Geology in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

Elsmere Canyon Loop

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Elsmere Canyon Loop

  • Location: Santa Clarita.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit.  If you’re coming from the south, turn right; the north, left, and drive to the end of the street and park in the dirt lot.  (If the lot is full, you may need to use the lower lot, where there is a $5 fee.)
  • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
  • Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain, terrain)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping: None
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles sun hat
  • More information: here; trip descriptions here, here (different route) and here
  • Rating: 5

Even trails located next to freeways and under power lines can have their adventurous side. What Elsmere Canyon may lack in solitude it makes up for in panoramic views, geology and convenience to the north San Fernando Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley. The balloon shaped loop described here features several steep ups and downs, making for a good workout.

The Elsinore Canyon Loop is one of several routes through the park. With several utility roads intersecting the loop, navigation can be a little confusing, but the park’s signage is good and as close as it is to civilization, it’s hard to get too lost. Start by heading south on the trail leading past the Elsmere Open Space sign. Climb up a hillside and descend into a canyon. The Creek Trail heads left toward the seasonal waterfall (0.2 mile from the start.) This route heads right but then makes a quick left and begins the first major ascent. Initially paved, the road soon becomes a rough single-track, steeply climbing 400 feet in the next half mile over often loose terrain. Ignore two false trails (the first on the right, next on the left) and continue the climb up the west-facing face of a large geological mass known as the Towsley Formation.

At 0.8 mile the trail tops out, allowing you to catch your breath and enjoy views of the Santa Susana Mountains to the west. Old oil-drilling gear remains abandoned on the side of the hill. The trail briefly descends (ignore a false trail making a hard left from this spot). You soon reach a junction with an unsigned trail on the left; this is the return route. (Hike the loop counter-clockwise, as described below; doing so allows you to get the least interesting part of the hike out of the way sooner while saving the best for last.)

The fire road descends downhill, passing some sandstone caves about one mile from the beginning. Experienced hikers may be able to scramble up the rocks for a closer look, but most people would be advised to observe the caves from below.

There’s not much to say about the next 1.8 miles of the hike. The trail descends to an intersection with spur coming up from an alternate trailhead on Sierra Highway (1.7 miles from the start) and follows alongside the 14 Freeway for another 0.6 mile. It then makes a sharp left turn and begins a steep ascent, climbing 300 feet in 0.4 mile, arriving at a Y-junction. Bear left and follow the trail through a meadow, enjoying views of the San Gabriel Mountains to the east. At 3 miles from the start, you reach the high point of the loop (1,970 feet) and begin a long descent into the pleasant, oak-shaded reaches of Elsmere Canyon. Stay left at the next two intersections before ascending to a saddle (3.7 miles.)

Now comes the payoff for the uneventful miles behind you. Bear left on an unsigned single-track trail that cuts across the Towsley Formation’s northeastern slope. Power lines only slightly impede the views. The trail follows a narrow ridge, providing a taste of adventure. It climbs past some geological outcrops before descending to complete the loop (4.5 miles.) Retrace your steps back to the trailhead, exercising caution on the steep, rocky descent.

Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Oaks and fall colors in Elsmere Canyon
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Heading uphill after the Creek Trail junction
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Steep ascent on the Elsmere Canyon Loop
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Oil drilling gear at the top of the first ascent
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Start of the loop (note single-track on left)
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Caves in the Towsley Formation
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Start of the single-track, last leg of the loop
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Following the ridge, completing the loop

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.

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