William Heise County Park (Julian)

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Vista from Glen's View, William Heise County Park

Vista from Glen’s View, William Heise County Park

Dusk on the Nature Trail, William Heise County Park

Dusk on the Nature Trail, William Heise County Park

William Heise County Park

  • Location: Eastern San Diego County, near Julian.  On Highway 78, about 35 miles east of Escondido and a mile west of Julian, at the town of Wynola, head south on Pine Hills Road, signed for the park. After a mile, turn left on Deer Park Road, go 2.1 miles to Frisius Drive and turn left.  Follow Frisius Drive to the park.  Day use parking is $3.  From the main entrance, follow the road about half a mile to the Canyon Oak day use area, shortly before Group Camp 2 and Camping Area 3.
  • Agency: William Heise County Park (San Diego County Parks and Recreation)
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: Year-round but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter; plan accordingly
  • USGS topo map: Julian
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Easy Hiking in Southern California
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here (Canyon Oak trail only); Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Canyon Oak Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Canyon Oak Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Located on the outskirts of Julian at nearly a mile above sea level, William Heise County Park offers dramatic mountain and desert views as well as secluded woodlands.  Despite damage from the 2003 Cedar Fire, the park is still home to an impressive collection of trees including black oaks, pines and incense cedars.  William Heise is perhaps best known as a camping destination, featuring both camp sites and log cabins, but it also features 10 miles of hiking trails.  The 3.5-mile loop described here uses the Canyon Oak, Desert View and Nature Trails, sampling the best of the park’s scenery.

0:03 - Interpretive plaque in the woods (times are approximate)

0:03 – Interpretive plaque in the woods (times are approximate)

From the day use area, the Canyon Oak Trail ascends a natural staircase through a grove of oaks  and pines where an interpretive plaque describes the history and effects of the area’s wildfires.  From here you enter an open area where you briefly descend, taking in views of North Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park to the south.  After passing by Group Camp 1 (half a mile from the start), stay left as another trail merges in from the right.  The trail then climbs through a fire-ravaged landscape on a westward facing slope, reaching a vista point with a bench where you can catch your breath while enjoying a panoramic view.

0:15 - Junction on the Canyon Oak Trail

0:15 – Junction on the Canyon Oak Trail

At about 1.3 miles from the start, you reach a junction with the Desert View Trail.  Turn left and begin a steep climb up a manzanita-covered hill side.  The good news is that the views are even better than from below.  You follow a ridge, briefly descend and then climb again to a junction where a spur leads to Glen’s View (elevation 4,940).  Here you get the best view of the hike, including the desert to the east, the Palomar Mountains to the north, the Cuyamacas to the south and if the air is clear, the ocean to the west.  A view-finder points out some of the spots of note, including Toro Peak and Rabbit Peak in the Santa Rosa Mountains, the Salton Sea and more.

0:30 - Start of the Desert View Trail

0:30 – Start of the Desert View Trail

After taking in the vista, head back to the Desert View Trail which begins a steep descent, sometimes over rather rough terrain.  At a T-junction (about 2.7 miles from the start) you can extend the hike by heading left on the Nature Trail, which drops into an attractive woodland.  A few interpretive plaques describe the plant life, which includes incense cedars and sagebrush.  The Nature Trail ends at a paved road near Group Camp 2.  Follow the road a short distance back to the day use area.

0:55 - Looking east toward Granite Mountain and the Anza-Borrego Desert from Glen's View

0:55 – Looking east toward Granite Mountain and the Anza-Borrego Desert from Glen’s View

In case you were wondering, William Heise was a local businessman who donated the land for this park back in the 1960s.

1:20 - Junction with the Nature Trail (turn left)

1:20 – Junction with the Nature Trail (turn left)

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.

1:38 - Paved road at the end of the nature trail leading back to the day use area

1:38 – Paved road at the end of the nature trail leading back to the day use area

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Hosp Grove Park

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Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Hosp Grove Park

  • Location: Carlsbad, near the intersection of I-5 and Highway 78, San Diego County.  From I-5, take the Las Flores Drive exit.  Turn left if you’re coming from San Diego or right if you’re coming from Orange County and follow the road to Jefferson St.  Turn right on Jefferson and follow it 0.7 miles to the park entrance on the right.  From San Marcos/Escondido, take Highway 78 west to Jefferson St.  Turn left on Jefferson, follow it 0.3 miles and turn right to stay on Jefferson.  The park entrance is on the left in 0.1 miles.
  • Agency: City of Carlsbad
  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map: Del Mar
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Park information here; Trip Advisor page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 2
0:00 - Hosp Grove trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Hosp Grove trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Purists might not be impressed with this short loop, which never really escapes the noise of the nearby streets–or perhaps put off by the presence of non-native eucalyptus trees–but most people would probably prefer to see this land in north San Diego County used as a public recreation spot than for retail or residential development.

There are a number of trails, both official and non-official, that run through the park.  It’s a pleasant place to take a stroll, by yourself, with friends, kids or a dog, without having to stick to a specific route.  The route described in “Afoot and Afield” is a good one to follow if you’re short on time and are looking for a quick way to get some exercise.

0:02 - Right turn past the playground at the beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

0:02 – Right turn past the playground at the beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signed trail at the east end of the parking lot.  A trail branches off left toward the Buena Vista Lagoon; stay right, pass the playground and  turn right again at a T-junction (the left route is your return.)  At the third intersection, head left, although you can explore the right fork which dead-ends if you have time.

0:04 - Left turn and ascent

0:04 – Left turn and ascent

The trail climbs–the only significant ascent on the route–through the eucalyptus grove.  You pass a few informal fire breaks and reach a Y-junction a little less than half a mile from the start.  Again if you have time, you can explore the right fork, which dead-ends in a residential neighborhood.  For this route, follow the left fork downhill and make a hairpin turn.  You return along on Monroe and Marron Streets, reaching the junction by the playground.

0:15 - Returning to the park

0:15 – Returning to the park

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.

Arroyo Verde Park (Ventura)

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

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

Oak in Arroyo Verde Park

Oak in Arroyo Verde Park

Arroyo Verde Park (Ventura)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:24 - The more gradual ascent up the wall

0:24 – The more gradual ascent up the wall

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

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

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

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

Mason Regional Park

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Open space in Mason Regional Park

Open space in Mason Regional Park

Shade trees in Mason Regional Park

Shade trees in Mason Regional Park

Mason Regional Park

  • Location: Irvine.  Free parking is available on the corner of Rosa Drew Drive and Tamarack Way.  From I-405, take the Jeffrey Rd./Unviersity Dr. exit.  Head west (left if you’re coming from the south, right if from the north) and go 0.7 miles to Rosa Drew Drive.  Turn right, go a short distance and park where available.
  • Agency:  Orange County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Tustin”
  • More information:  Mason Park homepage here; Yelp page here; park descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 2

The eastern part of William Mason Regional Park is known as the “Wilderness Area”, which may be a little generous (the majority of the trails are paved), but it’s still a nice and convenient place to get some fresh air and exercise.  Though some traffic noise can be heard, this section of the park has a pleasantly secluded feel. Dogs are allowed with a 6-foot leash.

0:00 - Beginning of the hike on Rosa Drew Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike on Rosa Drew Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the parking area on the east side of Rosa Drew Drive, cross the street and head south. Cross University, continue south and make a hard right on a paved walkway leading into the park. You cross a seasonal stream and head west on the path. Signed as the Sand Canyon Wash on park maps, this is the main artery through the wilderness area.

0:03 - Turn right into the park (times are approximate)

0:03 – Turn right into the park (times are approximate)

A few benches make for a nice place to sit and there’s a decent amount of shade from the willows. At 0.7 miles you reach a junction. The two paths soon rejoin but the left route, which briefly leaves the pavement, is more pleasant. If you go this way take an almost immediate right and continue walking on the trail before rejoining the paved walkway (0.9 miles.)

0:14 - Bear left onto the dirt trail

0:14 – Bear left onto the dirt trail

Soon after the paths converge, you reach an intersection. You can extend the hike by heading left but for this route, head right, continuing west. Stay straight at another intersection (the right route is a spur to University Drive). You make another stream crossing and travel in and out of shade.

0:21 - Turn right at the junction

0:21 – Turn right at the junction

At 1.3 miles, you reach a final junction, shortly before Culver Drive. Both routes lead a short distance to Culver, a good turnaround point. However, if you want to extend your hike, you can cross Culver Drive and walk through the more developed part of Mason Regional Park; this might be a fun option for families with small kids.

0:32 - Turnaround point (Culver Drive)

0:32 – Turnaround point (Culver Drive)

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.

Green Valley Falls

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Lower level of Green Valley Falls

Pines and manzanitas on the way to Green Valley Falls

Green Valley Falls

  • Location: Cuyamaca Mountains, eastern San Diego County.  From I-8, 40 miles east of San Diego, take Highway 79 north for 7 miles to the Green Valley Campground.   (Note the sharp left turn after 2 miles on Highway 79; follow the signs for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park).  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 15 miles and turn right into the parking area.  Day parking is $8 per vehicle.  Once you’re in the park, follow the signs to the picnic area, staying left at both intersections.  Park in the dirt area, a total of 2.7 miles from the park entrance, and begin hiking on the trail.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: Year round (best in the spring, or after rains)
  • USGS topo map: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • More information: Trip report here; maps here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

Stonewall Peak may be the big draw for hikers in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, but if you’ve come this far, make sure you check out Green Valley Falls.  It can be reached from the end of the Green Valley Falls campground with a short, quarter mile walk, but for hikers who want to explore more, there’s a lot to see in this corner of the park.

0:07 – Upper level of the waterfall (Times are approximate)

From the small parking lot at the picnic area, look for the signed Green Valley Falls trail heading downhill into a forest of oaks, pines and manzanitas. (The fire road at the other end of the lot also leads to the falls, but the trail is more scenic.) After a tenth of a mile, head right at a T-junction, where you soon arrive at the upper level of the waterfall. If you are careful, you can cross rocks and sit at the top of the waterfall, or you can scramble down the rocks to get a closer view.

0:10 – On the side of the canyon between the two waterfalls

The trail continues along the stream and descends through the woods, soon reaching the lower waterfall. The rocks can be deceptively slippery, but you can carefully traverse them to get a nice look at the two-tiered waterfall, about 15 feet tall, which spills into a wide pool.   After enjoying the pleasant sound and sights of the grotto, you can either retrace your steps, or continue to the trail, which soon reaches the fire road, where you’ll head right to return to the parking area.

0:13 – Lower level of the waterfall

Interestingly, the pleasant creek is actually a tributary of the Sweetwater River, which flows underneath I-8 a few miles west of Highway 79.  On your return, while heading toward San Diego on I-8, keep an eye out for a sign indicating the river; it may seem hard to believe that the same water flowing through the dry landscape has trickled down the waterfall you just saw.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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.

Stonewall Peak

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Looking north from Stonewall Peak to the Cuyamaca Reservoir

Looking southeast from Stonewall Peak

Stonewall Peak

  • Location: Cuyamaca Mountains, eastern San Diego County.  From I-8, 40 miles east of San Diego, take Highway 79 north for 12 miles to the Paso Pacacho Campground on the left side of the road, past the fire station.   (Note the sharp left turn after 2 miles on Highway 79; follow the signs for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park).  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 11 miles and turn right into the parking area.  Day parking is $8 per vehicle.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Easy Hiking in Southern California
  • More information: Trip report here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9

Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in San Diego County, and with the phenomenal views from the top, it’s no surprise.  The hike provides a lot of scenic rewards for only moderate effort.  For a lot of people, the real challenge is driving to the remote location, which is an hour from San Diego, about two hours from Orange County and three from downtown L.A.  Still, it makes a great weekend or long day trip.

From the Paso Picacho campground, cross Highway 79 (there’s not likely to be much traffic, but be careful anyway) and begin your ascent on the fire road signed for Stonewall Peak. You ascend through a meadow filled with trees that were burned in the 2003 and 2007 wildfires, and after 0.3 miles, the trail bends to the north and becomes a single-track.

For the next mile and a half, you ascend the switchbacks, taking in nice views of Lake Cuyamaca to the north and Cuyamaca Peak to the west. Giant pink and orange rocks and more burned trees help create a feeling of utter foreignness to the landscape.

At 1.8 miles from the start, the trail reaches a junction. Head right and begin your final push to the summit. The trail gives way to some rocks, so a little scrambling may be involved, but it’s not too difficult. For the last few yards, a metal railing separates the trail from a sheer drop to the east, and it encloses the tiny summit.

From the top, at 5,730 feet, the view includes the Cleveland National Forest and Laguna Mountains to the south and east, the bulk of Cuyamaca Peak to the west and the lake, surrounded by a wide valley, to the north. The rocks drop off sharply in all directions; while some people might be bummed that the railing encloses the summit, others will be grateful for it – it’s a LONG way down on all sides.

Although I give Garnet Peak a slight edge over Stonewall as the best hike in San Diego County, this one is a close second, and a must-do for any So Cal trail head.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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.

West Coyote Hills Tree Park (Fullerton)

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View from the top of the Coyote Hills Tree Park

On the trail in the tree park

West Coyote Hills Tree Park  (Fullerton)

    • Location: Coyote Hills Drive and Vintage Way, Fullerton.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Beach exit (highway 39) and head north for 3 miles.  Turn right on Rosecrans, go 1.2 miles and turn left on Gilbert.  Make a quick right on Coyote Hills Drive, and go 0.6 miles to the corner of Vintage Way.  From the 57 Freeway, take the Imperial Highway exit and head west for 4.3 miles.  Turn left on Idaho, and go 1.2 miles (Idaho becomes Gilbert along the way).  Turn left on Castlewood, go 0.2 miles and turn right on Coyote Hills.  Go 0.3 miles to Vintage.
    • Agency: City of Fullerton Parks and Recreation
    • Distance: 0.5 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Best season: Year-round
    • USGS topo map: Anaheim
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 2

Located in a quiet residential neighborhood, West Coyote Hills Tree Park is a great little place for an urban oasis. While the larger nature reserve nearby is still entangled in a legal controversy as the public fights for access, hikers can enjoy a nice stroll before or after work, or even during their lunch break, on a half-mile loop through this park.

From the corner of Vintage Way, take the path into the park and turn left. You follow the wide fire road through a pleasant grove of trees, and then bear right and begin heading uphill. The trail leads to North Parks Road, but you can make your route a little more interesting by turning right on a rough, single-track trail that has been cut through the bushes. You zigzag up the side of the hill and meet another trail. Head right, and follow the upper rim of the hillside, under the shade of more trees.

This brings you to a wide fire road that descends at a surprisingly steep angle. You get nice views of the Fullerton area, and possibly farther beyond if the weather is clear, but take care as you make your way down. At the bottom, turn right to complete the loop.

Like Fullerton’s other trails and natural areas, the West Coyote Hills Park is a nice place to know about if you want to get outdoors. It’s also a good way to keep kids active during the summer.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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.

Love Valley

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Lake Henshaw from the trail to Love Valley

Love Valley

Love Valley

  • Location: Cleveland National Forest, in the foothills southeast of the Palomar Mountains near Santa Ysabel.  From Interstate 15 south of Temecula, take highway 76 west for 30.3 miles.   Just before Lake Henshaw, turn left on East Grade Road (county road S-7).  Drive 3.3 miles and look for a big turnout on the left side of the road.  It used to be signed for Love Valley, but the sign is no longer there.  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: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: Palomar Observatory
  • More information: Trip report here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

This short but very scenic trip is one of the most enjoyable in the Palomars, and the wide vistas are not unlike the famous Panorama Trail of Yosemite National Park.  Although there are no waterfalls, the views of Lake Henshaw and the Volcan and Cuyamaca Mountains to the east are quite something; very much a pleasant surprise for hikers of San Diego and elsewhere.

The actual destination of the trail, Love Valley, is a wide open meadow, and it makes a great place for a picnic.  At 3,300 feet above sea level, it’s likely to be reasonably cool even into the summer months, and there are plenty of oak trees for shade.  There’s also a big red barn, completing the Americana feel.

From the parking area, walk around the metal gate and begin heading downhill on the fire road.  Soon you get some great views of Lake Henshaw and the mountains across the way.  The trail descends for 0.8 miles before arriving at a split.  Here, you can either walk straight and head to the barn, or you can go left (south), where you soon arrive at a small knoll dotted with oaks.  A short climb over some rocks gives you nice views of the lake.  The fire road becomes a single-track and continues south for a little ways, but this makes a good turnaround point.

To be sure, this hike is a little bit short to justify driving all the way from Orange County or L.A., but it certainly makes a nice trip from San Diego.  It can also easily be combined with a visit to the famous Palomar Mountain Observatory Trail, or perhaps Cuyamaca Rancho or Anza-Borrego State Parks.   It’s well worth making the effort to visit.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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.

Fry Creek Loop Trail

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Pines on the Fry Creek Trail

Oaks on the Fry Creek Trail

Fry Creek Loop Trail

  • Location: Cleveland National Forest near Pala.  From Interstate 15 south of Temecula, take highway 76 west for 21 miles.  Turn left on county road S-6 (South Grade Road), and head north for 7 miles.  Stay on S-6 at the junction with S-7.  Continue 2.6 miles (just past the Observatory campground) and look for the signed Fry Creek Campground on the left.  Park on the side of the road, by the gate.  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 Distridct
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: Palomar Observatory
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

This short loop, almost exactly across the street from the Palomar Mountain Observatory trailhead, takes in some of the area’s attractive high country.  Despite its brevity, the hike presents a few challenges: some people might feel the effects of the thin air; also the trail has some sharp drop-offs, which can be treacherous in the winter if there is snow or ice.

From the road, walk into the campground to the bulletin board at the entrance, and head right on the signed trail. You switchback uphill, through a mix of oaks and pines that is typical for the area. Less than a quarter mile in, you’ll cross a creek which may or may not have water. The trail levels out, crossing a second creek and arriving at a road in 0.8 miles.

On the opposite side of the road, continue uphill, quickly veering to the left. A few minutes of walking over some rocks brings you to a wide, open space where several trees have been cut down. The trail begins to swing around toward the east, heading back to complete the loop. It hugs the north side of a ridge, passing through a thick grove of pines that may remind hikers of the San Jacintos near Idyllwild or perhaps the slopes of Mt. Wilson.

At 1.8 miles, the trail makes a hairpin turn to the left and descends, arriving back at the paved road. Turn right and complete the loop. The Fry Creek Loop trail makes a nice side-trip if you’ve come to visit the Palomar Mountain Observatory Trail or the state park nearby.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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.

El Matador Beach

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Rocks and surf, El Matador Beach

Sea cave on El Matador Beach

El Matador Beach 

  • Location: 32210 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway for 24 miles.  Turn left into the signed parking lot for El Matador Beach (just after Trancas Canyon Road and before Encinal Canyon Road.)  Parking is $8 per car per day.
  • Agency: State of California
  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  Year round (low tide – check here for more information)
  • USGS topo map: “Malibu Beach”
  • Recommended gear: swim suit; beach towel
  • More information: here; Yelp reviews here
  • Rating: 6

Past Zuma Beach and Point Dume on the way to the Ventura County line, there are several small, less-visited beaches in Malibu.  One is El Matador, where swimmers–and hikers–can see some of the coastline’s most interesting geology, including some small sea caves and rugged bluffs.

From the parking area, head downhill on a steep, sometimes washed out path (families with small kids will want to take extra care here.) As you descend, you get dramatic aerial views of the beach almost immediately. The path becomes a metal staircase which takes you down to sea level. Head left (west), passing through a natural cut in the rocks. You pass a few small sea caves and eventually come to a steep wooden stepladder that leads to a private home. Beyond the ladder, a large rock outcropping blocks, for all practical purposes, any further progress. Past this, the coastline continues to La Piedra and El Pescador Beaches. The rock walls create a nice, secluded little cove where hikers can sit and watch the waves–and perhaps take a short swim–before heading back.

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.

Red Rock Canyon Park (Topanga)

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On the Red Rock Canyon Trail

Cave in Red Rock Canyon Park

Red Rock Canyon Park (Topanga)

    • Location: Topanga.  From P.C.H., drive north on Topanga Canyon Blvd. (route 27) for 4.3 miles.  Turn left on Old Topanga Canyon Road, drive 1.8 miles and turn left on Red Rock Road.  Drive 0.9 miles and park in the dirt lot for $5.  From Highway 101, take the Valley Circle/Mulholland Drive exit.  Head south on Valley Circle, which soon becomes Mulholland Drive.  Go a total of 0.8 miles and turn right on Valmar.  Go 1.2 miles (Valmar becomes Old Topanga Canyon Road on the way) and turn right on Mulholland Highway.  Make a quick left onto Old Topanga Canyon Road, drive 3.8 miles and makea  right on Red Rock Road.
    • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 2.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 500 feet
    • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season: Year-round
    • USGS topo map: “Malibu Beach”
    • Recommended gear: sun hat
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7

Secluded Red Rock Canyon Park (not to be confused with the state park farther north in the Mojave desert or the rocks in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County) has some of the best geological scenery in the Santa Monica Mountains, if not all of So-Cal. Dramatic views of Calabasas Peak and the Topanga Ridge don’t hurt either.

From the dirt lot, head into the park on a wide fire road. A few stairs on the left side of the path lead to a sandstone cave, a nice detour worth checking out. The main road continues, eventually working its way up to the Calabasas Motowrway, but the route here will head right on a narrow trail shortly after the caves. You dip into a canyon and then begin climbing.

As you ascend the Red Rock Trail, you’ll be rewarded with great views of the surrounding area, and you’ll pass by some surrealistically shaped sandstone and volcanic outcrops, in a wide variety of colors from red to pink to orange to brown. The route is a little steep in spots, but before long you arrive at a sort of mini-summit which serves as an overlook, giving a nearly 360 degree view of the area. This is the turnaround point for this hike, but you can continue on the other side of the overlook.

Red Rock Canyon can also be reached from Stunt Road (the same trail head for Calabasas Peak.) For a description of that route, click here.

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.

Malibu Bluffs Park

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Ocean view from Malibu Bluffs

Footbridge on the trail in Malibu Bluffs

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Malibu Bluffs Park

  • Location: 24250 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway for 13 miles.  Turn left onto Malibu Canyon Road and into the park.
  • Agency: City of Malibu/Malibu Bluffs State Recreation Area
  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Malibu Beach”
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 5
Perfectly manicured Malibu Bluffs Park might not seem like a jumping off point for a hike, but the trails that leave from here make for a nice loop with great ocean and mountain views.  If you don’t mind the noise from nearby Pacific Coast Highway, this trip is quite the enjoyable little excursion.

From the parking lot, head west along the trail that parallels Pacific Coast Highway. Stay right at the first junction and head toward the end of the bluffs, taking in nice views of Point Dume (and the brilliant green lawns of Pepperdine University). The trail loops around the west end of the park and heads back.

Soon, you cross a footbridge and reach a split. Head right (the other paths will take you back to the parking lot if you want to cut the hike short). The trail heads uphill before reaching the back end of the park by the baseball fields. Head left on the paved path and follow it back to the parking lot.

Piuma Overlook

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Ocean view from Piuma Ridge

Goat Buttes in Malibu Creek State Park from Piuma Ridge

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Piuma Overlook

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu Creek State Park, on Piuma Road.  From Pacific Coast Highway, take Las Flores Road north for 3.4 miles.  Turn right on Rambla Pacifico, go 0.6 miles and merge onto Piuma Road.  At 3.4 miles, look for a small dirt turnout on the left side of the road.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Malibu Beach”
  • More information: here
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock
  • Rating: 5

This short, but surprisingly challenging hike, takes in some great views, including the Goat Buttes of Malibu Creek State Park, the ocean, the San Fernando Valley, the Saddle Peak complex and more.  While it might be a little bit short to be considered a “must do”, it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

From the small turnout on the side of Piuma Road, ascend on a fire road.  The trail climbs quickly, taking in nice views, and soon arriving at a picnic area.  On the opposite side of the clearing, look for a rough trail heading downhill.  The trail descends back to Piuma Road, getting quite close to the edge of the cliff.  Some of the terrain here is tricky; don’t underestimate it.  In addition, the path is overgrown in places.  But soon, you arrive at another turnout on Piuma Road where you can get nice views of the ocean and of Malibu Canyon before retracing your steps.  With appropriate caution, you can also make a loop of the hike by returning to your starting point via Piuma Road.

Whitney Canyon

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In Whitney Canyon

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Whitney Canyon

  • Location: Santa Clarita.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit.  If you’re coming from the south, turn right; the north, left, and drive to the end of the street and park in the dirt lot.  (If the lot is full, you may need to use the lower lot, where there is a $5 fee.)
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo maps: Oat Mountain, San Fernando
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information:  here
  • Rating: 5

No, it’s not that Whitney.

Located just off the 14 freeway, Whitney Canyon in Santa Clarita is proof that residents of the San Fernando and Antelope Valleys need not travel far to escape the summer heat.

While the trail takes a little while to escape the noise of the freeway, before long, it’s going to be hard to believe you’re as close to civilization as you are.   From the lower parking lot, follow the trail into Whitney Canyon.  Stay left as the Santa Clarita Divide Road branches off, and stay left again as a smaller trail splits.  The fire road becomes a single-track as you make your way east under the cover of oaks, accompanied by the sound of the seasonal Whitney Canyon Creek.

You cross two sets of power lines, and after the second, look for a crumbling stone wall on the right.  Here, another canyon comes in, and you can get a look at a small marsh, and perhaps see (and smell) the sulfur spring within it.

At a mile in, this spot makes a good turnaround point.  If you want to extend the hike, head left and continue along the creek, crossing it a few times.  Passage becomes trickier the farther you go, so be your own judge.

If the weather is cool enough and you have time and energy, you can check out the Santa Clarita Divide Road, which ascends into the Angeles National Forest and hooks up with the Manzanita Mountain Loop–gaining almost 2,000 feet along the way.

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary: South Loop

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Pond at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary: South Loop

  • Location: 5 Riparian View, Irvine.   From the 405 Freeway, take the Jamboree exit.  Go south for 0.9 miles on Jamboree, turn left on Campus.  Drive a mile to University, make a U-turn and turn right on Riparian View, and follow the signs to the parking area.
  • Agency:  Sea and Sage Audubon Society
  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Tustin”
  • More information:  here
  • Rating: 2

Like the Madrona Marsh of Torrance, the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary offers a quick and convenient urban escape, where people can walk in nature and check out some marshlands and wildlife.  Although it’s hard to ignore the sounds of the nearby 405 freeway and Jamboree Road, the trees block out much of the urban landscape.

There are quite a few trails to choose from here.  The South Loop, which is 1.4 miles, tours a few of the sanctuary’s large ponds.  To get there, walk through the garden where interpretive plaques describe some of the wildlife in the area and provide interesting trivia (such as that bees in some way effect one out of every three bites of food we take.)

After strolling through the garden, you pick up the South Loop Trail.  It can be hiked in either direction.  Along the way, you pass several side trails that you can explore, although the main route should be obvious.  There area  few spots where the trees open and you can get a nice look at the ponds.  The South Loop circles ponds 1, 2 and 5, and passes by 3, before returning.  (You can pick up a map in the garden to follow your route, and check out some of the other trails in the park.)

It should come as no surprise that the sanctuary doesn’t present much of a wilderness experience, but for busy commuters who want to get out into nature on their lunch break or before or after work, it’s perfect.  Even veteran hikers should keep this trail in mind for beating the summer heat and getting their outdoor fix between bigger trips.

Badlands Trail (Laguna Niguel)

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Ocean view from Badlands Park

Looking south toward Dana Point

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Badlands Trail (Laguna Niguel)

  • Location: Laguna Niguel.  From I-5, take the Alicia Parkway exit.  Drive 5.9 miles to Pacific Island Drive and turn right.  Go 1.7 miles and turn right on Ocean Way.  Go 0.2 miles and turn left on Isle Vista.  The street ends at a gated community but parking is available on the curb.  Walk to a staircase just before the gate, that leads up to the park.  From Pacific Coast Highway, take Crown Valley Parkway 0.8 miles.  Turn left on Pacific Island Drive and left onto Ocean Way.
  • Agency: City of Laguna Niguel/County of Orange
  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “San Juan Capistrano”
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Orange County
  • More information:  here
  • Rating: 5

For most people, the name “Badlands” conjures up images of rugged rock formations in the western plains of Nebraska and South Dakota.  However, the badlands of Laguna Niguel, while not as famous as those in the midwest, are well worth a visit if you’re in the area.  You can also expect some panoramic ocean views as well.

From the end of Isle Vista, walk up a staircase and take a left on the Seaview Trail.  (The trail continues to the right, an option if you want to extend the hike.)   Head right at a staircase that heads down to the park, where you can see the interesting rock formations.  The Badlands Trail continues on the left, working its way around the backs of the houses in the gated community.  You get great views to the north, including Aliso Peak and the distant Palos Verdes Peninsula, and when you round a bend, you can see farther south, past Dana Point andtoward San Diego.  A rough trail branches off to the right, where you can descend to a clearing where you get closer views of the ocean.The main trail continues, passing the end of the residential street Monarch Crest, and continues southeast for a little ways, over the top of a steep and deep canyon.  Just over half a mile from the park, you arrive at a sign indicating the end of the county trail.  Here you can enjoy nice views of the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains and Dana Point before heading back.

The Badlands Trail is a great way for people who are new to hiking to explore some of Orange County’s great scenery, and even veterans will be impressed by the ocean views and unique geology.  True, the trail never escapes the sights and sounds of the residential community nearby or P.C.H. below, but it’s a good one to keep in mind if you only have a little bit time.  The coming summer heat is another reason to keep this trail in mind.

Gum Grove Park

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Super Macro Lens fun in Gum Grove Park

On the trail in Gum Grove Park

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.  The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here.   Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Gum Grove Park

  • Location: Seal Beach.  From Pacific Coast Highway, go northeast (right if you’re coming from the south, left if from the north) on 5th St.  Take an immediate left on Coastline, a quick right on Catalina and a left on Avalon and drive to the end of the street.  The trail can also be accessed from the parking lot on Heron St. at Seal Beach Blvd.
  • Agency:  Los Cerritos Wetlands
  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation gain Level – 100 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map:  Seal Beach
  • More information: here; video of walking dogs in the park here
  • Rating: 1

Though it is not very well known outside the area, Gum Grove Park of Seal Beach is a popular destination for dog walking, bird watching and seeing springtime wildflowers.  Located between a residential neighborhood and an industrial area of Long Beach, the small park provides a nice, shady getaway.

From the parking area, you can head east on either a dirt fire road or, for a more enjoyable trip, on a single-track trail that leads under the trees.  The path splits several times, heading up the slight incline in some places and down toward the fire road in others, but all routes eventually join up again, so pick whichever you want.

After half a mile, the trail leaves the woods and comes to a split.  The main road continues toward the parking area off of Seal Beach Blvd., the turnaround point, but you can also extend your walk by visitin the Heron Pointe cultural center.  Here, interpretive plaques describe the history of the area.

Though it’s not a hike, per se, the nearby old town area of Seal Beach and its pier make a great stop either before or after visiting Gum Grove.   Hardcore veteran hikers will probably not need to treat Gum Grove as a “must do”, but for people who want to get their kids–or themselves–off the couch and out into nature, it’s an enjoyable and accessible place to do so.

Big Falls

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Big Falls (click image to purchase from the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Gallery)

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.  The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here.   Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Big Falls

  • Location: Forest Falls in the San Bernardino National Forest.  From I-10 in Redlands, take the University Ave. exit, go right and take an immediate left on Citrus.  Go 2.6 miles and take a left on Crafton.  Go a mile and turn right on Mentone Blvd (highway 38).  Go 10.5 miles and take a slight right on Valley of the Falls Drive (where highway 38 makes a hairpin turn to the left).  Drive 4 miles to the end of the road and park in the lot signed for the Big Falls trailhead.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required to park here. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Mill Creek Ranger Station
  • Distance: 0.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map:  Forest Falls
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: here; video of the waterfall here
  • Rating: 5

This unimaginatively, but accurately, named waterfall is one of So-Cal’s tallest.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to get a good look at the entire multi-level waterfall, but it’s impressive upper tier can be seen with a short walk from Forest Falls.

The hike to the waterfall is certainly not difficult, but with a tricky stream crossing and a somewhat steep ascent over potentially slippery rocks, it may be tougher than it first appears.

From the parking area, follow the signs for the waterfall trail. The path may be a little tough to follow, but it will usually be designated with a row of rocks on either side. In general, it stays close to the drop-off to Mill Creek, before descending down to it. The creek usually flows quickly and can be over a foot deep in spots. There are several rocks and logs that you can use to make the crossing (as of this writing, the best place seems to be a pair of logs a little downstream from where the trail crosses.

Across Mill Creek, look for a signed trail leading uphill along the side of a rocky cliff, climbing to an overlook where you can see the waterfall’s upper tier. On the way back, you can get a closer look at the lower tiers of the falls, but climbing up on these rocks is not advisable–signs posted here will warn you to that effect. Although it would be nice to be able to safely see the lower levels of the waterfall, this is still a nice place to sit and take a break before heading back to your car.

Big Rock Lateral (Tuna Canyon Park)

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Ocean view from Big Rock Lateral

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.  The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here.   Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Big Rock Lateral (Tuna Canyon Park)

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains between Topanga and Malibu.  From Topanga Blvd., go right on Fernwood and drive a total of 3.9 miles.  On the way, the road changes names to Tuna Canyon.  There are a lot of twists and turns, so make sure you stay on Fernwood/La Tuna.  Shortly after baring left at the intersections with Saddle Peak Road and Las Flores Heights Road, look for a dirt parking area where the road bends to the left.  An abandoned phone booth marks the spot.  From the 101 freeway, take the Las Virgenes Road exit and head south for 3.1 miles.  Turn left on Mulholland and drive 4 miles to Stunt Road.  Turn right on Stunt and drive 4 miles to Saddle Peak Road and take a slight left (this intersection also serves as a parking area for the Backbone Trail) and go 3.2 miles.  Take a hard right on Tuna Canyon Road and drive a mile to the trailhead.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 7

There aren’t many places in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains where you can hike on a Saturday afternoon and not see a soul (or in my case, none until I was almost back to the car), but obscure Tuna Canyon Park is such a place.  As the crow flies, the park doesn’t seem all that far from Malibu and Topanga, but getting there can be a little tricky, especially since the section of Tuna Canyon Road below the park is one-way southbound, meaning that it can’t be reached from Pacific Crest Highway (although if you’re coming from Santa Monica, you can return this way).  Even Tuna Canyon Park’s name can be confusing; it can easily be mistaken for the similar La Tuna Canyon Park in Burbank.

The good news is that once you get to the park, navigation couldn’t be easier.  There are several trails and fire roads here to explore.  The destination of this route is the Big Rock Lateral, a fire road in the southwestern corner of the park, where you can enjoy great ocean and mountain views.

From the fire road, head uphill past the white gate and take your first right onto Big Rock Motorway.  The road heads through some pleasant rolling hills, passing by some red sandstone rocks.  The ocean views are good already, and will get better.

After a few minutes, stay right on the Big Rock Motorway as the Budwood Motorway branches off to the left.  The road makes a descent and then a short climb to reach a junction with the Big Rock Lateral.  Head right and downhill on a slightly rougher road.  Big Rock Lateral passes by two clearings, where you will make hard lefts and continue downhill, to the road’s end.  Here you can sit and enjoy some ocean views.  Being a reverse hike, the ascent back to the car is a bit of a workout, but you have more scenery to enjoy on the way, including Saddle Peak and Las Flores Canyon.  This hike is definitely an overlooked treasure of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Sycamore Canyon Park (Diamond Bar)

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Nature trail in Sycamore Canyon Park

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Sycamore Canyon Park (Diamond Bar)

  • Location: Diamond Bar, on Diamond Bar Blvd. across from Steep Canyon Road.  From the 57/60 freeways, take the Grand Ave. exit.  Go southeast on Grand for a mile.  Turn left on Diamond Bar Blvd., go 0.4 miles and make a U-turn at the intersection with Steep Canyon Road.  The parking lot will be immediately on your right.  From Riverside, take the 60 freeway to Diamond Bar Blvd.  Go south for 1.4 miles and the entrance will be on your right.
  • Agency: River & Mountains Conservancy
  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season:  Year-round
  • USGS topo map: “San Dimas”
  • More information:  here
  • Rating: 2
Sycamore Canyon Park in Diamond Bar is a pleasant neighborhood park that happens to have a short but sweet hiking trail.  The trail can be accessed from the lower end of the park as well as from the upper end, as described here.From the parking lot, take the trail to a steep staircase heading down to the right.  At the bottom, continue along the path as it descends into the canyon.  The trail continues under oaks and sycamores, alongside a seasonal stream.  A nice viewing area with benches off to the right makes for a good place to stop and enjoy the scene.  The trail continues before emerging in the lower parking lot, near the main area of the park.

Of course, it’s hard not to wish that the trail was longer, but it just goes to show that when it comes to nature and outdoor spaces, a little bit is better than none.  Like other neighborhood trails, Sycamore Canyon is a great place to take young kids, and it makes for a nice, convenient walk after or before work, or even during a lunch break.  It can also easily be combined with the Steep Canyon Loop, which is just around the corner.