06 October 2011

Upper North Fork of the Matilija Creek

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

I opened up my Forest Service map for the Los Padres NF and picked a trail. There were actually two trails out of the trail head I was looking at, but one was along a larger blue line so looked more attractive. It followed the north fork of the Matilija Creek up for quite a ways starting just a few miles behind Ojai. A little research indicates that the trail up the main fork is the more popular one with a waterfall or swimming holes before it as destination, but there is a private property dispute along it. This dispute does not affect the north fork at all. Signs at the trail head make it clear where the dispute is although the public trail was well established and used for decades before they purchased it and they cannot actually bar the public from using the trail. Other entry, yes, but trail use, no. There's some indication that people can get permission to pass, if one wanted to go that direction without any worries. Trails leading along the north fork and southward branch off before the disputed path, so there are options that unambiguously require no permission.

Looking at the USGS topographical map of the area, mostly the Wheeler Springs quadrangle, the trail looks pretty easy and the one trail log I found seemed to confirm that. Especially notable was the wide, flat valley it proceeds through. I also noticed that a short way up a tributary that was also a somewhat narrower wide, flat valley there was a waterfall marked. I thought I might make the attempt to see what this waterfall was like. It might be a trickle over what is really more like a cascade or it could be something impressive, but I wouldn't know unless I got there. I got a map together and printed it out and took off for the trail head. Then hanging out the Adventure Pass (the parking is in a fee area of the forest), I took off up the trail.

The trail initially is really a road. It passes immediately into a developed piece of private property via a gate, so felt a little weird to be hiking there. There are no issues with passing on the road through this particular property except that it is "at your own risk" and they ask you not to frighten the animals. There are lots of animals including dogs, horses, and an aviary of ducks, geese, and peacocks. After passing the buildings, much of the land on either side of the road is private all the way to the turn off for the trail. The pavement ends and there are a couple of water crossings before the trail after a particularly wide crossing. The trail is well marked with another sign detailing the locations of private property.

The valley is wide open and green as the trail starts. The trail crosses over the main fork as it starts, then quickly crosses the north fork as it turns to follow it. It is a slow climb throughout. As the canyon seems to be coming in tightly, the trail forks with the lower fork dropping into Matilija Campsite, the first of many camping areas along the way. The canyon really does narrow significantly just after the campground and the trail makes several crossings. Just as soon as it closed up, the canyon opens back up.

Matilija Valley
The big, green valley that the Matilija flows through.

the upper north fork
Looking up along to the north fork from along the road just before the trail turns off.


alternationg light and dark layers of rock showing
Layers of rock found slanted and folding above the first campsite.

fire ring and stove at Matilija Campsite
Matilija Campsite has a fair amount of flat area and a couple of stoves for use.

cliffs after the campsite
After the campsite, the cliffs close in on both sides forcing a few crossings.

the valley opens up, wide and green
Soon, the canyon opens back up into a wide, green valley.

As the valley opens up, the trail leaves the creek but continues on a slow climb. This section had me worried at first because it has become highly eroded. Runoff clearly follows along the trail so it looked a bit like I'd missed the trail and turned up a creek, but there was nowhere else that looked like trail and since it is well traveled, it would be hard to miss the trail. There is one brief glimpse of the water before the creek eventually comes near a cliff and the trail crosses over. As the valley continues to narrow, it crosses back. There is another campsite that is not developed but is well used, then the trail dives down to the creek. Here, the many trails trying to go up or down can confuse, but the trail actually goes directly across to the short cliff on the other side and climbs up with a short switchback as the trail climbs up to pass a particularly narrow area of the canyon.

the valley closes again
A piece of the trail as the valley starts to close up again.

undeveloped campsite
Undeveloped campsite among oaks under some cliffs.

a look back over the valley
As the trail climbs, there's a good view back over the valley and over to the mountains beyond.

a look up the valley through the narrow section
A look up the valley from above after the trail has climbed.

As the trail settles back down into the canyon, it takes a corner and crosses the tributary with the waterfall marked a bit over 1/2 mile along. At the corner, there was a large sign that would have been more at home along a road than along a trail tied with a bungee cord to a tree. I continued up the trail since that offered a better chance of a good spot for lunch than trying to make my way up a creek. The trail goes right into Middle Matilija Campsite, but then was hard to find. There looked to be some trail going out the other side, but it quickly dwindled to nothing as it passed through more and more poison oak. The actual trail went up the hill from the middle of the campground but had no markings at all. It didn't go far up the hill and was quickly back in the stream bed with many crossings. I continued on until a section with many switchbacks where another waterfall is marked on a tributary, but this one is right as the tributary comes into the creek and is easy to see from the switchbacks. I sat along them for nibbling and drawing.

large sign along the trail
Middle Matilija is 1/2 mile further, Maple is 4 miles and highway 33 (might be) 14 miles along.

mouth of the tributary with some falls
Looking up the tributary with a waterfall up it as the trail crosses it.

little falls and some balanced rocks along the creek
A nice spot along the creek.

Middle Matilija Campsite
Middle Matilija Campsite, another developed campground along the trail. The trail heads out up the hill to the right.

a touch more canyon from above
Climbing up from the campground gives a little more view over the canyon.

a section of canyon where the layered rocks stick up in the creek
The section of canyon above the campground is particularly picturesque, but requires many crossings.

pool along the creek
A small pool along the creek.

layers in the rocks
Some more good layering in the rocks.

water falling over the cliffs
A tributary comes in through a notch in the rocks and slides down a slanted, harder layer before falling over the cliff to the creek below.

another canyon view
Another glance down the canyon from halfway up the switchbacks.

The trail along the switchbacks got narrower as it climbed and the hillside slid a bit, but the trail was still well established as it climbed. After lunch, I turned back and traveled back to the tributary.

back at the campsite
Coming back to Middle Matilija Campsite from above.

I turned up the tributary, trying to find a route up along the side of the water instead of directly up the creek. I wasn't altogether successful in this as most the trails seemed to belong to bears rather than people. They were clear enough up to the waist, but above there, the vegetation closed in. They also weren't really headed up the creek. I crossed the creek and couldn't find any use trail on that side either. Eventually, I progressed up the creek although I didn't really want to go that way as I would probably have to get my feet wet at some point by that route. I came upon a heron, which startled and flew upward into the canopy, wings hitting branches as it found a way out. I tried some more to find a route along the left side, ending up walking through some thick poison oak, but still could find nothing to follow through the dense vegetation. After only about 1/4 mile, I turned back. The clouds were getting thicker and it had rained the day before. The creek does actually get steeper before it gets to the waterfall, so there's no certainty I'd be able to get to it. Maybe I was rationalizing, but I picked my way back down finding more bear trails but no use trails.

Getting back, I almost passed the trail noticing that there did seem to be a fairly distinct trail there, crossing the creek. I wouldn't have gotten too far, since it joins Matilija soon after, but I did manage to realize it was something I was looking for before passing it. Progressing back down the trail, I met a couple walking their dog and a small group of young men on an evening hike. Besides them, I saw two women jogging along the road at the start and no one else, but this was a weekday. It was a lovely hike and very easy since it doesn't gain elevation quickly at any point.




©2011 Valerie Norton
Posted 31 October 2011

1 comment:

Valerie Norton said...

I do believe this is the waterfall on the map I didn't quite decide to get to. A few have managed it.