Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.
Tar Creek in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary
- Location: North of Fillmore. From I-5 in Valencia, take route 126 for 19.5 miles to Fillmore. Take a right on A Street and head north for 1.1 miles to Goodenough Road. Turn right and head 2.7 miles (Goodenough dead-ends) and take a right on Squaw Flat, a one-lane road that heads up into the mountains. Squaw Flat is dirt in some places but should be passable for almost all vehicles. The road is narrow, so be careful. At 3 miles, pass the Oak Flat ranger station and continue. A few other roads branch off, but the main route should be obvious. A little over a mile past Oak Flat, take a right at an intersection signed with the number 9 (the left branch may be closed off with a fence), drive a quarter mile and park on the left side of the road in a large turnout. The trail leads northwest from the parking lot, past a fallen metal gate. From Thousand Oaks, take highway 23 north to Fillmore, where it becomes A street and continue up to Goodenough Road.
- Agency: Los Padres National Forest, Ojai Ranger District (Phone:805-683-6711)
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 700 feet
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Best season: September – May
- USGS topo map: Fillmore
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- More information: here; trip reports here and here
- Rating: 8
In the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, it may seem hard to believe that you’re only an hour’s drive from the San Fernando Valley. This remote area, where Tar and Sespe Creeks meet, features deep canyons and gorges, tall mountains and interesting geology.
From the parking area, head briefly uphill to the top of a ridge, and then begin a long descent into the canyon. On the right, in the distance, notice the sandstone formations on the hills. At about a mile and a half in, the trail takes a sharp right turn. Tar Creek becomes visible at this point. There are a few parts on the trail where it has been washed out, so be careful as you make your descent (when in doubt, stick as close to the rock wall on the right as possible. There is a chance that you will need to use your hands).
Finally, you reach Tar Creek, which may or may not be flowing depending on the time of the year. Even if there is no water, this is a nice spot to relax and have a picnic, with views of the valley below and the hills above.
Beyond Tar Creek, the trail continues, eventually reaching Sespe Creek in three more miles, but the going is very tough. Parts of the trail are overgrown and washed out, so if you decide to continue, know what you’re getting yourself into. The scenery gets even better though, so if you enjoyed the hike to Tar Creek and you have the time and energy, bushwhack your way farther. Whatever distance you travel in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, it’s hard not to enjoy it and want to come back for more.