Posted by: James Wapotich | April 13, 2013

Trail Quest: Pine Mountain

Pine Mountain Campground is a popular car camping destination in the mountains past Ojai along State Route 33. Situated along Pine Mountain Ridge, Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak Campgrounds offer an opportunity to camp amongst the pines and take in the incredible views of the surrounding area. And in winter one can often find snow there. Although the Forest Service road to the campgrounds is typically closed December through April, the area can still be visited as part of a day hike or backpacking trip.

During the remainder of the year one can drive in. To get there from Ojai, take State Route 33 north towards Cuyama and Bakersfield. The route follows North Fork Matilija Creek before climbing its way out of the Matilija drainage and entering the Sespe drainage. Past the turn off to Rose Valley, State Route 33 follows the upper portion of Sespe Creek passing through the picturesque Sespe Gorge.

If you have not driven this stretch of State Route 33 before, you will soon see why it’s a National Scenic Byway. Also known as the Maricopa Highway, State Route 33 connects the coast with the Central Valley and in 1995 the section from just past Ojai to before the intersection with Lockwood Valley Road was federally designated as the Jacinto Reyes National Scenic Byway.

Mount Pinos Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara Day Hike Trail Ojai Reyes Peak Pine Mountain

Mt. Pinos is seen from Reyes Peak Trail

There are no amenities along this section of the road so plan accordingly. As State Route 33 reaches Pine Mountain Summit, look for the turnoff to Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak Campgrounds on your right. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far as State Route 33 will soon start to descend towards the Cuyama Valley.

From State Route 33 one would follow Pine Mountain Road east to the campgrounds. The road is partially paved and passable for most vehicles. Campsites are available on a first come, first serve basis and an adventure pass is required to park or camp in this part of the National Forest. The drive from Santa Barbara is about two hours. For an overview of the campgrounds go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm9_034014.pdf.

[In August 2013, the Forest Service completed a paving project along the road. The road is now paved all the way from State Route 33, past the campgrounds to the beginning of Chorro Grande Trail, and remains unpaved from there to the beginning of Reyes Peak Trail.]

Condor Trail also passes through the Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak Campgrounds as it traverses the southern Los Padres National Forest.

Starting in the south at Lake Piru Condor Trail, makes its way through the Sespe Wilderness, eventually joining Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail and following it north to Haddock Camp along the upper reaches of Piedra Blanca Creek.

Haddock Camp is at the intersection of Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail, which continues towards Reyes Creek Campground and Lockwood Valley Road, and the beginning of Reyes Peak Trail. Here, Condor Trail follows Reyes Peak Trail west towards Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak Campgrounds.

From Haddock Camp, Reyes Peak Trail begins its climb towards Haddock Mountain leaving the Piedra Blanca drainage. The trail gains roughly 1,100 feet over two miles and is the toughest part of the hike. In exchange for this effort, Haddock Mountain offers some incredible views of the Sespe Valley and out to the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day the views can include the Channel Islands.

From Haddock Mountain the trail follows Pine Mountain Ridge west towards Reyes Peak. The trail follows the north side of the ridge and passes through white fir, ponderosa, Jeffrey and sugar pines. The trail is in generally good shape and the views regularly alternate between Mount Pinos and the Cuyama Valley to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south.

At about the 6.5-mile mark from Haddock Camp, the trail arrives at the turn off for Reyes Peak. Here, Reyes Peak Trail essentially meets Pine Mountain Road. The trail follows the old roadbed for a quarter mile before arriving at the trailhead, from there Pine Mountain Road continues west to the campgrounds and ultimately State Route 33.

From this intersection, one can make a side trip up to Reyes Peak. Although steep at times, the mile-long side trail up to the peak is in generally good shape and easy to follow. At Reyes Peak one is treated to more great views of the surrounding area.

Reyes Peak, 7,514 feet, is the third highest in Ventura County after Mount Pinos, 8,831 feet, and Frazier Mountain, 8,013 feet. Reyes Peak is named for the Reyes Family that began ranching along the Cuyama River in the mid-1800s and had an adobe home near where Reyes Creek meets the Cuyama River. A descendent of the Reyes family, Jacinto D. Reyes was one of the first forest rangers in our local area, serving as the district ranger in what was then the Cuyama District of the Santa Barbara National Forest. Jacinto Reyes National Scenic Byway is named in his honor.

At Reyes Peak one can find remnants of Reyes Peak Lookout which was built in the mid-1920s and later destroyed in the 1932 Matilija Fire.

From the turnoff to Reyes Peak, Condor Trail continues along Pine Mountain Road towards the campgrounds. There is no water at either Pine Mountain or Reyes Peak Campgrounds, which isn’t really a problem when you’re car camping as you can bring what you need with you. However, for the backpacker this can be a problem, fortunately there are two viable water sources in the vicinity and both have trail camps where one can stay.

Continuing west along Pine Mountain Road about 1.25 miles from the turnoff to Reyes Peak, the road meets Chorro Grande Trail. From here it’s roughly three quarters of mile downhill to Chorro Camp on the south side of Pine Mountain Ridge. The camp has two sites under the pines and oaks, and a year round spring.

Past the turn off to Chorro Grande Trail, Pine Mountain Road passes through the Reyes Peak Campground and a half-mile later arrives at the trail down to Raspberry Spring. From here it’s roughly a half-mile down the north side of Pine Mountain Ridge to the spring. Near the spring there are two trail camps each with a grated stove. The spring is just to the west of the first camp and takes its name from the wild raspberries that at one time grew next to the spring. Reyes Peak Campground has 6 sites along the ridge each with a picnic table a fire ring.

Continuing past Reyes Creek Campground, Pine Mountain Road arrives at Pine Mountain Campground, which has 6 sites each with a picnic table and fire ring in a small valley surrounded by pines. Across the road from the campground is the beginning of Boulder Canyon Trail.

Here, Condor Trail joins Boulder Canyon Trail and descends down towards the Cuyama Valley. The trail is in good shape for the first mile, but then starts to become more overgrown as it transitions from pine to a mix pine and chaparral and then mostly chaparral. The trail offers some great views of Boulder Canyon and the Cuyama Valley.

At about the 3-mile mark from Pine Mountain Campground (12 miles from Haddock Camp), Boulder Canyon Trail climbs a small ridge before the final descent. Here, the trail conditions start to improve. About 2 miles later the trail arrives behind the Ozena Fire Station and continues a short way to the trailhead next to the station and State Route 33. At the trailhead there is picnic table and water spigot where one can get water.

From here Condor Trail continues south along State Route 33 three-quarters of a mile to the Deal Canyon trailhead, and then continues through Rancho Nuevo and the Dick Smith Wildernesses on its way to the San Rafael Wilderness.

From its beginning in the south at Lake Piru to the trailhead at the Ozena Fire Station on State Route 33, this section of Condor Trail covers roughly 67.75 miles, with most of those miles in the Sespe Wilderness.

This article originally appeared in section A of the April 13th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


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