Tag Archives: nature

Sierra Pelona Loop


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Baldy and the San Gabriels from Sierra Pelona

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Sierra Pelona

Rolling hills below Sierra Pelona

Rolling hills below Sierra Pelona

Sierra Pelona Loop

  • Location: Sierra Pelona Mountains west of Palmdale and north of Santa Clarita.  From L.A. take the 14 Freeway to the Red Rover Mine exit.  Merge onto Ward Road, go 0.3 miles and continue onto Sierra Highway.  Go a mile and bear right on Shannondale Road.  Go 0.7 miles and turn right on Shannon Valley Road.  Go 0.8 miles and turn left on Via Famero.  Go 0.1 miles and turn right on Shannon View Road, a narrow single-lane that climbs up the side of the mountain (be careful).  Along the way it becomes Telephone Road.  After a total of 2.6 miles, just past a run-down metal gate, you reach a junction with the Sierra Peloma West Mountainway.  Park in a small dirt turnout at the junction.
  • Agency: Ritter Ranch Park
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Sleepy Valley; Ritter Ridge
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

The Sierra Pelona Mountains lie between the Santa Clarita Valley and Antelope Valley.  If the weather is clear, views of both are great and you can also see the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Susanas and a little bit of the Tehachapis.  This loop–entirely fire roads and paved roads–tours Ritter Ranch, a large park under the jurisdiction of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.  There is no shade but depending on the time of day, the sun may be blocked by the hills.  Since the loop reaches a mile above sea level, it can be cold (and windy) during the winter so plan accordingly.

0:00 - Start of the hike on the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The loop can be hiked in either direction but this post will describe the counter-clockwise direction, allowing a scenic ascent through a canyon (as opposed to an exposed climb on a fire road). Though the loop never gets too far away from civilization–notably due to its proximity to the 14 Freeway and the high presence of power lines and communications towers–it often feels pleasantly rugged and isolated.

0:46 - Bear left at the junction (times are approximate)

0:46 – Bear left at the junction (times are approximate)

From the junction of Telephone Road and the Sierra Pelona West Mountainway, head right and start a long, crooked descent along the eastern side of the ridge. On the way down you are treated to wide-ranging views of the Antelope Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains. Ignoring several short spurs that branch off (when in doubt, keep descending), you arrive at a junction at 2 miles. Bear left and continue to a 5-way junction where you will follow the second fork from the left, resuming the descent.  The trail makes a few switchbacks as it drops into a shallow canyon, reaching a T-junction 3 miles from the start.

0:54 - Left turn at the 5-way junction

0:54 – Left turn at the 5-way junction

Turn right and begin a gradual descent down the canyon. Unlike the higher terrain, the canyon is pleasantly wooded, with a grove of juniper trees on the left side. The trail heads north and then west, entering a wide pasture with a nice view of the rounded hills ahead.

1:17 - Turn right and follow the trail down the canyon

1:17 – Turn right and follow the trail down the canyon

At about 3.8 miles, you begin a long, steady ascent, first heading southwest into a canyon and then making a twisting ascent along the north side of the ridge. At 5.4 miles, stay left as you join the Ana Verde Motorway.

Continuing your ascent, you arrive at a saddle after about 1,200 feet of climbing (6.7 miles from the start). Here you are rewarded for your efforts with nice views to the west. When you’re ready to continue, turn left on the Ana Verde Motorway. Stay left again at the next junction and resume your ascent, following a portion of the shorter Ritter Ranch Loop.

2:15 - Stay left at the junction with the Ana Verde Motorway

2:15 – Stay left at the junction with the Ana Verde Motorway

Your long ascent finally ascends at 8.3 miles as you reach the top of Sierra Pelona. There’s not much of a summit, per se, but at the top of the ridge you get excellent views in both directions. The next mile or so is more or less level as you pass some communication towers before making a final descent back to the parking area.

3:00 - View from the saddle (turn left)

3:00 – View from the saddle (turn left)

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.

4:00 - Antennas near the top of Sierra Pelona

4:00 – Antennas near the top of Sierra Pelona

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Coachella Valley Preserve (Pushwalla, Horseshoe & Hidden Palms)


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Morning sun at the Pushwalla Palm Grove, Coachella Valley Preserve

Morning sun at the Pushwalla Palm Grove, Coachella Valley Preserve

Following the ridge on Bee Rock Mesa, Coachella Valley Preserve

Following the ridge on Bee Rock Mesa, Coachella Valley Preserve

Coachella Valley Preserve (Pushwalla, Horseshoe & Hidden Palms)

  • Location: East of Palm Springs, Coachella Valley.  From I-10, take the Bob Hope Drive exit.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn left and go 4.8 miles to Thousand Palms Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 1.8 miles to a turnout on the right side of the road. This is the trailhead but you can also visit the visitor’s center, a little farther down the road, for more information.  Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency:  Coachella Valley Preserve
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo map: “Myoma”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information:  Preserve homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The expansive (over 20,000 acres) preserve features several oases of wild California Fan palms, the only palm species native to California, which can live up to 250 years.  With 25 miles of trails, there are plenty of options for hiking (or horseback riding, which is popular here).  The route described in this post is based on the entry in “Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire”, visiting three of the palm groves and taking in some nice views of the San Jacinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains. There are a few spots where the terrain is somewhat rough and navigation can be a little tricky, although the trails are well signed for the most part and well used; odds are there will be footprints to point you in the right direction. Several small washes cross the valley but the trails typically just go right through them and continue on the other side.

0:05 - The stairs (times are approximate)

0:05 – The stairs (times are approximate)

From the parking area just south of the visitor center, follow the signs for the Pushwalla Trail. The trail heads southeast toward a steep staircase cut into a ridge known as Bee Rock Mesa. After climbing the stairs you reach a junction with the Hidden Palms Trail, your return route.

0:07 - Junction at the top of the stairs; turn left on the Pushwalla Trail

0:07 – Junction at the top of the stairs; turn left on the Pushwalla Trail

Bear left and continue your ascent, following what might be described as the Coachella Valley’s version of Mt. Baldy’s Devil’s Backbone. The trail cuts along the narrow top of the ridge; hiking poles aren’t necessary but they may provide some security for hikers who are sensitive to heights.

0:36 - Descending toward the first junction (stay right and on the ridge)

0:36 – Descending toward the first junction (stay right and on the ridge)

A mile of ups and downs brings you to a junction. Both forks lead to the Pushwalla grove, but the quicker route is to stay right. You climb again and then make a twisting, roller coaster-like descent off the ridge to another junction (1.8 miles from the start.)

0:47 - Descending into the canyon toward the Pushwalla Palms

0:47 – Descending into the canyon toward the Pushwalla Palms

Turn left and begin a mile-long detour to the Pushwalla Palms. The trail drops into a narrow slot canyon; the terrain is rugged but not too hazardous. Following the canyon, you reach the south end of the grove. Turn north and head toward the main group of pines (2.3 miles). The trail continues, eventually looping back toward Bee Rock Mesa, but to follow the route as described in the guidebook, retrace your steps to the junction.

0:55 - Main grove at Pushwalla; turnaround point for the spur

0:55 – Main grove at Pushwalla; turnaround point for the spur

Back on the main trail, continue south for a short distance before making a sharp right turn (look for a sign) toward the Horseshoe Palms. You pass by this grove, meeting up with a jeep trail (3.2 miles.) Bear right and head west, then south, toward Hidden Palms.

1:15  - Take a sharp right and head toward the Horseshoe Pines

1:15 – Take a sharp right and head toward the Horseshoe Pines

At 3.9 miles, you make another right turn to reach the Hidden Palms Oasis. The dirt road continues northwest past the palms, although you can wander among them as you like. Past the oasis, the trail becomes a single-track, signed for the visitor’s center.

You climb out of the canyon on the single-track, staying left at the first two junctions.  At the third, shortly before you reach some power lines, bear right and complete the loop by returning to the junction with the Pushwalla Trail.  Descend the steps and return to the parking area.

1:50 - Hidden Palms Oasis

1:50 – Hidden Palms 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.

2:20 - Bear right at the fork before the power lines and return to the junction at Bee Rock Mesa

2:20 – Bear right at the fork before the power lines and return to the junction at Bee Rock Mesa

Sierra Peak


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Looking east toward San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from Sierra Peak

Looking east toward San Gorgonio and San Jacintofrom Sierra Peak

Skyline Drive, the route to Sierra Peak

Descending from Sierra Peak via Skyline Drive

Sierra Peak

  • Location: Corona.  From the south, take I-15 to El Cerrito.  Turn left and go a total of 4.4 miles on El Cerrito, which becomes Foothill Parkway.  At Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park on Foothill Parkway facing east in one of the few spots designated for the Skyline Trail.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Lincoln Exit and head south (left if you’re coming from the west, right if from Riverside) and go 2.6 miles to Foothill Parkway.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to the intersection with Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park where available facing east on Foothill Parkway.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 15 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,000 feet
  • Suggested time: 7 hours
  • Difficulty rating: R (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: November – March
  • USGS topo maps: Black Star Canyon, Corona South
  • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip description here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

Sierra Peak (elevation 3,045) is the northernmost major summit of the Santa Ana Mountains.  On clear days, the views both on the ascent and at the summit are outstanding.  Though it requires significant endurance to reach the summit, the terrain and navigation couldn’t be easier, making this a good training hike.

From the parking area, follow the paved Skyline Drive trail south then west around the back of a residential neighborhood. While this first part of the hike is less than truly inspiring, once you leave the houses behind at half a mile, passing by a metal gate into Cleveland National Forest land, the terrain becomes more scenic as you make your way up Tin Mine Canyon.

0:25 - Heading up Tin Mine Canyon on Skyline Drive past the metal gate (times are approximate)

0:15 – Heading up Tin Mine Canyon on Skyline Drive past the metal gate (times are approximate)

At just over a mile, Skyline Drive makes a sharp right turn and begins its ascent. For the next 3.3 miles, it winds along the side of a ridge, alternately providing nice views of the Inland Empire and all three major ranges (San Gabriels, San Bernardinos and San Jacintos) and of the Santa Anas themselves. As you make your way higher, you’ll see the ridgeline of Main Divide Road.

0:25 - Beginning of the ascent past the Tin Mine Canyon turnoff

0:25 – Beginning of the ascent past the Tin Mine Canyon turnoff

At 4.3 miles, the trail dips down to a saddle before climbing back to reach a junction called Oak Flat, with several communications towers (5 miles.) Head right on Main Divide Road, threading your way between two parcels of private land. For the next 2.5 miles, the trail continues to follow a ridge. Although Sierra Peak is only 350 feet higher than Oak Flat, several significant ups and downs along the way add up to over 1,000 feet of total elevation gain coming and going.

1:00 - View of the San Gabriels from Skyline Drive

1:00 – View of the San Gabriels from Skyline Drive

The great views to the east continue, and if you’re lucky you may get a glimpse of Catalina Island. You’ll also likely notice Sierra Peak’s antenna-covered summit ahead of you to the north. At 6.6 miles, stay straight as another fire road branches off to the left. You make a significant drop to a saddle and then one final climb to a short spur leading to the summit.

2:00 - Oak Flat; turn right on Main Divide

2:10 – Oak Flat; turn right on Main Divide

As on Santiago Peak, the antennas block the view, but it’s still possible to find places to sit and enjoy the panorama. You get a nearly aerial perspective on the Chino Hills and north Orange County, with the 91 Freeway slipping by below.  After resting your legs return via the same route.

2:30 - View of Catalina Island and Orange County from Main Divide

2:30 – View of Catalina Island and Orange County from Main Divide

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.

3:05 - Summit of Sierra Peak (looking west)

3:15 – Summit of Sierra Peak (looking west)

Forster Ridgeline Trail (San Clemente)


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Looking west from the Forster Ridgeline Trail

Looking west from the Forster Ridgeline Trail

Ocean view from south of the Rock Garden, Forster Ridgeline Trail

Ocean view from south of the Rock Garden, Forster Ridgeline Trail

Forster Ridgeline Trail (San Clemente)

    • Location: San Clemente.  From I-5 take the Camino Estrella.  Head northeast (left if you’re coming from the north; right if from the south) and go a total of 2.5 miles (Camino Estrella becomes Camino De Los Mares).  Parking is available on Camino De Los Mares just past the intersection with Diamante.
    • Agency: City of San Clemente; City of San Juan Capistrano
    • Distance: 7.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season: October – June
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • USGS topo map:  San Clemente
    • More information: San Clemente information page here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here; trail map here
    • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead at the north end of Camino De Los Mares (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead at the north end of Camino De Los Mares (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike is basically a longer and more challenging version of the nearby Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail.  There isn’t a whole lot of scenic variety but you do get some nice views of the ocean, the hills of south Orange County and if the weather is good, the San Gabriels and Catalina Island.  It’s basically an urban hike; the sights and sounds of civilization are with you throughout, but it provides a very good workout that’s conveniently located to south O.C.

0:06 - Sharp right on the connector trail toward Forster Ridgeline (times are approximate)

0:06 – Sharp right on the connector trail toward Forster Ridgeline (times are approximate)

From the north end of Camino De Los Mares, pass through the gate and begin hiking on the Los Mares Trail (part of the San Juan Capistrano trail system.) At 0.2 miles, make a sharp right on a trail that will bring you to the Forester Ridgeline Trail. It dips down into a grove of eucalyptus trees, passes a treatment facility and rises to a bend where you get a nice view of the ocean to the south.

0:48 - Ocean view from the power lines (take a hard right to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail)

0:48 – Ocean view from the power lines (take a hard right to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail)

From here, the trail begins its first major ascent, steadily climbing over 400 feet. At 1.9 miles you reach a clearing beneath power lines where the Talega Trail branches off to the left. Take a hard right to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail, which descends, now heading south.

1:18 - Ocean view from the "Rock Garden" (turn left and head south to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail)

1:18 – Ocean view from the “Rock Garden” (turn left and head south to continue on the Forster Ridgeline Trail)

At 2.4 miles, you pass a spur on the right leading to Camino Del Rio. Soon after the trail splits; the steep right fork leads to a vista point while the left fork loops around the side of the hill. The trails soon rejoin.

At 2.9 miles you reach another split. Head left (the right fork leads to an alternative trailhead on Costero Risco.) You climb a place known as the Rock Garden (3.1 miles) where fossilized rocks are inscribed with inspirational quotes from the likes of William Wordsworth and Marie Curie and a short spur leads to a scenic vista point. You can enjoy a 360-degree panorama which is probably the most scenic point on the hike and a good turnaround point if you are short on time.

1:30 - Geographical trivia on the southern end of the Forster Ridgeline Trail

1:30 – Geographical trivia on the southern end of the Forster Ridgeline Trail

If you want to continue, take the left fork at the junction and continue south, descending about 300 feet over the next 0.6 miles to Avenue Vista Hermosa, the turnaround point. This last stretch has some good near bird’s eye-views of the surrounding residential areas.

1:40 - Turnaround point, Vista Hermosa

1:40 – Turnaround point, Vista Hermosa

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.

Calabasas Peak from Old Topanga Canyon Road


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Looking west from Calabasas Peak

Looking west from Calabasas Peak

Geology on the Calabasas Peak Motorway

Geology on the Calabasas Peak Motorway

Calabasas Peak from Old Topanga Canyon Road

    • Location: Eastern Santa Monica Mountains between Topanga and Calabasas.  From Pacific Coast Highway, take Topanga Canyon Blvd. (Highway 27) north for 4.3 miles.  Turn left on Old Topanga Canyon Road and drive 4.1 miles to an intersection with the Calabasas Peak Motorway and Summit to Summit Motorway.  Park in a dirt turnout on the left side of the road. From Highway 101, take the Topanga Canyon Blvd. exit and head south for 1.4 miles.  Turn right on Mulholland Drive and go 0.5 miles to Mulholland Highway.  Turn left and go 1.7 miles to Old Topanga Canyon Blvd.  Turn left and drive a total of 1.6 miles to the intersection with the Calabasas Peak and Summit to Summit motorways and park in a dirt turnout on the left side of the road.
    • Agency:  Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 4.2 miles
    • Elevation gain:  850 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo map: Calabasas; Malibu Beach
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
    • More information: Area map here; Everytrail report here; Strava page here (route goes all the way to Stunt Road)
    • Rating: 7

Calabasas Peak can be reached from the south starting at Stunt Road or from the west via the Secret Trail.  In this post, we’ll look at a third approach from the northwest, starting from Old Topanga Canyon Road.  This approach is probably the easiest of the three, although it still provides a good workout.  In addition to the 360-degree view from the summit, highlights of this hike include nice views of the San Gabriel Valley, the Topa Topa mountains north of Ojai and the San Gabriels.

0:00 - Start of the hike, Old Topanga Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike, Old Topanga Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From Old Topanga Canyon Road, head up the driveway, bearing left at a fork, and look for the trail branching off to the right.  You climb around the side of a ridge, soon reaching a fire road.  You make your way along the Calabasas Peak Motorway, noticing the summit itself in the distance to the south.  Also in your line of sight is the ocean, the western Santa Monicas including Ladyface, Castro Peak and the Boney/Sandstone complex, and the western San Fernando Valley.

0:06 - View from the start of the fire road (times are approximate)

0:06 – View from the start of the fire road (times are approximate)

A short but steep ascent brings you to the top of a knoll, about a mile from the start. The trail begins a descent, soon meeting with the Calabasas Cold Creek Trail (aka the Secret Trail) 1.3 miles from the start. This is a nice place to stop; there are some interesting sandstone formations to see and the view of the ocean to the south are great.

Continuing south along the motorway, you make your ascent a saddle just below the peak. At 2 miles, take a hairpin right turn and follow the ridge toward the summit.

0:36 - Outcrops at the junction with the Secret Trail

0:36 – Outcrops at the junction with the Secret Trail

After enjoying what can be one of the best views in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains, retrace your steps. This hike can also work well as a point-to-point by leaving another car at either the Stunt or Secret trailheads.

0:54 - Hard right on the ridge to the summit

0:54 – Hard right on the ridge to the summit

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.

1:00 - Looking north from Calabasas Peak

1:00 – Looking north from Calabasas Peak

Fisherman’s Camp Loop (San Mateo Canyon Wilderness)


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Fall colors in San Mateo Canyon

Fall colors in San Mateo Canyon

Sunlight through the oaks, San Mateo Canyon

Sunlight through the oaks, San Mateo Canyon

Fisherman’s Camp Loop (San Mateo Canyon Wilderness)

  • Location: Southeast Riverside County, Cleveland National Forest.  From I-15 in Murrieta, take the Clinton Keith Road exit and head southwest (right if you’re coming from the north, left if from the south).  Go a total of 6.8 miles, past the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.  On the way, the street name changes to Tenaja Road.  Take a right at a junction to stay on Tenaja Road (if you find yourself on Via Volcano or at the Vernal Pools trailhead, you’ve come too far).  Go 4.2 miles to Cleveland Forest Road and turn right.  Go a total of 3.7 miles on Cleveland Forest Road – which is one lane so exercise caution – and look for the Fisherman’s Camp Trailhead and a small dirt turnout on the left.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) are required.  Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: “Sitton Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here (out and back to Fisherman’s Camp); Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the Fisherman's Camp Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the Fisherman’s Camp Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable hike visits both the high and low country of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, providing panoramic mountain views and secluded stretches through thick woodlands.  You’re not likely to have much company here, except perhaps on busy holiday weekends.

0:20 - View of the mountains on the descent to Fisherman's Camp (times are approximate)

0:20 – View of the mountains on the descent to Fisherman’s Camp (times are approximate)

From the Fisherman’s Camp trailhead, you begin the hike by entering an attractive grove of oaks. The trail then exits the woods and follows an exposed ridge, providing good views into the canyon and of the mountains across the way. After staying more or less level for about 0.7 miles the trail begins a twisting descent into the canyon. During the fall, you get a nice aerial view of the sycamore foliage below.

0:45 - Heading north from Fisherman's Camp toward the Tenaja Falls Trailhead

0:45 – Heading north from Fisherman’s Camp toward the Tenaja Falls Trailhead

At 1.6 miles, you reach a junction. Continue a tenth of a mile to Fisherman’s Camp, an attractive spot shaded by huge oaks, where the Tenaja Trail intersects. After enjoying the quiet, retrace your steps and take the left fork, heading deeper into wooded San Mateo Canyon. You cross a rocky wash and climb out of the canyon. The trail soon drops back down to the stream bed and crosses another wash. You then reach a junction where you’ll stay left and climb out of the canyon again, soon reaching a junction with a fairly recently created trail that stays above the canyon floor, closely following the east wall. (The original trail, which branches off to the left, follows the creek, crossing it a few times.)

0:48 - Crossing the wash just north of Fisherman's Camp

0:48 – Crossing the wash just north of Fisherman’s Camp

The two trails merge in another grove of oaks, about 3.4 miles from the start. You continue to a T-junction with the Tenaja Falls Trail, where you will turn right and walk 0.1 miles back to the street. Turn right and follow the road 1.5 miles back to the Fisherman’s Camp Trailhead, completing the loop. As far as paved roads go, this one’s pretty enjoyable: traffic is usually very light (if any), and the road provides some nice vistas of the canyon.

1:00 - Bear left and climb out of the canyon

1:05 – Bear left and climb out of the canyon

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.

2:05 - Right turn on Cleveland Forest Road; follow it 1.5 miles back to your car

2:05 – Right turn on Cleveland Forest Road; follow it 1.5 miles back to your car


Engelmann Oak Loop (Daley Ranch)


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Live oaks in Daley Ranch on the Bobcat Trail

Live oaks in Daley Ranch on the Bobcat Trail

Engelmann Oak Loop (Daley Ranch)

      • Location: Northwest of Escondido.  From I-15, take the Deer Springs/Mountain Meadow exit.  Head east on Mountain Mountain (turn left if you’re coming from the north, right if from the south).  Go 2.3 miles (Mountain Meadow becomes Hidden Meadow along the way).  Turn right on Meadow Glen Way and go 0.3 miles to Cougar Pass Road.  Turn right and go 0.3 miles.  Turn right again and continue on Cougar Pass Road which is now dirt (but passable by normal passenger vehicles.)  Go 0.5 miles and park in the dirt lot on the right side of the road, opposite the signed trailhead.
      • Agency: Daley Ranch
      • Distance: 4.7 miles
      • Elevation gain: 800 feet
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  October – June
      • USGS topo map: Valley Center
      • Reommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Trip description here; Daley Ranch Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Friendly reminder at the trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Friendly reminder at the trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable loop explores the lightly visited northern sector of large Daley Ranch on the outskirts of Escondido.  As the trail name might lead you to believe, there are plenty of Engelmann oaks (as well as the more common coastal live oaks) to be seen here – similar to those found at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve farther north near Murrieta.

0:21 - Stay right at the first junction with the Bobcat Trail (times are approximate)

0:21 – Stay right at the first junction with the Bobcat Trail (times are approximate)

The Engelmann Oak trail only accounts for about a mile of this hike, although hiking the entire trail is one of several possible variations on the route. From the parking area, follow the Cougar Ridge Trail through a meadow, into a wooded canyon with a seasonal stream and up 200 feet to a saddle where it dips to meet a junction with the Engelmann Oak Trail. Stay straight and head into another woodland, passing by a junction with the Bobcat Trail (your return route), 0.9 miles from the start.

0:40 - Vista point at the junction of the Cougar Ridge and Engelmann Oak Trails

0:40 – Vista point at the junction of the Cougar Ridge and Engelmann Oak Trails

Staying on the Cougar Ridge Trail, you begin a steady climb along the south side of Burnt Mountain. Here you get good views south toward the rest of the park. An ascent of about 400 feet brings you to a junction with the other end of the Engelmann Oak Trail, while the Cougar Ridge Trail continues south. A short spur leads to a spot where boulders beneath oaks make a good resting point with panoramic views.

Continuing north along the Engelmann Oak Trail, now on Burnt Mountain’s east side, the trail levels out. At about 2 miles from the start, you reach a junction. Both routes are options as they will soon intersect; if you want to leave the fire road, turn left on the single-track Burnt Mountain Trail, which climbs to a saddle where you get some wide-ranging vistas northwest.

After dropping down to rejoin the Engelmann Oak Trail, head left (west). You head through some pleasant, rolling hills and meadows before reaching a junction with the Bobcat Trail (2.9 miles). Head left on this scenic single-track and descend into a quiet ravine lined with oaks. (If you’re pressed for time, you can continue on the Engelmann trail, which is a slightly shorter return to the Cougar Ridge Trail.)

1:30 - On the Bobcat Trail shortly before it rejoins the Cougar Ridge Trail

1:30 – On the Bobcat Trail shortly before it rejoins the Cougar Ridge Trail

At 3.8 miles from the start, the Bobcat Trail reaches a T-junction. Turn right and go a short distance to rejoin the Cougar Ridge Trail, which you will follow back to the parking area.

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.

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve


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Looking west from the Yucca Ridge Trail

Looking west from the Yucca Ridge Trail

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

  • Location: Morongo Valley.  From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 11.3 miles.  Turn right on East Drive (signed for Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.)  Go 0.2 miles and turn left into the park on Covington Drive.
  • Agency: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  October – May, 7:30am – sunset
  • USGS topo map: “Morongo Valley”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trip description here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Boardwalk at the beginning of the Marsh Trail, Big Morongo Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Boardwalk at the beginning of the Marsh Trail, Big Morongo Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

There aren’t many short hikes that provide mountain and desert views–as well as wetlands–but this loop around the perimeter of Big Morongo Canyon is one such trip. The preserve makes a nice stop on the way to the northern entrances to Joshua Tree. Visitors who want more of a workout can find a nearly 10-mile round trip with the Canyon Trail.

0:06 - Turning right onto the Mesquite Trail (times are approximate)

0:06 – Turning right onto the Mesquite Trail (times are approximate)

This route is one of several possible loops in the preserve. The trails are all well marked and easy to follow, so it’s impossible to get too lost. From the main entrance, turn right on the Marsh Trail. You pass by the education center and come to an intersection. Turn right on the Mesquite Trail, which dips down to the stream and comes out again, reaching a junction with the West Canyon Trail (0.4 miles from the start.) You can extend your hike on the West Canyon Trail but this route continue straight on the Mesquite Trail, into a tight-walled canyon.

0:12 - Geology on the Mesquite Trail past the junction with the West Canyon Trail

0:12 – Geology on the Mesquite Trail past the junction with the West Canyon Trail

After passing the remains of a car and reaching a T-junction with the Canyon Trail, head left, deeper into the wetlands. You pass a short spur that leads to a viewing area and then reach a junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail. Continue straight onto this trail, beginning the only significant climb of the hike. You reach a view point with a bench where you can look west toward the San Gorgonio Pass.

0:18 - Through the wetlands before the junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail

0:18 – Through the wetlands before the junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail

The Yucca Ridge trail heads north before dropping down to the wetlands. You reach a junction with the Desert Willow Trail (1.3 miles). Turn right and follow the Desert Willow Trail through more marsh, into a field and finally back to the Marsh Trail. Turn right and follow the boardwalk back to the parking area.

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.

0:39 - Right turn at the junction with the Desert Willow Trail

0:39 – Right turn at the junction with the Desert Willow Trail, back to the parking area

Los Santos/Trans Preserve Loop (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)


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San Jacinto from the Los Santos Trail

Descending the Trans Preserve Trail

Descending the Trans Preserve Trail

Los Santos/Trans Preserve Loop (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)

    • Location: Murrieta, in southwest Riverside County.  From I-15, take the Clinton Keith road exit.  Turn right and head southwest for 5.1 miles.  Once you are in the reserve, take a  sharp right onto Tenaja Road.  Go 0.7 miles and park at the Hidden Valley Trailhead on the left side of the road.   Admission fee is $3 per adult or $2 per child.
    • Agency: Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
    • Distance:  4.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  October – May
    • USGS topo map:  Wildomar
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
    • Recommended gear: sun hat
    • More information: here; park map here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7

This enjoyable hike samples some of the best non-Vernal Pools/Historic Adobes scenery of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve (although both of those landmarks can be easily added to this route.)  While it lacks the wide-ranging views provided by the hike to Monument Hill, the hike offers more variety as it passes through wide meadows, rolling hills and shaded oak woodlands.

0:00 - Hidden Valley Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

From the parking area, head right on the Hidden Valley Trail. After 0.2 miles, turn right on the single-track Los Santos Trail which winds its way uphill, providing nice views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio (provided the weather is clear). At 0.8 miles, you enter a grove of oaks and shortly after the trail bends sharply left and heads south (stay straight and ignore the trail branching off to the right.)

0:19 - Through the oak grove before the junction at the top of the Los Santos Trail (times are approximate)

0:19 – Through the oak grove before the junction at the top of the Los Santos Trail (times are approximate)

The trail then dips down into a ravine, crosses a footbridge and reaches another junction with the Hidden Valley Trail. Turn right and head uphill, still on the Los Santos Trail, making a short but steep ascent. After following a ridge, the trail dips in and out of another canyon before joining the Vernal Pools Trail at 2.4 miles, the approximate half way point.

0:28 - Footbridge at the bottom of the first hill on the Los Santos Trail

0:28 – Footbridge at the bottom of the first hill on the Los Santos Trail

Head left (east) on the Vernal Pools Trail for a level 0.3 miles, bringing you to a junction. If there have been recent rains, consider continuing on to see the pools, but if you are not hiking during the wet season, turn left and begin a scenic descent on the Trans-Preserve Trail ( a segment shared with the Vernal Pools/Historic Adobes loop described on this site, but in the other direction). As you make your way along the gnarled-branched oaks, you will get glimpses of the wide meadow below and perhaps San Gorgonio Mountain in the distance.

1:00 - Bench beneath an oak at the beginning of the Trans Preserve Trail

1:00 – Bench beneath an oak at the beginning of the Trans Preserve Trail

The trail drops into a wide field near a knoll known as Poppy Hill, passing an intersection with the Hidden Valley Trail, and continues north. You drop into another woodland, cross a footbridge and come out at an intersection with the Coyote Trail. Bear left and follow the Coyote Trail for half a mile to the trailhead.

1:30 - Open field before the junction between the Trans Preserve and Hidden Valley Trails

1:30 – Open field before the junction between the Trans Preserve and Hidden Valley Trails

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.

1:42 - Woodlands on the Trans Preserve Trail shortly before the junction with the Coyote Trail

1:42 – Woodlands on the Trans Preserve Trail shortly before the junction with the Coyote Trail

Holcomb Canyon Loop (Devil’s Punchbowl)


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Geology in the Devil's Punchbowl

Geology in the Devil’s Punchbowl

Geology and foliage, Holcomb Canyon

Geology and foliage, Holcomb Canyon

Holcomb Canyon Loop (Devil’s Punchbowl)

  • Location: High desert near Pearblossom.  From Pearblossom, take highway 138 east to Longview Road.  Go right and after 2.5 miles, go left on Fort Tejon.  Drive 2.1 miles to Valyermo Road and turn right (south).  Go 2.9 miles and make a right on Big Rock Creek Road.  Drive 0.7 miles (0.2 miles past the Angeles National Forest sign) and park in either of two dirt turnouts on opposite sides of the road.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest/Santa Clara & Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, navigation, trail condition)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Valyermo”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information:  Photos of Holcomb Canyon and other area trails here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - View of Big Rock Creek from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of Big Rock Creek from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is truly a hiker’s hike: in addition to the unique geology of the Devil’s Punchbowl, it features canyon scrambling, mountain views and a wide variety of plant life, including manzanitas, yuccas, cacti, pines, sycamores and oaks.  Fall colors here can be exceptional.   As far as off-trail hikes go, this one isn’t too difficult, but there are some definite challenges of terrain and navigation for which all hikers should be prepared.  If you have never done an off-trail hike, go with someone who has.

0:08 - Descent to Big Rock Creek (times are approximate)

0:08 – Descent to Big Rock Creek (times are approximate)

The loop begins easily enough, by walking 0.3 miles south on Big Rock Creek Road. After reaching another parking area, look for several use trails leading down to Big Rock Creek, which you cross on one of multiple makeshift jetties of rocks. On the other side, turn left and continue heading south along a semblance of a trail, through the woods, and reach the rocky wash of Holcomb Canyon.

0:20 - Heading up Holcomb Canyon

0:20 – Heading up Holcomb Canyon

Bear right and begin heading south, following the rocky stream bed. At 1.1 miles from the start, stay right as a tributary canyon comes in from the left. (Generally speaking, Holcomb is rocky, while the numerous smaller tributaries aren’t.) You pass by a giant tower of volcanic rock, part of the Punchbowl Formation. The canyon pinches in tightly, requiring some scrambling, before opening up.

0:45 - Giant sandstone outcrop; pass beneath it deeper into Holcomb Canyon

0:45 – Giant sandstone outcrop; pass beneath it deeper into Holcomb Canyon

You continue south, reaching a sharp right turn at 1.4 miles where the canyon enters a pleasantly wooded area. At 1.8 miles, you reach a junction with a tributary. Here you can continue up the main canyon or take the tributary to the Punchbowl Trail. Turn right and head west, passing through a grove of oaks and a canyon wash before climbing 250 feet to a saddle (2.1 miles.)

1:05 - Hooking up with the South Fork Trail (turn right/west)

1:05 – Hooking up with the South Fork Trail (turn right/west)

At the saddle, you get a great view of the Punchbowl and the high desert beyond. This spot represents a sort of point of no return; the most challenging terrain of the hike is on the descent into the unnamed canyon that neighbors Holcomb. If you’re not up for an adventure, consider turning around at this point.

For those with off-trail and canyoning experience who want to complete the hike as a loop, look for a faint, overgrown trail heading steeply downhill.  Hiking poles may be helpful, although some hikers may find them cumbersome in the close quarters of the ravine.  Follow the slope into the canyon, where your progress will be blocked by a large boulder. Slip to the left of the boulder, passing by a large oak. A smaller tributary canyon comes in at this point. Continue heading northwest, down the main canyon.

1:15 - Beginning the steep descent from the saddle, past the bushes

1:15 – Beginning the steep descent from the saddle, past the bushes

For the next half mile or so the going is fairly easy; other than the occasional fallen tree or pile of rocks to negotiate, it’s basically like a single-track trail. However, at 2.8 miles, you’ll reach the most challenging obstacle of the entire hike as you arrive at the edge of a 20-foot precipice. Hikers without much in the way of technical climbing skills or gear (such as the author) will need to crab-walk along the right (east) side of the canyon, along a rock that slopes downward.  (If you are using hiking poles and find that they’re in the way, throw them down to the bottom.)   You’ll reach a gap in the rocks where you can grab a hold on the other side and lower yourself back down to the floor of the canyon.

1:25 - Slip around the left side of the rock into the confluence of the two canyons

1:25 – Slip around the left side of the rock into the confluence of the  canyons

Leaving the cliff behind you continue north for 0.6 miles before arriving at a smaller cliff. Here, you can work your way around the right side more easily than before, dropping back into the canyon and continuing your descent.

1:40 - View of the cliff from below: Climb along the rock ledge, grab the large rock in the foreground and hope for the best

1:40 – View of the cliff from below: Climb along the rock ledge, grab the large rock in the foreground and hope for the best

At 3.9 miles, you join Punchbowl Canyon. Bear right and follow the canyon for 0.2 miles, where you will see a rock with graffiti. (There’s sadly a lot of trash and graffiti in the lower areas of this hike, but in some cases, such as this one, it can help with navigation.) A trail has been pounded out by hikers; follow it out of the canyon to Big Rock Creek. Your last task is to re-cross the creek (as before, look for the rock jetties). This brings you back to Big Rock Creek Road and your car.

2:15 - Smaller cliff; scoot along the ledge seen on the right and descend back into the canyon

2:15 – Smaller cliff; scoot along the ledge seen on the right and descend back into the canyon

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.

2:50 - Easiest location to climb out of Punchbowl Canyon, heading back to Big Rock Creek and the road

2:50 – Easiest location to climb out of Punchbowl Canyon, heading back to Big Rock Creek and the road

San Pasqual Hiking Trails (South)


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Looking west from near the top of the eastern fork

Looking west from near the top of the eastern fork

View of Highway 78 from near the top of the western fork

View of Highway 78 from near the top of the western fork

San Pasqual Hiking Trails (South)

  • Location: East of Escondido.  From I-15, take the 78 Freeway east for 1.5 miles, where it becomes Lincoln Parkway, then Lincoln Avenue.  At 0.8 miles from the end of the freeway, turn right on Ash St.  After a mile, Ash St. becomes Highway 78.  Continue for 10.2 more miles (5.3 miles past the Wild Animal Park entrance.)  The parking area and trailhead are on the right.
  • Agency: San Dieguito River Park
  • Distance: 6.2 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: San Pasqual
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information:  here; trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Known also as South Clevenger Canyon, this Y-shape hike climbs from Highway 78 up a steep hillside, providing a good workout and panoramic views of the area.  The southern half of the San Pasqual/Clevenger Canyon trail network has two main routes, both of which are worth exploring given the time and energy.  The directions and time figures for this post assume that you will be taking the shorter western fork first, although it’s arbitrary.

0:00 - South trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

From the parking area on Highway 78, follow the signs to the Clevenger Canyon trailhead and begin a steady ascent, taking care to avoid the switchbacks that have been cut off. After a little more than half a mile, you reach the split between the two trails. The right fork continues its steady ascent, taking in a nice aerial perspective of the highway and the San Pasqual Valley. A few spots can be muddy or slippery after rain, and the trail cuts close to the edge of the hillside, so exercise caution.

0:14 - Junction of the two main forks of the South San Pasqual Trails (times are approximate)

0:14 – Junction of the two main forks of the South San Pasqual Trails (times are approximate)

After making a few switchbacks, you reach the first of two vista points, about 1.4 miles from the trailhead (and almost 900 feet higher). Here you get a great view to the west and north, including the ocean if you’re lucky. The trail continues to another slightly higher vista point, although this last segment is somewhat overgrown and rocky. A sign clearly marks the end of the trail.

0:37 - View from the first overlook on the west trail

0:37 – View from the first overlook on the west trail

Heading back down to the junction, turn right on the eastern trail. You enter an attractive woodland (a tributary of Santa Ysabel Creek) which unfortunately is the only shade on the hike. Climbing up from the creek, you make your way southeast, reaching a sharp left turn (about 3.2 miles from the start.) You follow the top of a ridge, passing by a dome-like boulder on the left side of the trail. The trail dips slightly, reaching a junction where you will stay left and head toward a pointy knoll.

0:42 - View from the second overlook on the west trail

0:42 – View from the second overlook on the west trail

At 4 miles from the start, you reach another junction; this is the beginning of a small loop around the tip of the knoll, the turnaround point, where you get some nice views to the east, with the Cuyamaca Mountains and Volcan distant, and toward Boden Canyon in the north. You can sit among the jumbled boulders and enjoy the panorama before heading back down.

1:10 - Oaks in a tributary canyon on the eastern trail

1:10 – Oaks in a tributary canyon on the eastern trail

In case you were wondering, the San Pasqual Valley was the site of an 1846 Mexican-American War battle. Farther west on Highway 78, the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park commemorates the event.  You can also explore the trails on the north side of the highway (half a mile east of the south trailhead), although they are not as well maintained as these ones.

1:35 - Following the ridge on the eastern trail (turn left at the junction)

1:35 – Following the ridge on the eastern trail (turn left at the junction)

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.

1:50 - Looking east from the end of the eastern trail

1:50 – Looking east from the end of the eastern trail

Chaparrosa Peak (Pioneertown Mountains Preserve/Pipes Canyon)


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Burnt Pinyon Pine on the trail to Chaparossa Peak

Burnt Pinyon Pine on the trail to Chaparossa Peak

High desert geology on the way to Chaparrosa Peak

High desert geology on the way to Chaparrosa Peak

Chaparrosa Peak (Pioneertown Mountains Preserve/Pipes Canyon)

  • Location: High desert near Yucca Valley.  From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 20 miles.  Turn left on Pioneertown Road and go northwest for 7.5 miles.  At a four-way intersection, take a left on dirt Pipes Canyon Road and drive 0.7 miles to the park entrance.  Bear right and drive an additional 0.2 miles into the parking area.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy/Pioneertown Mountains Preserve
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, terrain, navigation)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – May; trail open 8am – 5pm
  • USGS topo map: “Rim Rock”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information:  Trip description here; Everytrail report here; photos and maps from the loop version of the hike (currently inaccessible) here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Beginning of the hike, leaving the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike, leaving the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

It may be a long drive from L.A., but Chaparrosa Peak is well worth the trip.  It offers a hiking experience similar to that of Joshua Tree National Park, nearby Warren Peak in particular.  Highlights include mountain views, jumbled rock formations and great panoramas of the high desert.  The hike isn’t too difficult but navigation and terrain are tricky, so novice hikers might not want to do this one alone.  The trail is also almost completely exposed and the area is susceptible to high winds.

0:04 - Beginning of the Chaparrosa Trail (times are approximate)

0:04 – Beginning of the Chaparrosa Trail (times are approximate)

It used to be possible to climb Chaparossa Peak as a loop hike, but as of this writing the Indian Loop trail is closed for repairs, so your only option is a 5.6-mile out and back (park literature has the distance at 6.6 miles, but Everytrail measured it as 5.6)

After signing in at the ranger station, head uphill on a dirt road leading from the parking area. After a short distance you come to a staging area where you will see a sign for the Chaparrosa Peak Trail. The single-track dips in and out of a canyon before climbing to join a dirt road (about 0.5 miles.) You ascend steadily, enjoying nice views of the Sawtooth Mountains and Pioneertown to the south, passing two gates (0.7 and 0.9 miles respectively). To navigate around the second gate, climb uphill briefly to the end of the fence before continuing on the road.

0:39 - Turn right on the single-track

0:39 – Turn right on the single-track

At 1.3 miles, head right and uphill on a trail leading away from the dirt road (GPS N34 09.632, W116 33.034). You begin a challenging ascent over loose terrain. The trail isn’t always clear; keep an eye out for the ducks. After gaining 200 feet in less than a quarter mile, the trail levels out and you’re rewarded for your efforts with some great views of the desert to the north. The trail descends briefly and climbs again to a junction (2.1 miles, GPS N34 39.331, W116 33.627). Head left on a spur signed for Chaparrosa Peak.

1:15 - Trail ducks on the cutoff trail to Chaparossa Peak; turn right and follow the ridge to the summit

1:15 – Trail ducks on the cutoff trail to Chaparossa Peak; turn right and follow the ridge to the summit

The trail becomes tougher to follow as it works its way through a wash, heading south to a ridge where it makes a sharp right turn (2.5 miles).  You begin the final steep ascent to the summit, passing by a large rock that resembles an oven mitt.  Finally you reach the peak (elevation 5,541; GPS N34 38.990, W116 33.845), where you can enjoy a 360-degree panorama, including San Jacinto, the eastern end of the San Bernardino range and the Mojave Desert to the north.

1:22 - "Cookies are done!"

1:22 – “Cookies are done!”

If you enjoyed this hike, be sure to check out some of the other open spaces overseen by the Wildlands Conservancy, such as the nearby Whitewater Canyon Preserve and Oak Glen Preserve.

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.

1:30 - San Jacinto above the clouds, looking southwest from Chaparossa Peak

1:30 – San Jacinto above the clouds, looking southwest from Chaparossa Peak

Liberty Canyon Nature Preserve (Malibu Creek State Park)


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Crossing the footbridge in Liberty Canyon

Crossing the footbridge in Liberty Canyon

Live oak, Liberty Canyon Nature Preserve

Live oak, Liberty Canyon Nature Preserve

Liberty Canyon Nature Preserve  (Malibu Creek State Park)

    • Location: Calabasas, near the intersection of Mulholland Highway and Las Virgenes Road.  From Highway 101, take the Las Virgenes Road exit and go south for 3.1 miles to Mulholland Highway.  Take a right on Mulholland Highway and almost immediately, look for the signed Grasslands Trail on the right.  Limited parking is available on the side of the road (if there is none, you can also park in a small dirt lot on the corner of Mulholland and Las Virgenes.)  From Pacific Coast Highway, drive north on Malibu Canyon Road for 6.3 miles (during which time the street changes its name to Las Virgenes).  Turn left on Mulholland.
    • Agency:  Malibu Creek State Park
    • Distance: 4.4 miles
    • Elevation gain:  150 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo maps: Malibu Beach
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
    • More information:  Here; Everytrail report  here
    • Rating: 4

This easy-going, enjoyable hike visits Liberty Canyon Nature Preserve, the northernmost of the three such areas in Malibu Creek State Park.  Although it’s not as challenging or scenically varied as the nearby Phantom Trail and Talepop Loop, it makes a pleasant introduction to the rolling hills and meadows of Malibu Creek State Park’s northern sector.

0:00 - Grasslands Trail on the north side of Mulholland (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Grasslands Trail on the north side of Mulholland (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From Mulholland, follow the signed North Grasslands Trail past the 19th century Sepulveda Adobe. During the early part of the trail traffic from Las Virgenes and Mulholland Highway is hard to ignore, but after passing the power generator (0.3 miles) it gets quieter. You take a right on a service road and follow it for a few yards before continuing north on the trail.

0:10 - North Grasslands trail past the service road and generator

0:10 – North Grasslands trail past the service road and generator (times are approximate)

At 0.7 miles, the trail makes a sharp right turn and enters a canyon, crossing Liberty Creek on a footbridge. This brings you to a T-junction and you take a sharp left on the Liberty Canyon Fire Road, a portion shared with the Talepop Loop. You enter a grove of large live oaks, and if there have been recent rains, a stream will be trickling on the left.

At 0.9 miles from the start, the Talepop Trail branches off, as your route continues straight and north, gradually ascending out of the canyon into an open field with nice views of the mountains to the west. You may hear the neighing of some horses from the nearby ranch as you follow the fire road. At a split (1.3 miles), you can go either way; the two trails soon merge.

0:25 - Grove of oaks in Liberty Canyon near the Talepop Trail junction

0:25 – Grove of oaks in Liberty Canyon near the Talepop Trail junction

The Phantom Trail branches off to the left at 1.8 miles and shortly after, you reach a paved road. This is the southern extension of Liberty Canyon Road and the turnaround point is the corner of Liberty Canyon and Park Vista Road. Return by retracing your steps or if you have time and energy, consider exploring the Talepop or Phantom Trails.  You can also follow the Grasslands Trail south of Mulholland into the main area of the park.

0:55 - Trail ending at Park Vista

0:55 – Trail ending at Park Vista

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.

Wiashal & Cole Canyon Trails (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)


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View from the upper end of the Wiashal Trail

View from the upper end of the Wiashal Trail

Oak woodland below the Wiashal Trail, Cole Canyon

Oak woodland below the Wiashal Trail, Cole Canyon

Wiashal & Cole Canyon Trails (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)

  • Location: Murrieta.  From I-15, take the Clinton Keith exit and head southwest (turn left if you’re coming from the south, right if you’re coming from the north) and go 1.7 miles to Calle del Oso Oro.  Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Clear Creek St.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to miles to Placer Creek St. Turn left and go 0.1 miles to the end of the street and turn right on Single Oak Way.  Park at the end of Single Oak Way.  The trail begins on the north side of the street.
  • Agency:  Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG-13 (Steepness, terrain, elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Wildomar”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Every trail report here; hike description here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead on Single Oak Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Single Oak Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Murrieta’s Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is best known for its rolling hills, oak woodlands, historic adobes and (in the spring) the vernal pools, but the Wiashal Trail showcases the park’s wilder side.  With steep ascents and descents over frequently rugged terrain, this hike is considerably more challenging than most of the other routes in the reserve.  It loses some points due to the unfortunate amounts of trash and graffiti in the lower areas of the trail, and due to a somewhat monotonous upper end and anticlimactic finish at Clinton Keith Road, but the trail is still a great workout with a lot of scenic variety; a must do if you live in the area and a worthwhile place to drive to from Orange County or San Diego. The hike is popular as a point-to-point with a fairly easy to set up car shuttle. Mountain bikers and equestrians are also common on this trail.

0:08 - Indian motreros (times are approximate)

0:08 – Indian motreros by the trail (times are approximate)

There are several informal trails in this area that lead to the beginning of the Cole Canyon Trail and later the Wiashal Trail, but the route described here is scenic and direct, fairly easy to follow. From the end of Single Oak, follow a gravel trail briefly north before taking a hairpin turn to the left, heading south. The trail splits (both paths rejoin, but the left route descends more gently. Stay right at two junctions and enter a pleasant oak woodland, about half a mile from the start. Keep an eye out for a rock with two “motreros” (small round holes) carved inside, on the left side of the trail.

0:30 - Sign for Cole Canyon; trail heads left and uphill

0:30 – Sign for Cole Canyon; trail heads left and uphill

After leaving the clearing, the trail starts a short but steep ascent and begins heading north. You drop into another canyon (1 mile) and arrive at a junction where you will bear left, passing by a sign indicating Cole Canyon. Now the work begins: 700 feet of elevation gain in the next mile. After passing a sign and fence indicating the beginning of the Wiashal Trail (1.3 miles), the grade mellows a little bit. The views of the Murrieta area–extending to the San Jacinto range on clear days–are better and better as you climb higher.

0:37 - Start of the Wiashal Trail

0:37 – Start of the Wiashal Trail

At 1.9 miles, you reach a T-junction where you get a nice aerial view of Clinton Keith Road where you will turn left. The trail ascends sharply, reaching a short spur that leads to an overlook (2.3 miles.) The overlook is a good destination for those who want a shorter hike; at this point, you have achieved most of the workout and experienced the best scenery of the trip.

0:55 - View of Clinton Keith Road from the T-junction (turn left)

0:55 – View of Clinton Keith Road from the T-junction (turn left)

However if you want to continue to the end of the Wishal Trail, head downhill, watching your footing on the loose terrain (hiking poles will be helpful). As you descend, you get some nice views of the main area of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. The remaining mile-plus of the Wiashal Trail makes a couple of moderate ascents and descents before reaching its end, a parking area at Clinton Keith Road (and an alternate starting point).

1:50 - End of the Wiashal Trail at Clinton Keith Road

1:50 – End of the Wiashal Trail at Clinton Keith Road

In case you were wondering, the trail’s name is pronounced “WEE-uh-shawl.”

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.

Reino Road to Twin Ponds (Dos Vientos Open Space)


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Boney Mountain from Dos Vientos Open Space

Fall colors in the Dos Vientos Open Space

Reino Road to Twin Ponds (Dos Vientos Open Space)

        • Location: Southwest of Thousand Oaks.  From L.A., take Highway 101 to the Borchard Road exit.  Turn right and go 1.8 miles to Reino Road.  Turn left and go 0.9 miles, looking for a parking area on the right (just past Dunaway Drive; if you hit Lynn Road, you’re about 0.2 miles too far.)  From Ventura, take Highway 101 to the Wendy Drive exit.  Turn left on Wendy and go 0.8 miles to Borchard.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to South Reino.  Turn left and go about a mile to the parking area.
        • Agency: Conejo Open Space Foundation
        • Distance: 8 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
        • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
        • Best season:  October – May; parking lot open daily until 4pm
        • USGS topo map: Thousand Oaks
        • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
        • More information:  Here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trail head from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This hike explores the western end of the land overseen by the Conejo Open Space Foundation.  Stringing several trails together, the route threads its way in between and around residential neighborhoods.  The rating of “6″ may be raised in the future; as of this writing, the hiking experience this trail provides suffers from the noise of housing construction and the latter part of the route is recovering from the recent Springs Fire.  If there have been recent rains, the twin ponds make a nice destination; if the weather has been hot and dry, they might seem anti-climatic after a four mile hike. All that being said, however, this trail offers a good workout with some great views of the northwestern Santa Monica Mountains and the Thousand Oaks area; on clear days, you can see the ocean.

0:25 - Bench with a iew of the Santa Monicas (times are approximate)

0:24 – Bench with a iew of the Santa Monicas (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Potrero Ridge Trail as it ascends a series of switchbacks. (Don’t get too excited about the large oak trees at the bottom of the hill; there is hardly any shade on the hike.) Stay straight as trails branch off to the right. You curve around the side of the hill, heading briefly south, arriving at a bench where you can enjoy a nice view of the Satwiwa/Point Mugu area. You continue to a split; the two trails soon rejoin (the right fork is a little steeper, so if you want to conserve energy, head left, slightly downhill.)

0:31 - Crossing Las Brisas

0:31 – Crossing Las Brisas

Shortly after the trails rejoin, you reach the first of two street crossings: Via Las Brisas (1.2 miles.) There is no crosswalk or traffic signal, but traffic is likely to be light. On the opposite side, continue your hike on the Sierra Vista Trail. You soon arrive at a pair of junctions, where you will head left and then right.

0:35 - Left turn at the first junction past Las Brisas

0:35 – Left turn at the first junction past Las Brisas

At about 1.7 miles, you reach a paved service road. Bear left and follow it a few yards, looking for the continuation of the trail on the left side. You continue to follow the trail which drops down to meet Rancho Dos Vientos Drive, just south of the entrance to a gated community.

0:36 - Right turn almost immediately after

0:36 – Right turn almost immediately after

Crossing Rancho Dos Vientos (again, no stop light or crosswalk but traffic should be sparse), look for the Vista Del Mar Trail. Briefly head right and cross back through a metal fence. The beginning of the Vista Del Mar Trail is less than auspicious, passing through what looks like a vacant lot, but the trail continues west, leaving the road behind.

0:47 - Trail leaving the service road

0:47 – Trail leaving the service road

The trail leads around the back of a housing development. At 3.5 miles, another bench provides great views toward the west, past the end of Point Mugu State Park and toward the coastal plains of Ventura and Oxnard. Continuing along toward Twin Ponds, you pass through an area heavily burned in the Springs Fire, resembling Serrano Canyon and the homestead site nearby in Point Mugu State Park. A few trails branch off to the right; you can take any one of these and end up at the ponds, but the quickest and easiest way is to stay on the main trail.

1:00 - Beginning of the Vista Del Mar trail

1:00 – Beginning of the Vista Del Mar trail

At 3.8 miles you reach a T-junction. Turn right (left is likely to be gated) and head downhill, arriving at the ponds. It used to be possible to walk out onto a bridge to get a better look at the ponds, but the structure was damaged in the fire and is unsafe. Walking up the hill a little ways past the bridge provides nice views of the larger pond.

1:24 -Western view from the bench

1:24 -Western view from the bench

From here, you can either turn around and retrace your steps, or if you have time, you can continue, eventually looping back toward the Dos Vientos Open Space, creating a loop hike. You can visit the COSF’s Dos Vientos page here to get some ideas for variations on the route.

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.

1:45 - Upper pond, turnaround point

1:45 – Upper pond, turnaround point


Deep Creek Hot Springs/West Approach


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Upper pool, Deep Creek Hot Springs

Upper pool, Deep Creek Hot Springs

View from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Deep Creek

View from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Deep Creek

Deep Creek Hot Springs/West Approach

      • Location:  Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Silverwood Lake and south of Hesperia.   From I-15, take the Main St. exit and head east for a total of 12 miles.  Main St. becomes Arrowhead Lake Road.  At 12 miles, turn left on an unsigned spur, Saddle Dike Embankment on some maps.  (If you reach Highway 173 you’ve come too far.)  Park on the spur before the metal gate.  From the north, take I-15 to Highway 18.  Turn right and go a mile to Hesperia Road.  Turn right and go 4.7 miles to Bear Valley Road.  Turn left and go 1.3 miles to Peach Ave.  Turn right and go 4 miles to Main St.  Turn left (Main St. becomes Arrowhead Lake Road in half a mile) and go 5.2 miles to the unsigned Saddle Dike Embankment spur on the left.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 12.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
      • Suggested time: 6 hours
      • Best season: October – May
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear:  sun hat;  sunblock
      • More information: Trip reports here and here (starting from a slightly different point) Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead off of Lake Arrowhead Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead off of Lake Arrowhead Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

If you want to see Deep Creek’s famous hot springs but don’t want to deal with the fees or dirt roads required to access them from Bowen Ranch or the steep descent and descent on the Bradford Ridge Path, this approach from the west is worth a look.  It’s the longest of the routes to the hot springs, but the grade is moderate and the trail offers nice views of Deep Creek, the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains.  There’s an unfortunate amount of trash and graffiti, and hikers should be reminded that Deep Creek Hot Springs is popular with nudists. There are a few pockets of woodland on the trail but for the most part the route is exposed.

0:25 - Interpretive plaques on the Pacific Crest Trail (times are approximate)

0:25 – Interpretive plaques on the Pacific Crest Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, walk around or through the gate. The first mile-plus is on a paved walkway and a dam that crosses Deep Creek. At the far side of the dam, head right and descend to a dirt lot where you meet the Pacific Crest Trail. Interpretive plaques describe some of the wildlife in the area, such as the rare Western Arroyo Toad.

0:31 - Hard right at the top of the sitchbacks, heading east on the Pacific Crest Trail (ignore the fire breaks)

0:31 – Hard right at the top of the switchbacks on the PCT

Follow the P.C.T. as it ascends 200 feet in 0.3 miles. A few switchbacks have been cut and some fire breaks run down the hill, but you can follow the P.C.T. by keeping an eye out for its characteristic rounded triangle markers. At the top of the ridge, make a hairpin right turn and begin heading east to Deep Creek.

The trail is more or less level for the next 2.5 miles as it follows the north rim of the canyon carved by the creek.  It cuts pretty close to the edge of the cliff, but except for one or two tricky spots, the terrain is easy to negotiate, and in several places a rock wall separates hikers from the drop.

1:45 - The footbridge crossing Deep Creek

1:45 – The footbridge crossing Deep Creek

At 4.1 miles from the start, you reach a bridge that crosses the creek. On the south side, you make a few switchbacks and start ascending at a steadier pace. At 5 miles, you enter a pleasant grove of trees, but be careful of poison oak. This is the confluence of Kinley Creek and Deep Creek.

2:10 - Shade at the confluence of Kinley Creek and Deep Creek

2:10 – Shade at the confluence of Kinley Creek and Deep Creek

Leaving the wooded area, you climb to a high point at 5.8 miles. The P.C.T. rounds a bend and starts its descent. On the opposite side of Deep Creek, you may notice the route from Bowen Ranch descending the hillside. You drop about 250 feet, passing by the intersection with the Bradford Ridge Path, and at 6.3 miles, you reach the hot springs. You can soak your feet in the warm waters before making the long trip back.

2:30 - Top of the ridge; follow the P.C.T. to the left and downhill

2:30 – Top of the ridge; follow the P.C.T. to the left and downhill

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.

3:00 - Lower pool, Deep Creek Hot Springs

3:00 – Lower pool, Deep Creek Hot Springs

Bommer Canyon/Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Loop


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Sandstone cave in upper Bommer Canyon

Sandstone cave in upper Bommer Canyon

Sycamores in upper Laurel Canyon

Sycamores in upper Laurel Canyon

Bommer Canyon/Laguna Coast Wilderness Loop

  • Location: 6400 Shady Canyon Drive, Irvine.  From I-405, take the Culver Drive exit, go south (right if you’re coming from the north, left if from the south) for 2.6 miles and turn left on Shady Canyon Drive.  Go 1.6 miles and turn into the lot.  As mentioned below, this hike is available only by (free) online registration on days specified by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.  When you arrive at the park, you will be met by volunteers who will check your name off the list and direct you to the parking area, about a mile down the main road of the park.
  • Agency: Irvine Ranch Conservancy/Orange County Parks/Crystal Cove State Park
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, steepness, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  October – May; availability of days and times determined by Irvine Ranch Conservancy
  • USGS topo map: Tustin; Laguna Beach
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Description of upcoming hike on 11/21/13 here; Bommer Canyon trail map here; Laguna Coast Wilderness trail map here; Bommer Canyon description here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head in the Cattle Ranch section of Bommer Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head in the Cattle Ranch section of Bommer Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This 7-mile loop is one of several guided hikes provided by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (also known as www.letsgooutside.org.)   When it is offered, it’s usually listed on the site as a “Morning Nature Hike”, often scheduled between 9am and noon.  The loop described here can also be done during a scheduled Wilderness Access Day at Bommer Canyon (usually one Saturday per month.)  Check the website for scheduling information.   Only a third of the route is on private land managed by Irvine Ranch, but that stretch allows you to make a scenic loop, using the former cattle ranch area of Bommer Canyon for your beginning and ending.

0:01 - Historical marker (times are approximate)

0:01 – Historical marker (times are approximate)

If you hike as part of a scheduled event, the trip will be led by two trained volunteers, so navigation will not be an issue. Even if you hike on your own, the route is fairly easy to follow. You can vary it by exploring more of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Crystal Cove State Park or Bommer Canyon.

0:29 - View from below Coastal Peak park, just before crossing under the 73 Toll Road

0:29 – View from below Coastal Peak park, just before crossing under the 73 Toll Road

From the parking lot, head past a shaded picnic area, adorned with several historical artifacts and an interpretive plaque paying tribute to the land’s ranching days.  You follow the trail into the canyon where you’ll turn left at the junction.  The West Fork Trail is the biggest ascent of the hike, as you climb 550 feet during the first mile, but you are rewarded with nice views of central Orange County, extending to the Santa Anas and even the San Gabriels on clear days. After crossing under the toll road, you arrive at Coastal Peak Park in Newport Coast. You continue on the dirt Bommer Ridge Road, enjoying nice ocean views to the right, passing by several trails leading into Crystal Cove’s back country.

1:15 - Hard left at the four-way junction

1:15 – Hard left at the four-way junction

At about 3 miles, you reach a four-way junction in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, part of the popular Laurel Canyon Loop. Make a hard left and begin a steep descent into Laurel Canyon, enjoying some shade from oaks and sycamores. Make another left at the next junction and head into the pleasant upper reaches of Laurel Canyon, in and out of a meadow, and cross under the 73 Toll Road a second time.

1:25 - Turn left at the next junction and head into Upper Laurel Canyon

1:25 – Turn left at the next junction and head into Upper Laurel Canyon

Another ascent brings you to a junction (4.7 miles) where you will make a hairpin left turn and re-enter Bommer Canyon though Hogsback Gate. You are now back on private land. The climb continues, taking in some great views of south Orange County. Keep an eye out for a large sandstone boulder with a cave carved through it.

1:45 - Hogsback Gate,re-entrance to private land

1:45 – Hogsback Gate,re-entrance to private land

At 5.3 miles, you reach a T-junction. Turn right and begin your descent back into the park on the winding Ridge Route.  With panoramic views of the Orange County coastal plain, this is one of the most scenic parts of the hike.   The trail drops gradually at first, then more steeply, finally arriving back at the parking area.  After passing through the gate, turn left and return to your car.

2:30 - View from the descent on the Ridge Route

2:30 – View from the descent on the Ridge Route

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.

2:55 - Back at the parking lot

2:55 – Back at the parking lot

Lower Monroe/Poopout Hill Loop (Big Dalton Canyon)


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View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Poopout Hill Trail

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Poopout Hill Trail

Oaks on the Lower Monroe Truck Trail

Oaks on the Lower Monroe Truck Trail

Lower Monroe/Poopout Hill Loop (Big Dalton Canyon)

  • Location: Angeles National Forest foothills north of Glendora.  From L.A. and points west, take I-210 to Grand Avenue.  Head north on Grand Avenue for 2.2 miles and turn right on Sierra Madre.  Go 2 miles and turn left on Glendora Mountain Road.  In 0.6 miles, park on the left side of the road in a dirt turnout just past the intersection with Big Dalton Canyon.  From San Bernardino/Riverside, take I-210 to Lone Hill.  Turn right on Lone Hill, go a mile and turn left on Foothill.  Go 0.5 miles and turn right on Valley Center.  Go 0.8 miles and turn left on Sierra Madre.  Make a quick right on Glendora Mountain Road and go 0.6 miles to the parking area.
  • Agency: City of Glendora/Angeles National Forest
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time:  2 hours
  • Best season: Year-round
  • USGS topo map:  Glendora
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles
  • More information: Park map here; description of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail here; Every Trail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike, Glendora Mountain Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This enjoyable hike combines city streets, single-track trail, fire road and ultimately a very steep descent, providing nice variety and seclusion just a short drive from the busy San Gabriel Valley. It can be done as described here, as a point-to-point with a short shuttle or perhaps as a longer hike, continuing along the Monroe Truck Trail to Summit 2760 and beyond.

0:21 - Beginning of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail (times are approximate)

0:21 – Beginning of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail (times are approximate)

You start with a pleasant, if not terribly interesting, 3/4 of a mile on Glendora Mountain Road. While the shoulder is narrow, car traffic is likely to be light (although you’ll probably see quite a few cyclists.) As the road makes a hairpin turn to the left, cross it and look for the signed Lower Monroe Truck Trail. Truck Trail is somewhat of a misnomer as the route is a single-track. The hike instantly becomes more scenic as you work your way through the wooded canyon.At 1.4 miles, a short spur leads to an abandoned water tank with some graffiti that I will forgive because it doesn’t interfere with the beauty of the hike, and because it displays a certain wit (but because NHLA is a family blog, I cannot report what the graffiti says.)

0:45 - Beginning the ascent from the canyon

0:48 – Beginning the ascent from the canyon

Shortly afterward, you make a sharp right turn and begin your ascent from the canyon. You get nice views of the San Gabriel Valley as you make your way along the west-facing slope. At 3.1 miles, you reach a saddle where the Monroe Truck Trail continues uphill and the signed Mystic Canyon Trail heads downhill. Mystic Canyon is a slightly longer alternative route, descending a mile to Big Dalton Canyon Road, where a half-mile walk will bring you back to the parking area. This route, however, descends on the uber-steep Poopout Hill Trail. Take a few minutes to enjoy the view and make sure your legs are rested before beginning this stretch.

1:30 - Beginning the steep descent of Poopout Hill

1:30 – Beginning the steep descent of Poopout Hill

The Poopout Hill Trail is an unsigned firebreak that branches off to the right, just before the Mystic Canyon sign. You make a short but steep descent, a brief climb and another steep descent before the trail levels out for a little while. The last 0.3 miles, however, drop nearly 500 feet – requiring hiking hiking poles, or perhaps the use of the “fifth limb.” Not helping is the fact that the trail is loose and washed out in spots.After navigating down the grade, you are deposited back at the corner of Glendora Mountain Road and Big Dalton Canyon. Cross the street to return to the parking area.

1:50 - Completing the loop at the bottom of Poopout Hill, Glendora Mountain Road

1:50 – Completing the loop at the bottom of Poopout Hill, Glendora Mountain Road

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.


Ernest E. Debs Regional Park


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View of the San Gabriels and San Fernando Valley from Debs Park

View of the San Gabriels and San Fernando Valley from Debs Park

Oaks in Debs Park

Oaks in Debs Park

Ernest E. Debs Regional Park

    • Location:  Audubon Center, 4700 N. Griffin Ave, Los Angeles.  From downtown L.A., take the 110 Parkway north to Avenue 43.  Turn right and go a short distance to Griffin Ave.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to the Audubon Center entrance.  From Pasadena, take the 110 Parkway south to Avenue 52.  Turn left on Avenue 52, which becomes Griffin Ave.  The park entrance is on the left at 0.6 miles.
    • Agency:  L.A. City Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 2.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 600 feet
    • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo map:  Burbank
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
    • More information:  here; Yelp page here; trip report (different, longer route) here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 5
0:00 - Parking lot at the Audubon Center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Parking lot at the Audubon Center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

If you think that downtown L.A. hiking begins and ends with Griffith Park, you might want to check out Ernest E. Debs Park.  Although it’s less than a tenth the size of Griffith Park and only about half the size of Elysian Fields Park, it has as nice variety of hiking trails and provides a surprising amount of seclusion.  On clear days, you get great views of downtown L.A., the Valley, the San Gabriel Mountains and more.

0:02 - Following the trail behind the Audubon Center (times are approximate)

0:02 – Following the trail behind the Audubon Center (times are approximate)

The network of trails running throughout the park includes paved roads, fire roads, single tracks and unofficial use trails and firebreaks. The route described here is a short but rigorous loop, easy to follow, taking in some of the park’s best scenery. You can easily add to it or shorten it as you see fit. Since no part of the park is very far from civilization, it can be a nice place to wander around without having to worry about getting seriously lost.

0:09 - Abandoned car

0:09 – Abandoned car

From the parking area, head toward the Audubon Center (a nice stop, with several interpretive displays) and follow a trail leading around the back side of the play area. The trail immediately enters a canyon that feels surprisingly secluded, shaded by black walnut trees. The trails soon split up and you can take either, although the left route is shorter.

You pass by the remains of an old car on the right side of the trail, and then the trails rejoin each other at a T-junction (0.3 miles.) Turn left and begin a steep climb out of the canyon, rising about 200 feet in just over a tenth of a mile. Some parts of the trail are quite loose so take caution.

0:18 - Left turn at the top of the steep climb

0:18 – Left turn at the top of the steep climb

The trail ends at another T-junction, where you’ll head left. You follow a ridge, with nice views of L.A. on the left and the Valley on the right. After a brief ascent, you descend to a junction (0.6 miles.)

0:24 - Downtown L.A. skyline before the first descent

0:24 – Downtown L.A. skyline before the first descent

Take a hard right, continue descending and then start climbing again, steadily though not as steeply as before. The fire road gains about 200 feet in 0.4 miles, reaching a paved road at the top of the ridge. Take a left and walk to a shaded area where you can rest on some benches. You’ve come 1.2 miles at this point.

After catching your breath, head back down the paved road and continue along the fire road, descending on the east side of the ridge. Stay left at the next two junctions (at the second, at 1.5 miles from the start, you get a nearly aerial view of the 110 Parkway below.)

0:40 - Shade area at the top of the hill

0:40 – Shade area at the top of the hill

The trail continues to a 4-way junction. The left and center forks both head back to the parking lot, but the left route stays farther from the freeway. You ascend briefly before taking a right on a trail which brings you back down to the parking area, completing the loop.

0:55 - Bird's eye view from the second junction on the descent

0:55 – Bird’s eye view from the second junction on the descent

In case you were wondering, Ernest Debs was a former politician who served at the state, city and county level. He died in 2002 at age 98.

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.

1:05 - Four way junction near the bottom of the hill (left or center gets you back to the parking lot)

1:05 – Four way junction near the bottom of the hill (left or center gets you back to the parking lot)


Buzzard Peak (West Approach)


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Mt. Baldy from Buzzard Peak

Mt. Baldy from Buzzard Peak

Oaks on the Schabarum Trail

Oaks on the Schabarum Trail

Buzzard Peak (West Approach)

  • Location: West Covina, corner of Hillside Drive and Grand Avenue.  From I-10, take the Grand Avenue exit and turn right (south)  and go 1.2 miles.  Turn right on Hillside Drive and park where available.  From the 57/60 freeways, take the Grand Avenue exit and head northwest (left if you’re coming from the east, right if from the west) and go 4.3 miles.  Turn left on Hillside Drive and park where available.
  • Agency: Los Angeles County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: Year-round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: San Dimas
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information:  Everytrail report here; Mountainzone page here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike, Hillside and Grand (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

You already know how to get to Buzzard Peak from the north, but the tallest summit of the San Jose Hills (elevation 1,345) can also be reached from the west, starting at Grand Avenue.  Like the north approach, this route follows the Schabarum Trail.  Like most of the trail, this section stays pretty close to the nearby residential areas but it manages to have a fairly secluded feel, passing through some wooded canyons before climbing a ridge and providing great views if the air is clear.  There are a few caveats however: while the corner of Hillside and Grand is the most convenient access point, parking there will require you to run across Grand Avenue, where there is no light or crosswalk.  If you prefer you can park a quarter mile north on the corner of Cameron and Grand and cross at the light.  You’ll also need to watch out for poison oak, and like the approach from the north, an off-trail scramble is required to reach the peak.

After crossing Grand, pick up the signed Schabarum Trail and make a quick ascent, climbing about 150 feet in a quarter mile. The trail soon levels out and heads north, affording a nice view of the San Gabriels. After rounding a corner, it descends into a shaded canyon where you pass by two authentic-looking teepees.

0:02 - Accessing the Schabarum Trail (times are approximate)

0:02 – Accessing the Schabarum Trail (times are approximate)

Leaving the canyon you climb a hillside, first passing some private houses where you may notice burros and horses; then a large oak with a platform (an abandoned treehouse perhaps?) constructed on the upper branches.

0:15 - Teepees in the canyon

0:15 – Teepees in the canyon

At about a mile, the trail dips into another canyon that seems surprisingly secluded, although it is in fact just behind a row of houses on Seton Hill Drive. Climbing out of the canyon, you reach a fire road (1.2 miles.) Turn left and begin a steady climb around the side of Buzzard Peak. Your efforts are rewarded with nice views of the Ontario/Cucamonga Ridge and Mt. Baldy.

At 1.5 miles, take a hard right on a fire-break like trail that steeply ascends to Buzzard Peak. Though the spur to the summit is short, exercise caution; the trail cuts closely to the side of the cliff.

0:36 - Southeast view from the intersection with the fire road (turn left)

0:36 – Southeast view from the intersection with the fire road (turn left)

On the summit, enjoy the 360-degree panorama which (given good air quality) includes downtown L.A., the Hollywood Hills, Verdugo Mountains, San Gabriels, San Bernardino and Santa Ana ranges. You can return via the same route or with a car shuttle, continue east and then north on the Schabarum Trail, ending up on the corner of Palomino and South Garvey.

0:55 - Looking west from Buzzard Peak

0:55 – Looking west from Buzzard Peak

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.

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