Wheeler Gorge Nature Trail
- Location: North of Ojai in the Los Padres National Forest. From Ojai, take Highway 33 north for 8.5 miles (half a mile past the Wheeler Gorge Campground). Park at a small dirt turnout on the right side of the road, just after crossing a bridge. The approximate trail head coordinates are N 34.515, W 119.271.
- Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Ojai Ranger District
- Distance: 0.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 150 feet
- Suggested time: 30 minutes
- Difficulty rating: G
- Best season: Year round (best after recent rain)
- USGS topo map: Wheeler Springs
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
- More information: here; here
- Rating: 6
This short loop explores both the riparian canyon of Matilja Creek and a ridge that provides some nice views of the Los Padres foothills. If you’re vacationing in Ojai, it makes for a fun excursion; it’s also a nice, easy getaway from Ventura and Oxnard. Interpretive plaques along the way describe some of the plants and trees, including laurel sumac, flowering ash, toyon, chamise and more. The only bummer about the trail – besides how short it is – is the amount of graffiti, at least near the beginning. Seriously, people!
From the parking area, look for a short trail heading uphill, just before the bridge. You climb to the beginning of the loop which can be hiked in either direction, but many might prefer starting with the lower stretch along the stream before climbing to the ridge. To do this, head right.
Follow the trail along Matilija Creek (keep an eye out for poison oak), beneath the shade of oaks, sycamores and chaparral. There are a couple of places where the terrain is a little rocky, so families with young kids might want to exercise caution.
Soon, the trail swings uphill, climbing to a ridge where you get nice views of the surrounding mountains, and perhaps a glimpse of the road. Then it heads back down, making some switchbacks before completing the loop. The last stretch cuts quite close to the side of the hill, so exercise caution. At the junction, follow the short spur back down to highway.
If you’re interested in more things to do north of Ojai, check out the Potrero John and Piedra Blanca trails, farther north on Highway 33. You can also stop by the Wheeler Springs Post Office, the “smallest post office in the U.S.”