Middle Matilija Camp
- Location: Los Padres National Forest northwest of Ojai. In Google Maps, use the address 3970 Matilija Canyon Road for the approximate location. From Highway 101 in Ventura take Highway 33 north for 18 miles, through Ojai. Five miles north of town, shortly before Wheeler Gorge, look for Matilija Canyon Road on the left. Follow it about 5 miles to its ending. Park in a dirt lot on the left side of the road just before it reaches a private wildlife sanctuary that will usually be gated.
- Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Ojai Ranger District
- Distance: 7.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 850 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance; stream crossings that can be difficult after heavy rains)
- Suggested time: 4 hours
- Best season: October – June
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
- Recommended gear: hiking poles
- Dogs: Allowed
- Cell phone reception: none
- Water: Matilija Creek’s north fork runs seasonally; if there is water, it will need to be filtered
- Restrooms: None
- Camping: Matilija Camp and Middle Matilija Camp
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here; North Fork Matilija trail information here; Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 7
The North Fork Matilija Trail runs almost eight miles, from Matilija Canyon Road to Cherry Creek Road, through the heart of the Matilija Wilderness. The 7.8-mile round trip to Middle Matilija Camp is enjoyable as a day hike or as an easy backpacking trip, filled with much of what makes Ojai-area hiking great: steep-walled canyons, mountain views, a variety of plant life and deep solitude.
From the gate at the end of 5N13, continue along an easement through private Matilija Canyon Ranch, a wildlife sanctuary. At 0.6 mile, turn right on the North Fork Matilija Trail. It crosses the stream bed and enters the shaded canyon of Matilija Creek’s north fork. After a couple of stream crossings, you reach Matilija Camp (1.3 miles.) Beyond, the trail enters a grove of impressive oaks. Look for a carefully structured rock tower in between two of the trees.
The trail bends to the east and quickly crosses the stream four more times. At 1.9 miles, the approximate halfway point to Middle Matilija, the trail enters a meadow dotted with oaks and sycamores, with Reyes Peak dominating to the northeast. Make your way through buckwheat bushes before heading back to the woods and passing a makeshift trail camp. At 2.9 miles, the trail crosses the creek again. This brings you to the only appreciably steep stretch of the route as the trail climbs sharply, switchbacking up the south canyon wall. The dramatic views both east and west may look familiar to veterans of the Santa Paula Canyon hike.
After dropping back down alongside the stream bed, the trail passes another makeshift camp (3.7 miles.) Two more stream crossings bring you to the real Middle Matilija Camp, a wide flat framed by several tall oaks. Ambitious hikers might continue onto Upper Matilija, 1.5 miles farther and 550 feet higher. For hikers with kids or dogs, however, Middle is a good turnaround point. Enjoy the peacefulness, enhanced by the trickle of seasonal Matilija Creek, before retracing your steps.
Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.