Hines Peak from Middle Lion

Basics: Hines Peak from Lion Canyon is about 20 miles round trip.  It’s a long hike, but the views from the top of this peak are epic and worth the crazy hike.  Hines Peak is the highest point in the Topatopa Range.  Do not attempt this hike on a hot summer day – the Los Padres can be brutal.

There are at least four different approaches to climbing Hines Peak. The easiest?  Contact the Forest Service to get the gate code for the dirt road leaving Rose Valley, then drive to the end of Nordhoff Ridge Road (4wd required) and begin the hike from there.  The easy hike is around 7 miles roundtrip.  Alternatively, Hines Peak can be reached from Sisar Canyon (20 miles round trip), Middle Lion (20 miles round trip) , Rose Valley (20 miles round trip), or from the Sespe River trail (multi-day trip).  We opted for the 20 mile hike from Middle Lion Campground.  Sisar Canyon seems to be the most common approach – the Sierra Club HPS page has a pretty good description.

Note: GPS based distance is approximate. Download gpx of this routeDownload kml of this route.

Directions to Trailhead: From Ojai, CA, follow Hwy 33 north for approximately 15 miles. Make a right at the signed junction for Rose Valley (and Piedra Blanca). From here, it’s another 4-ish miles to the trailhead. Somewhere around the gun range, a road splits off to the right – follow this to get to Rose Valley Campground.  A while later, another road splits off to the right – this time for Middle Lion Campgournd.  Follow this road to the campground and park anywhere you find a spot.  The trail begins behind the gate at the back of the campground.

Trail Description:  On a previous trip, we hiked up to Topatopa Bluff from Sisar Canyon.  Hines Peak is just next to Topatopa Bluff.  Instead of hiking the same trail again, we opted for a new route: beginning at Rose Valley Campground.  The mileage is only marginally longer (than from Sisar), but the elevation gain is over 1000- ft less.  Despite this fact, the majority of people opt to hike from Sisar Canyon.   We turned from Hwy 33 on to Rose Valley Road.  We then proceeded to completely miss the turnoff for our trailhead at Rose Valley Campground.  Apparently, the road isn’t labeled anymore.  Instead of backtracking, we simply proceeded onward to Middle Lion Campground and hiked via the Lion Canyon Trail.

We parked, ate some breakfast, then hit the trail.  It was pretty cold out (in the 40’s!), so we power walked the first mile or so to stay warm.

At 1.3 miles, the connector trail from Rose Valley hits the Lion Canyon Trail.  After another 0.6 mile section, two trails split off for East Fork Lion and West Fork Lion camps.  From that junction, it was a long 3.6 miles up to Nordhoff Ridge Road.  Luckily, much of the canyon was shaded in the morning.

After the long climb up through Lion Canyon, we reached the dirt road.  At this point, I was pretty tired.  We had already hiked 5.5 miles – much of it uphill – and we were barely halfway.  I thought about hiking the closer peak (Topatopa Bluff) instead, or just turning around.  Rob, of course had plenty of energy, and didn’t care one way or the other what we did.  I decided I’d be pissed at myself if I didn’t give Hines Peak a good effort.  So, we pushed onwards.

At least the plants were pretty. (Hesperoyucca whipplei; also known as chaparral yucca, our Lord’s candle, Spanish bayonet, Quixote yucca, common yucca, or foothill yucca).

We headed up the road for another mile.  At this  point, the road ends at a permanent gate. From here, the Red Reef Trail descends to Sespe Creek.   Shortly after the gate, the Last Chance trail splits off and heads down to Thomas Aquinas College, though I’m not sure what condition that trail is in.  We followed the Red Reef Trail and soon Hines Peak came into view.

End of Nordhoff Ridge Road.
Hines Peak! The use trail goes straight up the ridge.
Steep, loose rock.

Once you see the peak, it’s pretty clear where to leave the trail.  About 3 miles after the gate, we found ourselves at a sharp turn in the trail.  A faint use trail continues straight up the southeast side of the peak along a narrow ridge.  This is where the trail gets steep!  It was a tiring climb up the loose rock, but we finally made it to the top!  We ate lunch, took in the views, and signed the register.

At the top!

After spending a good hour on the peak, we slowly made our way back down the use trail.  We picked up the pace when we got to the main trail, but the hike out still ended up taking the rest of the day.  We made it back to Carpinteria as the sun was going down – we headed straight for Taco Grande to enjoy some very grande burritos.

Steep trail heading down Hines Peak.
Lupin growing in the slope on the way down.

More Info:

David Stillman: Hines Peak/Topatopa Bluff – Great description from Stillman.  Awesome blog.

HPS Sierra Club – Covers the trail description from Sisar or from Nordhoff Ridge Road.

Water-proof map from Tom Harrison – essential if you’re planning a lot of hikes in the Sespe Wilderness:

Any thoughts?