Posted by: James Wapotich | May 7, 2014

Trail Quest: Chorro Grande

In the fall, and during drier years such as this, one of the challenges in planning a backpacking trip is knowing where to find water. In the springtime many of our creeks are flowing, making it fairly easy to find trail camps near water. As the water dries up a number of these creeks still flow intermittently, and so a percentage of trail camps remain viable destinations. However the challenge then becomes learning which ones.

It’s during these times that knowing where reliable springs are located can also be helpful for planning backpacking trips. In the area around Pine Mountain, beyond Ojai, there are two reliable springs, Chorro and Raspberry, situated near trail camps that can make appealing backpacking and day-hiking destinations.

One way to connect these two sites is by hiking along Chorro Grande Trail to Chorro Spring, and then from there to the top of Pine Mountain and continuing down the backside of the mountain to Raspberry Spring. The hike to Chorro Spring is about 8.5 miles roundtrip, and the hike to Raspberry Spring is about 12 miles roundtrip.

Chorro Grande Trail Ojai hike Los Padres National Forest Pine Mountain

Chorro Grande Trail decorated in snow

To get to the trail head, from Ojai, continue north on State Route 33. The road follows North Fork Matilija Creek, eventually climbing out of the canyon, and then passing the turn off to Rose Valley. State Route 33 then descends down towards Sespe Creek and follows it towards Pine Mountain Summit. Chorro Grande Trail is about two-thirds of the way to Pine Mountain Summit from Rose Valley, and the signed trailhead is on the right hand side of the road. Parking is found in the pullouts along the road.

From the trailhead the trail climbs away from Sespe Creek and over towards Chorro Creek, and roughly a half mile later arrives at a point overlooking Chorro Grande Falls. The falls, when flowing, tumble over an outcropping of exposed sandstone, and are framed by trees growing at the base of the falls.

Chorro Grande is said to take its name from the spring found higher up in the canyon, chorro being Spanish for gushing, flowing water. However, an argument could also be made that the name refers to falls when they are fully flowing.

As the trail continues up Chorro Grande Creek, one can start to see conifers mixed in with chaparral and riparian plants. In fact, one of the treats along the trail is the wide variety of plants one can find. The trail is in generally good shape, overgrown in some places, but easy to follow.

Chorro Grande Spring map trail hike Ojai Oak Raspberry Pine Mountain Los Padres National Forest

Map courtesy Maps.com

At about the 1.75-mile mark, the trail arrives at Oak Camp. The camp is situated under a small grove of oaks overlooking the creek. There are three camp sites at Oak Camp, each with a grated stove. Water can often be found in the creek near the camp, and if not, further upstream along the trail. The camp can make for an easy destination for a day hike or overnight backpacking trip.

Chorro Grande Trail continues past Oak Camp, still following the creek for the next half mile. Through this section one can find several old roads cuts intersecting the trail. During the 1970s a proposed phosphate and gypsum mining operation in Chorro Grande and the nearby canyons was put forth by U.S. Gypsum. The mine never happened, but some of these unpaved roads may have been used for surveys.

As the trail leaves the creek, it begins the roughly 1,700 foot climb towards Chorro Spring. Along the way the trail offers great views out across Chorro Grande Canyon and Sespe Creek.

During this particular trip, with the recent rain and cold weather, snow was present on the trail. Even as early as Oak Camp there were patches of snow to be found on the ground, while halfway up the mountain snow covered the entire trail. And with the wind blown rain and snow, the pines looked like Christmas trees fresh from the flocking booth.

Because of its elevation Pine Mountain can often receive snow, while the lower elevations of the mountain don’t, making for a unique juxtaposition of wintery scenes next to more familiar snowless vistas.

Chorro Grande Trail Los Padres National forest Ojai hike

Snow graces Chorro Grande Camp

Eventually the trail returns to Chorro Grande Creek, just below Chorro Camp. And at about the 4.25-mile mark, the trail arrives at Chorro Spring. The spring is an interesting sight in that the water appears to issue from beneath a large boulder, forming a small, flowing creek. Near the spring are two campsites, one with a grated stove, the other with an old ice can stove.

From the spring, Chorro Grande Trail continues its climb towards the top of the mountain, and three-quarters of mile later arrives at Pine Mountain Road. The road was just paved last August; in fact, the pavement ends right at Chorro Grande Trail.

Views here from the road, on a clear day, can include the Channel Islands.

Pine Mountain Road, also known as Reyes Peak Road, represents an alternate way to access the area. The road is typically closed from mid-December to the end of April. When open, the road provides easy access to the campgrounds and trailheads associated with Pine Mountain Recreation Area.

Raspberry Spring Los Padres National Forest Ojai hike Pine Mountain

The trail down to Raspberry Spring

From the top of Chorro Grande Trail there are several options for extending the hike. One can continue east along Pine Mountain Road, which continues unpaved for another mile before arriving at the beginning of Reyes Peak Trail. From Reyes Peak Trail, one can follow the mile-long trail up to the top of Reyes Peak. The peak, with an elevation of 7,514 feet, is the highest point along the ridge line, collectively referred to as Pine Mountain. The hike to Reyes Peak from the trailhead is about 14 miles roundtrip.

Another option is continue on to Raspberry Spring, on the north side of the mountain. The spring with its enchanting scenery can make for an appealing destination, particularly if you’re backpacking and Pine Mountain Road is closed. From the top of Chorro Grande Trail, continue a half mile west along the paved road, past the different campsites associated with Reyes Creek Campground to the trail leading down to Raspberry Spring. The beginning of the trail is not well marked, but starts from the first campsite on the right, just past the easy to spot outhouse along the road.

Here, the trail descends down the backside of the mountain through the a rich forest of conifers, along the way offering glimpses out towards the Cuyama Valley. The hike in many ways is a study in contrasts. On the south facing side of Pine Mountain, along the upper reaches of Chorro Grande Trail, one finds oak, chaparral and pines mixed together, while along the backside of the mountain heading towards the Raspberry Spring the landscape is dominated almost exclusively by pines.

Chorro Grande Trail ojai hike los padres national forest Pine Mountain

Snow decorates the mountain side along Chorro Grande Trail

At about the 6-mile mark, the trail arrives at Raspberry Camp, which has two sites each with a grated stove. The spring is just west of the first site in a small canyon. Raspberry Spring takes its name from the wild raspberries that at one time used to grow around the spring. If you look closely you can still find remnant vines of the plant.

Both Chorro and Raspberry Springs can also be accessed from Pine Mountain Road, and make for easy day hikes from the campgrounds found along the road. For more information about Pine Mountain Recreation Area go to www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm9_034014.pdf. .

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to take in some great scenery.

This article originally appeared in section A of the May 3rd, 2014 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


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