McGill Trail (Los Padres National Forest)

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View of Lockwood Valley, Los Padres National Forest, CA
Looking east from the McGill Trail
McGill Trail, Los Padres National Forest, CA
Dusk through the pines, McGill Trail

McGill Trail (Los Padres National Forest)

    • Location: North Ventura/south Kern County. From I-5, take exit 205 (Frazier Mtn. Park Road) and head west for 12.1 miles. En route, Frazier Mtn. Park becomes Cuddy Valley Road. Bear left to stay on Cuddy Valley Road (if you find yourself on Mil Potrero Highway you’re in the wrong direction) and follow it 0.6 miles to a turnout on the right side of the road with a sign indicating the trail. Approximate coordinates are N 34.83417, W 119.08651. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Mt. Pinos Ranger District
    • Distance: 7.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain, altitude)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Best season: June-October
    • USGS topo map: Sawmill Mountain
    • More information: Trip description here; Hike Los Padres page here
    • Rating: 8
McGill Trail Head, Los Padres National Forest, CA
0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like nearby Mt. Pinos, the McGill Trail offers a pine-shaded escape into the high country barely a dozen miles from Interstate 5 and the hot Tejon Pass. It doesn’t pay off with a panoramic summit like Mt. Pinos but has the advantage of being entirely on a single-track trail, one that offers solitude and some exceptional views.

North view from the McGill Trail, Los Padres National Forest, CA
0:50 – View to the north from the switchbacks (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the trail uphill into the woods. The ascent is steady; hikers sensitive to altitude (6,200 feet+) may find themselves stopping to catch their breath, although it never gets too steep. At about a mile and a half, the trail begins a few switchbacks on a north-facing slope, providing a panorama of the lower end of the San Joaquin Valley. Farther on, the trail bends south, following an eastern slope with great views of Lockwood Valley and Cuddy Valley far below; beyond are the Liebre Mountains, the range in northwestern corner of the Angeles National Forest.

Lockwood Valley as seen from the McGill Trail, Los Padres National Forest, CA
1:28 – Panorama of Lockwood Valley

Just over three miles from the start, you reach a junction with the Whitethorn Nature Trail. This short trail also leads to the campground; you can make a small loop by using it one way and the McGill Trail the other. The McGill Trail continues to a T-junction. Here, bear left and begin a brief descent, reaching the campground at 3.6 miles.

McGill Trail, Los Padres National Forest, CA
1:52 – Junction with the Whitethorn Nature Trail (McGill Trail is on the right)

The campground might seem like an anti-climatic destination after a long hike, but it’s still a nice, quiet place to relax beneath some tall pines. If there are free sites nearby, you can sit and enjoy a snack at a picnic table before returning. The McGill Trail is popular as a point-to-point hike, although in addition to having to arrange a shuttle, you will also have to pony up the $8 day use fee.

McGill Trail, Los Padres National Forest, CA
1:56 – Bear left at the T-junction

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

McGill Campground, Los Padres National Forest
2:00 – McGill Campground

One comment

  1. Did this yesterday (9.20.15). It is as you describe, but I would add it’s sadly very very dry, even up there. And the trail, while generally quite nice underfoot, does have rutting from all the mountain bikes. We encountered 13 MTBs on this trail (all very courteous, but certainly not yielding to us, as the signs state they should – but I’m not sure that would work), a couple people with dogs, no other hikers. Completed it, with a few short breaks, at just under 3 hours. We combined it with Mt. Pinos. It’s probably a 3.5 stars.

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