Narrows Earth Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

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Ocotillo "arch" on the Narrows Earth Trail

Ocotillo “arch” on the Narrows Earth Trail

Narrows Earth Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of Julian and south of Borrego Springs.  From Julian, take Highway 78 east for 23.1 miles and look for a parking area on the right side of the road near mile marker 81.5.  From Borrego Springs, take Borrego Springs Road southeast for 11.5 miles to Highway 78.  Turn right (west) and go 3.9 miles.  The trailhead will be on your left.  From Highway 79, take San Felipe Road/County Road S-2 (3.6 miles south of Warner Springs, 4.3 miles north of the junction with Highway 76) southeast, 16.8 miles to Highway 78.  Turn left (east) and go 11.5 miles to the trailhead on the right side of the road.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 50 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map:  “Borrego Sink”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4
0:00 - Trailhead on Highway 78 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Highway 78 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short but interesting hike showcases some of the Anza Borrego Desert’s geology.  The trailhead is conveniently located off of Highway 78, one of the park’s major arteries, making it a nice stop to or from a longer hike.  Because it’s so short,  it is one of the park’s few year-round hikes.

0:06 - Slot in the rocks (times are approximate)

0:06 – Slot in the rocks (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signs for the loop. If there are pamphlets in the box near the beginning, you can pick one up and read about the geological features, including metasedimentary rock thought to be half a billion years old. You pass by a slot in the rock wall on the left side of the trail and then a small round cave. It’s at this point that the trail turns around, though you can explore a little farther up the canyon if you see fit.

0:09 - Rock cave near the south end of the loop

0:09 – Rock cave near the south end of the loop

Heading back to the parking area, you pass by another cave and underneath an arch-like branch of ocotillo. The trail is less defined at this point but with the highway as close as it is, route finding and terrain shouldn’t be an issue.

0:10 - Looking up the canyon at the south end of the loop

0:10 – Looking up the canyon at the south end 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.

0:15 - Cave on the return leg of the loop

0:15 – Cave on the return leg of the loop

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San Antonio Creek Trail (Santa Barbara)

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Oaks on the San Antonio Creek Trail

Oaks on the San Antonio Creek Trail

San Antonio Creek Trail (Santa Barbara)

      • Location: Tucker’s Grove County Park, Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, take the Turnpike Road exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east, left if from the west) for 0.8 miles to the park.  Drive 0.3 miles to the easternmost parking lot where the trail begins.
      • Agency: County of Santa Barbara
      • Distance: 3.4 miles
      • Elevation gain: 350 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Best season: Year round
      • USGS topo map: Goleta
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
      • More information: Hike descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 5
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Considering its proximity to several major roads, the San Antonio Creek Trail feels pleasantly secluded.  You can expect to hear some traffic noise and the trail does pass by several private properties, but on the whole there are few signs of civilization.  The trail is popular with human and canine hikers.  Birds provide a soundtrack for the hike and following spring rains, the stream adds to the atmosphere.  With Santa Barbara’s temperate climate and the trail’s moderate distance and elevation gain, it can certainly be done as a summer hike, although sometimes moisture locked in by all the trees can make it feel surprisingly humid.

0:05 - Picnic table in the dog park (times are approximate)

0:05 – Picnic table in the dog park (times are approximate)

From the north end of the Kiwanis Meadow parking lot, look for the signed trail head.  You follow the path to a T-junction by a fenced-in dog park and head left into the oak and sycamore shaded canyon.  Several spurs branch off the main route.

0:18 - Left turn at the junction in the field

0:18 – Left turn at the junction in the field

At about 1 mile, you cross the stream bed twice.  Soon after, you pass by a flood control dam (walking across it is an option but it’s more pleasant to stick to the trail that parallels it) and then the trail begins its ascent to its upper terminus, a dirt parking lot at the side of Highway 154.  The destination may be a little anti-climatic, but you can sit on some rocks and enjoy a nice view to the southwest before heading back.

0:31 - Flood control dam

0:31 – Flood control dam

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.

0:45 - View from the turnaround point at Highway 154

0:45 – View from the turnaround point at Highway 154

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.

Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks

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View from the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

View from the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

Geology on the Santa Cruz Trail

Geology on the Santa Cruz Trail

Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks

    • Location: Upper Oso Campground, Santa Ynez Recreation Area north of Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, head southeast on Highway 154 for 22 miles if you’re coming from the north; northwest on Highway 154 for 10.6 miles if you’re coming from the south, to Paradise Road.  Head east on Paradise Road for 5.8 miles and turn left onto Camuesa Road, signed for the Lower Oso Campground.  Drive a mile to the campground and park in the day use area in the northeastern corner, just past the out houses.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  Year round
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; photos here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8

0:00 - Trail head at the Upper Oso Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

It’s hard to go wrong in the oak-shaded canyons, wide meadows and tall mountains of the Santa Ynez Recreational Area and the hike to the Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp is about as close as you can get to a hike that will please everyone.  It’s easy enough that novices shouldn’t have too much trouble and it also serves as a gateway for more challenging hikes, such as Little Pine Mountain.  The scenery includes both flora and geology (including limestone, sandstone and shale) of interest; the views are panoramic and the sense of solitude is strong.  Though the area can be hot during the summer, with an early start the hike can be enjoyable even on warm days.

0:21 - Start of the Santa Cruz Trail (times are approximate)

0:21 – Start of the Santa Cruz Trail (times are approximate)

From the end of the campground, follow the dirt road (signed as Buckhorn Road or Cameusa Canyon Road on some maps) up hill for a gentle 3/4 of a mile along side a seasonal stream.  Much of the route is shaded by oaks and sycamores.  At 3/4 of a mile, continue straight on a single-track while the dirt road makes switchbacks up the hill.  The going becomes a little more challenging here (watch out for poison oak) as you traverse some rocky and sometimes slippery terrain, although most hikers shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

0:34 - Crossing the stream bed on the Santa Cruz Trail

0:34 – Crossing the stream bed on the Santa Cruz Trail

For the next mile-plus, the trail follows the east side of the canyon, weaving in and out of more woodlands, crossing a stream bed and taking in some impressive mountain views.  At 1.8 miles from the start, you reach a junction.  Take a hairpin right turn and begin a short but steep climb to a meadow where the trail splits.  Bear left and follow the path to Nineteen Oaks, where you can sit at a shaded picnic table and enjoy the view.

0:55 - Turnoff to Nineteen Oaks

0:55 – Turnoff to Nineteen Oaks

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.

1:00 - Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

1:00 – Nineteen Oaks Trail Camp

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

Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

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Wetlands in the south end of the park

Wetlands in the south end of the park

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

California Golden Poppies, Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Dominguez Gap Wetlands (Long Beach)

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:12 - Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

0:12 – Indian Paintbrush on the west trail

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

0:27 - Looking back from just before Del Amo

0:27 – Looking back from just before Del Amo

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

Aliso Canyon Loop (Los Padres National Forest)

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Sunset in the Los Padres National Forest from the Aliso Canyon Loop Trail

Sunset in the Los Padres National Forest from the Aliso Canyon Loop Trail

Descending the Aliso Canyon Loop

Descending the Aliso Canyon Loop

Aliso Canyon Loop (Los Padres National Forest)

    • Location: Sage Hill Campground, Santa Ynez Recreation Area north of Santa Barbara.  From Highway 101, head southeast on Highway 154 for 22 miles if you’re coming from the north; northwest on Highway 154 for 10.6 miles if you’re coming from the south, to Paradise Road.  Head east on Paradise Road for 4.5 miles and turn left into the Sage Hill Campground.  Turn left into the campground, make a hard right, make another right and bear left into the lot signed for the Aliso Canyon Trail.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 3.5 miles
    • Elevation gain: 800 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season:  Year round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here,  here and here; Eveytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
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 hike has a little bit of everything: pleasant oak and sycamore shaded woodlands, narrow canyons, panoramic mountain and valley views and some rather steep climbing to get to it all.  Though the upper ridges are exposed, with an early or late start, the hike can be done during warm days.  Sunsets here can be exceptional; the Santa Ynez Valley resembles Ojai but feels even more remote.

0:07 - Beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

0:07 – Beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signed Aliso Trail into the canyon.  You stroll for a peaceful 0.3 miles beneath the oaks before reaching a junction.  The loop can be hiked in either direction; by hiking clockwise (staying straight) you can wait a little before tackling the major ascents (if you head right, you will be climbing immediately).

0:27 - View across Aliso Canyon from the ascent

0:27 – View across Aliso Canyon from the ascent

Assuming you opt for clockwise, continue north into the canyon which quickly narrows.  You climb briefly up from the stream bed and drop back down briefly before beginning the major ascent: almost 600 feet in 0.7 miles.  The good news is that you get some excellent aerial views of Aliso Canyon on your ascent.

0:40 - View across Oso Canyon from the T-junction (turn right and continue climbing)

0:40 – View across Oso Canyon from the T-junction (turn right and continue climbing)

The trail gradually levels out, bending to the east and heading through a meadow (watch out for burrs on the plants; wear long pants if possible) before reaching a T-junction.  Here you get a good view down into the neighboring canyon, Oso.  Turn right and make another steep but short ascent to an unnamed summit where you can sit and enjoy a 360-degree vista.

0:45 - View from the first high point on the ridge

0:45 – View from the first high point on the ridge

From here, follow the ridge between the two canyons, heading south, making one more brief climb to another knoll before descending back into Aliso Canyon.  You drop down to another meadow and make a final series of steep switchbacks – sometimes cutting right up to the edge of the hill – completing the loop at 3.2 miles.  Retrace your steps back to the campground.

1:20 - Making the steep switchbacks back down into the canyon

1:20 – Making the steep switchbacks back down into the canyon

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

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.

Hosp Grove Park

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Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Hosp Grove Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:04 - Left turn and ascent

0:04 – Left turn and ascent

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

0:15 - Returning to the park

0:15 – Returning to the park

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

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.

Guajome Regional Park

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Guajome Lake

Guajome Lake

Sunset, Guajome Regional Park

Sunset, Guajome Regional Park

Guajome Regional Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:13 - Woodlands on the Nature Trail

0:13 – Woodlands on the Nature Trail

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

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

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

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

0:30 - Geology on the Luiseno Trail

0:30 – Geology on the Luiseno Trail

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

0:35 - Upper Pond

0:35 – Upper Pond

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.