Western Plateau/Elliott Mountain Loop
- Location: Rancho Conejo Open Space, western Thousand Oaks. From Highway 101, take the Borchard Road/Rancho Conejo Blvd. exit (47A). Head north for 2 miles (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and park where available, noting posted restrictions. You can also park where allowed on nearby Conejo Center Drive, a street that is part of the loop, and begin the hike from there.
- Agency: Conejo Open Space Foundation
- Distance: 6 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo map: Thousand Oaks
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat, sunblock
- More information: Trail maps here and here; Map my Hike report here; description from a Meetup event (different route) here
- Rating: 7
The Western Plateau is where the Simi Hills and Santa Monica Mountains meet the coastal Ventura plains. In this surprisingly remote area, the Conejo Open Space Foundation oversees several fire roads and single-track trails. Multiple options for hiking are available here, including the hike to Hill and Hawk Canyons and the double loop described here. Note that these trails are among the newer ones in the COSF system–the Elliott Mountain trail was completed in May, 2015–so their names and statuses may change in the years to come.
The larger, southern loop can be hiked in either direction. Both ways will require an ascent from the canyon to end the hike, but the climb is less when one hikes counter-clockwise, as described here. Begin by bearing right on the fire road that circles the north end of the empty field (Rancho Conejo Open Space on Google Maps). In 0.2 miles, bear left onto the Baxter Fire Road, which begins a steep descent into the canyon. There’s a no trespassing sign posted, but the Baxter Fire Road is listed on the COSF website (although it is not named) and clearly receives regular foot, equestrian and bicycle traffic, so it’s likely that the road is an easement, or that the sign just simply isn’t enforced.
For the next half mile, you drop over 300 feet, enjoying great views of the area you are soon going to be exploring: Hill Canyon and Elliott Mountain, the 1,000-foot bump dominating the landscape to the north. At 0.7 miles, bear left onto the Hawk Canyon Trail, marked but not named. The pleasant single-track meanders through a meadow dotted with oaks and sycamores before emerging at a five-way junction with the Hill Canyon Trail. Turn left onto the Western Plateau Trail and follow it as it begins an ascent out of the canyon.
At 1.5 miles from the start, turn right on an unsigned junction with the Outlaw Trail, a 1.6-mile loop. Like the larger loop, this one is more enjoyable when hiked counter-clockwise. Follow it as it heads southeast then northeast, taking in dramatic aerial views of Hill Canyon. (Ignore the multiple bike tracks that cut across the trail and avoid cutting the switchbacks.) A short spur leads to a vista point with a bench.
More climbing brings you to a junction (2.6 miles from the start). Make a right on the Elliott Mountain Trail, which climbs 150 feet in a quarter mile. Named for local outdoor enthusiast Burt Elliott who passed away in 2014, the trail is well graded and easy to follow; there are a few rocky parts but nothing too difficult. From the summit, you can enjoy a great view that includes the ocean, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands to the southwest, the Topa Topa Mountains of Ojai to the northwest and the Santa Monica Mountains to the east.
After returning to the Outlaw Trail, continue following it briefly uphill and then downhill, completing the loop and returning to the Western Plateau Trail (3.6 miles from the start.) Continue your counter-clockwise loop, passing a few side-trails, reaching a 5-way junction at 4.6 miles. The leftmost fork is the Peninsula Loop Trail, which soon reunites with the Western Plateau Trail. The Western Plateau Trail is the second to left fork. From here, it begins a pleasant, if not very eventful, 0.8 mile decent to a junction with the Hawk Canyon Trail. A single oak provides some shade, making this a nice spot to rest before the final ascent.
The last half mile of the Western Plateau Trail climbs about 200 feet to Conejo Center Drive, an alternate starting point. Turn left and follow Conejo Center a quarter mile to Rancho Conejo Blvd, then turn left and walk a short distance back to your car.
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.