Strawberry Peak

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Looking east from the summit of Strawberry Peak, San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles National Forest, CA

Looking east toward Mt. Baldy from Strawberry Peak

Looking southwest at the Angeles National Forest and L.A. Basin from Strawberry Peak, highest point in the front country of the Angeles National Forest

Southwest view from below Strawberry Peak

Strawberry Peak

    • Location: Red Box Picnic Area, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway northeast for 14 miles and park at the Red Box Picnic Area, at the junction with the road to Mt. Wilson.  From the high desert, take the Angeles Forest Highway south to Big Tujunga Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 9 miles to the Angeles Crest Highway.  Turn right and go 4.3 miles to Red Box, which will be on the left.  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/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 7 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
    • More information: Trip descriptions (pre-Station Fire) here and here; trip reports both pre-and post-Station Fire here; Hundred Peaks page here; Everytrail report here; video shot from the summit here
    • Rating: 9
Strawberry Peak Trail Head on the Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains, CA

0:00 – Looking east on the Angeles Crest Highway from Red Box (note trail on the left side of the road). Click thumbnails to see the full sized versions.

Strawberry Peak (elevation 6,164 feet) is the tallest summit in the front country of the San Gabriel Mountains, beating San Gabriel Peak by a mere yard. The peak has only recently been opened for legal access following the Station Fire. Thanks to the efforts of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, the trail has been restored. Though poodle dog bush–the plant that causes irritation similar to that of poison oak–can be found in abundance on the trail, it’s not as bad as in some other parts of the Station Fire burn area.

Oak woodland on the Strawberry Peak Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:15 – Into the woods (times are approximate)

The mountain’s name comes from its resemblance to an upside-down strawberry. On most clear days, Strawberry Peak is visible from the L.A. basin, appearing as a round bump behind San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson. The mountain’s prominence provides hikers with excellent views, but it also requires a very steep climb.

Fortunately the hike starts easily. From Red Box, carefully cross the Angeles Crest Highway and pick up the trail on the opposite side. It ascends gradually, running parallel to the highway for about 0.6 miles. It then veers to the north, entering a pleasant oak woodland. Unfortunately, this short stretch represents more or less all of the shade on the whole hike.

View of Mt. Wilson from the Strawberry Peak Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:20 – Hard left on a switchback, heading toward Mt. Wilson

At 0.8 miles, you make a hairpin left turn and head west, back toward Mt. Wilson. You reach a saddle (1.1 miles) where you get an excellent view to the west, including Mt. Lukens, Josephine Peak, the Santa Monica Mountains and more. The trail follows the western slope of Mt. Lawlor for an enjoyable 1.3 miles. If you’ve gotten an early start, the sun will be blocked by the mountain, making your hike pleasantly cool. At about 2 miles, you round a corner and Strawberry Peak’s intimidating contour comes into view. Shortly after, you reach Lawlor Saddle (2.4 miles.)

Western view of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Strawberry Peak Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:28 – Looking west from the saddle

By now, you’ve done about 2/3 of the distance, but only 1/3 of the elevation gain. Make sure you rest up. Follow the steep trail up the ridge, quickly gaining 150 feet as you reach the top of a knoll. You then have to relinquish about half of that as the trail drops sharply to a saddle. From there, the trail ascends relentlessly, with only a few flat stretches. The good news is that each time you stop to catch your breath, you’ll be treated to excellent views, which now include Mt. Baldy to the east.

View from Lawlor Saddle below Strawberry Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:00 – The steep trail ascending to Strawberry Peak as seen from Lawlor Saddle

Picking your way farther up the trail, you pass by a few Coulter pines that survived the fire. You reach a false summit and follow a ridge line a short distance before finally arriving on the real peak.

Before the Station Fire, pines blocked the view. While you may miss their shade on hot days, their absence means that you can enjoy a true 360-degree panorama. On days of exceptional visibility, you can see Santa Cruz Island and the Topa Topa range near Ojai to the west, San Jacinto to the east and the Palomar Mountains to the southeast. Make sure you rest your legs for the steep descent back to Lawlor Saddle.

Steep trail to Strawberry Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:19 – One of several steep ascents on the trail to Strawberry Peak

On a personal note, my first encounter with Strawberry Peak, pre-Station Fire, was the first true butt-kicking I ever experienced on a trail. While I would go on to many more difficult peaks, Strawberry was the toughest one I’d done at the time, far more difficult than I expected. I had long been looking forward to being able to go back and while I was grateful for the opportunity, I can honestly report that it was as hard as I’d remembered. Thus I give it the “evil” distinction of being hike #666 posted on this site. Nevertheless, despite the challenges it presents, it’s an essential San Gabriel summit with views that are worth the effort.

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from the summit of Strawberry Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:45 – Looking down into Big Tujunga Canyon from Strawberry Peak’s summit

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Wind Wolves Preserve

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Sandstone geology at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, California

Sandstone geology at the Reflection Pond site, Wind Wolves Preserve

Panoramic view of the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, California

View from the Reflection Pond Trail, Wind Wolves Preserve

Wind Wolves Preserve

  • Location: South San Joaquin Valley, south of Bakersfield. The entrance is on Highway 166, 13 miles east of the junction with Highway 33 and 10 miles west of the junction with I-5. The physical address is 16019 Maricopa Highway, Bakersfield, CA 93311. If you’re coming from the east, the entrance will be on the left; the west, the right. Follow the access road three miles south and bear right to enter the preserve. After signing in at the booth, bear left at a Y-junction and follow the road to its end at a day use parking area (about 2.6 miles from the entrance to the park). Parking is free but donations of $5 per individual or $10 per family are suggested.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance: 9.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo maps: Eagle Rest Peak
  • More information: Wildlands Conservancy page here; Yelp page here; TV report about the preserve here; trip report here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
Information boards at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:00 – Info boards at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Wildlands Conservancy is known for the properties it oversees on the eastern slope of the San Bernardino Mountains such as Mission Creek and Whitewater Canyon. However, they also operate this large preserve south of Bakersfield, located in the transitional zone between the San Emigdio Mountains and the Central Valley. The preserve is about a two hour drive from downtown L.A. and just over an hour from the Santa Clarita Valley. It could loosely be described as Chino Hills State Park on steroids, weighing in at an impressive 93,000 acres. The rolling terrain of San Emigdio Canyon resembles that of Chino Hills State Park but the preserve also includes the forested slopes of the taller mountains, providing runoff for a seasonal stream and waterfall.

Waterfall at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:02 – Waterfall (times are approximate)

Camping is available in the park with a reservation. Day hikers can choose from several possible routes. The park is an enjoyable place for wandering but for hikers who want a specific goal, the Reflection Pond is a good destination. Even if the seasonal pond is dry, which is the case of this writing, the hike to and from it is a good workout that offers a nice sampling of the reserve’s scenery.

El Camino Viejo (The Old Road), Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:06 – Heading south on El Camino Viejo

The two main trails through the park are the single-track San Emigdio Trail and the El Camino Viejo bike path, a fire road. A few short trails connect the two at various intervals. The route described here takes the El Camino Viejo outbound and San Emigdio back, creating a very long, thin loop with a spur to the pond.

From the parking area, follow the El Camino Viejo path, passing the start of the San Emigdio Trail, to a concrete apron crossing the stream. A paved path on the right leads down a staircase to a small seasonal waterfall (really just a check dam, but still a nice little spot.) After visiting the waterfall, follow El Camino Viejo south into the canyon, ascending gradually. This path follows the original El Camino Viejo, the oldest inland north-south road in California.

The Willows picnic area and campground, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:55 – The Willows

At about 0.7 miles, you pass the Twin Fawns Picnic Area. The trail continues for a pleasant if uneventful 1.5 miles to the Willows, a wetland with many trees (one of which has a low limb that requires support from two metal poles.) Here there are picnic tables, full-service restrooms and camping. Beyond, El Camino Viejo continues to a junction with the Reflection Pond Trail (3.4 miles from the start.)

Reflection Pond trail, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

1:30 – Reflection Pond trail head

Turn left and follow it across the canyon, passing an unmarked junction with the south end of the San Emigdio Trail; note this spot if you want to take that route back. The trail then begins a steep climb, ascending 350 feet in 0.4 miles. At the top, pass through a fence and follow the trail into a meadow, bearing right at a junction and soon arriving at the site of the pond. The official trail ends at a jumble of sandstone boulders, one of which has a small cave carved inside it. From here, you can enjoy panoramic views of the mountains to the south and the rolling hills and meadows to the east, north and west. This is the turnaround point for the hike.

Panoramic views of hills and mountains, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

2:00 – Site of the reflection pond (turnaround point)

After descending back into the canyon, take a right on the San Emigdio Trail and follow it in and out of the creek, heading north and downhill toward the Willows. Shortly before the Willows, stay straight as a trail branches off to the left. You reach a picnic table and a Y-junction; this time you’ll bear left and walk into the heart of the wetlands, ducking under some branches. At 6.7 miles, you reach a clearing with a few benches. The trail continues straight, crossing the stream again before crossing under a wooden arch and reaching a junction with the short Bobcat Loop, an option if you want to extend the hike.

San Emigdio Canyon Trail, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

2:30 – Heading back on the San Emigdio Canyon Trail

The San Emigdio Trail then branches off to the right (if you go straight, you’ll reach El Camino Viejo). Follow it along the creek, passing a few gnarled willows and another junction that heads off to El Camino Viejo before arriving at a picnic area called the Patio. You soon reach another junction; the two trails soom reconnect (the left route sticks closer to the canyon while the right is on higher, dryer ground). Soon after the trails rejoin, you reach the end of the Sam Emigdio Canyon Trail, completing the loop.

Picnic area at the Willows, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:00 – Returning to the Willows from the other side

Interestingly, “Wind Wolves” does not actually refer to the animals, but to the tall grasses that are found throughout the park. In high winds, the grasses wave, creating the impression of animals moving through them.

Clearing with benches in the wetlands at the Willows, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:10 – Clearing in the wetlands (stay straight)

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Patio picnic area, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:45 – “The Patio”

Josephine Peak via Colby Trail

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Looking east from Josephine Peak, Angeles National Forest, California

Strawberry Peak with Mt. Baldy distant from Josephine Peak

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from just below Josephine Peak, Angeles National Forest, California

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from just below Josephine Peak

Josephine Peak via Colby Trail

    • Location: Angeles National Forest. From I-210 in La Canada, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 10 miles to a dirt turnout by mile marker 34.55 (shortly beyond the Switzer parking area, about a mile past Clear Creek Junction). The trail head is unsigned. While no signs indicate that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required and while the new policies don’t require a pass at unimproved trail heads such as this one, if you want to be safe and purchase one ($5 per day or $30 for the year) click here.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 8.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,050 feet
    • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here; description of the route via the fire road here
    • Rating: 8
Colby Canyon Trail Head, Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains, CA

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

Popular Josephine Peak (elevation 5,558) was one of the last Angeles National Forest destinations to reopen following the Station Fire. It is now possible to legally hike to the summit, either via the Josephine Peak Fire Road or, as described here, from Colby Canyon. The route via Colby is quite steep but scenically rewarding, with excellent views of Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and a nearly aerial perspective on the canyon. Terrain isn’t too much of an issue, but a few spots are washed out, loose and rocky, requiring your attention on the descent, which will likely be on tired legs. Keep an eye out too for poodle dog bush, common in areas such as this that were recently burned.

Waterfall in Colby Canyon, Angeles National Forest, California

0:03 – Seasonal waterfall in Colby Canyon (times are approximate)

Start hiking on the faint, unsigned (it was burned in the fire) trail at the west side of the turnout. Immediately you are immersed in scenic Colby Canyon, soon passing a seasonal waterfall. You begin climbing out of the canyon, following a ridge over the top of another intermittent waterfall at about 0.4 miles. The trail then clings closely to the side of the ridge, dropping sharply into Colby Canyon, before crossing the stream again and reaching a bench (0.9 miles.)

Aerial perspective of Colby Canyon, Angeles National Forest, California

0:21 – Aerial view of Colby Canyon before the intensive climbing begins

Now the work begins. The trail ascends relentlessly, making switch backs up the exposed south-facing slope before finally reaching Josephine Saddle, just over two miles from the start and almost 1,400 feet higher. Here you can rest and enjoy the reward for your efforts: an excellent view of Big Tujunga Canyon to the northwest and Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and the canyon to the southeast.

With the hardest work behind you, continue west (bear left) on the unsigned Josephine Peak Trail, which is pleasantly flat and shaded by pines. Soon the peak itself comes into view. After an easy 0.6 miles, you join the fire road from Clear Creek Station and begin a moderate ascent. The shaded, north-facing slope is forgiving and progress is quick. You make a pair of long switchbacks and soon find yourself just below the antennas of the summit. The fire road then gives way to a short but steep and somewhat loose single-track leading a few dozen yards to the top.

Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak as seen from Josephine Saddle, Angeles National Forest, California

1:14 – Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak as seen from Josephine Saddle

Although the antenna installation blocks some of the view, the panorama is still impressive. To the east, Strawberry Peak, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson dominate but you can still see Baldy behind them. No peak in the Angeles west of Josephine is taller, so the views in that direction are the best: the Santa Monica Mountains, downtown L.A., the Verdugos, the Sierra Pelona, and the ocean. If visibility is optimum, San Clemente can be seen as a flat mass behind Catalina; Santa Barbara is visible as a lone bump on the ocean with remote San Nicolas faint behind it and the peaks of Santa Cruz Island can be seen west of the Santa Monicas. After enjoying the vista, return via the same route, or if you’ve arranged for a car shuttle at Clear Creek, you can descend via the fire road.

1:33 - View of the summit shortly before the fire road junction

1:33 – View of the summit shortly before the fire road junction

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

View of the ocean from the summit of Josephine Peak, Angeles Nationanl Forest, California

2:11 – Ocean view from the summit

Upper Altadena Crest Trail

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View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, Pasadena, CA

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail

Ocean view from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

Dusk over the ocean from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail

Upper Altadena Crest Trail

  • Location: Staging area on the north side of Loma Alta Drive at the intersection with Dabney St. From I-210, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on Loma Alta Drive and go 0.2 miles to the staging area on the north side of the road, across from Loma Alta Park.
  • Agency: Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy/County of Los Angeles
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – June (sunrise to sunset)
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Everytrail report here; LA County Trails page here
  • Rating: 6
Altadena Crest Trail Head, Pasadena, CA

0:00 – Trail head at the Loma Alta Staging Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This northwestern segment of the Altadena Trail connects Loma Alta Drive with Mt. Lowe Road, climbing about 800 vertical feet with a few ups and downs, adding up to a fairly vigorous workout. The trail’s convenient location and panoramic views make it a worthwhile excursion for anyone in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys; it’s not far from downtown L.A. either.

From the staging area, follow the signed trail leading alongside the debris basin. The first few hundred yards might not seem promising but you quickly climb away from civilization, reaching the top of a ridge a quarter mile from the start. From here, you descend to a T-junction. Take a hard right and head into a shallow canyon. Stay straight, ignoring the cut switchback on the left and make your way up to another ridge, taking in some nice views of the San Gabriel Mountains dead ahead.

Fall colors on the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

0:09 – Heading right at the T-junction (times are approximate)

After another brief descent, you begin a steady climb to a Y-junction (0.9 miles from the start). Bear left and continue climbing a quarter mile to reach the paved Chaney Trail. The trail continues on the opposite side of the road and a wooden step makes a nice resting spot before the steep ascent ahead.

View of the mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Foothills, CA

0:24 – Bear left at the Y-junction

The trail continues its climb, quite steeply at times and over increasingly loose and washed out terrain. The good news is that for your efforts you are rewarded with views that are wider and wider, as well as an interesting aerial perspective on Cheney Trail. Finally the grade levels out you meet up with a paved road leading a few yards to a junction at a saddle with great views to the south, including the Santa Ana Mountains, Catalina Island and downtown L.A., and Millard Canyon to the north.

This is the turnaround point (1.6 miles from the start), but you can easily extend the hike along the Sunset Ridge Trail or the Mt. Lowe Fire Road if you see fit. As an alternate to the loose, steep trail, you can also descend via Cheney Trail by heading left on the Mt. Lowe Fire Road and following it a short distance.

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Altadena Crest Trail, California

0:29 – View from the Cheney Trail intersection

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:49 – Southeast view from the top

Cedar Creek Falls (West Approach)

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Cedar Creek Falls, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

Cedar Creek Falls

Eagle Peak seen from the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

Eagle Peak from the San Diego River Gorge Trail

Cedar Creek Falls (West Approach)

  • Location: 15519 Thornbush Road, Ramona. From Escondido, follow Highway 78 east for about 18 miles. In downtown Ramona when Highway 78 turns left, stay straight and follow 10th St., which soon becomes San Vicente Road, for a total of 6.8 miles. Turn left on Ramona Oaks and follow it 2.9 miles to Thornbush Road. Turn right on Thornbush and follow it 0.2 miles to the parking area. From Poway, take Highway 67 to Dye Road (6.1 miles northeast of the junction with Poway Road). Turn right and follow Dye 1.8 miles where it turns left and becomes Ramona St. Follow Ramona 0.4 miles and turn right on Warnock. Go 0.8 miles and turn right on San Vicente. Follow San Vicente Road 4.8 miles to Ramona Oaks. Turn left and follow Ramona Oaks 2.9 miles to Thornbush. Turn right and drive to the parking area. Restrooms and water are available at the trail head. Dogs are allowed but not recommended. To purchase the required permit ($6 for a group of up to five) click here. If you have a Smartphone, you can buy the permit at the trail head but plan on 10-15 minutes’ processing time. Note that the permit is only required for visiting the area around the falls; the first two miles of the hike don’t require it.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: November – June; sunrise to sunset
  • USGS topo map: “Santa Ysabel”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information: Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here; articles about the history of the trail and its current regulations here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

The good news is that the San Diego River Gorge Trail provides a route to Cedar Creek Falls that is more convenient and accessible than the trail from south of Julian. The bad news is that over use and reckless behavior from some visitors has caused the implementation of a permit system. In addition to seeing its share of cliff-jumping type accidents, Cedar Creek Falls is a reverse hike through almost entirely exposed terrain in an area that gets very hot during the summer. Hikers who aren’t prepared for a long ascent can find themselves hating life on the return from Cedar Creek (the approaches from both directions are reverse hikes.)

Information board at the Cedar Creek Falls Trail Head, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Info board at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Despite the caveats, the scenic rewards of this hike are considerable. Even if the waterfall is barely a trickle, which is the case as of this writing, this is still one of the better hikes in San Diego County. The trail from Ramona is moderately graded and easy to follow.

Descending switchbacks on the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:18 – Descending the switchbacks (times are approximate)

From the trail head, pass by an information board with dire warnings about heat stroke and and other potential hazards and begin the descent. As you make your way down the wide switchbacks, you get a panoramic view of the San Diego River Gorge below, with Eagle Peak towering above on the opposite side. Beyond are the higher summits of the Cuyamacas. You may also notice the trail from the east cutting its way down the hill side. Distance markers at quarter-mile intervals mark your progress.

At just over two miles, you reach the attractive floodplain of the San Diego River, dotted with oaks and sycamores. Almost immediately after you come to a junction with the trail from Julian. It is only beyond this point that the permit is required. Stay straight and follow the canyon of Cedar Creek, crossing the stream bed a few times. The trail becomes somewhat rocky but never too difficult.

Trees and mountains on the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:25 – Change in the foliage as the trail descends

At about 2.7 miles from the start, the top of the 80-foot waterfall comes into view. You find yourself at a large pool nicknamed the Punchbowl, lined with rocks and a few shallow inlets. Here you can sit and enjoy the scene; though it’s only a few air miles from civilization it feels far more isolated. Make sure you rest up for the ascent back.

San Diego River Flood Plain, Cleveland National Forest, CA

0:50 – Greenery on the San Diego River flood plain, shortly before the junction

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Punchbowl, Cedar Creek Falls, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

1:05 – Punchbowl at Cedar Creek Falls

Top 14 hikes of ’14!

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View of San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak from Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from Ryan Mountain

View of Millard Canyon from the Cape of Good Hope, Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

View of Millard Canyon from the Cape of Good Hope, Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

Trees at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Wilderness

Trees at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Wilderness

View of the coastline of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Looking east from mid Santa Cruz Island en route to Del Norte Trail Camp

Greetings readers and hikers, I hope this has been a happy, fun and successful year for you all! As is tradition on this site, for the last post of the year we present a list of the highlights from the last 365 days. It was a banner year for NHLA – we passed one million total page views, set a single-day record for traffic, started a relationship with Sports Chalet, continued to network with other sites and publishers promoting hiking, such as the “Longest Straw” crew. More than one hundred hikes – from Santa Barbara to the high desert to Joshua Tree to the Anza-Borrego Desert – were written up and here are the best of them. Enjoy!

#14) Devil’s Punchbowl

Definitely one of the best short hikes in all of Southern California, the Devil’s Punchbowl showcases unusual geology, panoramic views of the high desert and the towering north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains.

#13) Rattlesnake Canyon

Steep but scenic, this is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular hiking trails. Your efforts for 1,700 feet of climbing are rewarded with outstanding ocean and mountain views.

#12) Butler Peak

Home to the highest lookout tower in the San Bernardino National Forest, the hike to Butler Peak leads through lofty pine forests with views all around.

#11) Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve

It’s hard not to like the little mountain town of Julian. Case in point: this large pocket of open space, where you can lose yourself in the wide open fields and rolling hills.

#10) Romero Canyon

Excellent ocean vistas, mountain views and shaded oak woodlands are among the highlights of this popular Santa Barbara hike.

#9) West Mesa Loop

Alpine meadows, oak and pine forests, excellent mountain views and the historic Airplane Monument make this hike one of the best in all of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

#8) Horsethief Creek

In the dry transition zone between the Coachella Valley and the Santa Rosa Mountains, Horsethief Creek is a pleasant surprise, offering a truly remote hiking experience and a variety of geological and botanical scenery.

#7) Del Norte Trail Camp

Want to escape the crowds on Santa Cruz Island? The middle portion of this largest of the Channel Islands is lightly traveled and Del Norte Trail Camp is a perfect day hike destination (or, as its name suggests, a camping destination).

#6) Agua Tibia Wilderness

This remote and rugged area of north San Diego County challenges hikers but also rewards them with excellent views of the Palomar Mountains, the Santa Rosas, Garner Valley and more.

#5) Mt. Wilson/Devore Camp Loop

Mt. Wilson as a reverse hike? Why not? This 11-mile loop descends via the Kenyon Devore Trail and returns via the Gabrielino and Rim Trails, providing passage through Mt. Wilson’s remote north slope.

#4) Ryan Mountain

With 360-degree summit views including San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountain, there’s a reason why Ryan Mountain is Joshua Tree’s most popular summit

#3) Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

History and phenomenal views come together in this hike, which explores the route of the Mt. Lowe Railroad. The Sam Merrill and Echo Mountain Trails provide vistas of the L.A. Basin while the Castle Canyon Trail explores some of the area’s geological features. In between is Inspiration Point, where almost all of So Cal is visible.

#2) High Point

The highest point in the Palomar Mountains offers predictably exciting scenery. Supposedly a fire 200 miles away in Santa Barbara was once spotted from this lookout and when you experience the views from the summit, it’s not hard to believe.

#1) Mt. Hawkins Loop

The best NHLA hike of 2014 is this outstanding 13-mile loop in the Angeles National Forest. Visiting both South Hawkins and Mt. Hawkins, this epic route provides amazing views of the L.A. Basin, the high desert, San Gabriel Canyon and more.

Well, it’s been a great year and thank all of you readers for making this site your go-to resource for information about hikes. Let’s all get out there and have a great 2015!

Elsmere Canyon

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Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon

Geology in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

The Towsley geological formation, Elsmere Canyon

Elsmere Canyon

  • Location: Santa Clarita.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit.  If you’re coming from the south, turn right; the north, left, and drive to the end of the street and park in the dirt lot.  (If the lot is full, you may need to use the lower lot, where there is a $5 fee.)
  • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round (best after recent rains)
  • USGS topo maps: Oat Mountain, San Fernando
  • More information: here; trip description here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report (loop route) here
  • Rating: 7
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:00 – Elsmere Canyon Open Space trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The small seasonal waterfall in Elsmere Canyon is a pleasant surprise for hikers who may feel as if they know all of the trails in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Even during the summer months when the waterfall is likely to be dry the enjoyable stroll along the Creek Trail is a good way to beat the heat. Elsmere Canyon is large (over 1,200 acres) and the 6-mile loop around the perimeter of the park is a challenging workout, but power lines and exposure to freeway noise detract from the experience. The short hike to and from the waterfall is the most enjoyable one in the park and one of the best easy hikes in the area.

Creek Trail, Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:06 – Bear left on the Creek Trail (times are approximate)

From the Whitney Canyon Trail Head, which also serves as an entry point to Elsmere Canyon, follow the trail signed for Elsmere Canyon as it heads south along the border of the parking lot, up a ridge and downhill to a junction (0.2 miles.) Bear left on the signed Creek Trail which follows a pleasant course along a seasonal stream, crossing it several times. Soon you’re under the shade of oaks and you’ll also notice the tall rock walls, part of the Towsley Formation, rising high on the west side of the canyon.

Single track trail in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:27 – Turnoff for the waterfall

At 0.9 miles, you reach a junction with a wide fire road. Bear right, go a short distance and then head left on a single-track trail leading deeper into the woods. You will have to negotiate a few  creek crossings, some of which may be tricky if water levels are high. Adding to the challenge are several fallen trees, the result of the Foothill Fire of 2004 and other blazes. Overall though the navigation and terrain aren’t too difficult and after 0.4 miles, you find yourself at the base of the waterfall.

The lower tier which is about 10 feet can be climbed fairly easily for those with experience, assuming that the water level isn’t high enough to present a hazard. The upper tier is about 20 feet tall and pours down into a shallow pool. Whether you observe the waterfall from the bottom or the middle, it’s an attractive, peaceful spot, only a few miles from civilization but virtually isolated.

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:45 – Elsmere Canyon waterfall

There are more waterfalls beyond this one that can be reached by climbers who possess the necessary equipment and knowledge, but for hikers who don’t want to risk becoming part of the conversation about what steps managing agencies should take to regulate open spaces, this is the turnaround point. On the way back, if it’s a cool day and you’re looking for a little more of a workout, consider taking the Elsmere Canyon Loop instead of the Creek Trail, adding 0.2 miles and about 200 feet of elevation gain. It lacks the serenity of the Creek Trail but does provide some nice views of the Santa Clarita Valley, including the distant Sierra Pelona range.

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