As we flip the calendar to yet another year, it’s time to reconnect with old acquaintances… and get acquainted with some new hiking trails.
The great thing about SoCal hiking is that you don’t have to resolve to climb a mountain (though you can, if you want to). We’ve got plenty of trails that aren’t quite so daunting, whether you’re a hiking newbie, getting back into shape, or hitting the trail with little ones in tow for the first time.
Take advantage of the cool temperatures and clear skies this winter by exploring some of these meadows, grasslands, creeks, and groves that offer a perfect way to start the new year off right.
1. California Citrus State Historic Park, RiversideOne of Southern California’s biggest historical draws – its citrus groves – peaks in the winter, exactly when the rest of the country (and even higher elevations in SoCal) are under frost and frigid conditions. So upon the ringing in of the new year, what better way to celebrate our glorious climate and the riches of the land than by hiking through the preserved landscape of when “Citrus was King” in California?
California Citrus State Historic Park is open for guided hikes and visits all year, but the best time to go is when the fruits are being harvested and you can taste them (and even bring some home with you). Tastings of oranges, lemons, limes, finger limes and more exotic varieties (e.g. star ruby grapefruit, Chandler pummelos) are offered in the visitor center/museum on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with guided hikes offered on those days at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. During the week, you can set off on any number of paved roads, accessible paved trails, and dirt trails – starting at the visitor center and taking you through citrus, citrus varietal, and avocado groves, as well as past terraced knolls and lines of palm trees. There’s also interpretive signage along the way, making this a fun and informative excursion for citrus-eaters of all ages. Admission to the park, visitor center, and museum is free with paid parking.
2. Malibu Creek State Park, Santa Monica MountainsMalibu Creek State Park took a beating in the 2018 Woolsey Fire – but now that its trails have reopened, it’s the perfect opportunity to see how the natural landscape can recover from wildfire as even the smallest amount of precipitation can make it sprout green amid the charred hillsides. Probably the most famous attraction of the state park is the former filming location for the "M*A*S*H" television series, which got singed by flames but has, by and large, survived. The in-and-out access trail isn’t very difficult or far, at just about four miles round trip – but it’s a bit gnarly right now and could use some clearing.
Fortunately, you’ve got other options throughout the park, including the Lost Cabin Trail, Forest Trail, Grasslands Trail, Crystal Lake and Rock Pool. For some easy meandering through a meadow, pick up the Phantom Trail from Liberty Canyon Fire Road in Agoura Hills. It connects to the Las Virgenes Trail in the northeast quadrant of the park, which takes you to the Juan Bautista de Anza Park in Calabasas, a nice spot for a picnic and some easy walking. Or, for more of a challenge, follow the Phantom Trail to Liberty Canyon, where you can walk all the way to Mulholland Highway. For the best experience, bring two cars so you can buddy up for a ride back at the end of your hike rather than retracing your steps. For a great intro to the massive park and all it has to offer, free hikes of varying levels of difficulty are led by the Malibu Creek Docents throughout the year. Check their website for an updated schedule.
3. Ed Davis Park at Towsley Canyon, NewhallWe have such a short season of winter here in SoCal. So, when it hits – and the temperatures are cool and the skies are clear – you’ve got to take advantage of those hiking trails that are normally too hot to tackle for most of the day for the rest of the year. One such hiking spot is Towsley Canyon, whose Ed Davis Park offers access to a rich history of commercial oil wells in Southern California with a couple options of trailheads. Named after the Santa Clarita Valley's state senator (1980-1992) who championed the preservation of Towsley Canyon, Ed Davis Park is now managed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA). Old timers will know it as the park that’s on the site of the 1974 equestrian ranch known as Rivendale, whose ranch house is now called simply “The Lodge.”
On the Towsley Canyon Loop, you’ll hike along an old road and pass old, rusted gates, a crib dam for debris flow (circa 1971), pipes and other vestiges. There were several commercial oil wells that operated here as early as the late 19th century, though most of the relics you’ll find are from after 1940. Although Standard Oil Company (now Chevron) no longer drills here, Towsley Creek is so full of oil seepage that it’s tar-ridden and downright goopy. Look for a variety of butterflies, including monarchs, buckeyes, Painted Ladies and Silvery Blues.
4. Placerita Canyon Natural Area, Newhall While Newhall might be most closely associated with SoCal commercial oil drilling, it also holds a significant place in history as where gold was first discovered in California in 1842. In Placerita Canyon Natural Area, you’ll find the site of “The Oak of the Golden Dream,” where, as the story goes, Francisco Lopez fell asleep and dreamed he was floating in a pool of gold. When he woke up, he stuck his knife in the ground by the creek, and pulled up wild onions with bits of gold stuck on them. It may be just a “tall tale,” but the real discovery of gold did pre-date the now-infamous event at Sutter’s Mill in 1848.
There are a total of seven trails in the park, covering 12 miles – from beginner level to advanced. Once you’ve explored the oak tree and the nature center and its trails, join docents for a family nature walk (Saturdays at 11:00 a.m.), bird walk (2nd Saturdays at 8:00 a.m.), wildflower walk (4th Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.), or twilight hike (3rd Saturdays at 6:00 p.m., October through December). Some of the trails are still being restored from the 2016 Sand Fire – but once they reopen, take the footpath down into the canyon along the appropriately named Canyon Trail towards Walker Ranch. It’s about 2.35 miles along the Los Pinetos Trail, and you’ll briefly cross over into the chill, shady woods of Angeles National Forest on your way up to Wilson Saddle. Stop there for a picnic, or head back down to the Waterfall Trail.
5. Trippet Ranch, Topanga State ParkNo matter where you’d like to go in Topanga State Park, you can probably pick up the trail at Trippet Ranch. A family-friendly picnic spot with a population of mule deer who’ll curiously peer out from the shadows under some trees, Trippet Ranch is a great starting location for starting a hike out gently and with plenty of shade. You can challenge yourself by gaining some elevation on the dry, dusty trail to Eagle Rock (not that one, the other one), but you’ll find the Musch Meadow Trail much more easily graded and shaded – across a meadow, over a footbridge, through an oak grove, and past Musch Camp (where you can also reserve a campsite).
An easy, mile-long nature trail is also available from Trippet Ranch, with numbered stations that correspond to an interpretive brochure available at the start.
The Topanga Canyon Docents offer free guided nature walks at Trippet Ranch every Sunday, from January 1 through June 30, 10:00 a.m. to noon. While you’re there, you can stop into the Visitor Center, manned by the docents Saturdays and Sundays from January to July, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Top Image: Malibu Creek State Park | Sandi Hemmerlein