Posted by: James Wapotich | December 20, 2013

Trail Quest: Cozy Dell Trail

If you’re looking for a relatively easy hike, that’s close to Ojai, and has several options for longer hikes, then Cozy Dell Trail might be the answer. The trail explores the mountains behind Ojai and below Nordhoff Ridge, and offers some great views of the surrounding area.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara take Highway 101 south to either State Route 150 or State Route 33 and continue towards Ojai; the two routes meet just outside of Ojai. From there, continue to Ojai Valley Shopping Center where the two routes split, and continue north on State Route 33 for about 3.5 miles. The signed trailhead is on the right hand side of the road across from a large pullout area for parking. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far if you see Friend’s Packing House on your right. Drive time from Santa Barbara to the trailhead is about 50-60 minutes.

From the trailhead, Cozy Dell Trail climbs up Sheldon Canyon for the first mile passing through a mix of oak and chaparral, and offering views out across the Ventura River towards the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The trail then levels out, transitioning into just chaparral. Here, the views extend south out across Ojai. And from the top of Sheldon Canyon, to the northwest, if you look closely you can spot Matilija Dam and Lake.

Cozy Dell Trail Ojai day hike Topatopa Mountains Nordhoff Ridge Los Padres National Forest

The Eastern end of the Santa Ynez Mountains is seen from Cozy Dell Trail

From this overlook, Cozy Dell Trail continues east and drops down into the next canyon, climbs back out, and then drops down into Cozy Dell Canyon. The trail is good shape and easy to follow.

At about the 2-mile mark, Cozy Dell Trail crosses Cozy Dell Creek, arriving at an unpaved access road, and officially ends. From here, continue to the left, or east, along the access road as it passes through a quiet potrero dotted with oaks. The trail then quickly branches at a signed intersection.

To the right, Foothill Trail continues over towards Stewart Canyon and Pratt Trail, for a larger loop. The trail climbs up a small side canyon before traversing the front of the mountains and arriving, 1.25 miles later, at Pratt Trail.

map Cozy Dell trail hike Ojai Los Padres national Forest

Map courtesy

To the left, the access road continues up Cozy Dell Canyon, and less than a quarter mile later, arrives at an unsigned intersection marked by a rusting refrigerator. Nearby, if one looks closely one can also find an old gas pump as well. From this unsigned intersection, an unpaved access road continues north up Cozy Dell Canyon. A quarter mile later the road ends, arriving at spring-fed Cozy Dell Creek, which typically has water in it at this location. In fact, bear scratches on the trees suggest that it’s a reliable year round water source.

From this same intersection, with the rusting refrigerator, the main access road continues east, climbing up a side canyon before arriving a mile later at Pratt Trail. It’s through this section that one can observe Cozy Dell Shale along the road cuts.

Cozy Dell Shale was formed during the Eocene Age, 37 million years ago, when this part of California was underwater. It was then uplifted during the same mountain building processes that created the Transverse and Coastal Ranges. Outcroppings of Cozy Dell Shale can be found in both the Santa Ynez and Topatopa Mountains.

The rock type was originally described in 1928 as the middle member of the Tejon Formation. In 1966, local geologist Thomas Dibblee reclassified it as its own formation, along with the older Matilija Sandstone and younger Coldwater Sandstone that it’s layered between. Dibblee renamed it Cozy Dell Shale after Cozy Dell Canyon, where the rock type was identified.

Foothill Trail Cozy Dell Ojai hike los Padres National Forest

Oaks are seen along Foothill Trail

Cozy Dell Shale is a gray, silty shale that when exposed to the elements can appear brown and olive. The rock type is more easily eroded than Matilija and Coldwater Sandstone and often forms the passes or saddles between the more resistant sandstone. The shale breaks down into clay-rich soil which often supports dense chaparral.

Cozy Dell Shale can also be observed along Gibraltar Road, roughly a mile and a half before Gibraltar Rock, as one heads up towards East Camino Cielo from Santa Barbara, as well as along the south side of Paradise Road near the intersection of Paradise Road and State Route 154.

Dibblee geologic maps are available at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and can be a fun way to look at our local mountains and explore the trails. During the course of his life Dibblee mapped about a quarter of California including our local area.

From the intersection with Pratt Trail, one can either hike downhill a mile and connect to Foothill Trail for a loop hike, or continue uphill towards Valley View Camp. The hike from the trailhead, along Cozy Dell Trail with the loop hike is about 7.5 miles. The hike from the trailhead to Valley View Camp is about 9.5 miles roundtrip.

To reach Valley View Camp, continue uphill along Pratt Trail about 1.5 miles. The trail passes through mostly chaparral, and with its southern exposure, can be hot during the summer. The trail makes its way up the front on the mountains overlooking Ojai and on a clear day offers exceptional views out across Ojai and out towards the Channel Islands.

Looking east from the trail, one can see Stewart Canyon. As Pratt Trail nears the canyon, the canyon itself narrows and then opens back up, and it’s in this small pocket valley that Valley View Camp is located.

At this transition, Pratt Trail branches. From the unsigned intersection, a side trail continues to the right down to Stewart Creek and Valley View Camp, while Pratt Trail continues to the left another 1.5 miles to Nordhoff Ridge.

The trail down to the camp is less than a quarter mile and is in okay condition. At the small camp one can find a metal fire ring. The creek is seasonal, but does support a variety of interesting trees. Around the camp one can find bay laurel trees growing in rings, remnants from a past forest fire. Bay laurel is one several local trees that regrow in a ring from the original tree that was burned during the fire. Down along the creek one can find maple trees, and on the hillside across from camp grows a lone big cone Douglas fir.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see some of the rich scenery in the mountains behind Ojai.

This article originally appeared in section A of the December 20th, 2013 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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