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It's hiking season in the SCV

Pre-spring has come and things are growing up to meet you, so get out there among ’em

Posted: February 18, 2010 2:16 p.m.
Updated: February 19, 2010 6:00 a.m.

A mariposa lily blooms.

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Around here, you have to catch "spring" when you can. The combination of winter rains, warm weather and almost-spring has our hills going green and flowers beginning to pop. With some gorgeous days appearing between storms, now may be the perfect time to set boots to the trails in our local hills and valleys. It may not be true spring yet, but hiking season has begun!

For the lowdown on the top local hikes and hiking, we turn to Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, the director of our Community Hiking Club. For more information, including the club's hikes for this weekend, visit www.communityhikingclub.org. You can reach Dianne at
zuliebear@aol.com.

We have only included a few of Dianne's favorite hikes here. She has many more!


By Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
Director, Community Hiking Club

I love hiking in the Santa Clarita area. I can practically fall out of bed and be on one of the many trails. I've only highlighted a few here. There are many, many more! In addition to the trails below, there are wilderness areas right outside the city, wild and scenic rivers, lakes and so many other wonderful places to hike. (Hint: Come hike with the Community Hiking Club and you can learn about all the wonderful hiking places in and around the SCV.)

Spring is the perfect time to get out onto the trails in the Santa Clarita Valley. The early spring flowers are beginning to bloom and the variety is endless. There are teeny little flowers so close to the ground (lovingly called "belly flowers") that you have to bend over to see them, and huge varieties like tree poppies (aka bush poppies) that can get quite high.

Another benefit to hiking now is being able to see waterfalls that may not have been flowing since early spring last year, and have not carried much water since 2005, our last El Nino year. The best, and easiest waterfalls to access in the Santa Clarita Valley are Whitney Canyon, which has a series of six small waterfalls, and one larger one, and of course, the beautiful waterfall near Walker Ranch in Placerita Canyon. The latter is accessible from the Walker Ranch trailhead or the Canyon Trail near the nature center.

There is also a waterfall in Elsmere Canyon, but there is no authorized trail that leads to the falls, and it is filled with poison oak and several downed trees, so I never recommend that one, although it is gorgeous when running.

Spring also has the best weather. If it's not raining, we have the best weather in the country. It's mild, often warm, but not hot. The plants are bright green, the animals are out foraging and every day is glorious. You are apt to see a variety of animals on the trail including squirrels, raccoons, opossums, deer, bobcats, coyotes, and if you are extremely lucky, you might get a glimpse of a mountain lion or even a bear.

You might even see the elusive badger here! In 20 years of hiking these local trails, I have seen two of them, and only for a second.

The MRCA properties are the best kept trails in the area. Slides and other problems are contained quickly by their all-volunteer crew. They are always looking for new volunteers, so if you'd like to volunteer, you can contract Steve Ioerger at Machiamist@aol.com, and he can put you to work. The same crew maintains Towsley/Wiley Canyons, East/Rice Canyons, Whitney Canyon and Pico Canyon. They are never short on things to do. If you see them on the trail, tell them thank you for their hard work.

One of the greatest things about the Santa Clarita Valley is the variety of trails that are so close by, and there are so many to choose from! Here are some favorites.

Placerita Canyon Trail
(To Walker Ranch)

Length: 2.5 miles, 5 miles RT
Difficulty: Easy, with small gain
Description: Partially Shaded, follows a meandering creek with tall granite canyon walls. Habitat is riparian, oak woodland and chaparral. This is a beautiful hike year-round, and perfect for families and picnics. The surrounding area is home to spotted owls, hawks, deer, mountain lion, gray fox, gray squirrels, numerous birds, lizards and snakes. You will also be lucky enough to see a "white oil" seep out of the ground. The Canyon Trail can also be taken to the Waterfall Trail, The Walker Ranch trailhead, the Los Pinetos Trail, and from the Los Pinetos trail to various other trails for longer hikes. For a trail map see: http://placerita.org/images/placerita_canyon_trail_map_pg1.jpg.
How to get to the trailhead: Exit Highway 14 at Placerita Canyon Road. If you're coming from the south, turn right. If you're coming from the north, turn left on Placerita Canyon Road. Turn right into Placerita Canyon Natural Area (marked by a wooden sign). Park. Trailhead is to the right of the building.

Los Pinetos Trail
Length: 4 miles uphill (8 miles RT) This trail connects to others if you would like longer hikes
Difficulty: Difficult, due to altitude gain
Description: This is a challenging hike, with a steep and steady incline. This is a great trek for views of the Santa Clarita Valley. This trail leaves from the Walker Ranch area of Placerita Canyon Natural Area. When you get to the top of the ridge at the Santa Clara Divide Road (3N17), go a few hundred more feet to the top of the knoll above the road, and take in the even more spectacular scenery at the top. On a clear day, one can see not only the San Fernando Valley, downtown L.A., and the Palos Verdes peninsula, but also Catalina, Santa Barbara and even Santa Cruz Islands! From this point, you can return on the Los Pinetos trail, or head west on Santa Clara Divide Road for ½ a mile to the Firebreak Trail, which descends back down into Placerita Canyon. You can also choose to go to the left to Camp 9 and Bear Divide, or to the Manzanita Trail on the right or Whitney Canyon and ultimately Wilson Canyon, to the right.
How to get to the trailhead: Exit Highway 14 at Placerita Canyon Road. If you're coming from the south, turn right. If you're coming from the north, turn left on Placerita Canyon Road. Then turn right into a turnout marked with a wooden sign on your right ("Walker Ranch Trailhead"), approximately 3.5 miles from Highway 14. Park and walk down the dirt road to the left, or the Walker Ranch Trail on the right. Both end up in the same location. Look for the Los Pinetos trailhead sign at the bottom, across the creek/across from the picnic area.

Placerita Canyon Waterfall Trail
Length: 1.5 miles from the trailhead - You have to get to the trailhead from the Canyon Trail (longer) or Walker Ranch trailhead (shorter)
Difficulty: Fairly Easy with rocky areas, a few steep, wet sections, and muddy patches. In the winter or after a rain there may be significant water in the stream bed. Be cautious during rainy and wet seasons. Also look for thick patches of poison oak.
Description: The Waterfall Trail is a one-way, dead end trail that begins out of the Lower Walker Ranch section of Placerita Canyon Natural Area, and leads up Los Pinetos Canyon to a vernal waterfall. The dead end of the trail is a 25 foot waterfall that runs from November to June in normal rain years.
The trail is approximately 3/4 of a mile from the Walker Ranch Waterfall trailhead at the eastern end of Placerita Canyon Natural Area. It gains relatively little in elevation (from 1,850 to 2,115), but the canyon bottom on some stretches of the trail can be rocky and slick. In addition, because of is very mesic (moist) and shaded microclimate, poison oak is a very common sight along and around the trail.
At the mid point of the trail, two side canyons branch off the main Los Pinetos Canyon. Just keep to the right each time, and you will find your way to the falls. Once there, you will immediately recognize the waterfall by the large, downed big cone Douglas Fir tree trunk that provides a way for hikers to navigate the stream crossing.
You might also notice big leaf maples, ash, California laurel, black walnut, canyon oak, and other trees more common to wetter climates. The waterfall trail is definitely one of the more moist microclimates found in the Santa Clarita Valley. This is also a known nesting area for spotted owls.
How to get to the trailhead: Exit SR 14 at Placerita Canyon Road. If you're coming from the south, turn right. If you're coming from the north, turn left on to Placerita Canyon Road. Then, turn right into a turnout marked with a wooden sign ("Walker Ranch Trailhead") on your right, approximately 3.5 miles from Highway 14. If you'd like a longer hike, turn into the Placerita Nature Center Natural Area, park, and take the Canyon Trail all the way to Walker Ranch, where you will find the trailhead to the waterfall.

Manzanita Mountain Trail
Length: 2 miles one way, 4 miles RT
Difficulty: Extremely difficult
Description: This trailhead goes straight up the mountain, past a water tower, and continues to ascend to the ridgeline, where it intersects with the firebreak on the ridge. From this intersection you can go to the right to Whitney Canyon, go to the left to Walker Ranch or Camp 9 or Bear Divide, or make a loop by going down the Los Pinetos trail to Walker Ranch and back to Placerita Nature Center via the Canyon Trail. If you choose any of these options be sure to be prepared with lots of water, lunch, snacks, first aid, and a car at the other end to bring you back (unless you're doing the loop option).
For Trail map see: http://placerita.org/images/placerita_canyon_trail_map_pg1.jpg
How to get to the trailhead: Exit Highway 14 at Placerita Canyon Road. If you're coming from the south, turn right. If you're coming from the north, turn left on Placerita Canyon Road. Turn right into Placerita Canyon Natural Area (marked by a wooden sign). Park. Trailhead is to the right of the building. Look for the water tower on the hill, and head towards that, then continue up the trail on the right.

Bear Divide Trail
Length: 2.2 miles or 4.4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy if only going one way (downhill) - difficult if making it a round trip. Uphill is steep.
Description: This trail is very easy to follow, with no trails intersecting it. However, it is a steep incline/decline, so going up or down, watch your footing. The Bear Divide Trail begins in upper Sand Canyon at the Bear Divide U.S. Forest Service Fire Station, and climbs the north face of the San Gabriels to the Los Angeles County Fire Camp 9 at May Canyon Saddle. The trail runs 2.2 miles one way, and provides some of the best landscape views of the Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys.
The lower portion of the trail switchbacks through the chaparral as it ascends out of the Sand Canyon/Little Pacoima Canyon drainage. From this vantage point, the Topatopa Mountains can be seen off to the west; to the east lies the Magic Mountain wilderness and the front range of the San Gabriels. The trail ascends quickly up the mountain, and in no time the dry chaparral begins to transition into oak woodland.
As you reach the top of the ridge, the big cone Douglas fir and canyon oak forest becomes very dense and provides a wonderful shady understory for the hiker. For this reason, the trail (especially when begun from the top) is one of the best summer hiking trails.
Once at the top, the spectacular view (on a clear day) can be taken in on all sides. Toward the south you can see the San Fernando Valley clear to Santa Catalina Island, and toward the north you can see the Santa Clarita Valley, the Ojai Range, and to the Antelope Valley. In the last few years, the endangered California Condor has been seen riding thermals above the higher peaks, so keep an eye to the sky for largest bird in North America. For a one-way trip, it is advisable for a pair of hikers to leave vehicles at either end of the trail.
How to get to the trailhead: From SR 14, exit on Sand Canyon and head south. Sand Canyon will wind its way up the mountains to Bear Divide. At Bear Divide, turn right and head ¼ mile to the turnout on the right. The trail starts at the turnout. To hike down the trail, continue up the fire road to Camp 9 fire station. There is a dirt parking area to the right of the entrance. The trail head is also on the right.

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