West Fork Lion Falls
- Location: Middle Lion Campground, Los Padres National Forest north of Ojai. From Highway 101 in Ventura take Highway 33 north for 28 miles. Turn right onto Rose Valley Road (about 14 miles past Ojai) and follow it 4.8 miles to a junction. Turn right and drive 0.8 mile to the campground. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Ojai Ranger District
- Distance: 5 miles
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: October – June
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
- Recommended gear: sun hat insect repellent hiking poles
- Dogs: Allowed
- Cell phone reception: none
- Water: Lion Canyon usually flows most of the year; when water levels are high enough, it can be bottled and filtered
- Restrooms: None
- Camping: At Middle Lion Campground or West Fork Lion Camp (backpacking only)
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; video of the waterfall here
- Rating: 8
Even if there’s no water at the waterfall shortly beyond the West Fork Trail Camp, the hike along Lion Canyon is enjoyable. Following rains, when the waterfall is active, it is a real treat. Although the stream crossing at the beginning of the hike and the scramble to the waterfall itself can be tricky, the rest of the hike is easy and provides almost nonstop scenery. When the craggy peaks high above the trail are covered with snow and the stream roars alongside, Lion Canyon resembles the southern Sierras.
From the trail head at the end of the campground, follow the Lion Canyon Trail a short distance to the first stream crossing. Depending on the water level, the best place to cross may be a short distance upstream. (Note that just before the crossing, another trail continues along the west side of the stream; this trail soon peters out.) The trail climbs Lion Canyon’s east wall with the creek on the right, leading in and out of the shade. Higher up, the alders and willows are joined by a few Coulter pines. The peaks of the Nordhoff Ridge dominate to the south while the Topa Topa Bluff can be seen to the north when you look back.
At about a mile, the trail begins a gradual descent, reaching a junction with the Rose Valley Connector Trail 1.3 miles from the start. Continue southeast along a flood plain that may be muddy and washed out in spots if there have been recent rains. After crossing the stream again you reach a junction called Four Points (2 miles from the start) where the main trail heads straight, the trail to East Fork Camp heads left and the route to West Fork heads right. In 0.4 mile, you reach the diminutive West Fork Trail Camp, where a fire ring and grill sits beneath the shade of alders and sycamores.
To reach the waterfall, follow a use trail south from the camp. It soon reaches the creek, where 0.1 mile of moderate boulder scrambling (potentially difficult if water levels are high) brings you just below the waterfall. Reaching the actual base of the waterfall requires scrambling up a smooth wall of conglomerate rock, using a minimal number of small handholds while ducking under an overhang. Once you’ve made it to the top of the slope, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the 20-foot waterfall cascading into the pool below. Then retrace your steps back to the trail camp and to Four Points and if time permits, visit the East Fork Trail or explore further along the main trail.
Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
Text and photography copyright 2017 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.