Challenger Park (Simi Valley)

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Meadow and hills in the trails behind Challenger Park

Meadow and hills in the trails behind Challenger Park

Oaks in a canyon behind Challenger Park

Oaks in a canyon behind Challenger Park

Challenger Park (Simi Valley)

  • Location: South Simi Valley.  From Highway 118, take the First St. exit and go south (turn right if you’re coming from the west, left if from the east) for 2.8 miles.   Turn left into the parking lot signed for Challenger Park (just past the intersection with Stonebrook.  From Highway 23, take the Olsen Road exit and go northeast for 1.9 miles to Wood Ranch Parkway. (Olsen becomes Madera Road en route).  Turn right on Wood Ranch and go 1.9 miles to the junction with Long Canyon Road.  Turn left onto Long Canyon Road and go 1.7 miles.  Challenger Park will be on the right, shortly before Long Canyon Road becomes First Street.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
  • USGS topo maps: Moorpark
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trail head at Challenger Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Located on the south side of Simi Valley, Challenger Park is a hub from which a variety of hiking and equestrian trails branch off.  The short loop described here showcases some of the scenery of Simi Valley, from rolling hills to shady oak canyons.  The hike can easily be done before or after work, but despite its brevity, there’s enough climbing to burn a few calories.  If you have extra time, you can extend the hike with a trip into nearby Long Canyon.

0:04 - Bear right at the Y-junction (times are approximate)

0:04 – Bear right at the Y-junction (times are approximate)

From the park, follow the dirt road east through a meadow and into an oak grove.  (The steep trail descending behind you is the return route; by hiking clockwise, as described here, you can warm up on a level stretch of trail before making the first climb.)

0:07 - Beginning the climb from the canyon (hard right)

0:07 – Beginning the climb from the canyon (hard right)

Bear right at a Y-junction and at 0.25 miles, beneath a large sycamore tree, make a hairpin right turn.  You begin the first ascent of the hike, climbing about 200 feet over the next quarter mile to reach the top of a ridge.  Here you get a panoramic view of the Simi Hills and the meadow below.  Turn left and follow the ridge to another trail which descends into the meadow, passing a few picnic tables.

0:12 - View from the top of the ridge

0:12 – View from the top of the ridge

The trail drops back into the canyon, winding along the foothills.  Stay left at a junction (the right fork heads back to the park, an option if you want to shorten the hike) and at about 1.1 miles from the start, you join the east Long Canyon Trail.  Bear right, heading toward the street, and almost immediately make a right onto an obscure-looking single track trail that leads back toward the park.  This last section of the loop feels pleasantly remote and secluded, despite being only a few dozen yards from Long Canyon Road.

0:14 - Descent toward the picnic area

0:14 – Descent toward the picnic area

Soon the trail leaves the shaded canyon bottom and climbs back to the ridge.  Take a left at at T-junction and follow along a fence line before reaching a saddle where several trails merge.  Head straight and make the final descent to complete the loop at the Challenger Park lot.

0:29 - Heading back toward the park on the single track

0:29 – Heading back toward the park on the single track

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.

0:43 - Following the fence line at the top of the ridge before the final descent

0:43 – Following the fence line at the top of the ridge before the final descent

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Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

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Wetlands in the south end of the park

Wetlands in the south end of the park

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

  • Location: Del Mar Avenue and Virginia Vista Court, Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach.  From the 405 Freeway, take the Long Beach Blvd. exit and head north for 0.2 miles.  Turn left on 36th St., go 0.3 miles and bear right on Country Club.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Los Cerritos Park Place.  Follow it past the side of the park to a T-junction and turn right on Del Mar.  The entrance (unmarked, just a gap in the fence) to the wetlands will be on the left in half a mile, just before Virginia Vista (a private road).  Park on the street for free, keeping in mind posted restrictions about time and days.
  • Agency: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works
  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: Long Beach
  • More information: Park description here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 1
0:00 - Entrance to the park on Del Mar Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Entrance to the park on Del Mar Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Most hikers probably won’t drive too far to visit the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, but for residents of Long Beach – the Bixby Knolls area in particular – this pleasant little pocket of open space is an enjoyable place to explore.  The park occupies a thin corridor between the 710 Freeway and the Virginia Country Club.  In addition to the attractive pools of water, this spot is a good one for birdwatching.  Ducks, blackbirds, hawks and cormorants are among the fowl that might be seen here. From Del Mar Avenue, enter the park through a gap in the chain linked fence.  Follow a wide walkway a short distance to the beginning of the loop.  There are a few benches beneath a shade structure and interpretive plaques describing the restoration process of the wetlands.

0:05 - Interpretive plaque beneath the shade shelter (times are approximate)

0:05 – Interpretive plaque beneath the shade shelter (times are approximate)

The loop can be hiked in either direction.  To go clockwise, look for a dirt walkway descending slightly (as opposed to the spur leading to the paved bike trail).  The opposite end of the loop branches off on the right in a similar manner; use this if you would prefer to hike counter-clockwise.

0:12 - Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

0:12 – Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

The trail borders the wetlands, briefly sharing a portion of the bike path, crossing under a railroad bridge before finally reaching a turnaround point at Del Amo Blvd (about 1.2 miles from the starting point).  Along the way keep an eye out for plant life including California Golden Poppies and Indian Paintbrush as well as the diverse array of birds (possibly rabbits too).  Once you reach Del Amo, turn around and follow the opposite side of the loop back to Del Mar Avenue.

0:27 - Looking back from just before Del Amo

0:27 – Looking back from just before Del Amo

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.

Hosp Grove Park

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Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Hosp Grove Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:04 - Left turn and ascent

0:04 – Left turn and ascent

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

0:15 - Returning to the park

0:15 – Returning to the park

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

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

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View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

    • Location: Idyllwild.  From I-10 in Banning, take Highway 243 south for 24 miles to Idyllwild.  Turn right on Maranatha Drive and almost immediately bear left onto Lower Pinecrest Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Riverside County Playground Road and follow the signs to the park.  From Highway 74, take Highway 243 north for 4 miles.  Bear left onto Riverside Couty Playground Road and follow it 0.1 miles to the park entrance.  Day use fees are $3 per adult, $2 per child and $1 per dog, cash only, change not given.  The day use area is just past the entrance kiosk.
    • Agency: Riverside County Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 3.3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 750 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: April-October
    • USGS topo maps: Idyllwild; San Jacinto Peak
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Home page here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trail map here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Like the nearby Ernie Maxwell Trail, the trails of Idyllwild County Park offer the scenic perks of the San Jacinto Mountains–majestic pines, black oaks, wide-ranging mountain views–without requiring the commitment to hike to one of the major summits.  While the Maxwell Trail suffers less from the noise and sights of civilization, this one has more variety, plus an enjoyable and informative nature center.

0:22 - Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

0:22 – Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

The trails, while well signed, can be a little confusing.  The Perimeter Trail, for example, overlaps with several others; at the junctions, the same trail is often signed twice.  There are a few spots (particularly on the Summit Trail) where the route is a little vague, although if you find yourself having to go off-trail beyond some basic rock scrambling, you’ve likely just lost the trail and should be able to retrace your steps not too far before finding it.  The Perimeter Trail, as described here, is a good, moderate route that takes in pretty much all that the park has to offer, but it doesn’t have to be followed exactly.  Idyllwild County Park is a nice place to just wander around.

0:28 - Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

0:28 – Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

To follow the Perimeter Trail, take the paved road toward the campground.  After a few hundred yards, make a hard right on the signed trail and begin walking uphill through an attractive forest of pines and oaks.  You will pass several junctions; keep following the signs for the Perimeter Trail.  On the right, keep an eye out for views of Tahquitz Rock, Tahquitz Peak and San Jacinto.

0:31 - Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

0:31 – Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

After 1.1 miles, cross the paved road (an alternate entrance to the park) and pick up the Perimeter Trail on the opposite side.  It descends to a T-junction.  Both routes lead toward the nature center, but the right trail is more interesting.  Take it and then almost immediately turn left.  Follow the trail through the woods, passing by a pair of benches overlooking a flat rock with a few morteros.

0:35 - Sticks out like a sore thumb!

0:35 – Sticks out like a sore thumb!

Continuing south on the trail, you pass by a granite boulder with an outcrop resembling a thumb.  Just beyond you reach a junction.  Turn left, briefly leaving the Perimeter Trail and follow the Yellow Pine Trail to the nature center.  Here, you can take a few minutes to enjoy interpretive exhibits including taxidermy of bobcats, mountain lions, owls and coyotes; Cahuilla artifacts and more.  You can also pick up a park map here.

0:40 - Stuffed cougar at the nature center

0:40 – Stuffed cougar at the nature center

When you’re done at the nature center, return to the Yellow Pine Trail and head left, following it to another T-junction.  Turn right and rejoin the Perimeter Trail.  Follow it a short distance to another junction just past a gigantic black oak, turn left and turn right at the next junction (the map will come in handy.)

1:15 - Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

1:15 – Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

At 1.7 miles from the start, you’ll reach the beginning of the Summit Trail, also signed as the Summit Loop.  Stay straight and begin a steep climb, making switchbacks up the ridge.  Keep an eye out for the white trail markers if you are not sure about the route.  After half a mile and about 350 vertical feet, the trail levels out and you get views of San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak to the left.  As you follow the ridge south, you can see Garner Valley, Thomas Mountain and the Palomars. If visibility is good, you may even be able to pick out the observatory.

1:20 - San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

1:20 – San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

The trail begins a steep descent, at times rocky (be careful; use your hands as well as your feet).  Again the route can be a little tricky but if you look for the white trail markers you should stay on course.  The trail drops back into the woods, reaching another junction (2.7 miles.)  Stay right and then take a left, following the trail down to the end of Delano Drive.  Cross the street and follow the trail back into the park, threading your way between the camp sites on the left and a mobile home park on the right.  Ignoring a few false trails that branch off, follow the trail half a mile back to the meadow and the parking area.

1:30 - Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

1:30 – Descending through the rocks on the Summit 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.

1:40 - Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

1:40 – Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

Jack Creek Meadow Loop (Daley Ranch)

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Jack Creek Meadow

Jack Creek Meadow

Engelmann Oak in Jack Creek Meadow

Oak in Jack Creek Meadow

Jack Creek Meadow Loop (Daley Ranch)

  • Location: 3024 La Honda Drive, Escondido, CA.  From I-15, take the El Norte exit and head east for 3.1 miles.  Turn left on La Honda and drive a mile to the dirt parking lot.
  • Agency: City of Escondido
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Valley Center
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: Description on the park homepage here; trip descriptions here and here; Daley Ranch Yelp page here
  • Rating: 6

The historic ranch house is the most popular site in Daley Ranch Park.  Not as many visitors explore the 3.2-mile Jack Creek Meadow Loop, which starts just beyond the ranch and travels through open fields and groves of oaks.

0:00 - Trailhead by the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

To reach the loop, follow the main paved road uphill, climbing about 200 feet in 0.4 miles (the only significant climbing of the entire hike.)  You descend into a pleasant oak grove, passing the two ends of the Boulder Loop and the East Ridge Trail, arriving at the ranch house in 1.1 miles.  The house is only open sporadically, but you can still enjoy looking at the various old buildings or sit for a break at a picnic table before continuing onto the loop.

0:28 - Daley Ranch House (times are approximate)

0:28 – Daley Ranch House (times are approximate)

The Jack Creek Loop begins shortly past the ranch.  It can be hiked in either direction.  The eastern leg features slightly more climbing and less shade, so you might want to get it out of the way first. To do so, head right (stay straight as the Sage Trail branches off), and follow the trail north into a valley reminiscent of Bell Canyon in Caspers Wilderness Park.

0:29 - Sign on a shed just past the ranch house

0:29 – Sign on a shed just past the ranch house

A bench beneath an impressive oak tree makes a good rest spot.  Continue north, making a few small ascents and descents, curving west at the end of the loop.  A fence marks the park boundary; an abandoned car sits on the other side.

0:55 - Large oak on the eastern leg of the Jack Creek Meadow Loop

0:55 – Large oak on the eastern leg of the Jack Creek Meadow Loop

Heading back, your work is easy as the trail descends gradually back into the meadow.  You return to the start of the loop, where you can retrace your steps along the paved Ranch House Road or perhaps explore some of the other trails in the park, such as the Boulder Loop or East Ridge.

1:16 - Heading back on the western leg of the loop

1:16 – Heading back on the western leg 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.

 

Arroyo Verde Park (Ventura)

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

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

Oak in Arroyo Verde Park

Oak in Arroyo Verde Park

Arroyo Verde Park (Ventura)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:24 - The more gradual ascent up the wall

0:24 – The more gradual ascent up the wall

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

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

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

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

Guajome Regional Park

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Guajome Lake

Guajome Lake

Sunset, Guajome Regional Park

Sunset, Guajome Regional Park

Guajome Regional Park

  • Location: Oceanside.  From I-5, take Highway 76 east for 7.2 miles.  Turn right into the park and turn right into the day use area.  From I-15, take Highway 76 west for 9.8 miles to the signed park entrance.  Turn left into the park and turn right into the day use area.  The fee is $3 per vehicle.
  • Agency: County of San Diego
  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: San Luis Rey
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3
0:00 - Start of the hike by the day use parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike by the day use parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

If you don’t mind noise from nearby streets and having a lot of company on the trails, popular Guajome Regional Park is an enjoyable place to get some fresh air and see wetlands that aren’t common in the San Diego area.  Spring-fed Guajome Lake dominates the northern end of the park; smaller Upper Pond is on the southern corner.  There are several trails and paved roads throughout the park thus numerous different routes are possible; hiking from one lake to the other and back is a pleasant walk that can be done in an hour or so.

0:09 - Footbridge leading away from the lake toward the marsh (times are approximate)

0:09 – Footbridge leading away from the lake toward the marsh (times are approximate)

From the picnic tables beside the day use parking area, look for a trail beaten into the hillside heading down to the lake. Turn left and follow a wide dirt path around the permiter of Guajome Lake, passing a few picnic tables. Breaks in the vegetation provide glimpses of the lake. At 0.3 miles, you cross a footbridge and reach a junction. Turn left and cross another footbridge, this time entering a marshy area full of cattails. You enter an attractive woodland of coastal live oaks and red willows; while car noise is still audible this part of the hike feels more secluded.

0:13 - Woodlands on the Nature Trail

0:13 – Woodlands on the Nature Trail

At 0.7 miles, you reach a T-junction. You can cut the trip short by turning left but to explore more of the park, turn right and follow the path to a picnic area (0.9 miles.) Bear left and follow the Luiseno Trail through a meadow, passing by an interesting sandstone outcrop.

0:22 - Start of the Luiseno Trail near the picnic area

0:22 – Start of the Luiseno Trail near the picnic area

You reach a junction at 1.3 miles where a short but steep trail on the right brings you to the upper pond and a four-way junction. The right and middle forks form a small loop around the pond. The left fork is your return route, which reaches a Y-fork at 1.8 miles. Turn right and follow the trail to a service road (2 miles.) Turn left and follow the road through the campground and back to the day use area.

0:30 - Geology on the Luiseno Trail

0:30 – Geology on the Luiseno 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.

0:35 - Upper Pond

0:35 – Upper Pond

El Cariso Truck Trail: Lake Elsinore to Main Divide Road

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Lake Elsinore from the El Cariso Truck Trail

Lake Elsinore from the El Cariso Truck Trail

Pines near the top of the El Cariso Truck Trail

Pines near the top of the El Cariso Truck Trail

El Cariso Truck Trail: Lake Elsinore to Main Divide Road

  • Location: Grand Avenue and Toft Drive, Lake Elsinore.  From the north, take I-15 to the Lake Avenue exit.  Turn right on Lake Ave. and follow it 4.1 miles to Plumas St. (Lake becomes Grand Avenue along the way).  Turn left on Plumas, go 0.5 miles and turn right on Grand.  Park on the corner of Grand Avenue and Toft Drive.  From the south, take I-15 to Central Avenue/Highway 74.  Turn left and go 0.2 miles to Collier Ave.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Riverside Drive.  Turn left and go 3.2 miles to Grand Avenue.  Turn right and go 1 mile to the corner of Grand and Toft.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,350 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo maps: Alberhill
  • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • More information: Video of a dirt biker riding the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating:6
ECTT Beginning

0:00 – Start of the hike on Grand Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with the El Cariso Nature Trail, the El Cariso Truck Trail (Forest Road 6S06 on some maps) forms a link between Lake Elsinore and Main Divide Road near its intersection with Highway 74.  The trail is basically a shorter and easier version of the Indian Truck Trail near Corona.  Popular with mountain bikers and dirt bikers, the trail tends not to see much foot traffic.  While it suffers from trash and graffiti (particularly in its lower reaches), on a cool, clear day, it can be a very enjoyable trip.  Hikers who feel as if they’ve seen it all when it comes to the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains might want to give this one a look.

0:48 - Prickly Phlox flowers on the side of the trail (times are approximate)

0:48 – Prickly Phlox flowers on the side of the trail (times are approximate)

From the corner of Toft and Grand, follow Grand briefly southeast before seeing the beginning of the trail.  Take a sharp right turn and begin your climb, passing by the tops of a few houses.  Unfortunately the first quarter of a mile has become a dumping ground, but the trash soon thins out.  Your ascent soon gives you an aerial view of Lake Elsinore and while the trail is still exposed, chaparral growing on the sides provides some shade at least if you’re off to an early start.

At about 1.6 miles, the trail splits; stay right (the left route goes toward a private residence, the first of several you’ll see along the way).  After passing another trail merging in from the left, you reach the welcome shade of oaks and sycamores (1.9 miles.)  True, there’s a fence running along the left side of the road, but this is still a nice place to stop and take a break.

0:57 - Shade!

0:57 – Shade!

The trail climbs out of the woodland and continues toward Main Divide, weaving its way in and out of a few more stands of oaks.  The trail reaches Main Divide Road at 3 miles; a pile of rocks shortly before the junction makes a good spot for sitting and enjoying the view.  While the road might seem a slightly anti-climatic destination, the wide-ranging views of the lake – and, given good visibility, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio and Mt. Baldy – on the way back make the descent a very enjoyable experience.

1:30 - Trail's end at Main Divide Road

1:30 – Trail’s end at Main Divide Road

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.

Tarantula Hill (Thousand Oaks)

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Looking northeast from Tarantula Hill

Looking northeast from Tarantula Hill

 Tarantula Hill (Thousand Oaks)

  • Location: Thousand Oaks.  From Highway 101, take the Lynn Road exit.  Head north (turn left if you’re coming from the west; right if from the east) and go 0.8 miles to Gainsborough Road.  The trail head is a small dirt turnout on the left side of the road in 0.7 miles, shortly past the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens.  From Highway 23, take the Janss Road exit.  Turn right and go 0.6 miles to Moorpark Road.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Gainsborough Road.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to the trailhead.  If you see the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens, you’ve come too far.
  • Agency:  City of Thousand Oaks/Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: Newbury Park
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 3

Known also as Dawn’s Peak, pyramid-like Tarantula Hill towers above the surrounding areas.  A short but steep hike up a paved trail (closed to vehicles) yields panoramic views of the area, including a nearly aerial perspective on Gainsborough Rd.

0:00 - Trail head on Gainsborough Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

From the signed trailhead on the west side of the street, begin your climb, passing by a few oaks and clusters of cacti. The grade is mellow at first but soon becomes fairly steep, gaining almost 200 feet in about a third of a mile.

The trail curves around the north side of the mountain, passing by a rope tied between two metal posts. You get aerial view of Redwood Middle School to the north and Madrona Elementary to the west. Curling around to the east side of the hill, you can see Boney Mountain and the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:10 - Looking north about 2/3 of the way up

0:10 – Looking north about 2/3 of the way up (times are approximate)

At half a mile, the road ends at the summit. Much of the summit is fenced off, but you can still sit on the side of the hill and enjoy a view of the area before heading back down (the bench that appears in some photos of Tarantula Hill is no longer there.)  In case you were wondering, Tarantula Hill is in fact named for the spider, which according to the city website, is commonly found in the area.

0:15 - Looking southeast toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Tarantula Hill

0:15 – Looking southeast toward the Santa Monica Mountains from Tarantula Hill

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.

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

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Lake Hodges from the overlook, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Lake Hodges from the overlook, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Olivenhain Reservoir, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Olivenhain Reservoir, Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

    • Location: 8833 Harmony Grove Road, Escondido.  From the 78 Freeway, take the Nordhall Rd. exit.  Go south for 0.3 miles (Nordhall becomes Auto Club) and take a right on Country Club Drive.  Go 2.4 miles and turn right on Harmony Grove Road.  Go 1.6 miles and the signed entrance to the park will be on the left.  From I-15, take the Valley Parkway exit.  Head west on Valley Parkway for 0.5 miles and turn right on 9th Ave.  Follow 9th to a left turn where it becomes Hale and then turn right on Harmony Grove Road.  Follow Harmony Grove Road for a total of 3.4 miles (watch for two left turns) and the park entrance will be on the left.
    • Agency: Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
    • Distance: 7 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Best season:  November – May
    • USGS topo map: Rancho Santa Fe
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
    • More information: Yelp page here; Facebook page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Way Up trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This large (784 acre) park is a popular spot for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.  Though it’s essentially suburban, never really leaving the sights or sounds of civilization–and there’s not much in the way of a “forest”–the hike offers wide-ranging views and a good workout, making it one of the better trips in the Escondido area. It also has a dog-friendly reputation.

0:09 - Junction with the Botany Trail (times are approximate)

0:09 – Junction with the Botany Trail (times are approximate)

There are a variety of possible routes one can take over the park’s 13 miles of trails. The trip described here – the same one written up in “Afoot and Afield” – is a long out and back with a short loop. Start on the Way Up Trail, which lives up to its name – climbing about 700 feet in a mile and a half. At 0.3 miles you reach a junction with the Botany Trail, an alternate route. Your climb continues, reaching a vista point at 0.9 miles where you can take a break.

0:27 - View from the first overlook

0:27 – View from the first overlook

Past the vista point, the grade levels somewhat and the trail widens into a fire road. You pass by a pair of smaller trails and reach a four-way junction with another fire road (1.3 miles.) A short spur straight ahead leads to a picnic area with good views of Olivenhain Reservoir.

Back at the junction, head northeast and make a short but steep climb. The trail bends to the right and climbs a little more to another picnic area, then descends toward the reservoir. At 2.3 miles from the start, bear right on a single-track trail that switchbacks up and down a ridge. You reach a junction with the Witch Trail (2.8 miles), an alternate way to the Lake Hodges Overlook Loop. To follow this route though, bear left and follow the trail down a series of tight switchbacks and make another ascent to the overlook (3.1 miles.) Here you can see both Lake Hodges (right) and the reservoir (left).

0:45 - Olivenhain Reservoir as seen from the Ridgetop Picnic Area

0:45 – Olivenhain Reservoir as seen from the Ridgetop Picnic Area

The 0.8 mile Lake Hodges Overlook Loop starts here. It can be hiked in either direction; going counter clockwise allows you to have some downhill before climbing again. If you go counter clockwise, you’ll soon reach the lower end of the Witch Trail. You get some good views of the reservoir before doubling back up the hill, passing some boulders, and completing the loop at the overlook area. From here, retrace your steps 3.1 miles back to the parking area, or if time permits, explore some of the other trails along the way.

1:06 - Single track toward the Lake Hodges Overlook

1:06 – Single track toward the Lake Hodges Overlook

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

1:33 - Lake Hodges Overlook

1:33 – Lake Hodges Overlook

Tahquitz Canyon

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Tahquitz Falls

Tahquitz Falls

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon

  • Location: Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center, 500 W. Mesquite Ave, Palm Springs.  From the Riverside area, take I-10 east to Highway 111.  Take Highway 111 southeast for 15.3 miles.  Continue straight onto North Palm Canyon Drive and go 2.6 miles to Mesquite Avenue.  Turn right and follow Mesquite 0.2 miles to the Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center and park in the lot shortly beyond.  From Indio, take I-10 to Bob Hope Drive.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn right on Ramon and go 7.9 miles to Belardo Road.  Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Mesquite.  Turn right and follow the road to the visitors center and the parking lot.  Admission is $12.50 for each adult and $6 for children.
  • Agency: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – May (7:30am – 5pm; last entry at 3:30pm)
  • USGS topo maps: “Cathedral City”, “Palm Springs”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Tahquitz Canyon home page here; trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

The 60-foot waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon may be Southern California’s most unusual.  It could be 90 or 100 degrees when you begin the hike, but you will easily forget the heat when wading through pools of water from melted snow almost two vertical miles above on the upper reaches of San Jacinto Peak.

0:00 - Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the Tahquitz Peak in the San Jacinto Range, Tahquitz Canyon (pronounced either TAW-kits or TAW-kwish depending on whom you ask) is named for the infamous Cahuilla shaman who was banished from the tribe after abusing his powers. In modern times, on this short trip through the canyon, hikers can experience history, observe a variety of plant life including creosote and mesquite, see examples of Indian art and sites that have significance to the tribe, pass by bizarre geological formations and finally experience the excitement of a waterfall in the middle of the desert.

0:08 - Trail split past the visitors' center (times are approximate)

0:08 – Trail split past the visitors’ center (times are approximate)

The loop is a figure-8 and the first split happens soon after leaving the visitor center.  Take either trail, making your way up a few steps and over rocks.  The left fork runs up against some particularly large boulders before they rejoin.  You dip down to the stream and cross it on a stone jetty about 0.3 miles from the start.

Continuing up canyon, you reach another junction at about 0.6 miles.  If it’s a very hot day you might want to take the right fork, which generally sticks closer to the stream and has a little bit of shade.  The left fork crosses the stream and backtracks for a few yards before continuing toward the waterfall.  It climbs the south side of the canyon, reaching a high point of 906 feet before dropping down into a shaded grotto (1 mile from the start.)

0:12 - "Sacred Rock"

0:12 – “Sacred Rock”

Here, Tahquitz Falls plunges about 60 feet down a rock face into a large pool split by a big boulder.  You can sit on a stone ford and watch the waterfall or wade into the pool for a closer look, but keep in mind that it’s hard to see the depth of the water because the canyon blocks out much of the sunlight, so exercise caution.  After enjoying the waterfall, return via either route, completing a loop or an out-and-back hike as you  see fit.

0:17 - Beginning of the second loop

0:17 – Beginning of the second loop

The hike’s admission fee of $12.50 per adult or $6 has drawn criticism from some online reviewers, several of whom cite the shortness of the trip as not being worth the price tag.  While Tahquitz Canyon can potentially be one of Southern California’s priciest  hikes–$37 for a family of four as an example–it’s still considerably less expensive than many other tourist attractions.  Consider too the efforts of the Agua Calliente Band in cleaning up the canyon, which was long filled with trash and graffiti.  At the risk of sounding preachy, when natural spaces are accessible to the public without being regulated, they can be subject to abuse, like Rancho Cucamonga’s doomed Sapphire Falls.  Other than a few bits of broken glass here and there and a “Jesus Saves” inscription on a rock, Tahquitz Canyon is in its natural state, a true oasis just a short distance from civilization.

0:35 - Pool below Tahquitz Falls

0:35 – Pool below Tahquitz Falls

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.

Long Canyon Loop (Simi Valley)

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Geology on the Long Canyon Trail

Geology on the Long Canyon Trail

Oaks in Long Canyon

Oaks in Long Canyon

Long Canyon Loop (Simi Valley)

  • Location: Simi Valley, at the corner of Long Canyon Road and S. Wood Ranch Parkway.  From Highway 118, take the First St. exit and go south (turn right if you’re coming from the west, left if from the east) for 4.5 miles.  En route First St. becomes Long Canyon Road.  Follow it to the junction with S. Wood Ranch and continue onto Bannister Way.  Turn left into the parking lot.  From Highway 23, take the Olsen Road exit and go northeast for 1.9 miles to Wood Ranch Parkway. (Olsen becomes Madera Road en route).  Turn right on Wood Ranch and go 1.9 miles to the junction with Long Canyon Road.  Turn right onto Bannister and left into the parking lot.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Moorpark; Thousand Oaks
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: here; trip description (first part of the hike) here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - View of geological outcrops from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of geological outcrops from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike, conveniently located to Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, has a little bit of everything: wide-ranging mountain and suburban views, interesting geology and secluded oak-shaded canyons.  With three main ascents totaling about 1,400 feet, it’s a pretty fair workout too.

0:18 - View from the top of the ridge; turn left at the T-junction (times are approximate)

0:18 – View from the top of the ridge; turn left at the T-junction (times are approximate)

The Long Canyon Trail is one of several in the network overseen by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District. With the Lang Ranch/Woodbridge trail system near by, many different routes are possible when starting from the Long Canyon Trailhead. The route described here is a good, challenging half-day hike, an out-and-back with a long loop.

From the trailhead, you make a steady ascent. As you climb, the views of Simi Valley open up and you pass some small sandstone caves. Ignore a few false trails branching off; the main route is pretty obvious. It soon levels out, skirting the upper edge of a canyon, and reaches a T-junction 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead.

0:24 - Left turn at the junction with the Lang Ranch Trails

0:24 – Left turn at the junction with the Lang Ranch Trails

Turn left and begin a descent to a multi-trail junction (a point also visited on the Lang Ranch Loop.) Take the immediate left and continue your descent. At 1.1 miles, make a hard right, climb briefly and then begin another long descent into a secluded canyon.  At 1.7 miles, after passing some abandoned farm equipment, you reach the beginning of the loop. You can hike it in either direction, but clockwise has a more gradual ascent. Follow the trail through the pleasant, oak-lined canyon, emerging at a point just below Long Canyon Road. You can shorten your hike by following Long Canyon Road about a mile west, back to the trailhead.

0:43 - Abandoned farm equipment in Long Canyon

0:43 – Abandoned farm equipment in Long Canyon

To continue on this route, however, turn right and follow the trail southeast, staying left at a junction and right at a second one before entering another oak canyon. Emerging from the woodland, the trail makes a hairpin turn to the right and makes a considerably steeper ascent, following the top of a ridge with good views on both sides. At 4 miles, you begin your descent back into the canyon, enjoying more panoramic vistas along the way. You reach the bottom at 4.7 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps up out of the canyon and back down to the trailhead.

1:40 - Following the knife ridge at the top of the second ascent

1:40 – Following the knife ridge at the top of the second ascent

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

1:50 - Descending back into the canyon toward the end of the loop

1:50 – Descending back into the canyon toward the end of the loop

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

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Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

  • Location:  Santa Monica Mountains, north of Malibu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway north for 6.1 miles and then take Topanga Canyon Boulevard north 4.7 miles to Entrada (just past the center of town), take a right and drive a mile.  The park entrance is on the left.  From the Valley, take the 101 freeway to Topanga Blvd. and go south for 7.8 miles, and take a hard left on Entrada.  There is a $10 per day parking fee.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 6.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and and here; area trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead at Trippet Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The scenic Topanga Overlook (also known as the Parker Mesa Overlook) can be reached from Pacific Palisades in the east or, as described here, from the west, starting at the Trippet Ranch area of Topanga State Park.  While this trailhead has a $10 per vehicle price tag (compared with free parking for the east approach) the payoff includes panoramic views of Topanga Canyon and the ocean, up-close looks at sandstone geology and an attractive grove of oaks.  Overall it feels more secluded than the eastern approach, save for the noise from cars on Topanga Canyon Blvd.

0:08 - Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

0:08 – Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

From Trippet Ranch, take the East Topanga Fire Road past a picnic area and head uphill, bearing right at the first intersection and left at the second. At 0.3 miles, you reach a signed junction where your route, the East Topanga Fire Road, branches off to the right. (The left fork heads uphill to Eagle Rock.)

0:16 - Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

0:16 – Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

The fire road continues its climb through an oak woodland. At 0.6 miles, the ascent levels out and a solitary bench provides a resting spot with a nice view of Topanga Canyon. Continuing south, you descend to a ridge and follow it, making another moderate climb of about 200 feet followed by another descent.

0:56 - Geology

0:56 – Geology

At about 2.3 miles, you pass some pink sandstone geology on the left. You then begin the last major ascent of the outbound half of the hike, climbing about 250 feet over the next half mile to reach the spur to the overlook. The East Topanga Fire Road continues to Pacific Palisades.

1:10 - Spur to the Topanga Overlook

1:10 – Spur to the Topanga Overlook

Turn right on the spur to the overlook and head south for half a mile, negotiating a few moderate ups and downs before reaching the end. Here, you can enjoy a great view of Santa Monica Bay from two benches. On clear days you can see east to Mt. Baldy and southeast to Old Saddleback. Return via the same route or, if you’ve left a car shuttle, you can continue east to the Pacific Palisades trailhead.

1:25 - Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

1:25 – Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

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.

High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)

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Looking southeast from High Point

Looking southeast from High Point

Oak woodlands near the summit

Oak woodlands near the summit

High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)

  • Location:  Oak Grove Fire Station, northeast San Diego County.  From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 24 miles to the Oak Grove Fire Station on the right side of the road.  Turn into the lot and park in between the two buildings.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Mountain Ranger District
  • Distance: 13.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 7 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Aguanga, Palomar Mountain Observatory
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information:  Trip descriptions here, here, here (slightly different route) and here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Start of the hike in the parking lot behind the fire station (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike in the parking lot behind the fire station (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

High Point (elevation 6,140) is the highest point in the Palomar Mountains.  The hike to reach High Point from Highway 79 is one of the most scenic and challenging in San Diego County.

0:08 - Crossing the service road (times are approximate)

0:08 – Crossing the service road (times are approximate)

From the parking lot behind the fire station, follow the paved road to the campground where signs will direct you to the trail.  At 0.3 miles, bear left on a single-track (as of this writing, fallen tree branches block the way but they’re easy to circumvent.)  The single-track joins a service road (0.5 miles) and then splits off again (0.7 miles.)

The trail soon begins an intense climb, ascending about 1,200 feet over the next 1.2 miles. To be sure, it’s a difficult stretch, but as you slug it out, you’re rewarded with great views including San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Toro Peak and possibly Mt. Baldy if the air is clear. The lower part of the trail is exposed but as you get higher scrub oak provides a little shade.

0:10 - Start of the Oak Grove Trail

0:10 – Start of the Oak Grove Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, the Oak Grove Trail ends at Oak Grove Road. Turn right (west) and continue your ascent. The grade is more moderate, although your legs will likely feel tired from the steep ascent before. The road follows the ridge, providing more panoramic views; you may be able to pick out Old Saddleback in the distance.

1:10 - View from the top of the Oak Grove Trail

1:10 – View from the top of the Oak Grove Trail

At 3.6 miles, just after you pass a gate, turn left at a fork and begin ascending High Point Road. You climb steadily for another 1.4 miles until the grade finally flattens and you can enjoy some great views to the east. You also might get a glimpse of the lookout tower on the summit, providing some motivation for the home stretch.

1:50 - View from the junction with High Point Road

1:55 – View from the junction with High Point Road

At 5.4 miles, you enter a pleasant oak woodland and come to another junction. This is a nice place to rest before making the final push to the top. Turn right and ascend on Palomar Divide Road, ignoring a side road coming in from the left. This is one of the more enjoyable parts of the hike, as oaks provide some shade and you can still get some good views on your right.

After making a hairpin turn the cover of oaks becomes even thicker, resembling parts of the Angeles National Forest. Take a left on a spur (6.4 miles) leading up to the summit.

2:50 - Oaks on Palomar Divide Road after the junction with High Point Road

2:50 – Oaks on Palomar Divide Road after the junction with High Point Road

The watchtower and some equipment sheds cut down on the view a little bit but it’s still a very impressive tableau: the mountains of Anza-Borrego; the Santa Rosas; the San Jacintos; the San Gabriels; the Santa Anas and the ocean.  According to “Afoot and Afield”, if visibility is excellent, the Channel Islands can be seen.  You also have an unusual view of the Palomar Mountain Observatory from above.  Picnic tables allow you to sit and enjoy a snack before beginning the long trip back.   Make sure you rest your legs before descending the steep Oak Grove Trail back to the campground.

3:25 - Aerial view of the observatory just below the summit

3:25 – Aerial view of the observatory just below the summit

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.

3:30 - San Jacinto from the summit of High Point

3:30 – San Jacinto from the summit of High Point

Arroyo Conejo/Lynnmere Loop

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Looking west from near the top of the Lynnmere Loop

Looking west from near the top of the Lynnmere Loop

Red tailed hawk, Arroyo Conejo Trail

Red tailed hawk, Arroyo Conejo Trail

Arroyo Conejo/Lynnmere Loop

  • Location: Thousand Oaks.  Parking access is at Rancho Conejo Playfields, 950 Ventua Park Road.  From Highway 101, take the Ventu Park exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and drive 0.3 miles.  The parking lot will be on the right.
  • Agency: Conejo Recreation and Parks District (Phone: 805-495-6471)
  • Distance: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1.300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map:  Newbury Park
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: Area trail maps here and here; Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfield (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfield (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

For a suburban hike, this trip is pleasantly varied and secluded, featuring mountain and canyon views, geology, a stream, woodlands and even a small seasonal waterfall.  Though the trail never reaches 1,000 feet above sea level, the significant number of ups and downs along the way add up to a substantial 1,300 feet of elevation gain-and there are some surprisingly wide vistas to be enjoyed from the ridges that the hike climbs. One caveat: following rains, the trail can be muddy in places and the stream crossing is a little tricky if the water is flowing heavily so be careful, especially if you’re hiking with kids.

0:18 - Stay straight at the four-way junction and begin the descent (times are approximate)

0:18 – Stay straight at the four-way junction and begin the descent (times are approximate)

From the parking area, pass by the information board and follow the single-track on the left (not the road to the right, which descends to a dead-end at the creek.) For about 3/4 of a mile, the trail skirts the edge of a neighborhood, providing a good aerial view of Arroyo Conejo and its steep-walled canyon.

0:25 - Small seasonal waterfall

0:25 – Small seasonal waterfall

At a four-way junction, head straight and begin a descent to the creek. Along the way you’ll pass by a small seasonal waterfall which may be trickling following substantial rain. You reach the bottom of the creek at about 1.3 miles, where you make your way across on strategically placed rocks. (If the water level is low, it’s easy to ford, especially if you don’t mind getting wet.)

On the opposite side of the creek, turn right at a T-junction and follow a dirt road through an attractive oak woodland. Soon after you’ll turn left at another fork and begin a steady climb (300 feet in 0.4 miles) out of the canyon, with some good views of Mt. Clef to reward your efforts.

0:30 - Crossing the creek

0:30 – Crossing the creek

At 1.8 miles, you reach the start of the Lynnmere Loop. It can be hiked in either direction, but by turning left and heading counter-clockwise, you can break up the climbing. The trail passes the backs of some houses, dips into a woodland and emerges into a meadow. At 2.3 miles, you reach a junction where you get a panoramic view to the west. Here, you’ll turn right and begin another climb.

0:41 - Beginning of the Lynnmere Loop

0:41 – Beginning of the Lynnmere Loop

At the top of the ridge, you get a good view to the east and an aerial view of Wildwood Park (sharp-eyed hikers may be able to pick out the park’s landmark teepee.) The trail descends to a junction (3.3 miles) where you’ll turn left and make an immediate right (the other trail continues downhill toward Wildwood Park.)

The next 3/4 of a mile isn’t particularly interesting but it’s easy enough with no major elevation gain or loss. At 4 miles, you turn right at another junction and begin a climb, crossing private residential Lynnmere Road.

0:52 - View of Mt. Clef Ridge from the Lynnmere Trail

0:52 – View of Mt. Clef Ridge from the Lynnmere Trail

You reach a T-junction at 4.4 miles where you’ll turn right and make another ascent to the highest point on the hike, where you get a great view of the western Santa Monicas on the left (south) and Mt. Clef on the right. If visibility is good you may see the Topa Topa Mountains north of Ojai. A vista spot at about 4.8 miles, marked by a spiral of stones and a makeshift bench, is a nice place to sit and enjoy the payoff of your efforts.

1:23 - Turn left then right

1:23 – Turn left then right

The trail then descends steeply, dropping about 400 feet in half a mile. You pass the end of Calla Yucca and soon after return to the start of the loop (5.3 miles.) Retrace your steps on the Arroyo Conejo Trail back to the parking lot.

2:00 - Spiral of rocks just before the vista point

2:00 – Spiral of rocks just before the vista 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.

2:10 - Descending through the trees on the Lynnmere Trail toward the end of the loop

2:10 – Descending through the trees on the Lynnmere Trail toward the end of the loop

Terri Peak (Lake Perris State Recreation Area)

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Lake Perris from Terri Peak

Lake Perris from Terri Peak

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Terri Peak

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Terri Peak

Terri Peak (Lake Perris State Recreation Area)

  • Location: Lake Perris State Recreation Area, between Moreno Valley and Perris, Riverside County.  From the 60 Freeway, take the Moreno Beach Drive exit and head south for a total of 3.2 miles (turn left if you’re coming from Palm Springs; from the west, merge onto Auto Mall Parkway and turn right on Moreno Beach Drive.)  At 3.2 miles, turn left on Vista Del Lago, signed for the park.  At 1.3 miles, after passing the front gate where you pay the $10 per day vehicle use fee*, turn right on Alta Calle (first paved road you’ll come to), go 0.4 miles and turn right on a dirt service road signed for Horse Camp.  Follow it 0.4 miles to a junction where you turn left and park in the corral area. *As of this writing (Feb. 2014), to pay the day use fee, drive about 0.5 miles past the turnoff for the camp, turn left on Transition Road and drive to the kiosk.
  • Agency: Lake Perris State Recreation Area
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Perris, Sunnymead
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Hike descriptions here; here (loop configuration), Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead by the horse corral (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Lake Perris is best known for its boating and horseback riding, but the park also features a few hiking trails, the most famous of which is the moderate trip to Terri Peak.  The hike loses a few points due to trash and graffiti on the summit, as well as the proximity to civilization (including the noise of watercraft) but on clear days, Terri Peak offers some of the best views around. If you live or work in the area it’s well worth a visit.

0:05 - Bear right at the four way junction by the water tank and head uphill (times are approximate)

0:05 – Bear right at the four way junction by the water tank and head uphill (times are approximate)

From the corral, follow the service road east. You can shave a minute or two off by bearing left on a single-track that joins the road farther up. At a four-way junction by the water tank, bear right and begin the bulk of the ascent.

0:19 - Looking north to the San Bernardino Mountains

0:19 – Looking north to the San Bernardino Mountains

The trail heads through a jumble of pink and tan boulders, taking in nice views of Moreno Valley, the San Bernardino Mountains, San Jacinto Peak and the lake. There are a few spots where the trail is a little vague due to hikers and bikers who have cut corners, but every time it splits it soon rejoins.

At 0.9 miles, stay left as another trail joins in from an alternate starting point on Vista Del Lago. You make a steep ascent, reaching a crest at 1.2 miles where the trail drops into a valley. At 1.5 miles, you reach a T-junction where you’ll turn left, making a steep ascent to the summit. Right before you reach the peak, a faint trail branches off; this can be an option for extending the hike into a 6-mile loop.

0:28 - Steep climb after meeting the alternate trail

0:28 – Steep climb after meeting the alternate trail

On the wide, flat summit of Terri Peak, you get an excellent aerial view of Lake Perris. With good visibility, you may see the following mountain ranges: the San Gabriels, Box Springs, Santa Anas, Palomars, Santa Rosas, San Jacintos, San Bernardinos and the Bernasconi Hills.

0:50 - Spur to the summit

0:50 – Spur to the summit

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.

0:53 - Old Saddleback as seen from Terri Peak

0:53 – Old Saddleback as seen from Terri Peak

Zanja Peak (West Approach)

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Looking west from Zanja Peak

Looking west from Zanja Peak

Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Zanja Peak (West Approach)

  • Location: Crafton Hills near Yucaipa.  From San Bernardino, take I-10 to Yucaipa Blvd.  Turn left and go 1.5 miles to Sand Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 0.2 miles to Chapman Heights Road.    Go 0.3 miles to 13th St. and park where available.   From Palm Springs, take I-10 to Oak Glen/Live Oak Canyon Road.  Turn right and make a quick left on 14th St.  Go 1.1 miles, cross Yucaipa Blvd. and continue onto Sand Canyon Road.  Go 0.2 miles and turn right on Chapman Heights Road.  Go 0.3 miles and park where available on 13th St.
  • Agency:  Crafton Hills Open Space Conservancy
  • Distance:  8.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, Elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • USGS topo map: Yucaipa
  • More information: Here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on 13th St. and Chapman Heights Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Start of the hike on 13th St. and Chapman Heights Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Zanja Peak, the highest point in the Crafton Hills at 3,543 feet, can be reached by several routes.  The short but steep approach from Oak Glen Road has already been written up on this site, so on this post we’ll look at the longer route from the west, using the Thunderbird Trail and Hilltop Trail. Except for a very steep push to the summit, most of the hike is at a pleasantly moderate grade.

0:08 - Heading into a canyon on the Thunderbird Trail

0:08 – Heading into a canyon on the Thunderbird Trail

From the corner of 13th St. and Chapman Heights, head west briefly and pick up the Thunderbird Trail. You cross a small wooden footbridge and begin your ascent, weaving in and out of two shallow canyons. After 1.2 miles of moderate ascent, you reach a four-way junction. Turn right and follow the trail up a ridge. This is not the “official” Crafton Hills Ridge Trail but it’s a more interesting and challenging route. (You can continue straight along the Thunderbird Trail for a short distance to meet the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail, a fire road.)

0:31-  View from the ridge near the top of the Thunderbird Trail (turn right to continue up the ridge)

0:31- View from the ridge near the top of the Thunderbird Trail (turn right to continue up the ridge)

From the top of the ridge, a steep descent brings you to the fire road. Though the road makes a few switchbacks, you can save a few minutes by following a use trail that continues the steep descent into the valley, passing by a lone oak ideally situated for a resting spot.

0:35 - View from the top of the ridge, descending to join the fire road

0:35 – View from the top of the ridge, descending to join the fire road

After rejoining the fire road, you continue to head east, enjoying good views of Redlands, Mentone and the San Bernardino Mountains on the left and the Yucaipa area on the right. You may get a glimpse of Old Sadddleback behind Box Springs Mountain.

At 3.4 miles, a bench makes another scenic rest spot; you get a good aerial view of Mill Creek and might see cars passing by on Highway 38, far below. At 4 miles, keep an eye out for a break heading sharply uphill. Bear right and climb 0.2 miles, gaining about 250 feet, to the summit.

1:20 - View of Mill Creek and Highway 38, about 3.4 miles from the trail head

1:20 – View of Mill Creek and Highway 38, about 3.4 miles from the trail head

From here you get a panoramic view of San Bernardino and San Gorgonio; San Jacinto; the Palomars; the San Gabriels and more, pending of course, good visibility. You can retrace your steps or if you’ve set up a shuttle, you can descend to one of several other trail heads.

1:40 - Bear right on the spur to the summit

1:40 – Bear right on the spur to the summit

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

1:50 - Welcome to Zanja Peak (looking south)

1:50 – Welcome to Zanja Peak (looking south)

San Clemente Loop

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Looking east from the Cristianitos Trail

Looking east from the Cristianitos Trail

Sycamores on the Talega Trail

Sycamores on the Talega Trail

San Clemente Loop

      • Location: San Clemente.  As described here, the hike starts from one of several possible points, the end of Cristianitos Road.  From I-5 in San Clemente, take the Avenida Pico exit and go northeast for 3.2 miles (turn right if you’re coming from the south or left if from the north.)  Turn left on Camino La Pedriza and take a quick right on Cristianitos Road.  Park where available on the street.
      • Agency: City of San Clemente
      • Distance: 10.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
      • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
      • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
      • Best season: October – April
      • USGS topo map: San Clemente
      • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat
      • More information: Trail map here; San Clemente trail descriptions including ones in this loop here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike, end of Cristianitos Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This long loop features several of San Clemente’s city trails. While its highest elevation is 1,000 feet, the many ups and downs add up to about 1,700 feet of climbing, making it a great training hike. Don’t expect much in the way of solitude, but on clear days the mountain and ocean views are impressive. The trail’s convenience to south O.C., as well as north San Diego County, makes it a worthwhile recreational resource.  The entire route is exposed, so plan accordingly.

0:50 - Bridle path on the north side of Avenida Pico (times are approximate)

0:50 – Bridle path on the north side of Avenida Pico (times are approximate)

There are numerous access points. By hiking clockwise from the end of Cristianitos Road, you save the best scenery for last and don’t have to tackle the major ascents until several miles in.

1:40 - Talega Sign at the corner of Calle Saluda and Avenida La Pata

1:40 – Talega Sign at the corner of Calle Saluda and Avenida La Pata

From the end of the road, head right on the Cristianitos Trail, which soon brings you to Avenida Pico. Cross the street and pick up the Prima Deshecha Trail, which heads uphill, passing several side trails. In general the rule of thumb is that the side-trails often quickly lead to utility poles, making the main route pretty clear. In addition, fences usually border the main trails, at least on one side.

2:05 - Beginning of the steep descent on the Talega Trail

2:05 – Beginning of the steep descent on the Talega Trail

The Prima Desecha Trail drops into a valley with an office park on one side, Bella Colina Golf Club on the other and power lines overhead. At 1.8 miles it bends sharply to the right, soon reaching Avenida Pico again. You cross it and continue on the north side of the street, heading west past the Talega Golf Club. You head north, roughly following Avenida La Plata, crossing under a bridge at Avenida Vista Hermosa (3.2 miles.)

2:45 - Footbridge above the end of Via Alcamo

2:45 – Footbridge above the end of Via Alcamo

The trail takes on a more secluded feel at this point, although the sights and sounds of civilization are still near. You climb to an intersection at Calle Saluda (3.8 miles) where you’ll cut around the side of a stone sign reading “TALEGA” and make a descent, paralleling the street. At the bottom of the hill, turn left and begin the first major ascent of the loop, climbing about 400 feet over the next mile. As you ascend, keep an eye out for ocean views to the left.

3:00 - Live oaks below the vista point

3:00 – Live oaks below the vista point

You brush up against the Forster Ridgeline Trail (about 5 miles from the start) and then reach a junction where you’ll stay right and begin a sharp descent. Keep an eye out for some sycamore trees growing in the canyon. You make your way to the bottom of the hill, staying left at a junction. The longest ascent of the hike begins here (5.8 miles), climbing in back of some houses and ascending about 600 feet over 1.3 miles. reaching a high point at about 7.1 miles where you can sit on a small bench and enjoy the view, including the Santa Ana Mountains, the ocean and the neighborhoods of San Clemente.

3:05 - View of houses near the water tanks at the north end of the Cristianitos Trail

3:05 – View of houses near the water tanks at the north end of the Cristianitos Trail

Past the vista point, the trail continues northeast. On the left, behind a wire fence, some stately live oaks add a nice touch. At a large water tank, the trail takes a hard right and begins a descent along the edge of the Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve. This section of the trail, which parallels a service road, is one of the more quiet and secluded portions of the loop.

3:45 - Stay left and begin the descent on the Cristianitos Trail

3:45 – Stay left and begin the descent on the Cristianitos Trail

At just over 8 miles, you reach the end of Avenida Talega. Pick up the Cristianitos North Trail on the opposite side, making your final major ascent of the loop. The trail climbs steeply, gaining about 250 feet over half a mile. At the top, stay left and begin a descent. A spur leads to a vista point, an optional side trip if you want to extend the hike. To continue the loop, however, head right on an obscure trail leading through some bushes. As you descend toward the water tanks, take note of the sandstone cliffs on the right, featuring shallow caves.

3:50 - Turn right and head through the bushes

3:50 – Turn right and head through the bushes

The remainder of the loop is an easy, moderate descent. You follow the trail around the back of some residential streets, live oaks on the left side making the journey more appealing. Finally you complete the loop, returning to the end of Cristianitos Road.

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.

3:52 - Sandstone on the Cristianitos Trail

3:52 – Sandstone on the Cristianitos Trail

Tin Mine Canyon

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Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Tin Mine Canyon

  • Location: Corona.  From the south, take I-15 to El Cerrito.  Turn left and go a total of 4.4 miles on El Cerrito, which becomes Foothill Parkway.  At Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park on Foothill Parkway facing east in one of the few spots designated for the Skyline Trail.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Lincoln Exit and head south (left if you’re coming from the west, right if from Riverside) and go 2.6 miles to Foothill Parkway.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to the intersection with Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park where available facing east on Foothill Parkway.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps:  Corona South
  • Recommended gear: Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here;  Yelp page here; Meetup page with photos and trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

Located on the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains, just beyond the fringes of Corona’s residential neighborhoods, Tin Mine Canyon feels pleasantly secluded and rugged.  Highlights include a seasonal stream, geology, live oaks and sycamores, good mountain views and, yes, an abandoned tin mine.

0:26 - Trees near the beginning of the Tin Mine Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

0:26 – Trees near the beginning of the Tin Mine Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

The actual Tin Mine Canyon trail can be accessed by walking just over a mile on the Skyline Trail.  When the Skyline Trail makes a hairpin right turn, begin hiking on the Tin Mine Canyon trail just past an information board.  The trail quickly leaves civilization behind as it heads east into the canyon.   You cross the stream bed several times, generally keeping the bottom of the canyon on your left.  A bench beneath a large oak makes for a good rest spot.

0:28 - Bear left and head across the stream bed, deeper into the canyon

0:28 – Bear left and head across the stream bed, deeper into the canyon

At 1.7 miles, the canyon narrows and the trail clings to the rock wall on the left.  You’ll pass by the sealed off entrance to the tin mine.  The trail then passes by a dramatic cluster of oaks beneath a tall pink sandstone wall before re-emerging into the open, where you get some nice views of the hills above.

0:48 - The mine

0:48 – The mine

Farther up, the trail continues to weave in and out of the stream bed; you may well see at least some water by this point.  Keep an eye out for poison oak as you make your way deeper into the canyon.  The thick vegetation and tight canyon walls lock in much of the moisture from the stream, making the air surprisingly humid.

0:52 - Oaks and sandstone

0:52 – Oaks and sandstone

At about 2 1/4 miles from the start, you reach the end of the official trail.  A little bit of rock scrambling will bring you to a pleasant grotto where water trickles down a 5-foot rock face into a pool.  This makes a good turnaround point although intrepid hikers can continue up the canyon, eventually reaching all the way up to Main Divide Road.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM JOEL ROBINSON OF WWW.NATURALISTFORYOU.ORG:

 In the spring, Tin Mine creek is a convenient place to observe California newts, a species of salamander that requires a healthy riparian (natural stream) ecosystem to survive.  Wild grape vines, blackberry, bigleaf maple, bay laurel, cottonwoods, alder, and willow occur in the shadier spots where there is a higher water table.  Various species of mountain lilac (Ceanothus sp.) bloom white and lavender over the emerald slopes of mature chaparral.  Canyon sweet pea, yellow bush penstemon, stinging lupine, Matilija poppy, and other showy wildflowers can also be see in the spring.  Be mindful of the poison oak, which grows in abundance along the creek, especially near the waterfalls.

0:55 - End of the trail

0:55 – End of the trail

The USFS closed the mine entrances with metal grates to preserve wildlife habitat for cave dwelling organisms, such as Monterey ensatina (lungless salamander), tree frogs, and bats.  Supposedly, the only real tin came from the Cajalco Tin Mine near Lake Matthews in the Gavilan Hills.

1:00 - Waterfall shortly past the trail's end; turnaround point for the hike

1:00 – Waterfall shortly past the trail’s end; turnaround point for the hike

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.

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

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Sunset over Old Saddleback from the Big C

Sunset and Old Saddleback from the Big “C”

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big "C"

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big “C”

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

  • Location: Northeast Riverside at the end of Big Springs Road, by Islander Park.  From San Bernardino, Los Angeles or Orange County, take the 60/I-215 freeway  to the 3rd St/Blaine St. exit.  Turn left and follow 3rd, which immediately becomes Blaine, a mile to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn left and drive 0.4 miles to the end of Big Springs Road and park where available on the south (right) side of the street.  Note the parking restrictions.  From the east, take the 60/I-215 freeway to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Mt. Vernon.  Bear right and go 0.6 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn right and drive 0.2 miles to the end of the road.
  • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Riverside East
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Map My Hike report here; unflinching account of the vandalism on the trail here
  • Rating: 5

You already know how to reach the big “M” on the south slope of Box Springs Mountain, so in this post, we’ll look at the short–but very steep–hike to the big “C” on the mountain’s west side.  Sadly, there’s a lot of graffiti and trash, but on clear days hike provides one of the Inland Empire’s best 180-degree views.

0:00 - Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike almost came in at PG-13 due to its unrelenting steepness, often loose and difficult terrain and tricky route-finding, but anyone who’s reasonably active and allows themselves enough time shouldn’t have a problem.  Hiking poles will be a huge help.  There is an actual Google Maps-recognized Big C trail, although many other routes have been blazed across the mountain’s western slope.  Your exact route up and down may vary, but the trail’s popularity makes it hard to get too lost; when in doubt you shouldn’t have a problem finding other hikers to follow. With a western exposure, the hike can be done even on hot days with an early enough start and it’s also an excellent place to watch the sunset, although make sure you allow enough daylight to safely negotiate the steep slope.

0:03 - Look both ways (times are approximate)

0:03 – Look both ways (times are approximate)

Start just before the end of Big Springs Road by bearing left on a trail leading up to the railroad tracks. After crossing them you begin your ascent. Typically, you will choose between steep, eroded wash-like breaks and slightly less steep single-track. The first occurs on the east side of the railroad tracks. After the single-track reunites with the steeper route, the ascent continues, heading generally southeast. You can take advantage of a strip of grass running up the middle of the path which may help give you traction.

0:06 - Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

0:06 – Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

At about 0.3 miles, you reach another split where the trails briefly separate before rejoining. The left route is slightly less steep. You soon reach a ridge (about 0.5 miles) where the trail levels out briefly. Here you may be encouraged by a glimpse of the top half of the “C” off to your left.

0:15 - Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

0:15 – Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

At another split, you can choose between a steep but not too difficult climb up some rocks (left) or a single-track branching off to the right. The two trails meet just below the “C”. Make your final scramble up to the marker, where despite huge amounts of graffiti–some rather graphic in nature–you can enjoy an excellent view of the Santa Ana Mountains, the San Gabriels, and the Inland Valley. You get a nearly aerial perspective on the immediate neighborhood, some thousand feet below.

0:30 - Junction below the C (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

0:30 – Junction below the “C” (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

If you still have feeling in your legs, you can continue past the “C” to connect with other trails in Box Springs Mountain Park. It’s even possible to make it to the “M”, which is about three miles farther and 900 feet higher.

The “C” honors nearby University of California Riverside. Several UC campuses feature giant “C” markers. This “C” is the highest of all of them, at about 2,100 feet. It was completed in 1957 and at the time was the largest (132 feet tall by 70 feet wide) poured concrete block letter of its kind in the world.

0:40 - Respect the C

0:40 – Be a man: Respect the “C”

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.