Hemet Maze Stone

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Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Hemet Maze Stone

    • Location: Northwest of Hemet.  From Highway 74 (8.5 miles east of the 215 Freeway and 5 miles west of downtown Hemet) head north on California Avenue.  Follow it a total of 3.2 miles to a dead end (turn left on Tres Cerritos Avenue after about a mile and then turn right to continue on California Avenue) and park before the fence.
    • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
    • Distance:  0.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Best season:  Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Lakeview
    • More information: Article about the stone here; blog descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 4

For those interested in the obscure and unusual, a trip to the Hemet Maze Stone can be an oddly rewarding experience.  Whether it qualifies as a hike is a matter of opinion, but it is a designated California Historical Landmark – #557, to be precise.  The Maze Stone has a cult following of sorts, lending its name to a nearby housing development and a restaurant at Soboba Casino.

0:00 - Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The destination of the hike is a boulder containing ancient petroglyph depicting two intertwined mazes.  Sadly, vandalism has necessitated two barbed-wire fences around the stone, but you can still get a peek at it. From the end of California Avenue, cross through the fence and follow the abandoned road uphill.  For its location in a dry corner of the valley, the landscape surrounding the Maze Stone is fairly diverse; you will see sycamores, a desert willow and buckwheat, among other plants.  The hills are dotted with granite boulders similar to those at the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecogical Reserve.  As you climb the hill, if visibility is good, you can get a glimpse of the San Bernardino Mountains.

0:08 - Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

0:08 – Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

At 0.3 miles, you reach the stone.  You can climb on a rock to get a better look at it although it’s hard to get too much of a view through the fence.  Still, it’s an interesting site–one worth visiting if you’re in the area and are curious, perhaps hungry for a different type of outdoor experience.

0:10 - The maze stone and the fences

0:10 – The maze stone and the fences

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.

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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

Five Oaks Trail to Moulton Peak (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

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View from just below Moulton Peak on the Five Oaks Trail

View from just below Moulton Peak on the Five Oaks Trail

Woodlands on the lower end of the Five Oaks Trail

Woodlands on the lower end of the Five Oaks Trail

Five Oaks Trail to Moulton Peak (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

  • Location: Canyon View Park, Aliso Viejo.  From I-5, take the Oso Parkway exit and head west (turn left if you’re coming from the south, right if from the north) for 5 miles to Canyon Vistas.  Oso Parkway becomes Pacific Park along the way.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Canyon View Park.  Park on the street where available, being aware of parking restrictions.
  • Agency:  Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty: PG
  • Best season: All year (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map:
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Video about the geology of the area here; Peakbagger page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike at Canyon View Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at Canyon View Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Climbing steeply from the bottom of Wood Canyon to Moulton Peak, the Five Oaks Trail is popular with mountain bikers and makes a good workout for hikers as well.  It used to be possible to reach the peak from the adjacent residential neighborhood, but to do the hike by the book, you have to start at one of the official trail heads.

0:11 - Sign at the entrance to the park (times are approximate)

0:11 – Sign at the entrance to the park (times are approximate)

The shortest route is from the northern end of the Wood Canyon Trail, at Canyon View Park in Aliso Viejo.  From Canyon Vistas, follow the paved path on the right side of the park downhill into the canyon.  At 0.4 miles, the path becomes dirt and you enter the park (Moulton Peak is visible to your left at this point.)

You follow Wood Canyon downhill for a pleasant mile, passing junctions with the Lynx Trail and Coyote Run.  At about 1.4 miles from the start, the trail enters a meadow and the Five Oaks Trail branches to the left.

0:36 - Meadow shortly before the junction with the Five Oaks Trail

0:36 – Meadow shortly before the junction with the Five Oaks Trail

The trail crosses the meadow, passing by some sandstone caves on the left and a few tall sycamores on the right.  You cross a footbridge and enter an attractive grove of oaks; a tributary of Wood Canyon.  The bill soon comes due however as the trail leaves the shade of the canyon and begins a rugged and steep ascent to Moulton Peak.  The good news is that when you stop and catch your breath, the views of the park get better and better.

0:38 - Sandstone caves at the beginning of the Five Oaks Trail

0:38 – Sandstone caves at the beginning of the Five Oaks Trail

Near the top, you cross a service road, pass by some water tanks and arrive at the scrubby summit of Moulton Peak.  A radio installation prevents the view from being 360 degrees, but you can still see an impressive distance especially on clear days, including Catalina Island, the coastal foothills of San Diego County, Old Saddleback and more.  You also get a nearly aerial perspective of the park itself.  If anything, the best views are on the descent, which are unobstructed by power lines.

0:40 - Crossing the footbridge on the Five Oaks Trail

0:40 – Crossing the footbridge on the Five Oaks Trail

Return via the same route or if you have time and energy, continue exploring Wood Canyon and the rest of the park.  With a car shuttle at the Alicia Parkway trailhead, you can continue toward Dripping Cave and Aliso Canyon.

1:05 - View from Moulton Peak

1:05 – View from Moulton Peak

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

Prisoner’s Harbor to Del Norte Campground (Santa Cruz Island)

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Looking east from the ascent to the Del Norte Trail

Looking east from the ascent to the Del Norte Trail

View of Prisoner's Harbor from near the Del Norte Campground

View of Prisoner’s Harbor from near the Del Norte Campground

Prisoner’s Harbor to Del Norte Campground (Santa Cruz Island)

    • Location:  Channel Islands National Park, off the Ventura coast.   Island Packers is the main travel provider to the Channel Islands National Park.  Visit their site here for schedules, fares and other information.
    • Agency:  Channel Islands National Park/National Park Service
    • Distance: 6.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
    • Suggested time: 3 hours, or as permitted by the boat schedule
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
    • Best season:  Year-round (pending boat availability)
    • USGS topo map: “Santa Cruz Island C”
    • Recommended gear: Dramamine (boat ride); sun hat; sunblock
    • More information:  S.C.I. Yelp page here; National Park Service page here; Everytrail report here; information about the Del Norte Campground here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at Prisoner's Harbor (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at Prisoner’s Harbor (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

For the 600th hike posted on this site, we leave the mainland and head out to the largest of the Channel Islands.  At 96 square miles of land area, Santa Cruz has been described as a miniature continent.  With mountains towering half a mile above sea level, valleys, bays, canyons, native and non native trees, sea caves and more, the island offers plenty of variety and this trip, departing from the Prisoner’s Harbor location, showcases several of Santa Cruz’s facets.  Boats to Prisoner’s Harbor, the mid-Santa Cruz Island landing, are not scheduled as frequently as to the more popular Scorpion Anchorage, but for those seeking solitude, it’s worth the effort.  One could think of Prisoner’s Harbor as Two Harbors to Scorpion’s Avalon.

0:39 - Turnoff for the Del Norte Trail (times are approximate)

0:39 – Turnoff for the Del Norte Trail (times are approximate)

Del Norte,  just over three miles away, is Santa Cruz Island’s only active back-country campground.  For day hikers who may have limited time on the island, it makes a good hike.  From the landing area, follow the road past a brick house, through a grove of non-native eucalyptus trees and bear left at a junction.  The dirt road begins a steady ascent.  Vehicles do still travel the road so be careful.  As you climb, you get a panoramic aerial view of Prisoner’s Harbor.

0:48 - Descending into Canada del Agua

0:48 – Descending into Canada del Agua

At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction.  Turn left on the Del Norte Trail and begin a descent, first gradually then sharply into Canada de Agua.  True to its name, this canyon sometimes retains water into the summer months–a rare site on the Channel Islands.

0:52 - Agua in Canada del Agua

0:52 – Agua in Canada del Agua

After crossing the bottom of the canyon, the trail wastes no time in quickly ascending almost 200 feet.  Another descent brings you to a second canyon, which you make your way across and make your final ascent of the outbound portion of the hike.  At 3 miles, turn right at a junction and follow the trail 0.2 miles to the Del Norte Campground.  Here, you can enjoy a wide-ranging view of the ocean from the shade of a native island oak.

1:26 - Turnoff for the Del Norte campground

1:26 – Turnoff for the Del Norte campground

From Del Norte, you can retrace your steps back to Prisoner’s Harbor for a round trip of 6.4 miles.  If you have time and energy, you can continue another quarter mile up the trail to Navy Road and make a loop, returning to the first junction and retracing your steps to the harbor for a total of about 8 miles.

In case you were wondering, Prisoner’s Harbor actually once was used as a penal colony.  For more information about the area’s history, click here.

1:30 - Del Norte Campground

1:30 – Del Norte Campground

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.

Devil’s Punchbowl Loop

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Geology in the Devil's Punchbowl

Geology in the Devil’s Punchbowl

Looking northeast from the Devil's Punchbowl

Looking northeast from the Devil’s Punchbowl

Devil’s Punchbowl Loop

  • Location: High desert near Valyermo and Pearblossom.  From Highway 14, take the Pearblossom Highway exit.  Merge onto Sierra Highway, go 0.8 miles and continue onto Pearblossom Highway.  Go 1.4 miles and turn right on Barrel Springs Road.  Go 3.5 miles and turn right on Cheseboro Road.  Go 0.6 miles and turn left on Mt. Emma Road.  Go 3.5 miles and turn right on Fort Tejon Road.  Go 4.8 miles and turn right on Longview Road.  Go 2.3 miles and turn left on Tumbleweed Road.  Follow the road for 3 miles to the park.
  • Agency: Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area (Los Angeles County Parks & Recreation)
  • Distance: 1.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: Year round (potentially hot during the summer or icy during the winter; check the weather before going)
  • USGS topo map: Valyermo
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Homepage here; article about the park here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

It may seem hard to believe that one can see mountains, high desert, pines, mountain mahogany, a seasonal stream and some of California’s most unusual geology all on a one-mile hike, but the loop through the Devil’s Punchbowl provides all of the above.  This is definitely one of the best short hikes in the L.A. area.

The geological formations of the Punchbowl are similar to those found at Vasquez Rocks, but even more unusual and surreal. Formed not only by the San Andreas Fault but by water flowing down from the nearby mountains, the Punchbowl is a landscape that is hard to believe can be found relatively close to Los Angeles.

0:02 - View of the Punchbowl (times are approximate)

0:02 – View of the Punchbowl (times are approximate)

The short Punchbowl Loop showcases the area’s geology and plant life, also providing vistas of the desert and mountains above. From the parking area, follow the signs to the trail. The shorter Pinon Pathway heads off to the left; this 0.3 mile trail is an option if you want to extend your hike. The Punchbowl Trail heads right, almost immediately providing striking views of the rock formations.

0:07 - Low bridge

0:09 – Low bridge

You switchback down into the canyon, passing underneath a fallen pine. There are a few spots where the terrain can be a little tricky and where the trail is unclear (although the park signage is good so it’s hard to get too lost.)

0:20 - Fallen tree on the climb out of the Punchbowl

0:21 – Fallen tree on the climb out of the Punchbowl

After reaching the bottom of the Punchbowl, you begin your ascent back toward the trailhead. At about 0.7 miles, you reach an overlook where you get an aerial view of a seasonal stream, flowing beneath some giant rock slabs. A lone sycamore stands tall above the stream.

0:30 - Overlook near the junction with the Burkhardt Trail

0:30 – Overlook near the junction with the Burkhardt Trail

Continuing on, you reach another overlook at 0.9 miles where you can sit on a stone bench and enjoy the view. The trail then meets the Burkhardt Trail (portal to destinations such as the Devil’s Chair and Cooper Canyon Falls, some thousand feet higher up in the mountains). Turn right and head downhill toward the parking lot.

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.


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.

 

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

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View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest back country on Highway 2.  From the 210 freeway in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 40 miles to Islip Saddle, just beyond the two short tunnels.  Park in the lot on the left (north) side of the highway.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest, Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 10.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, steepness)
  • Best season: Year round, but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter (check conditions before going)
  • USGS topo maps: Crystal Lake, Valyermo
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sun block
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Los Angeles County
  • More information: Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The South Fork Trail is the shortest and arguably the most scenic route between the Angeles Crest Highway and the high desert on the north slope of the San Gabriels, linking Islip Saddle with the South Fork Campground near Valyermo and Pearblossom.  The hike can be done in either direction, or with a rather lengthy drive between the ends, as a point-to-point uphill or downhill.  There are a few advantages of doing it as a “reverse” (down then up) hike as described here.  The upper end, Islip Saddle, is closer to most of the L.A. area; going downhill first allows hikers sensitive to altitude to more easily acclimate and while the grade is consistently moderate, there are a few tricky spots where the trail is covered by rock slides; while these areas don’t require any special technical skill they’re easier to negotiate in the downhill direction on fresher legs. Almost the entire route hugs the west side of the canyon, so during a late-afternoon/early evening ascent, your sun exposure will be minimal.

0:29 - Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)

0:29 – Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)

From Islip Saddle, pick up the South Fork Trail heading downhill (not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail which heads uphill toward Mt. Williamson).  You descend through open areas and pockets of mixed woodland: Douglas fir, pines, black oaks and more.  At about 1.1 miles, you cross a tributary of Big Rock Creek’s south fork, fed from Reed Spring higher up on the hill.  The trail continues its descent, providing striking views of the steep canyon carved by Big Rock Creek and the mountains opposite.
1:47 - Hanging on to the side of the canyon

1:47 – Hanging on to the side of the canyon

As you drop farther along, you’ll start to notice more of the high desert vegetation: pinyon pines, mountain mahogany and manzanita.  The trail descends a few steep switchbacks, finally meeting Big Rock Creek (4.9 miles.)  This can be a good turnaround point, but if you want to hike the entire trail or have set up a shuttle at the South Fork Campground, cross the creek (water levels may be high in the spring) and follow the trail another half mile to the High Desert Recreational Trail, which continues toward the Devil’s Punchbowl.  You can turn right on the dirt road and head a short distance to a picnic area, where you can sit and charge your batteries for the long ascent back to Islip Saddle.

2:04 - Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp

2:04 – Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp

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.

2:15 - Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail

2:15 – Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail

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.

Acorn Trail (Wrightwood)

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View of the high desert from the Acorn Trail

View of the high desert from the Acorn Trail

Through the pines on the Acorn Trail

Through the pines on the Acorn Trail

Acorn Trail (Wrightwood)

  • Location: Wrightwood, at the corner of Acorn Drive and Quail Road.  From I-15, take the Highway 138 exit and head west for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) and go 5.4 miles into the town of Wrightwood.  Turn left on Spruce St. and go 0.3 miles to Oriole Rd.  Turn right and go 0.1 miles to Acorn Drive.  Turn left and follow Acorn Drive 0.3 miles and park on the right side of the road in a small dirt turnout between Finch Road and Quail Road.  Though there is no indication that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required for parking, if you have one, you might want to display it.  If ou want to purchase one ($5 per day or $30 for the year) click here.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest (Santa Clara/Mojave Rivers Ranger District)
  • Distance: 5.2 miles (from the corner of Acorn and Quail)
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet (from the corner of Acorn and Quail)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, altitude)
  • Best season: April – November
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. San Antonio”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Here; discussion board about the trail here; video of the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike, Acorn Drive

0:00 – Start of the hike, Acorn Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Acorn Trail links a private residential community in Wrightwood with the Pacific Crest Trail.  The scenery–including stately pines, tall mountain slopes and views of the high desert–is similar to that of the nearby Blue Ridge Trail, although this one is longer, steeper and overall more difficult.  The actual trail is less than two miles, but due to its location at the end of a private road, hikers must tack on an extra 0.8 miles in each direction if they want to do it “by the book.”  Stories abound of hikers being harassed by landowners; while there is no guarantee that this won’t happen, as with other hikes in or around private land, such as Black Star Canyon, if you are respectful of their space odds are they will leave you alone.

0:15 - Beginning of the dirt road at the end of Acorn Drive (times are approximate)

0:15 – Beginning of the dirt road at the end of Acorn Drive (times are approximate)

From the corner of Quail, begin hiking steadily up Acorn Road, reaching its terminus in half a mile and almost 400 feet of elevation gain.  Pass by a gate and follow a dirt road past a water tank for an additional 0.3 miles to the signed start of the trail.  The trail, now a single-track, curves along the side of a ridge, soon providing a good aerial view of Wrightwood, with the high desert beyond.  A tree stump, about a mile (650 vertical feet) from the start makes a perfect spot to catch your breath and enjoy the panorama.

0:24 - Beginning of the Acorn Trail

0:24 – Beginning of the Acorn Trail

The trail continues switchbacking its way up the mountain, sometimes quite steeply.  You get a dramatic view of steep Acorn Canyon, where a few rogue oaks cling to the hillside in the midst of the taller pines.

0:30 - View from the tree stump about a mile in

0:30 – View from the tree stump about a mile in

Near the top, the grade levels out somewhat.  You pass under an “arch” made by a fallen tree caught between two that are still standing, and then you reach an intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail and a dirt road.  On the opposite side of the dirt road, you get an excellent view of Pine Mountain, the second tallest peak in the San Gabriels – but one that is not often visible due to being blocked out by its taller neighbor to the south, Mt. Baldy.  From this vantage point, however, Pine actually blocks out Baldy; you can also see a little bit of Dawson Peak, the third highest summit in the San Gabriels, in back of Pine.

1:00 - View through some fallen trees

1:00 – View through some fallen trees

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.

1:20 - View of Pine Mountain from the Pacific Crest Trail (turnaround point)

1:20 – View of Pine Mountain from the Pacific Crest Trail (turnaround point)

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.

Metate Trail (San Bernardino National Forest)

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Black oaks on the Metate Trail

Black oaks and pines on the Metate Trail

Metate Trail

      • Location:  Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Lake Arrowhead.  From I-210 in San Bernardino, take Highway 18 (Waterman Ave. exit) and go north for 14.2 miles.   Turn left on Lake Gregory Drive and make an immediate right on Highway 189.  Go a total of 2.7 miles on 189, through the town of Twin Peaks, and turn left on Grass Valley Road.  (There’s a gas station at the intersection).  This intersection can be a little tricky, so be careful.  Go a total of 4.2 miles on Grass Valley Road (at 1.9 miles, look for a sharp left turn; if you stay straight, you’ll end up on Peninsula Drive.)  Grass Valley Road dead-ends at Highway 173.  Turn left and drive 0.2 miles to the signed Metate Trail Head on the left side of the road.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 1.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 100 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: G
      • Suggested time: 45 minutes
      • Best season: Year round
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent
      • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Pronounced “meh-TAH-tay”, this trail – also known as the Rock Camp Trail and Indian Rock Trail and signed as 3W15 – is located in a remote area of the San Bernardino National Forest that’s popular with cyclists, but largely overlooked by hikers.  Indeed, hikers in the Lake Arrowhead/Big Bear area may be pleasantly surprised by this short but scenic trail.  Close to a mile above sea level in elevation, the Metate Trail explores a grassy woodland populated with manzanita, black oaks and pines.

0:02 - Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

0:03 – Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

There are several single-track trails that cross the area and hikers can also extend their trip on Forest Road 3W11 which is nearby. The 1.2-mile loop described here is a nice introduction to the area; a perfect escape into nature about an hour’s drive from the Riverside/San Bernardino area. If you’re up here for the day to check out other nearby trails, such as the Pinnacles or Bradford Ridge, the Metate is a worthwhile stop.

0:08 - Bear left again

0:08 – Bear left again

From the parking area, cross Highway 173 and follow the paved road to the Rock Camp Ranger Station. You reach a Y-junction that marks the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. In this post we’ll be describing it clockwise. Bear left and follow the trail past a gate signed “Interpretive Area” and continue to an unsigned junction (0.3 miles) where you’ll stay left. At the next junction, also unsigned, about 0.1 miles later, turn right (the left fork leads to 3W11, an option if you want to extend the hike.)

0:12 - This time turn right.

0:12 – This time turn right.

You follow the trail through an attractive woodland, reaching a T-junction by a meadow 3/4 of a mile from the start. Turn left and keep an eye out for some morteros pounded into rock on the right side of the trail.  Native Americans used these holes to grind and prepare their food.

0:23 - Indian Morteros in the rocks

0:23 – Indian Morteros in the rocks

After crossing a creek, the trail curves through the meadow. You cross the creek again on the far side and follow the trail back to the junction, completing the loop. Cross Highawy 173 again to return to the parking area.

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.

0:26 - Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

0:26 – Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

Oak Spring Trail to Yerba Buena Ridge

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OSYBR San Gabriels

The San Gabriel Mountains from Yerba Buena Ridge

OSYBR Western panorama

Looking west from Yerba Buena Ridge

Oak Spring Trail to Yerba Buena Ridge

  • Location: Western San Gabriel Mountains near the San Fernando Valley.   From I-210 in Sunland, take the Foothill Blvd. exit and head northeast (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if you’re coming from the west.)  Take a quick left on Osborne St. and follow it for a total of 3.8 miles (it becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road along the way).  Turn right on Gold Creek Road and go 0.8 miles to a dirt turnout on the left side of the street, a few dozen yards past the signed Oak Spring Trailhead.  Trailhead coordinates are N 34 19.133, W 118 20.000.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Sunland
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent; sun block; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip reports here and here; Flickr photo gallery here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This scenic and rigorous hike explores the secluded western corner of the San Gabriel Mountains.  In the wake of its post-Station Fire re-opening, it is popular with hikers and trail runners.  Just a short distance from the northeast edge of the San Fernando Valley, the Oak Spring Trail offers a welcome escape into nature during the fall, winter and spring months.

0:33 - View of the San Fernando Valley from the ridge (times are approximate)

0:33 – View of the San Fernando Valley from the ridge (times are approximate)

From the parking area, cross Gold Creek Road to the signed trailhead and begin your ascent. You start off shaded by oaks but soon enter exposed terrain as the trail switchbacks its way up a ridge. At least you are on a north facing slope so with an early start (recommended) the sun won’t be too intense.

0:35 - Heading down into the meadow

0:35 – Heading down into the meadow

As you climb higher you get a good aerial view down into Little Tujunga Canyon, with the Mendenhall Ridge dominating the landscape toward the north. The trail moves to an eastern slope, meaning more sun exposure, making the steep ascent more draining. However, the grade levels out at about a mile and soon after you reach a saddle with a great view of the Valley to the west.

The trail passes by a solitary tree, crosses a fire break and then drops into a meadow, passing through thick bushes of ceanothus flowers (be careful of bees). You then enter the welcome shade of the Oak Spring Trail Camp (1.3 miles). This makes a good resting spot.

Continuing south, the trail crosses a stream (be careful of poison oak) and enters the exposed hillside again, soon climbing up a steep, sometimes rough, break. At the top you follow the trail through a ridge with more ceanothus–and more bees–enjoying wide-ranging views. Finally you reach a four-way junction with a fire road. Follow it briefly downhill to where the single-track branches off south toward Fascination Spring a mile away (an additional destination if you have time and energy). Here you get excellent views of the Verdugo Mountains; if the air is clear you can see Old Saddleback in Orange County and Catalina Island.  To the west, you can see the Santa Susana range and with good visibility the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:39 - Oak Spring Trail Camp

0:39 – Oak Spring Trail Camp

The hike up to the fire road is a substantial workout, but if you want to extend your trip you can do so either by dropping down to Fascination Spring or following the fire road in either direction.

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.
1:09 - View of the Verdugo Mountains from the fire road; turnaround point

1:09 – View of the Verdugo Mountains from the fire road; turnaround point


Saddleback Butte State Park

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Looking northeast from Saddleback Butte

Looking northeast from Saddleback Butte

Looking southwest from Saddleback Butte

Looking southwest from Saddleback Butte

Saddleback Butte State Park

  • Location: High desert east of Lancaster and north of Pearblossom and Valyermo.  From L.A., take the 14 Freeway to the Pearblossom Highway exit.  Merge onto Sierra Highway and follow it 0.8 miles to Pearblossom Highway. Go 4.5 miles and continue onto Avenue T.  Go 11 miles and turn left on 170th St. East.  Go 9.4 miles and turn right into the park, then left into the campground.  Park by the information board near the Saddleback Butte Trailhead.  Parking is $6 per vehicle.  From Lancaster and the high desert, take Highway 14 to Avenue J.  Head east on Avenue J for 19 miles and turn right on 170th St. East, and follow the directions to the park.
  • Agency: Saddleback Butte State Park
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, terrain)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map:  Hi Vista
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun block; sun hat
  • More information: Trip description (slightly different route) here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead near the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trailhead near the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Located in the high desert east of Lancaster and Palmdale, Saddleback Butte State Park is like a mini Joshua Tree National Park.  While it doesn’t have nearly as many trails as the larger park, the climb to Saddleback Butte (elevation 3,651) is a worthwhile addition to any hiker’s resume.  Ideally, pick a cool, clear day when you can enjoy the panoramic view from the top of the peak.  You approach the peak from the west, so if you get off to an early start, you will have shade.

The hike starts easily enough, climbing only about 250 feet during the first mile. You pass by several tall Joshua trees, with the peak of Saddleback Butte dominating the foreground. After a mile, stay straight as another trail comes in from the left. Now the work begins as the grade increases. The trail bends southeast and briefly levels out, reaching a saddle where you get an excellent view of the north slope of the San Gabriels.

0:25 - Junction with the trail from the picnic area (times are approximate)

0:25 – Junction with the trail from the picnic area (times are approximate)

From here, you head northeast, climbing about 300 feet in the last quarter mile. There is a little boulder scrambling, though nothing requiring any special skills (still, parents with small kids might want to exercise caution). The trail is never too difficult to find; ducks and arrows made from pebbles or scratched in the dirt help show the way.

After a last bit of scrambling, you arrive on the summit. Here you can sit on the boulders and enjoy an unobstructed view: the San Gabriels, the Tehachapis and possibly the San Bernardino range are all visible. You also get a nice pseudo-aerial perspective on the streets running through the desert more than a thousand feet below.

0:51 - View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the saddle

0:51 – View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the saddle

When you’ve had your fill of the view retrace your steps. Exercise extra caution on the descent; your legs will likely be tired and the route down might not seem as obvious as the route up. Keeping the saddle as a focal point will be helpful if you’re worried about losing the trail.

1:00 - View from the summit

1:00 – View from 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.


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

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

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Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

      • Location: San Bernardino National Forest, between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake, near Green Valley.  From Highway 18, just east of Running Springs, turn left on Green Valley Road.  Go 2.6 miles and turn left on a dirt road signed for Crab Flats (forest road 3N16).  Follow the signs to the campgrounds, ignoring several side roads that branch off.  Road 3N16 is in pretty good shape, but after about 3 miles, you will have to ford Crab Creek, which, according to the guidebook, is “impassable” in high water.  Even in low water, high clearance vehicles are best.  After crossing the creek, continue to a junction (3.8 miles from Green Valley Road) and turn left on forest road 3N34.   Go 0.5 miles and park in a turnout at the side of the road, near the vehicle trail numbered 1W17.  The trailhead coordinates are N 34 15.888, W 117 05.408.   A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 5.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
      • Best season:  March – June; September – November
      • USGS topo maps: Butler Peak
      • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
      • More information: Description of a backpacking trip including Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp (longer route) here; Description of Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable loop explores some of the less-traveled area of the San Bernardino National Forest east of Lake Arrowhead.  Highlights include a variety of plant life (black oaks, manzanitas, pines and more); panoramic views of the eastern San Gabriel and western San Bernardino Mountains and interesting geology, including an almost spherical boulder. Timing can be important: a lot of the trail is exposed, so if you hike during the summer, plan accordingly. Conversely you have to drive about 4 miles of dirt road, including a fording of Crab Creek, to reach the trail head, so heavy rains will likely prevent you from doing this hike during the winter or early spring. Expect to battle bugs as well.

0:20 - Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

0:20 – Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

From the parking turnout, follow road 3N34 due west for a pleasant if not particularly interesting 0.8 miles to the Tent Peg Group Camp (ignore a road branching off to the right about half way there.) Just past the camp by an information board, turn right on a single-track trail signed for Hawes Peak; it’s also listed as 2W08 on some maps. The trail descends for an enjoyable 1.6 miles, yielding views of Hawes Peak and its neighboring summits straight ahead and Lake Arrowhead and the distant San Gabriels on the left (you may also get a glimpse of the Pinnacles). You pass the spherical boulder, negotiate a few fallen trees, duck in and out of a woodland and meet the Pacific Crest Trail at 2.4 miles.

0:30 - Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

0:35 – Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

Turn right and head east on the P.C.T., passing a junction with the Cox Creek Trail.  This stretch is largely shaded and fairly level, making it one of the more enjoyable sections of the loop.  After about a mile you reach a 4-way junction. You can shorten the hike by heading right (uphill) on 1W17, a steep vehicle trail. However, if you have time take a scenic 1/2 mile detour by heading straight on the P.C.T. to Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp.

1:00 - Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

1:00 – Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

Here, beneath some tall pines, you can sit and enjoy the sound of nearby Holcomb Creek. It’s fairly easy to work your way down to its banks. When ready, retrace your steps to the junction. Complete the loop by heading southwest on 1W17. A steep and sometimes tedious ascent brings you back to the parking area.

1:28 - 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

1:28 – 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

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 - Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

1:40 – Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

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Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Antelope Trail

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Antelope Trail

Looking south from between the Kitanemuk and Antelope Butte Overlooks

Looking south from between the Kitanemuk and Antelope Butte Overlooks

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

  • Location: 15101 Lancaster Road, Lancaster.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Avenue I exit and head west for 14 miles (Avenue I becomes Lancaster Rd. along the way).  The park entrance will be on the right.  Parking is $10 per vehicle.  During the peak season, the lot gets crowded on the weekends so plan accordingly.
  • Agency: Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Area
  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: March – May; call the park hotline at (661) 724-1180 for reports on wildflower bloom or check their website
  • USGS topo map: Del Sur
  • Recommended gear: sun block; sun hat
  • More information:  Trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The California Golden Poppy is our state’s flower and the Antelope Valley can be one of the best places to see them.  In the spring, especially following heavy rains, the bloom is a stunning sight.  The green hills are blanketed with thousands of orange poppies and on days of good visibility, the distant San Gabriel and Tehachapi ranges add to the scenery.  Keep in mind that the area is completely exposed and that high winds are common.

0:02 AND 1:00 - Stay left for the North and South Poppy Loops, then head uphill toward the overlooks when you return (times are approximate)

0:02 AND 1:00 – Stay left for the North and South Poppy Loops, then head uphill toward the vista points when you return (times are approximate)

The park has eight miles of trails. A stroll of any length can be enjoyable; one doesn’t have to hike a specific route to experience the poppies, but those who want a little more of a workout can try this 5.7-mile double loop around the perimeter of the park.

From the parking lot, follow the paved walkway past the visitor center to the beginning of the Poppy Loops. (For now, ignore the trail branching off to the right – that will come later.) Head toward the Tehachapi Overlook and turn left onto the South Poppy Loop Trail. For the next two miles, follow a more or less level loop clockwise around the base of a hill, taking in views of the poppy fields.

0:03 - Turn left onto the South Poppy Trail

0:03 – Turn left onto the South Poppy Trail

When you complete the loop, instead of going back to the parking lot, turn left on the trail signed for the Kitanemuk and Antelope Butte Vista Points. You head uphill, staying straight as another trail branches to the right. A climb brings you to the Kitanemuk Vista Point, where you get a 360-degree panorama. You continue along the ridge, following the signs to the Antelope Butte Vista Point (3.7 miles from the start and the highest point in the reserve, at 3,041 feet above sea level.)

0:23 - Moving from the South to North Poppy Trails

0:23 – Moving from the South to North Poppy Trails

After enjoying another 360-degree view from the Antelope Butte Vista Point, take a sharp right and head downhill, back toward the poppy fields. At 4.7 miles, you reach a T-junction; you can take either route as they converge again in about 0.6 miles. Soon after they rejoin, take a left on a trail signed for Valley Vista and get one last view of the area before heading back to the parking lot.

1:18 - Kitanemuk Overlook

1:18 – Kitanemuk Vista Point

In addition to the poppies, keep an eye out for purple lacy phacelia, yellow goldfields and white forget-me-nots.  Wildlife includes caterpillars, whiptail lizards and rattlesnakes – so watch where you step even as you enjoy the panoramas.

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.

1:51 - Antelope Butte Vista Point

1:51 – Antelope Butte Vista Point


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.

Upper Hot Spring Canyon

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Pool in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Pool in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Over the rocks in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Over the rocks in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Upper Hot Spring Canyon

  • Location: Cleveland National Forest, Falcon Group Campground.  From Orange County, take I-5 to Highway 74/Ortega Highway.  Go northeast for 25.8 miles to unsigned Long Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 3 miles, following the signs to Blue Jay and Falcon Group Camps.  Just past the entrance to Falcon Group Camp, park in a turnout on the left side of the road.  From Riverside, take I-15 south to Lake St.  Turn right and go a total of 5.9 miles (Lake becomes Grand en route) and turn right on Highway 74/Ortega Highway.  Go 5.1 miles and turn right on El Cariso/Main Divide.  Go a total of 4.5 miles and park in a turnout just before the entrance to the Falcon Group Campground.  From Temecula, take I-15 north to Baxter.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Central.  Turn left and go 1.3 miles to Grand Ave.  Turn right and go 7 miles to Highway 74/Ortega Highway and follow the directions above.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, trail condition, navigation)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season:  December – May
  • USGS topo map: “Alberhill”
  • Recommended gear: Poison oak cream; long sleeved shirts and pants
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start outside the Falcon Group Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start outside the Falcon Group Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike explores the headwaters of Hot Springs Canyon, perhaps Orange County’s most remote.  The challenges include rock scrambling, negotiating fallen trees, perhaps some stream wading, poison oak and navigation.  Unfortunately the real payoff–a 25-foot waterfall–can only safely be seen from the top; the precipice represents the end of the line for anyone without rock climbing/canyoneering expertise and reliable equipment.  Still, the scenic rewards of this area make it worth the drive; three smaller waterfalls along the way are all enjoyable spots to sit and enjoy the wilderness and you’ll get to experience peace and quiet that makes it hard to believe you’re in California’s second most densely populated county.

0:04 - Leaving the Falcon Trail and heading into the canyon (times are approximate)

0:03 – Leaving the Falcon Trail and heading into the canyon (times are approximate)

Start by walking into the entrance to the Falcon Group Camp. Almost immediately, turn left on the signed Falcon Trail which leads through a pleasant meadow filled with pines and oaks. After crossing a small wooden plank footbridge, look for a trail branching off to the right (just before the Falcon Trail heads uphill.) This is the route into Hot Spring Canyon.

0:18 - Junction with a canyon about half a mile in

0:18 – Junction with a canyon about half a mile from the start

The first 0.4 miles are fairly easy going as the trail follows the stream bed. You briefly enter the stream as it leads into a wooded area and walk out on the opposite side, continuing to follow the faint path. Watch out for a large oak with a low branch on which I’ve bumped my head at least once.

After entering an open area, you’ll meet with another canyon coming in from the north, about 0.5 miles from the start. Continue on the opposite side, making your way through ferns, around rocks, generally sticking to the north canyon wall (keeping the stream on the left.) There are a few spots where you have your choice of wading through the stream or scrambling up the side; use caution either way.

0:24 - Climbing rocks out of the stream bed

0:24 – Climbing rocks out of the stream bed

A smaller pseudo-canyon joins on the right side at about 0.9 miles and soon after you reach the top of the first waterfall, about 15 feet high. If you’ve had enough off-trail scrambling and poison oak lookout this is a nice spot to turn around; you can easily climb down the rocks and get close to the pool at the bottom.

0:31 - Ducking under a sycamore in the stream bed

0:31 – Ducking under a sycamore in the stream bed

Farther downstream, another canyon merges on the right. Continue forging your way ahead, navigating a gigantic fallen oak. You come to two smaller waterfalls, both of which can be easily negotiated by climbing rocks on the side, but as always exercise caution. If your shoes/boots are wet from the stream the rocks will be slippery.

0:39 - The first waterfall

0:39 – The first waterfall

At 1.6 miles from the start you reach the top of the large waterfall. You can get something of an aerial view, although it’s hard to get the full effect. Still, this is a nice place to sit and enjoy the sound of the waterfall and have a snack before heading back.

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.

1:06 - Turnaround point at the top of the big waterfall, looking down canyon

1:06 – Turnaround point at the top of the big waterfall, looking down canyon

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