Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

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View of San Vicente Reservoir, San Diego, CA from the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

San Vicente Reservoir from the Oak Oasis Preserve

Oak trees in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

Oak woodland, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

      • Location: Lakeside, east of San Diego. From the north end of the freeway portion of Highway 67, take a right on Mapleview, go 0.3 miles and turn left on Ashwood St. Follow Ashwood for a total of 4.3 miles (it becomes Wildcat Canyon Road) and turn left into the signed Oak Oasis County Park lot. The road to the park is narrow so observe the 10 miles per hour speed limit. From Ramona, take San Vicente Road southeast to Barona Road. Turn right and follow Barona Road, which becomes Wildcat Canyon Road, 9 miles to the park. The park will be on the right side of the road.
      • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
      • Distance: 2.7 miles
      • Elevation gain: 300 feet
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round (8am-4:30pm daily)
      • USGS topo map: San Vicente Reservoir
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here
      • Rating: 6

Located just beyond the San Diego suburban fringe, Oak Oasis (known too as Oakoasis) County Park is an attractive 230-acre parcel of open space that offers panoramic views of the San Vicente Reservoir and Iron Mountain, plus interesting geology, meadows, glimpses into the history of the land and yes, oaks.

Trail head, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

The 2003 Cedar Fire was perhaps the most dramatic episode in the area’s history, claiming the old Minshall House. Fortunately the park is showing signs of recovery from the fire. The park is an enjoyable place for simply wandering without a specific route or destination; it’s a stop on the San Diego Trans-County Trail, which comes up from the west and continues east toward El Capitan. There are several possible routes to take and the 2.7-mile loop described here offers a nice sampling of the area’s scenery.

Trail junction, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:07 – Junction with the county trail (times are approximate)

From the trail head at the north side of the parking lot, descend past the information board to the trans-country trail. Turn left and follow it through chaparral to a Y-junction. Bear left and follow the trans-country trail as it climbs briefly to a ridge, providing some nice views, before dipping back into the oak-shaded canyon.

Oak woodland, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:20 – Rejoining the Oak Oasis Loop

Here, bear left and follow the canyon, staying straight at another turnoff. A plaque describes the unfortunate history of the Minshall House, which once stood at that location. Shortly after the plaque, a spur leads to an overlook between two trees.

You leave the woodland and come back into the open, with the San Vicente Reservoir spread out ahead. Bear right as the country trail heads left and begin a moderate climb, rejoining the trail from below. A short spur leads to another overlook where you get an even better view of the reservoir and Iron Mountain dominating to the north.

Informational plaque, Minshall House site, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:23 – Sign at the former Minshall House site

More climbing past some jumbled granite boulders brings you to a small, oak-lined meadow and the half-way point of the loop. The trail then descends into a chaparral-lined canyon, passes through a field and some private houses and re-enters the oak woodland. Bear left at the next junction and make a brief climb to rejoin the trans-country trail, completing the loop. From here, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Meadow in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakesisde, CA

0:43 – Meadow; half way point

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

Oak woodlands, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

1:00 – Back into the woodlands

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Mission Creek Preserve

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Mission Creek, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

Water in the west fork of Mission Creek

Dirt road leading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Heading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Mission Creek Preserve

  • Location: Eastern San Bernardino Mountains, northwest of the Coachella Valley. From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 4.7 miles and turn left on Mission Creek Road (dirt but passable by all vehicles). Follow it 2.3 miles to its end at the entrance to the preserve. From the Yucca Valley/29 Palms area, follow Highway 62 southwest to Mission Creek Road, which is 16.2 miles past the junction with Highway 247. If you hit Pierson Blvd, you’ve come too far. Turn right on to the dirt road and follow it to its end.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo map: Whitewater, Morongo Valley, Catclaw Flats
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Mission Creek Preserve home page here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

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

The 4,760-acre Mission Creek Preserve occupies an important transitional zone near the eastern base of the San Bernardino Mountains, offering as good a view of the range as can be found from almost anywhere in the desert. The preserve will be a crucial piece of the proposed Sand to Snow National Monument.

Cottonwod tree, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains

0:25 – Cottonwood tree in the Painted Hills wetlands (times are approximate)

If you contact the preserve, you may be able to have them unlock the gate, allowing you to drive 1.6 miles to the Stone House and begin your hike from there (high clearance vehicles recommended). Otherwise, start at the lower trail head outside the gate.

Follow the wide dirt road, passing by the ruins of some stone cabins, and continue up canyon with the San Bernardino Mountains looming in the distance. At about a mile from the start, you pass an impressive cottonwood tree and make a sharp right turn, climbing out of the canyon. Soon after you reach the Stone House, where you can look at maps and other displays inside or enjoy a picnic beneath one of the shaded tables. You also can enjoy a wooden rocking chair on the porch of the house.

Stone house in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

0:41 – The stone house

Past the Stone House, the road ends and becomes a single-track trail, weaving in and out of the stream bed, following the trail arrows. At about 2 miles from the start, you reach the reserve boundary. You head up the west fork of Mission Creek, through an increasingly diverse landscape of cottonwoods, cholla, yuccas and more.

Trail in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

1:22 – Heading into the canyon on Mission Creek’s west fork

At 3.7 miles from the start, you reach the Pacific Crest Trail, the turnaround point for this hike. A popular alternative is, with a pre arranged shuttle, to continue south for 4 miles to the Whitewater Preserve. (People who do this route often do it start from Whitewater, which has less of a net elevation gain).

Mountains, sky and bushes in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

1:40 – Looking back from the Pacific Crest Trail

Note that as of this writing, water levels are low and the trail is easy to follow as it crosses the creek. However, if conditions make navigation difficult, keep in mind the following GPS coordinates : N 34 00.997, W 116 37.690 for the stone house; N 34 01.049, W 116 37.971 for the preserve boundary and N 34 01.493, W 116 39.556 for the junction with the P.C.T.

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.

Grape Avenue Trail Loop (Crafton Hills)

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San Bernardino Peak as seen from the Grape Avenue Trail, Crafton Hills, Yucaipa CA

San Bernardino Peak as seen from the Grape Avenue Trail

East Reservoir as seen from the Grape Avenue Trail, Crafton Hills, Yucaipa, CA

East Reservoir as seen from the Grape Avenue Trail

 Grape Avenue Trail Loop (Crafton Hills)

  • Location: Crafton Hills near Yucaipa.  From I-10, take the Live Oak Canyon Road/Oak Glen Road exit and head northwest for 4.2 miles to Bryant St. Turn left and go 1.1 miles to Grape Avenue. Turn left and go 0.5 miles to an unsigned trail head on the left side of the road.
  • Agency:  Crafton Hills Open Space Conservancy
  • Distance:  4.5 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • USGS topo map: Yucaipa
  • More information: Trip description here
  • Rating: 6
Grape Avenue Trail Head, Crafton Hills, Yucaipa, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Grape Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop, which explores the eastern end of the Crafton Hills, is proof that a hike doesn’t have to go into the wilderness to feel rugged and wild. Although the sights and sounds of civilization are always at hand, this route’s dramatic mountain views (of San Bernardino Peak in particular), sharp switchbacks and up-close aerial perspectives on Highway 38 make it more visually interesting than many hikes that are more geographically remote.

Descending from a ridge on the Grape Avenue Trail, Crafton Hills, Yucaipa, CA

0:09 – The trail descending from the ridge (times are approximate)

From Grape Avenue, take the unsigned trail into a patch of chaparral and climb to a ridge (0.3 miles). Follow it briefly and look for a trail leading downhill to the right. You drop down to a service road, cross it and pick up the trail which climbs to another ridge, providing views of the East Reservoir. The trail merges into a paved service road which you follow a short distance.

Right before the road curves sharply downhill, leave it and follow the trail to a junction (0.9 miles from the start). This is the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. By hiking clockwise, as described here, you can knock off the majority of the climbing early on. (The left fork is signed for Zanja Peak; the right fork is signed as the 38 Loop due to its proximity to that highway).

Junction on the Grape Avenue Trail, Crafton Hills, Yucaipa, CA

0:27 – Start of the loop

Bear left and head uphill, zigzagging your way across the eastern slope of the Crafton Hills. In addition to the imposing view of San Bernardino Peak and the Yucaipa Ridge, you also get an aerial view of the reservoir and in the distance, if visibility is good, you may even be able to pick out the Palomar Mountains of San Diego County.

Descending the Crafton Hills on the Grape Avenue Trail

0:54 – Starting the descent from the junction at the top of the loop

After almost a mile of steady climbing, you reach a junction (1.8 miles from the start). This is the high point of the loop. You can extend your trip to Zanja Peak by heading left, but to continue with the loop, take the right fork and begin your descent. On the way down, you get a good view of the eastern San Gabriel Mountains.

The twisting descent follows both sides of a ridge, dropping down into a canyon and coming out at the service road (3 miles). Turn right and follow the road briefly to pick up another trail, which climbs back up to the junction, completing the loop. From here, retrace your steps back to Grape Avenue.

The San Gabriel Mountains as seen from the north side of the Crafton Hills, Yucaipa, CA

1:00 – View of the San Gabriel Mountains

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.

North side of the Crafton Hills on the Grape Avenue Trail, Yucaipa, CA

1:10 – Following the north side of the ridge

Randall Henderson Trail

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San Jacinto Mountains at dusk on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

Dusk on the Randall Henderson Trail

Ocotillo cacti on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

Ocotillo on the Randall Henderson Trail

Randall Henderson Trail

  • Location: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitors’ Center, 51500 Highway 74, Palm Desert. From I-10, take Monterey Avenue south for 9.7 miles (Monterey Avenue becomes Highway 74). The Visitors’ Center will be on the left, 3.8 miles after the junction with Highway 111. If you are coming from the west on Highway 74, the Visitors’ Center is 20.4 miles east of the junction with Highway 371 and 33 miles east of Highway 243.
  • Agency: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer. The Visitors’ Center and parking lot is open from 9am to 4pm, Monday-Friday. If you are visiting outside of those hours, park at the Art Smith Trailhead on the opposite side of Highway 74.
  • USGS topo maps: “Rancho Mirage”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: here; Trail descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 5

This short loop is one of the few trails in the Palm Springs area that can be done year-round. It also features several types of desert flora including cat’s claw acacia, ocotillo, cholla, beaver trail and barrel cacti.

Randall Henderson Trail Head, Palm Desert, CA

0:00 – Randall Henderson trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

If you start at the Art Smith Trailhead, carefully cross Highway 74 (there’s no signal or crosswalk but traffic is usually fairly light) and walk into the monument parking lot. The signed Randall Henderson Trail departs from the lot’s southeastern corner. Follow it a short distance to a fork; the start of the loop.

The loop can be hiked in either direction. The right fork follows an exposed ridge; a good choice if you are starting early in the morning or if the weather is cool.  If the sun is up and the temperature is warm, take the left fork, which heads up a wash, providing up-close looks at some intriguing geology. The narrow-walled canyon provides some shade. Other than some minimal rock-scrambling, the terrain is pretty straightforward. The trail is generally marked well and while some other washes might at first seem a little confusing, the main route never strays outside of the canyon.

Junction on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:02 – Start of the loop (times are approximate)

After about half a mile on either trail, a short connector joins them. Both trails continue up canyon, reaching a T-junction just under a mile from the start. Here, you can shorten the hike by turning right if you came up the wash or left if you came along the ridge, and following the other route back to the trail head. However, if you want to extend the hike, head in the opposite direction (turn right if you came  along the ridge or left if from the wash). You reach a dirt road, where you’ll make a hairpin turn and head across the top of the canyon, enjoying some nice views of the eastern end of the San Jacintos. This stretch of road is 0.4 miles long and connects the two ends of the trail. Follow the single-track back into the canyon, either retracing the route you did earlier or taking the opposite one for variety.

Junction on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:18 – Junction at the top of the canyon; complete the loop by turning around or extend it by heading toward the dirt road

In case you were wondering, Randall Henderson (1888-1970) was a prominent member of the desert community, whose work as a writer and publisher helped build interest in the Coachella Valley. For more information on Henderson, click here.

Sunset from the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:32 – Sunset as seen from the dirt road at the top of the loop

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

McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

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Panoramic view of Chino Hills State Park from the North Ridge Trail

View from the North Ridge Trail shortly before the junction with the Sycamore Trail

Oaks in Telegraph Canyon, Chino Hills State Park

Oaks in Telegraph Canyon

McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

    • Location: Yorba Linda.  From the 57 freeway, take Orangethorpe exit and head east for 4.2 miles.  Turn left on Kellogg, go 1.8 miles and turn right on Yorba Linda Blvd.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Fairmont.  Go 1.6 miles and turn left on Rim Crest.  Follow Rim Crest to its end and park on the corner of Blue Gum and Rim Crest.  From the Riverside area, take the 91 freeway to Yorba Linda Blvd.  Go northwest on Yorba Linda Blvd. for 2.4 miles, and turn right on Village Center.  Go a mile and turn left on Fairmont.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Rim Crest.
    • Agency:  Chino Hills State Park (home page here)
    • Distance: 8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo map:  Yorba Linda
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trail map here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6
Trail head on Rim Crest Drive, Chino Hills State Park

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

This loop explores some of the lightly traveled high country in the middle sector of Chino Hills State Park.  To be sure, the views and scenery aren’t as varied or attractive as they are on more popular destinations such as Gilman Peak or Water Canyon–expect power lines and barbed wire–but the hike still offers a solid workout from the conveniently located (and free) Rim Crest trailhead.  On clear days, the vistas from the North Ridge Trail include Old Saddleback, the Orange County coastal plains, the ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains and more.

Sycamore Trail and Telegraph Canyon, Chino HIlls State Park

0:40 – Junction with the Sycamore Trail (times are approximate)

From Rim Crest, follow the Easy Street trail half a mile as it drops into Telegraph Canyon.  Turn right and head east, gradually uphill on Telegraph Canyon, Chino Hills State Park’s main artery, passing the turnoffs for Gilman Peak and the Little Canyon Trail.  As you ascend, the terrain becomes more pleasantly shaded, both from oaks and sycamores.

Picnic table in Telegraph Canyon

0:57 – Picnic table in Telegraph Canyon

At 1.6 miles, you reach a Y-junction with the Sycamore Trail.  This is the start of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction.  By going counter-clockwise, as described here, you can continue your moderate ascent in the shade of the canyon.  At 2.3 miles, you pass by a picnic table; this is a nice place to rest for a few minutes before continuing east.

At 2.9 miles, you reach the McDermont Trail, a fire road which leaves the friendly confines of the canyon.  The next mile or so is the most thankless section of the hike, as the McDermont Trail heads sharply uphill on exposed terrain.  The grade levels out after about half a mile and the trail bends east, reaching a T-junction (3.8 miles from the start).  Turn left and make another steep but short climb on a connector trail, bringing you to North Ridge.  Here you get a panoramic view of Telegraph Canyon with San Juan Hill, the highest point in the park, to the south.

McDermont Trail, Chino Hills State Park

1:15 – Start of the McDermont Trail

Turn left and head west on North Ridge, following the trail through several ups and downs, taking in views on both sides.  At 5.2 miles, turn left on the Sycamore Trail, which heads back toward Telegraph Canyon.  A group of oak trees makes for a nice rest spot on the descent.  The trail makes an S-curve, passes by a rusted water tank and drops back into Telegraph Canyon, where it completes the loop at 6.4 miles.  Retrace your steps on the Telegraph Canyon and Easy Street Trails back to your starting point.

North Ridge Trail, Chino Hills State Park

1:45 – Left turn on the North Ridge Trail

As a variation, you can make the lower portion of this hike into a loop by using the South Ridge and Little Canyon Trails either on your way out or in.  This adds about 100 feet of elevation gain.

Oak tree on the Sycamore Trail, Chino Hills State Park

2:20 – Oak tree on the Sycamore Trail

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

Nicholas Ridge Motorway

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Ocean view, Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains

Ocean view, Nicholas Ridge Motorway (turnaround point is the hill in the center)

View from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, western Malibu

Looking west toward Nicholas Flat

Nicholas Ridge Motorway

    • Location: Northwest of Malibu. From Pacific Coast Highway, 21 miles south of Ventura and 25 miles north of Santa Monica, take Decker Canyon Road (Highway 23) north for 2.4 miles to Decker School Road (a Y-intersection that is easy to miss). Bear left onto Decker School Road and follow it 1.5 miles to its end, where there are a few parking spots in a small lot shaded by oaks. From Highway 101, take the Westlake Blvd/Highway 23 exit and head south for 9.3 miles. Take a hard right on Decker School Road and follow it 1.5 miles to its end. (Note: if you’re coming from the north, don’t turn on Decker School Lane; you want Decker School Road which is about a mile farther south.)
    • Agency: Leo Carillo State Park; Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
    • Distance: 4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 900 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
    • USGS topo map: “Truinfo Pass”
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trail map from Go Breadcrumbs here (stops at the “official” ending point of the motorway); map of parcels of land adjacent to Leo Carillo State Park that the NPS hopes to acquire, including the lower end of the Motorway (in black) here
    • Rating: 6
Nicholas Pond Trail Head, Leo Carillo State Park, Malibu CA

0:00 – Start of the hike, Nicholas Pond Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Nicholas Ridge Motorway is a fire road running down the eastern edge of Leo Carillo State Park, following a ridge between Nicholas Canyon and Decker Canyon. The road runs, in one form or another, all the way from the Pacific Coast Highway to the Nicholas Flat area of Leo Carillo State Park but the lower section of the trail is steep, loose, rocky, overgrown and not all that enjoyable, except for diehards. The 4-mile hike described here, which descends to an overlook and climbs steeply back up the exposed fire road, is the most sensible way to explore the Nicholas Ridge Motorway. This lightly traveled trail is a good destination for hikers who feel as if they’ve seen it all when it comes to the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:10 - Start of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway (times are approximate)

0:10 – Start of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Nicholas Pond Trail through an attractive grove of oaks. Enjoy the shade; it’s the last of it you’ll see. At about a third of a mile, you meet a T-junction. The right fork heads toward the cattle pond and the interior of Leo Carillo State Park’s high country; the Nicholas Ridge Motorway heads left. Follow it through a meadow where it climbs through a thicket of chaparral to a saddle, dips briefly and climbs to a second bump.

Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu CA

0:17 – Beginning the descent on the Nicholas Ridge Motorway

Here, you can enjoy a nearly 360-degree view including the ocean, the Boney Mountain complex, Nicholas Flat and more, before beginning the descent. Head right (the left fork leads to private land) and follow the ridge, gradually at first, then steeply. After passing by an abandoned trail branching to the left, the motorway skirts the edge of Decker Canyon, providing some dramatic views.

Ocean view from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:28 – Looking west from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway near the first turn-off

A second trail (1.5 miles from the start) branches off to the right, but again you stay straight. A sign marks the end of the motorway but the trail continues downhill, bending southeast, passing by a fence marking off the Malibu Riding & Tennis Club’s property. (Some maps show the motorway descending to the west, but as of this writing, that leg is clearly off limits.)

Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:38 – Note the pole on the right marking the “official” end of the trail past the second turn off, about 1.5 miles from the start

Your descent continues to a knoll about 800 feet above sea level. Here, you can an enjoy a 180-degree view before making the steep climb back to the Nicholas Pond Trail.

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

Ocean view from the end of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:48 – Ocean view from the turnaround point

Horsethief Creek via Cactus Springs Trail

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Cottowoods at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Mountains

Cottonwoods above Horsethief Creek

View on the Cactus Springs Trail, Santa Rosa Mountains

Desert vegetation and clouds, Cactus Springs Trail

Horsethief Creek via Cactus Springs Trail

  • Location: Santa Rosa Mountains on Highway 74, 15.5 miles southwest of Highway 111, 8.8 miles east of Highway 371 and 21.2 miles southeast of Highway 243. Look for the Cactus Springs Trailhead sign and head south (turn right if you’re coming from the west or left if you’re coming from Palm Springs) onto Pinyon Flats Transfer Station Road. Follow it a short distance to the Cactus Springs Trail Head parking lot, on the left.
  • Agency: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Distance: 4.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season:  November – April
  • USGS topo map: “Toro Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: here; plant guide here; trip descriptions here and here (includes additional distance past Horsethief Creek)
  • Rating: 8
Cactus Springs Trail Head en route to Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Mountains

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

Set in the transitional zone between the Santa Rosa Mountains and the Coachella Valley, this hike provides a huge variety of scenery, including geology, canyons, creeks and desert flora. Adding to the appeal is the area’s historical interest; Horsethief Creek takes its name from the legend of gangsters that supposedly used the canyon as a hideout.

Cactus Springs Trail, Santa Rosa Mountains

0:05 – Information board; Cactus Springs Trail leaves Sawmill Road (times are approximate)

The hike follows the upper portion of the 22-mile Cactus Springs Trail, also signed as 5E01, which continues through the Santa Rosa Wilderness and descends into the Coachella Valley. From the parking area, follow the rightmost of the two trails, reaching a junction with the dirt Sawmill Road, which begins its long ascent toward Santa Rosa Mountain. Bear left onto the Cactus Springs Trail, passing by an information board and trail register.

Cactus Springs Trail crosses Deep Creek, Santa Rosa Mountains

0:14 – Crossing the Deep Creek stream bed

Continue eastward through a landscape of pinyon pines, agave and cacti, with Asbestos Mountain towering to the north. At half a mile, trail drops toward the headwaters of Deep Creek, climbs up the other side and passes an abandoned dolomite mine. The trail makes a few ups and downs, reaching a sign indicating the entrance to the Santa Rosa Wilderness at about 1.2 miles, the approximate halfway point.

Sign at the entrance to the Santa Rosa Wilderness, Cactus Springs Trail

0:31 – Entering the Santa Rosa Wilderness

Past the sign, you descend through an attractive valley dotted with cacti and other flora to another tributary of Deep Creek and then climb to a saddle (1.8 miles) with a panoramic view of Horsethief Canyon. Soon after you’ll notice the cottonwoods lining the bottom of the canyon and the trail makes a steep descent, negotiating switchbacks to arrive at the creek.

Descending to Horsethief Creek on the Cactus Springs Trail, Santa Rosa Mountains

0:54 – Beginning the descent to Horsethief Creek, about 1.8 miles from the start

On the opposite side of the stream, which may be dry late in the year, a short spur leads to a flat area beneath a grove of cottonwoods, the turnaround point. Here you can sit and relax before making the steep climb out of the canyon.

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.

Cottonwoods in Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Mountains

1:10 – Cottonwoods at Horsethief Creek