Trails of

Los Padres National Forest (South-east), including
Sespe Wilderness, Sespe Condor Sanctuary and Matilija Wilderness


Looking north into the Sespe Creek canyon from the Red Reef Trail.

Overview

This area encompasses approximately the eastern half and southern two-thirds of the southern section of the Las Padres Forest. In other words, just a small part of the total! Within this small part lies the Sespe Wilderness, half of the Matilija Wilderness and a small part of the Dick Smith Wilderness. The Sespe Condor Sanctuary is part of the Sespe Wilderness. Note that members of the public are not allowed in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary except when on the Alder Creek and Bucksnort Trails. This, obviously, is to help the California Condors recover from the brink of extinction.

The whole section of the national forest is ruggedly beautiful but brutally exposed to the sun on southward facing slopes. North-facing slopes are just as rugged but many of them are covered with coniferous trees. Many streams flow year-round, such as Sespe Creek, Santa Paula Creek, Piru Creek and Matilija Creek. There are also a number of beautiful waterfalls in the area.

As you can see from the map below, there are many long trails here. Given the ruggedness of the terrain, it shouldn't be surprising that most of them have have lots of moderately steep sections with thousands of feet of climbing overall. What may be surprising is that there are a few that are relatively gentle in their slope and total elevation change. Not shown on this map are the many primitive campgroups provided by the forest service. You can find those on the forest service's online map. It also shows these trails, seasonal or permanently locked gates, and forest routes and their designations.

I have only been on a few of these many trails so most don't have any real descriptions here. As I travel more of the trails over the years, I'll fill in more details. Nevertheless, they all have elevation profiles to give you a sense of their relative lengths, changes in elevation and steepness.

Map Key

  Printable map (1.5 MB)

Aerial View


Looking east over the region. This view is from Google Earth 

Trailheads

Mostly, you're on your own to find trailheads in this region. A couple of descriptions mention the location of the trailheads and many of the profiles show the forest routes indication(s) at the end(s) of the trails.

Geocaches

Ojai has a number of very active geocachers. As such, many of the trails and roadsides are rich with caches for the finding, particularly closer to Ojai!

Trails

[1] Matilija Canyon Trail (AKA Middle Fork Matilija Trail; Matilija Creek Trail)

Description This trail follows the main fork of the Matilija Creek, ending at some spectacular falls that flow year-round.


Note: As of mid-April, 2010, access to this trail is blocked where it crosses private property. See this news article for more details.

Parking is near the west end of Matilija Canyon Road (accessible from Hwy 33 between Meiners Oaks and Wheeler Springs). On foot, continue on pavement for a few hundred feet through the Matilija Canyon Ranch to the dirt road. After about two miles of generally west-northwest travel, the road crosses a wash and becomes a singletrack, turning generally north. The trail is well-defined for awhile, but then starts to cross back and forth across the stream. Most of it is really easy to follow but you will have to watch for the places where it crosses to the other side. About 4.3 miles from the start, the canyon forks, continuing a little further ot the north than to the west. There are beautiful falls along both these forks so you should investigate both directions.

These canyons are really beautiful, especially with the flowing water. It's well worth the trip to the falls!

Download the GPS track to help you find your way.

Technical Rating T1 to T5

 Length (miles)

 4.6

Climb (feet)

 1500 (estimated)

Descent (feet)

 300 (estimated)

Trail Profile      Back to the Top

[2] North Fork Matilija Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that. The top of the trail ends at the south end of the Cherry Creek Road and the top of the Ortega OHV Trail.

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[3] Ortega OHV Trail (23W08)

Description This trail starts on Hwy 33 a couple of miles south of Rose Valley and ends at the south end of Cherry Creek Road, which is also the top of the North Fork Matilija Trail. I have hiked the bottom 4.3 miles of this trail only, between the Dry Lakes Ridge Trail and Hwy 33. From the bottom, the trail quickly gains elevation, starting with some switchbacks. The first 1.8 miles are mostly on the north side of a ridge with tall chaparrel so is quite shaded, so much so that there is a little poison oak in places. Above that, the trail opens up quite a bit to give a better view of the rugged surroundings and into the Matilija Wilderness Area to the west. I find it particularly beautiful about 3 miles from the bottom where the hillsides and ridge crests are very rocky. Check out the photo gallery for pictures of this trail.

The trail is a motorcycle track and ranges from smooth and firm to very rocky to loose and very rocky. Sometime in early May 2011, the bottom 2 miles of the trail was groomed by machine and is quite broad for a singletrack, but varies from smooth to pretty rocky. Apparently the upper 2.5 miles of the trail is open to 4x4 vehicles with a permit from the Ojai District Ranger Station. There is parking at the side of Hwy 33 at the bottom of the trail, and at the south end of Cherry Creek Road at the top.

Download the GPS track to help you find your way. This track is an amalgam of my own data, a track from Redtrails.com and Google Earth.

Trail Profile      Back to the Top

 

[4] Dry Lakes Ridge Trail

Description This trail runs from Hwy 33 about a miles north of Rose Valley to the Ortega Trail. It is actually a fire break that starts up very steeply from the highway, then travels west along the ridge until it meets the Ortega Trail. Along the way the route goes through the basins from which the ridge gets its name (these are not lakes at all, but rather the result of the movement of thrust faults - earthquakes). Most of the trail has great views down one side of the ridge or the other. Check out the photo gallery for pictures of this trail.

Being a ridgeline firebreak, the trail varies a lot in width and steepness. I hiked it in May 2011. Based on the amount of vegetation, I'm guessing it was last graded 3-4 years ago. Most of the trail is firm dirt with the exception of one short but very steep uphill, and a longer but equally steep downhill section.

There is parking at the side of Hwy 33 at the bottom of the trail.

Download the GPS track to help you find your way.

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[5] Potrero John Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[6] Sespe River Trail

 


Scarlet buglers line the trail in the spring. To see more, view the photo gallery.

Description I have hiked only about 4.5 miles from the west end, about a half mile past Bear Creek Camp. This description is for this part of the trail, but I expect that the remainder would be quite similar. However, I expect it to be less travelled and narrower as you get further from the trailhead.

This is a very popular, broad singletrack trail that follows an old roadbed. The river is not far away, but even though you can't often see it from the trail, you can tell where it is by the lush green trees that grow on its banks. There are a number of swimming holes in the stream and they are popular destinations for cooling off on a hot day. Away from the stream there is very little shade, and it can get very hot here in the late spring, summer and fall. Check the local weather before you head out, and carry lots of water! And don't forget your swimming attire. In the spring, the area is overwhelmed with wildflowers. Even without the flowers, this is a very pretty area, in part because the green trees and chaparral are such a contrast to the more temperate growth on the nearby mountains.

The trail itself starts off almost as wide as a fireroad. By the time you get to Bear Creek Camp, it has narrowed somewhat but is still mostly a broad singletrack. The slopes are all gentle to moderate in grade; the tread is mostly smooth and even a little sandy, but there are some rocky areas, particularly where the trail is a little steeper.

Bear Creek Camp is a great destination - only 4 miles in with quite a bit of shade and a huge swimming area.

Download the GPS track to help you find your way. Note that this track came from Redtrails.com and I can only vouch for the first 4.5 miles, but I have no reason to suspect it isn't accurate further along as well.

Technical Rating T2 Technical Rating T2 to T2.5 Technical Rating T2.5

 Length (miles)

 4.0 to Bear Creek Camp; 17.9 to the end at Alder Creek Trail

Climb (feet)

 300 to Bear Creek Camp

Descent (feet)

 450 to Bear Creek Camp

Trail Profile      Back to the Top

[7] Alder Creek Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[8] Bucksnort Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[9] Aqua Blanca Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[10] Pothole  Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[11] Tar Creek  Trail

Description The Tar Creek Trail runs from Dough Flat Rd (6N16) north-west to Tar Creek, which flows year-round. The trail follows an old roadbed and for the first 1.1 miles it is broad, firm and relatively smooth. The next mile down to the stream is much narrower and in some places is very rocky or partially washed out. Nevertheless, it's pretty easy to follow and is well-travelled. The trail that continues on the north side of the creek is quite overgrown, but that is in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary where public access is not permitted (see below).

Once at Tar Creek, you can follow it downsteam, boulder-hopping the whole way, to see several lovely waterfalls. One has a cave behind it that you can access and look out through the falls.

Tar Creek forms part of the southern border of the Sespe Condor Sactuary and Dough Flat Rd forms part of its eastern boundary. North of Tar Creek and west of Dough Flat Rd is in the Condor Sactuary where public entry is not allowed. Therefore, do not follow any trails that lead north of Tar Creek.

Download the GPS track to help you find your way.

Technical Rating T1.5 to T3

 Length (miles)

 2.1

Climb (feet)

 230

Descent (feet)

 800

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[12] Chorro Grande Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[13]  Boulder Canyon Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[14] Raspberry Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com. This trail starts on Pine Mtn Ridge Road and drops down through the evergreen forests only about 0.6 miles before coming to an end. Over that short distance, it drops about 450 feet.

Trail Profile      Back to the Top

 

[15] Reyes Peak Trail

Description This popular trail is an extension eastward of the Pine Mountain Ridge Road. At 7000 feet, it is some 15-20 degrees cooler than the Ojai Valley. There are lots of huge coniferous trees on the north face of the ridge so there is plenty of shade as well. I have only hiked the first three miles, so my description will be limited to this section.

The trail is in good shape and travels along north side of the ridge, giving great views into the Lockwood Valley and Mt Pinos slightly east of due north. Occasionally the trail climbs to the top of the ridge where you have even better views into Rose Valley to the south and to the Channel Islands if it's clear. The trail tread is quite narrow along a moderately steep cross-slope, mostly dirt (with a couple of rock sections) and with a firm tread. It's easy to follow, but you have to be careful in the rock sections because it's not so difficult to miss a turn or two.

The trail starts to descend to the Gene Marshall - Piedra Blanca Trail about 4 miles east of the trailhead. As you descend, you can expect the temperature to get several degrees warmer. The satellite imagery shows fewer trees, and shorter, so there probably won't be as much shade.

This trail starts at the east end of Pine Mountain Ridge Road, a somewhat deteriorating, mostly paved narrow mountain road. The road can be negotiated by a regular passengar car (as of 2010), but an SUV or other higher clearance vehicle is recommended. There is parking for several cars at the trailhead.

The track I recorded with my GPS over the first three miles is very close to that shown on the map from Redtrails.com, giving me some confidence that the whole track is quite accurate. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

Technical Rating T2.5

Trail Profile      Back to the Top

[16] Gene Marshall - Piedra Blanca National Recreation Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[17] Cedar Creek Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[18] Fishbowls Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[19] Thorn Point Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[20] Johnston Ridge Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[21] Little Matau  Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[22] Stonehouse Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[23] Buck Creek Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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[24] Snowy OHV Trail

Description I have not yet been on this trail so I can't provide any description. I downloaded the GPS track from Redtrails.com and derived the elevation profile from that.

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This page last updated on May 16, 2012   

 

Thanks for looking at Steve's guide to trails in Ventura County, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) and other locations.