharing a portion of the bike path, crossing under a railroad bridge before finally reaching a turnaround point at Del Amo Blvd (about 1.2 miles from the starting point).  Along the way keep an eye out for plant life including California Golden Poppies and Indian Paintbrush as well as the diverse array of birds (possibly rabbits too).  Once you reach Del Amo, turn around and follow the opposite side of the loop back to Del Mar Avenue.

0:27 - Looking back from just before Del Amo

0:27 – Looking back from just before Del Amo

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

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

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View from just below Moulton Peak on the Five Oaks Trail

View from just below Moulton Peak on the Five Oaks Trail

Woodlands on the lower end of the Five Oaks Trail

Woodlands on the lower end of the Five Oaks Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:05 - View from Moulton Peak

1:05 – View from Moulton Peak

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

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

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

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

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:31 - Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

0:31 – Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

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

0:35 - Sticks out like a sore thumb!

0:35 – Sticks out like a sore thumb!

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

0:40 - Stuffed cougar at the nature center

0:40 – Stuffed cougar at the nature center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking east from the ascent to the Del Norte Trail

Looking east from the ascent to the Del Norte Trail

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

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

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

    • Location:  Channel Islands National Park, off the Ventura coast.   Island Packers is the main travel provider to the Channel Islands National Park.  Visit their site here for schedules, fares and other information.
    • Agency:  Channel Islands National Park/National Park Service
    • Distance: 6.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
    • Suggested time: 3 hours, or as permitted by the boat schedule
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
    • Best season:  Year-round (pending boat availability)
    • USGS topo map: “Santa Cruz Island C”
    • Recommended gear: Dramamine (boat ride); sun hat; sunblock
    • More information:  S.C.I. Yelp page here; National Park Service page here; Everytrail report here; information about the Del Norte Campground here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at Prisoner's Harbor (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

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

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

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

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

0:48 - Descending into Canada del Agua

0:48 – Descending into Canada del Agua

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

0:52 - Agua in Canada del Agua

0:52 – Agua in Canada del Agua

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

1:26 - Turnoff for the Del Norte campground

1:26 – Turnoff for the Del Norte campground

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

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

1:30 - Del Norte Campground

1:30 – Del Norte Campground

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

Jack Creek Meadow Loop (Daley Ranch)

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Jack Creek Meadow

Jack Creek Meadow

Engelmann Oak in Jack Creek Meadow

Oak in Jack Creek Meadow

Jack Creek Meadow Loop (Daley Ranch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

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View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acorn Trail (Wrightwood)

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View of the high desert from the Acorn Trail

View of the high desert from the Acorn Trail

Through the pines on the Acorn Trail

Through the pines on the Acorn Trail

Acorn Trail (Wrightwood)

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:24 - Beginning of the Acorn Trail

0:24 – Beginning of the Acorn Trail

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

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

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

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

1:00 - View through some fallen trees

1:00 – View through some fallen trees

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

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

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

Metate Trail (San Bernardino National Forest)

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Black oaks on the Metate Trail

Black oaks and pines on the Metate Trail

Metate Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:08 - Bear left again

0:08 – Bear left again

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

0:12 - This time turn right.

0:12 – This time turn right.

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

0:23 - Indian Morteros in the rocks

0:23 – Indian Morteros in the rocks

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

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

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

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

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

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Lake Hodges from the overlook, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Lake Hodges from the overlook, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Olivenhain Reservoir, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Olivenhain Reservoir, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:27 - View from the first overlook

0:27 – View from the first overlook

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

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

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

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

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

1:06 - Single track toward the Lake Hodges Overlook

1:06 – Single track toward the Lake Hodges Overlook

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

1:33 - Lake Hodges Overlook

1:33 – Lake Hodges Overlook

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

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

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

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:30 - Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

0:35 – Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:40 - Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

1:40 – Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

Tahquitz Canyon

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Tahquitz Falls

Tahquitz Falls

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon

  • Location: Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center, 500 W. Mesquite Ave, Palm Springs.  From the Riverside area, take I-10 east to Highway 111.  Take Highway 111 southeast for 15.3 miles.  Continue straight onto North Palm Canyon Drive and go 2.6 miles to Mesquite Avenue.  Turn right and follow Mesquite 0.2 miles to the Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center and park in the lot shortly beyond.  From Indio, take I-10 to Bob Hope Drive.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn right on Ramon and go 7.9 miles to Belardo Road.  Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Mesquite.  Turn right and follow the road to the visitors center and the parking lot.  Admission is $12.50 for each adult and $6 for children.
  • Agency: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – May (7:30am – 5pm; last entry at 3:30pm)
  • USGS topo maps: “Cathedral City”, “Palm Springs”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Tahquitz Canyon home page here; trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

The 60-foot waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon may be Southern California’s most unusual.  It could be 90 or 100 degrees when you begin the hike, but you will easily forget the heat when wading through pools of water from melted snow almost two vertical miles above on the upper reaches of San Jacinto Peak.

0:00 - Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the Tahquitz Peak in the San Jacinto Range, Tahquitz Canyon (pronounced either TAW-kits or TAW-kwish depending on whom you ask) is named for the infamous Cahuilla shaman who was banished from the tribe after abusing his powers. In modern times, on this short trip through the canyon, hikers can experience history, observe a variety of plant life including creosote and mesquite, see examples of Indian art and sites that have significance to the tribe, pass by bizarre geological formations and finally experience the excitement of a waterfall in the middle of the desert.

0:08 - Trail split past the visitors' center (times are approximate)

0:08 – Trail split past the visitors’ center (times are approximate)

The loop is a figure-8 and the first split happens soon after leaving the visitor center.  Take either trail, making your way up a few steps and over rocks.  The left fork runs up against some particularly large boulders before they rejoin.  You dip down to the stream and cross it on a stone jetty about 0.3 miles from the start.

Continuing up canyon, you reach another junction at about 0.6 miles.  If it’s a very hot day you might want to take the right fork, which generally sticks closer to the stream and has a little bit of shade.  The left fork crosses the stream and backtracks for a few yards before continuing toward the waterfall.  It climbs the south side of the canyon, reaching a high point of 906 feet before dropping down into a shaded grotto (1 mile from the start.)

0:12 - "Sacred Rock"

0:12 – “Sacred Rock”

Here, Tahquitz Falls plunges about 60 feet down a rock face into a large pool split by a big boulder.  You can sit on a stone ford and watch the waterfall or wade into the pool for a closer look, but keep in mind that it’s hard to see the depth of the water because the canyon blocks out much of the sunlight, so exercise caution.  After enjoying the waterfall, return via either route, completing a loop or an out-and-back hike as you  see fit.

0:17 - Beginning of the second loop

0:17 – Beginning of the second loop

The hike’s admission fee of $12.50 per adult or $6 has drawn criticism from some online reviewers, several of whom cite the shortness of the trip as not being worth the price tag.  While Tahquitz Canyon can potentially be one of Southern California’s priciest  hikes–$37 for a family of four as an example–it’s still considerably less expensive than many other tourist attractions.  Consider too the efforts of the Agua Calliente Band in cleaning up the canyon, which was long filled with trash and graffiti.  At the risk of sounding preachy, when natural spaces are accessible to the public without being regulated, they can be subject to abuse, like Rancho Cucamonga’s doomed Sapphire Falls.  Other than a few bits of broken glass here and there and a “Jesus Saves” inscription on a rock, Tahquitz Canyon is in its natural state, a true oasis just a short distance from civilization.

0:35 - Pool below Tahquitz Falls

0:35 – Pool below Tahquitz Falls

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

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

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)

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

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.

Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

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Palm tree at Jane's Hoffbrau Oasis

Palm tree at Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

View of greater Palm Springs on the way back from the oasis

View of greater Palm Springs on the way back from the oasis

Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

  • Location: Behind the Elks Lodge at 67491 East Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City.  From I-10, take the Palm Drive/Gene Autry Trail exit.  Turn right on Gene Autry Trail and go 6.1 miles to East Palm Canyon Drive.  (Along the way, the route becomes CA Highway 111).  Turn left and go 0.8 miles to Elks Drive, just before a big shopping center.  Turn right and park in the lot in back of the lodge.
  • Agency: Santa Rosa/San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo map: “Cathedral City”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: All Trails page here; trip description (all the way to Murray Hill) here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike behind the Elks Lodge (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike behind the Elks Lodge (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Located in a narrow canyon near the heart of Palm Springs, Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis is named for Jane Lykken Hoff, former president of the Desert Riders equestrian group.  And no, sadly, despite the name, no brewed beverages are available here (although you can grab a cold one after the hike at any of several restaurants at the nearby shopping center.)

0:07 - Turn left on the dirt road atop the ridge and head uphill (times are approximate)

0:07 – Turn left on the dirt road atop the ridge and head uphill (times are approximate)

The oasis itself is a cozy, quiet little spot and the route features panoramic views of Palm Springs, but the first half of the hike is, to be blunt, rather unpleasant. If you don’t mind taking one for the team, the second half of this hike is enjoyable, and you can easily extend your trip on the network of trails that lace the area.

0:18 - Ascend the single-track leading up from the dirt road

0:18 – Ascend the single-track leading up from the dirt road

From the far corner parking area behind the Elks Lodge, enter a gully and prepare to climb over boulders and trash. The ascent is more unattractive than it is difficult; just keep making your way up over the rocks toward the ridge line. No excessively strenuous climbing is required, although the ascent to the top is very steep in spots. Hikers with small kids might want to take extra caution.

0:22 - Junction with the dirt road; follow the single-track down into the canyon

0:22 – Junction with the dirt road; follow the single-track down into the canyon

After a tenth of a mile (though it seems longer), you reach the top of the gully, where you continue to a dirt road (signed as the Goat Trails on some maps). Head left and uphill. The scenery becomes marginally better here, though it still may feel as if you’re walking through a landfill. You get some good views of pointy Murray Hill straight ahead.

0:30 - Getting close....

0:30 – Getting close….

At 0.6 miles, you reach a junction. Both forks soon meet again but the left fork will get you to the oasis more quickly. You descend to another junction where you will stay straight and begin climbing on a single-track.

At 0.8 miles from the start, the single-track rejoins the dirt road. A few yards to your right, look for another single-track leading down into the canyon. This is the payoff: the trail descends in dramatic fashion along the edge of the canyon, past outcrops of rocks, yielding views similar to Joshua Tree National Park’s Fortynine Palm Oasis hike. You reach another fork where you will bear left and descend further, passing a sign welcoming you to the oasis. After a few switchbacks you reach the bottom of the canyon and the oasis itself, where you can relax in the shade of the palms. A dry waterfall site marks the top of the oasis. From here, you can retrace your steps or explore some of the other trails.

0:40 - Dry waterfall at the back of Jane's Hoffbrau Oasis

0:40 – Dry waterfall at the back of Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

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

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.