Posted by: James Wapotich | May 15, 2013

Trail Quest: Madulce Peak

The trail to Madulce Camp is one of the more accessible routes into the Dick Smith Wilderness and offers a number of ways to explore the backcountry. The hike to the camp is about 14 miles roundtrip and can make for a good overnight backpacking trip. From Madulce Camp one can extend their hike with a visit to Madulce Peak or continue past the camp, making a loop hike through some of the more rugged and remote parts of the wilderness.

The trail also follows the next section of Condor Trail which traverses the southern Los Padres National Forest utilizing existing trails and roads.

To get to the trailhead, from Ojai, take State Route 33 north towards Cuyama. The drive leads past Pine Mountain Summit and descends down into the Cuyama Valley where it follows the Cuyama River. The route passes through the small town of Ventucopa. Continue past Ventucopa a few more miles to Foothill Road, at the Santa Barbara – San Luis Obispo County Line.

Los Padres National Forest Pine Canyon Santa Barbara hike trail Madulce Peak Lookout Condor

View Along Pine Canyon

Turn left onto Foothill Road and continue west, crossing the Cuyama River. The road is paved except for the crossing, which is often dry. When the river is impassable or the road is closed one can make a larger loop through Cuyama and connect over to Foothill Road that way. Once across the river look for Santa Barbara Canyon Road immediately on your left.

Santa Barbara Canyon Road continues south, above the western side of the Cuyama Valley before then descending down into Santa Barbara Canyon. The road passes through cattle country and branches just before Santa Barbara Canyon Ranch, stay to the right.

Here, the road becomes unpaved as it passes through an area of striking red Simmler formation sandstone and conglomerate rock. The roads then branches again with Dry Canyon Road heading off to the left towards Cuyama Peak. Stay to the right, and a mile later Santa Barbara Canyon Road arrives at Willow Flat and the Santa Barbara Canyon Trailhead. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far as three-quarters of mile later the road arrives at a locked Forest Service gate. The drive from Santa Barbara is about 2.5 hours.

From the trailhead, Condor Trail follows Santa Barbara Canyon Trail up the canyon. The canyon is broad at first, but narrows as one continues upstream. The trail is in generally good shape but does become progressively more overgrown as one continues up the canyon.

Currently the creek is flowing intermittently, with good water available where Chokecherry Creek joins the canyon, about four miles in from the trailhead. Wildflowers are blooming along the canyon and include bush poppy, penstemon, indian paint brush, prickly phlox, and lupine.

At about the 6-mile mark, Santa Barbara Canyon Trail begins its climb out of the canyon along what’s affectionately known as Heartbreak Hill. Eventually, the trail levels out somewhat and offers views of Madulce Peak and Santa Barbara Canyon.

At about the 7-mile mark, the trail descends down towards Pine Creek and arrives at the former site of Madulce Guard Station.

Here, the trail branches, to the left, Don Victor Trail continues over to Puerto Suelo Trail, and, to the right, Madulce Trail crosses the creek and arrives at Madulce Camp, before continuing towards Madulce Peak and the Buckhorn Road.

At this intersection, Condor Trail continues east along Don Victor Trail to Puerto Suelo Trial, over the pass at Puerto Suelo and down into Alamar Canyon. From there Condor Trail follows Alamar Trail to the Buckhorn Road and Alamar Saddle. For a larger backpacking loop hike one can connect this route with Madulce Trail and return to Madulce Camp and hike back out Santa Barbara Canyon to the trailhead, about 27 miles.

The first cabin at Madulce was built in the late 1880s. In 1929, with cabin beyond repair, the Forest Service built a new cabin, which in 1979 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1999, the cabin was burned down by a transient who frequented the backcountry.

The cabin site is near several large cedar trees and what remains from the structure is the burned stove, part of the cement foundation, and other remnants scattered about. Near the creek one can find the corral and part of a shed with other items from the cabin.

The cabin was ideally situated near the intersection of several major trails and remained in use as a guard station until the completion of the Buckhorn Road and the building of a new guard station at Alamar Saddle.

For the hike to Madulce Peak continue west past the cabin site. Madulce Trail crosses Pine Creek, passing through a small forest of ferns, before arriving at Madulce Camp. The camp is situated along Pine Creek under the cedars and pines and has a fire ring and several ice can stoves. There is currently water in Pine Creek.

From the camp, Madulce Trail continues through the pines following Pine Canyon upstream. The trail is well marked and although many of the trees were burned during the 2007 Zaca Fire there is a fair amount regrowth. In fact, right now with all regrowth and green grass from this year’s rain the trail can seem particularly enchanting.

As the trail leaves the creek and begins its trek out of the canyon it follows the northern edge of the canyon working its way ultimately up to the ridge that separates Pine Canyon from the next canyon to the south. Through this section the trail offers some great views back down Pine Canyon and up towards Madulce Peak.

Once on the ridge the trail then transitions from chaparral to pines and at about the 2.25-mile mark from Madulce Camp arrives at the turnoff for Madulce Lookout.

From here Madulce Trail continues another mile to the Buckhorn Road transitioning along the way from pines into chaparral. One of the highlights of this section of Madulce Trail and Madulce Peak Trail is the pines, many of which did not get burned in the Zaca Fire.

From the turnoff to the lookout, Madulce Peak Trail is in generally good shape and leads through mostly pines and and canyon live oak. There are several slide areas and a number of downed trees to contend with, plus one last push uphill to get to the peak, but overall it can be an enjoyable hike. Although, there is no water along the trail.

At the 2-mile mark from the turnoff, Madulce Peak Trail arrives at the summit, 6,536 feet. Here, one can find the four cement and metal foundations that supported the lookout. The lookout was built in 1934 and was removed by the Forest Service in the 1970s.

The views from the peak can include the Pacific Ocean and Channels Islands to the south, the Topatopa Mountains to the east as well as views along the Sisquoc Valley to the west.

The word Madulce is said to mean strawberry, a reference to the wild strawberries that grow in the area and that can be seen along the lower stretches of Madulce Trail. And although the word Madulce is not found in Spanish as one might imagine, it is similar to the Catalan word “maduixa” which does mean strawberry. It has been suggested that the word made its way to the New World with the Franciscan Padres. On some maps from the early 1900s Madulce Peak is labeled Strawberry Peak.

The hike to Madulce Peak from Madulce Camp is about 8.5 miles round trip and can make for a good day hike as part of a three-day backpacking trip to Madulce Camp, or part of a larger backpacking trip through the Santa Barbara backcountry.

This article originally appeared in section A of the May 11th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


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