Backpacking Sespe Hot Springs

Basics: Sespe Hot Springs is located deep in the Sespe Wilderness. There are three possible access points for reaching the springs, but all require either a ridiculously difficult day hike or a strenuous multi-day trip. The Ojai Ranger District has a useful PDF describing the various trails.  We chose to hike from Piedra Blanca (Rose Valley).  Some of the other access points are only open seasonally.  From Rose Valley, it’s a 16 mile trek to the hot springs.  The best time to visit the area is in the late fall, winter, or early spring, though after a large rainstorm, the multiple creek crossings could be difficult.  Summer can be crazy hot in this area.  Sespe Creek has some great swimming holes, but a 16 mile trek to the hot springs might be a bit much when it’s 100 degrees outside. Continue reading “Backpacking Sespe Hot Springs”

Chief Peak from Horn Canyon

Basics: Chief Peak is one of the pointiest summits looming above the Ojai Valley. At 5560 ft, it’s also the fourth tallest mountain in the Topatopa range. The majority of visitors hike this peak from Rose Valley – 9 miles round trip. Alternatively, it’s possible to hike a strenuous 15 miles round trip from Horn Canyon in Ojai. Once atop the narrow summit, you will be rewarded with impressive 360 degree views. This hike is steep, sunny (hot on many days), and uncrowded. Continue reading “Chief Peak from Horn Canyon”

Castle Peak – Tahoe National Forest

Basics: Castle Peak (9104′) is a prominent mountain close to Donner Pass on I-80. It’s a popular destination for summer hiking and winter snowshoeing or backcountry skiing. The summit is about 3 miles (and 1800′) from the trailhead. In the winter, much of the trail is well graded and easy to follow. The last half mile or so up to the summit is pretty steep. Most people we saw were using snowshoes, but if conditions were really icy, crampons and an ice axe might be a bit easier. Continue reading “Castle Peak – Tahoe National Forest”

Sespe River Trail to Willett Hot Springs

Basics: This scenic 20+ mile (roundtrip) hike follows Sespe Creek through one of Southern California’s most interesting and rugged wilderness areas. At the end of this long hike is a 100-degree hot spring- great for soaking in after the trek. There are numerous campsites near Willett Hot Springs. There are also many great camping opportunities along Sespe Creek – making this an ideal backpacking trip for anyone who is unsure about how far they feel like hiking. This wilderness is great in spring, summer or late fall. Summer is hot, but may be okay as long as the Sespe still has water in it. Continue reading “Sespe River Trail to Willett Hot Springs”

Nordhoff Peak via the Gridley Trail


Basics: This 13.8 mile round trip hike climbs 3000-ish feet from the Ojai “guacamole wilderness” to the top of one of the area’s most prominent peaks. There is a skeleton of an old fire lookout at the top. It’s a great climb – views to Reyes Peak, Topatopa and out towards the Channel Islands. This is a popular trail with hikers and mountain bikers, but on a clear blue Sunday in February, it did not feel like it was overrun with crowds. Continue reading “Nordhoff Peak via the Gridley Trail”

Peak 4864

Peak 4864 is the highest point in the Santa Ynez range (the range of peaks closest to the coast, from northern Ventura County up to Goleta). So naturally, I decided we should climb it. According to Wikipedia, this is one of the few east-west trending mountain ranges in the U.S. – makes sense since the “west coast” for this part of California is really to the South. Continue reading “Peak 4864”

Topatopa Bluff – Los Padres National Forest


Basics: Last week I happened to be driving through the Santa Paula/Ojai area for work. The peaks around here are a nice departure from the flatlands of Davis and Sacramento. After looking at some local trail guides, I quickly set my sights on the Topatopa Bluffs.  The hike to the top is 14+ mile (roundtrip) and follows both dirt roads and single track trails.  The trail climbs over 4000 ft.  Like much of the Southern Los Padres National Forest, it can get kind of ridiculously hot in the summer, making this an ideal winter hike. Continue reading “Topatopa Bluff – Los Padres National Forest”

Channel Islands – Santa Cruz Island Backcountry

Basics: This trip is an easy beginners backpacking trip on Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands NP. The trickiest part is getting a campsite reservation, arranging transportation to and from the island, and packing in your water. This hike could be anywhere from 7 to 20+ miles round trip, depending on where you get off the boat. We hiked 3.5 miles to the backcountry campsite, and took a longer 5 mile route back out. Continue reading “Channel Islands – Santa Cruz Island Backcountry”

McKinley Mountain & Hell’s Half Acre

Basics: This is a loooong (19.4 miles) hike to the top of one of the taller peaks in the San Rafael Wilderness. McKinley Mountain summit, at 6182-ft, is a 3000-ft climb from the trailhead. Most of the hike follows a dirt road. Hell’s Half Acre, an interesting field of boulders and rock outcroppings, is 5 miles from the trailhead and would make a good turnaround place for a shorter trip. There are no crowds – we only saw a handful of hunters, and the views span from the ocean to the Sierras. Continue reading “McKinley Mountain & Hell’s Half Acre”