Deal Trail, Los Padres National Forest, CA

Deal Trail: Highway 33 to wilderness boundary (Los Padres National Forest)

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    • Location:  Los Padres National Forest, northern Ventura County. The trail head is on Highway 33, one mile south of Lockwood Valley Road and 47.5 miles north of Highway 101. Look for a dirt lot on the left (if you are coming from the south) or right (north) side of the road by mile marker 47.5, signed as the Deal Trail Head. Keep in mind that there are no services between the trail head and Lockwood Valley or Ojai. Also note that many of the roads in this area are subject to weather-related closures. Check road statuses here. Approximate trail head coordinates are N 34.6483, W 119.3651.
    • Agency:  Los Padres National Forest/Mt. Pinos Ranger District
    • Distance: 5.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
    • Suggested time: 3 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Trail condition, terrain, elevation gain)
    • Best season: October – June (pending road conditions)
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
    • Recommended guidebook: Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara and Ventura
    • Dogs: Allowed (exercise caution on warm days and during hunting season in the fall)
    • Cell phone reception: Weak at the trail head and the ridge line; none in the canyon
    • Water: None
    • Restrooms: None
    • Camping/backpacking: The Deal Junction Trail Camp is 6.4 miles from the trail head, or about 3.7 miles past the turnaround point for this hike. From Deal Junction, you retrace your steps, go another 3.6 miles to the Upper Rancho Nuevo Camp or, if you have set up a car shuttle, continue another 2.4 miles to the Rancho Nuevo Trail Head.
    • More information: Trail information here; All Trails page (first 1.6 miles of this route not included) here; description of a longer trip including the second section of this hike here
    • Rating: 7

This hike explores the eastern end of the Deal Trail in the Los Padres National Forest. This relatively remote corner of Ventura County presents several opportunities for backpacking (an 8.8-mile shuttle from the Deal trailhead to the Rancho Nuevo trailhead with an extension to the Upper Rancho Nuevo Campground is a popular route). For a moderate day hike that is only a couple of hours’ drive from the northern edge of L.A., consider the following route which starts from the Deal trailhead (also signed as the Bear Canyon trailhead on some maps) on Highway 33 and climbs to the highest point on the route, taking some panoramic views while also visiting some secluded woodlands and intriguing geology.

A few caveats: Bear Canyon and Deal Canyon were burned in the 2007 Zaca Fire and are still recovering. The first mile-plus will require bushwhacking, some route finding and several climbs in and out of the stream bed (there will usually be little, if any water, but some of the going may be tricky, especially if you are hiking with kids or dogs). There is also a good amount of erosion and there are several spots near the ridge where the trail cuts close to the canyon wall, requiring caution. The area is popular with hunters in the fall. Lastly: the bugs can be quite annoying. If these factors don’t deter you and you prepare appropriately, you are in for an enjoyable and scenically diverse hike.

From the trail head, follow the Deal Trail into the flood plain. Route finding can be a little vague but you should never have to bushwhack too much. The trail heads briefly west before making a wide bend south, heading toward the mouth of Bear Canyon. Noise from Highway 33 soon dissipates as the canyon walls narrow. You pass by a dry waterfall, cross the stream bed for the first of several times and make your way deeper into the canyon. There are a few spots where, depending on the level of the brush, it may be easiest to simply follow the stream bed. When in doubt, look for footprints or other signs of human presence. While the exact route might vary, it’s hard to get too lost in the canyon; worst case scenario, you may have to back track to find a more user-friendly route.

At about one mile from the start, the trail enters an attractive mixed woodland of black oaks and Coulter pines. Numerous small sandstone caves line the sides of the canyon. The trail is washed out in a few spots so exercise caution. After leaving the woodland, you make one more stream crossing before reaching an unsigned junction (1.6 miles from the start). The left fork is the Deal Connector Trail which also leads to Highway 33 and Mine Camp, a two mile round trip detour that you can add to this hike. The Deal Trail heads west (right), beginning its steady climb up to the ridge. Though this part of the hike has most of the climbing (just under 600 feet in 1.1 mile) many hikers may find the going to be easier because there is no bushwhacking and the route is clear.

Several switchbacks near the top bring you to the top of the ridge (elevation 4,643 feet), 2.7 miles from the start, just before the Dick Smith Wilderness boundary. Here you can enjoy views including the Dick Smith Wilderness to the west and New Cuyama Valley and its characteristic badlands to the northeast. A short climb up a use trail brings you to an unnamed knoll, marked by a pine tree with low branches.

Deal Trail, Los Padres National Forest, CA
Heading into Bear Canyon from Highway 33
Los Padres National Forest, CA
Fall colors, Bear Canyon
Deal Trail, Los Padres National Forest, CA
Entering the canyon narrows
Deal Trail, Los Padres National Forest
Sandstone caves
Deal Canyon, Los Padres National Forest
Small caves in the rocks
Deal Canyon, Los Padres National Forest
Sun bleached hills above Deal Canyon
Deal Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest
Looking west from the turnaround point on the ridge
Deal Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest
Dusk in Bear Canyon

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.

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