Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

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View of Hot Springs Mountain, highest point in San Diego County from the Pacific Crest Trail near Warner Springs, CA

View of Hot Springs Mountain during the first mile of the hike

Crossing Agua Caliente Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County, CA

Agua Caliente Creek

Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Highway 79 near Warner Springs, northeast San Diego County. The starting point is a dirt lot on the south side of the road. The location is 36.3 miles east of I-15, 1.3 miles west of Warner Springs and 16.3 miles northwest of Santa Ysabel. Trail head coordinates are N 33 17.296, W 116 39.379.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 9.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Warner Springs; Hot Springs Mountain
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Day and Section Hikes Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California
  • More information: Trip description here; Description from a through-hiker’s blog here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
Starting point for the hike to Agua Caliente Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail, Highway 79, Warner Springs, CA

0:00 – The parking area;  P.C.T. decal points across the street (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is arguably the most popular day hike out of Warner Springs, with the possible exception of Eagle Rock. It follows a pleasant stretch of the P.C.T. as it heads north from Highway 79, paralleling Agua Caliente Creek, which usually flows year round. While the scenery isn’t quite as dramatic as it is on the way to Eagle Rock, this section of the Pacific Crest Trail still offers a nice cross-section of the landscape around Warner Springs. The 9.4-mile round trip described here is a good, moderate day hike, but it can easily be shortened or extended.

Oak woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

0:30 – Entering the woodlands (times are approximate)

From the turnout, carefully cross Highway 79 and follow a dirt road past a fence. You soon meet up with the signed Pacific Crest Trail. Bear left onto the P.C.T. and follow it through an attractive, oak-dotted field. Hot Springs Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County, can be seen to the northeast.

View of Combs Peak and the Bucksnort Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente Creek, San Diego County, CA

0:51 – View of Combs Peak and the Bucksnort Mountains after climbing out of the canyon

At about 1.1 miles, you enter the woods. You pass through private land on an easement, soon crossing Agua Caliente Creek for the first of several times. The trail then climbs above the creek, providing panoramic views to the west and of the Bucksnort Mountains to the north. Vegetation along this stretch includes beavertail and cholla cacti, yuccas, manzanita and oak. You reach a saddle (3 miles) where the trail descends back to the creek (3.3 miles) passing by a makeshift trail camp.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

1:22 – Trail camp near where the P.C.T. crosses the creek

Keeping an eye out for poison oak, you cross the creek twice, reach another primitive camp and continue deeper into the canyon. A few pines can be seen sticking up from the oaks and sycamores. The trail briefly climbs the west side of the creek before dropping back down. At about 4 miles, you pass a wall of granite. At 4.6 miles, the trail enters a sloping meadow and soon after, you reach another trail camp; a perfect spot to relax beneath the oaks, accompanied by the sound of the trickling stream.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

1:32 – Second trail camp by the creek

Beyond, the trail leaves the canyon and continues uphill toward Lost Valley Road and Combs Peak. For day hikers, this is the recommended turnaround point. The coordinates are N 33 19.290, W 116 37.356.

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.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

2:05 – Trail camp at the turnaround point

Horse Trail (Eaton Canyon Natural Area)

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Wildflowers, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

Wildflowers in Eaton Canyon

Pines on the Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

Pine grove near the top of the Horse Trail

Horse Trail (Eaton Canyon Natural Area)

  • Location: Pasadena. From the I-210 freeway, take the Altadena Drive exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and go 1.6 miles. The entrance to the park will beo n the right.
  • Agency: Eaton Canyon Nature Center; Angeles National Forest
  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
Eaton Canyon trail head, Pasadena, CA

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

Eaton Canyon Natural Area in Pasadena is best known as an access point for the lower end of the Mt. Wilson Toll Road and for its popular (and infamous) waterfall. However, hikers shouldn’t overlook the Horse Trail, which provides a short but vigorous workout with some panoramic mountain and city views. Best done on cool days with good visibility, the vistas from the Horse Trail include the Santa Monica Mountains, Catalina Island, Old Saddleback and a nearly aerial perspective on the residential areas of the north San Gabriel Valley.

Oaks in Eaton Canyon, Pasasdena, CA

0:09 – Oak woodlands (times are approximate)

The network of trails through and around the nature center invite meandering and exploring, but for the purposes of this post, the most direct route involves a pleasant 0.6 mile stroll along the park’s main trail followed by a climb of 0.6 miles on the Horse Trail to its upper end at the toll road. From the parking area, take the right trail (the left leads to a picnic area with water fountains for both human and canine hikers) and follow it past fields of spring flowers with the mountains making an impressive backdrop.

Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

0:18 – Start of the Horse Trail

At 0.25 miles, cross the stream (dry as of this writing) and enter a pleasant woodland, ignoring several trails that branch to the right. Continue north, ascending gradually, making your way in and out of pockets of oaks. Poison oak, while not hugely prevalent, is found along the sides of the trail. At 0.6 miles where the main route continues north toward the waterfall, turn right on the Horse Trail which begins its efficient climb up the canyon’s east wall. The trail is largely exposed, although a few pleasant spots do provide some shade. About half way up is a spot with some excellent views, including downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles as seen from the Horse Trail, Pasadena, CA

0:27 – View of Los Angeles from the Horse Trail

Shortly before the top of the trail, look for a pleasant pine grove (a miniature version of Henninger Flats, farther up the toll road). This is an excellent spot to sit and rest, especially if the day is hot. Between the trees, glimpses of downtown, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Signal Hill and more can be seen. Shortly beyond this point, the trail makes one final switchback before meeting the toll road. Ambitious hikers can continue uphill another two miles or so to Henninger Flats, while those who want some variety on the descent can make a loop by descending the toll road and following the Eaton Canyon Trail back to the nature center.

Mt. Wilson Toll Road as seen from the Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

0:40 – The Mt. Wilson Toll Road as seen from the top of the Horse Trail

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.

Bell Peak (Orange County)

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American Flag on Bell Peak, Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

Flag on top of Bell Peak

Southeast panorama from the Bell View Trail, Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

Looking southeast from the Bell View Trail

Bell Peak (Orange County)

      • Location: Robinson Ranch, Orange County, in the foothills of the Santa Mountains.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take the Alicia Parkway exit and go northeast (left if you’re coming from the north, right if from the south) for 5.3 miles to the road’s end at Rancho Santa Margarita Parkway.  Turn right and go 2.7 miles to Plano Trabuco.  Turn left and go 0.3 miles to Robinson Ranch Road.  Turn right and go 1.2 miles. Note a small green area with a picnic table on the left side of the street; this is your starting point, where the Bell View Trail meets Robinson Ranch Road. Park where available.
      • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation; Cleveland National Forest (Trabuco Ranger District)
      • Distance: 3.8 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain, terrain)
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: November – April
      • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
      • More information: Trip description here; article about the hike here; Bell View trail map here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
Bell View Trail Head, Orange County, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Robinson Ranch Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Bell Peak is the unofficial name of the first major bump on the long ridge that runs all the way from Los Pinos Peak to the foothills above Robinson Ranch. Die-hards have been known to hike or bike the entire route (almost 7 miles each way) but for hikers wanting a shorter though still vigorous workout with some panoramic views of the area, Bell Peak is a popular destination. The summit is also known as Patriot Hill due to the American flag placed at the top (not to be confused with Flag Hill and the Patriot Trail in San Clemente.)

Santiago Peak as seen from the Bell View Trail, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County, CA

0:15 – View of Santiago Peak from the top of the first ridge

The hike starts where the Bell View Trail meets Robinson Ranch Road. From the picnic table, head left and uphill (the segment to the right takes you south toward Caspers Wilderness Park and is part of the Robinson Ranch/Bell View Loop, another worthwhile hike). The trail ascends steadily, making an Z-shaped curve, taking in dramatic views of Santiago Peak to the north and the surrounding suburban areas to the south. At 0.7 miles, you reach a junction with an unsigned trail. While adept hikers can use use the single-track to cut off some distance, those visiting for the first time would be best served to stick with the main trail, which drops sharply into a ravine. Here, a few large oaks provide the only significant shade on the entire route.

Oaks in the Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

0:19 – Oaks at the bottom of the first hill

At the bottom, the trail splits. Both forks soon rejoin but the right fork, which climbs steeply out of the canyon, is quicker. A short but difficult ascent brings you to another junction a mile from the start.

Here, you turn right on a single-track trail, soon entering Cleveland National Forest land. The trail is level for a short distance and manages to get a little more shade from a few trees on the ridge before reaching the most demanding portion of the hike; a stretch of 0.4 miles that gains 450 feet. The terrain is rocky and loose in some spots.

Single track trail leading into the Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:25 – Turnoff from the Bell View Trail

After huffing and puffing your way to the top of the ridge, your work becomes easier as the next section of the trail is mercifully level. You get more views of Santiago Peak and Bell Peak with its flag is now clearly visible. Two more short, steep climbs bring you to the top.

View of Santiago Peak and Bell Peak, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:45 – Santiago Peak and Bell Peak (right) as seen from the top of the ridge

Unfortunately there’s no real place to sit down and the bugs can be annoying, but there’s still an impressive vista, especially on clear days. The panorama includes a bird’s eye perspective of Trabuco Canyon, the hills of Whiting Ranch and O’Neill Parks, Catalina Island, the San Joaquin Hills and if visibility is good, San Clemente Island. Enjoy it and rest your legs for the steep descent back.

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon from Bell Peak, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County, CA

1:00 – Trabuco Canyon as seen from the 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.

Slide Mountain Lookout

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Looking northwest from Slide Mountain, Angeles National Forest, California

Northwest view from the summit

Geology on the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

Geology and mountain views

Slide Mountain Lookout

  • Location: Angeles National Forest, northwest of Valencia and Castaic. From I-5, take the Templin Highway exit. Head west (turn left if you’re coming from the south; right if from the north) and take a quick right on Golden State Highway. Drive 5 miles to the road’s end at Frenchman’s Flat Campground. 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 Clarita and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,600 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: R (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Black Mountain
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; ANF Fire Lookout page here; video taken at the lookout here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
Beginning of the hike to Slide Mountain at Frenchman Flat, Angeles National Forest, CA

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

Slide Mountain (elevation 4,631) is one of the taller peaks in the western corner of the Angeles National Forest and is home to an active lookout tower which was constructed in 1969. The hike is an exercise in delayed gratification: it starts with a 1.6-mile walk on pavement followed by 2.3 miles of steady uphill, much of which is on exposed south-facing slopes. However, the views during the last mile and a half and from the summit are worth the effort. Navigation and terrain are easy, making this a great training hike for those who want to build their endurance. The mountain is conveniently located to the Santa Clarita Valley and is not too far from the San Fernando Valley or even downtown L.A.

Beginning of the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:42 – Leaving the paved road, starting the ascent (times are approximate)

From the end of the Golden State Highway, walk past the gate and follow the paved road as it gradually ascends. After 0.5 miles, you cross Piru Creek on a bridge. You continue following the canyon carved by the creek, the steep walls blocking out most of the noise from I-5. At 1.6 miles, turn left on an unsigned fire road that is listed as the Slide Peak Trail on Google Maps.
Marker on the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:12 – Marker on the trail as it becomes a single track

Now the work begins. For the duration of the trip, the trail maintains a nearly steady pace of just over 600 feet of elevation gain per mile; it is never brutally steep but it also never lets up. The views get better and better as you climb, and depending on what time of day you are hiking, the ridges may block out the sun.

At 2.7 miles, the trail makes a hard left turn and becomes a single track. An unmarked memorial stands here, marking the approximate half way point (in distance) between Frenchman’s Flat and the peak, although the vast majority of the elevation gain still lies ahead. A beam placed on two rocks makes a makeshift bench for those who need to rest.

View of Slide Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:48 – View of Slide Peak from the saddle

The trail continues its ascent, finally reaching a saddle at 3.9 miles. Here, you get excellent views to the west and south as well as the eastern vistas which have been with you during your climb. Slide Mountain’s round shape lies unmistakably before you; to the northwest is taller Dome Mountain, which serves as a Ventura/L.A. County benchmark.

On the opposite side of the saddle, the trail passes by some interesting sandstone outcrops before making a few switchbacks, passing through a pleasantly green (depending on the season) hillside. At 4.4 miles, the trail follows a north-facing slope with excellent views of Pyramid Lake. Though the only vegetation is chaparral and scrub oak, the ridge itself provides shade.

Pyramid Lake, northwest Los Angeles County, CA as seen from the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:03 – View of Pyramid Lake

At about 5.2 miles, the metal structure of the lookout comes into view. One last switchback brings you to the summit where you can enjoy a 360-degree vista. If the weather is clear, the San Emigdio Mountains can be seen to the north; the Santa Monicas and Hollywood Hills lie to the south and Baldy and the San Gabriels are southeast. You also get a bird’s eye perspective on Pyramid Lake, I-5 and the paved road on which you hiked earlier–more than two thousand feet below.

Approaching Slide Mountain Lookout, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:28 – Approaching the lookout

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.

Southeast view from Slide Summit, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:30 – Looking southeast from Slide Mountain

Vulture Crags

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View of Santiago Peak from the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

View of Santiago Peak from the Santiago Truck Trail

View of southeastern Orange County from the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, CA

Southeast view from the Santiago Truck Trail

Vulture Crags

      • Location: Modjeska Grade Road, Orange County. Modjeska Grade Road is located off of Santiago Canyon Road, 8.8 miles north of I-5 (via El Toro Road) and 15 miles southeast of the 55 Freeway (via Chapman Ave.) Turn left if you’re coming from the north; right if from the south. Modjeska Grade is a steep, narrow winding road so exercise caution (the author has witnessed a car crash on this road due to excessive speed.) Parking is not available in the immediate vicinity of the trail head. Signs are posted along both sides indicating where parking is legal; the closest to the trail head is about 0.1 miles north of it (0.6 miles from Santiago Canyon Road). If parking is unavailable there, park below the trail head, possibly on Santiago Canyon Road itself in a small dirt turnout.
      • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation; Cleveland National Forest (Trabuco Ranger District)
      • Distance: 7 miles (round trip distance assuming closest possible starting point)
      • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet (assuming closest possible starting point)
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: November – April
      • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat;
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Orange County
      • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - View from the start of legal parking on Modjeska Grade Road, north of the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View from the start of legal parking on Modjeska Grade Road, north of the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Santiago Truck Trail climbs from Santiago Canyon all the way to Main Divide Road. The moderately graded 10-plus mile route is popular with mountain bikers for day hikers, Vulture Crags makes a good destination for a moderate trip. Highlights include up-close views of Modjeska and Santiago Peaks, panoramic vistas of the Orange County coastal plains and foothills and Vulture Crags, once a roosting spot for condors. Keep in mind that the trail is entirely exposed, although if you get off to an early or late start, the ridges may block out some of the sun.

Marine fossils on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:16 – Fossils in a rock (times are approximate)

After carefully walking along the narrow shoulder of Modjeska Grade Road from your starting point, begin hiking on the Santiago Truck Trail, which leaves from the east side of the street. The trail ascends, following the ridge, with views of Santiago Canyon on the left and Live Oak Canyon on the right. Half a mile from the road, keep an eye out for a large rock with several marine fossils embedded into it.

Greenery on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:30 – Greenery on the Santiago Truck Trail

After a mile, the trail follows the north side of a ridge and the terrain becomes greener. After a vigorous ascent, the trail levels out briefly before climbing to a vista point (2.5 miles from the start). Here you can rest and enjoy a 180-degree view to the south and east.

Panoramic view of the Santa Ana foothills from the Santiago Truck Trail, Orange County, CA

1:10 – Southwest view from the vista point about 2.5 miles from the start

Following the vista point, the trail climbs to the highest point on this hike, about 2,300 feet. If it is spring, you may notice the pleasant scent of wild flowers. You soon see the backside of Vulture Crags; keep an eye out too for a large sandstone outcrop on the left side of the trail, resembling the geology of the Santa Monica Mountains. The trail descends to a saddle where a short spur leads to a mini-summit, marked by U.S. and Marine Corps flags. Here you can sit and get a great view of Vulture Crags. Below the formation are layers of multicolored marine sediment. You also get a nice aerial view of Live Oak Canyon Road, about a mile away. The Morrow Trail (aka the Luge) leads down to the road and is popular with mountain bikers but not very practical for hikers, with no parking access at the lower end.

Geology on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

1:30 – Geology near Vulture Crags

If you still have time and energy, you can head up farther on the Santiago Truck Trail or explore the Morrow Trail, keeping in mind that the latter will require you to ascend after descending. Otherwise retrace your steps back to Modjeska Grade.

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.

Vulture Crags, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

1:40 – Vulture Crags as seen from the turnaround point

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

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Panoramic view from the trails of East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Looking west from the Walker Loop

Rolling hills and grasslands, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

Ascending the Walker Loop

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

        • Location: Santa Clarita, Placerita Canyon.  From L.A., take the 14 Freeway north to Placerita Canyon Road.  Turn right and go 3.4 miles and look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road.  From Lancaster, take the 14 Freeway south to the Sand Canyon Road exit.  Turn left on Soledad Canyon Road and make a quick left on Sand Canyon.  Go 3.3 miles and turn right on Placerita Canyon.  Go 1.5 miles and park in the turnout on the right side of the road.
        • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
        • Distance: 3 miles
        • Elevation gain: 550 feet
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG
        • Best season: October – June
        • USGS topo maps: Mint Canyon
        • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
        • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here
        • Rating: 6
Trail head for Golden Valley Ranch and East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:00 – Trail head at Golden Valley Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Named for local settler Frank Walker who lived in the area in the early 20th century, Walker Ranch is a 140-acre open space adjacent to Placerita Canyon Park and operated by the city of Santa Clarita. Highlights include the panoramic views of the Santa Clarita Valley, majestic oaks and the ruins of Walker’s homestead.

Ruins of the Walker Homestead, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:07 – East Walker homestead (times are approximate)

The various trails that cross the property, allowing for multiple possible hikes. The 3-mile route described here samples the park’s best scenery and can be lengthened or shortened as needed. This post assumes you will be starting at the Golden Valley Ranch trail head, the closer of the two trail heads to the 14 Freeway and hiking clockwise, allowing yourself a chance to warm up on a level grade before tackling the first steep ascent, while enjoying excellent westbound views on the way down.

Trail head at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:18 – Alternate access point 0.6 miles from the start

From the parking area, head into Golden Valley Ranch and almost immediately take a right on a footbridge. You follow the trail through rolling grasslands to another footbridge and continue east, following Placerita Canyon Road. At 0.3 miles, you reach a short spur leading to the ruins of the homestead, now little more than two stone columns.

Pine tree in a clearing, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:27 – Clearing at the end of the gravel road before the ascent on the single-track

After retracing your steps, follow the trail under the road through a narrow metal tunnel (ignore the unmaintained trail that continues east, following the road.) On the south side of Placerita Canyon Road, you face your first ascent, a short but steep (100 feet in just over a tenth of a mile) climb that will likely have your calves burning when you reach the top. This is followed by a descent and another climb of about the same distance, bringing you to a parking lot that serves as an alternate trail head (0.6 miles.)

Panoramic view of the Santa Clarita Valley from East Walker Ranch, California

0:48 – Looking north from the vista point

Follow a paved road out of the lot to a junction. Head left (the right route gets you to the same spot but is steeper and not as scenic) and walk along a gravel road to a clearing with a tall pine tree (0.9 miles.) A single-track trail passes through a fence on the opposite side of the clearing, steadily ascending a grassy hill side. As you climb, you enjoy views to the north including the formations of Vasquez Rocks and the San Gabriel Mountains straight ahead to the east.

At 1.2 miles, you reach a bench where you can catch your breath and take in a good view to the west. More climbing brings you to a Y-junction (1.5 miles.) The Raynier Trail heads off to the left; this shaded but not as scenic route is an option if you want to extend the hike. To continue following the Walker Loop, bear right and make a brief ascent to another vista point.

Sunlight through trees at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:51 – Four-way junction (stay straight)

The trail then descends to a four-way junction (1.7 miles.) Head straight on the Allen Trail, reaching a third vista point shaded by an impressive oak (2 miles.) The trail then makes a short but steep and loose descent into the upper reaches of Placerita Canyon. As you follow the trail downhill, you can pick out the Los Pinetos Trail in Placerita Canyon State Park, ascending the ridge on the opposite side of the valley on its way to Wilson Canyon Saddle and Manzanita Peak.

Sunlight through oak branches, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

1:00 – Vista point on the descent

At 2.8 miles, the trail reaches a junction at the bottom of the hill. Turn right and follow the trail back to Placerita Canyon Road, carefully crossing it to complete the loop. If you still have time and energy, Golden Valley Ranch Park offers multiple miles of challenging and scenic trails, as does Placerita Canyon Park down the street.

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.

Dusk panorama at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

1:10 – Looking west at dusk in upper Placerita Canyon

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.