Posted by: James Wapotich | February 2, 2015

Trail Quest: Cherry Creek

Located along the upper reaches of the Sespe River, Cherry Creek Road follows part of what was once the main route between Ojai and the Cuyama Valley. The unpaved road follows Cherry Creek much of the way and provides access to Upper North Fork Matilija Canyon and Matilija Wilderness. During the winter Cherry Creek Road is closed giving the area a more remote feeling.

A hike to the top of the road is about 6-miles roundtrip and includes some great views of the surrounding area. An enjoyable backpacking trip can be made by continuing along North Fork Matilija Trail down to Maple Camp in Matilija Wilderness. The hike to Maple Camp, from the trailhead, is about 9.25-miles roundtrip.

To get to the trailhead from Ojai, take State Route 33 north, past the turnoff for Rose Valley and continue towards Pine Mountain Summit. Cherry Creek Road, which is on the left, is about 1.5 miles past the Chorro Grande Trailhead, which is on the right. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far if you arrive at Pine Mountain Summit. Parking is found alongside the road at the trailhead. The road is closed to vehicles from December 15 through May 15. When the road is open a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.

Cherry Canyon Creek Road hike trail backpacking Los Padres National Forest Matilija

Cherry Canyon

Prior to the construction of State Route 33, one of the main routes from Ojai to the Cuyama Valley followed what is now North Fork Matilija Trail and Cherry Creek Road.

The route from Ojai followed the Ventura River to Matilija Creek, and continued up Matilija and Upper North Fork Matilija Creeks, before then descending down along Cherry Creek to the Sespe River, and continuing over Pine Mountain.

The route through Cherry Canyon remained more or less the same, until the 1960s when the Ohio Oil Company built a dirt road through the canyon along the trail, re-routing parts of the trail. The well site came up dry, but that road is now Cherry Creek Road.

Cherry Creek Map recreation shooting prohibition area Matilija upper north fork maple road hike trail camp wilderness Los Padres National Forest Ojai

Map courtesy

From the trailhead, Cherry Creek Road crosses the Sespe River, often dry through this section, and enters Cherry Canyon. The road follows the creek upstream, and as the canyon narrows one starts to see big cone spruce and interior live oak lining the canyon. The creek is currently flowing intermittently, and can make for a scenic hike.

Unfortunately the canyon still sees its share of abuse. Years of target shooting has left a legacy that the canyon is still recovering from. For more than 20 years Cherry Creek was one of the main destinations for people who wanted to fire their weapons in an unsupervised environment.

In its heyday one could find, abandoned at the site, shot up water heaters, television sets, household appliances, road signs, oil cans, and whatever else people thought they needed to shoot at in order to practice using their weapons.

Cherry Creek Road hike trail Ojai Los Padres National Forest

Scenery along Cherry Creek Road

In July 2011, following an order by a federal judge to increase protections for wildlife habitat, the Forest Service issued a closure order for the canyon. The Cherry Creek Recreational Target Shooting Prohibition Area covers the entire drainage basin of Cherry Creek and makes all forms of recreational target shooting in the area illegal. The closure does not pertain to hunting.

In October 2011, Los Padres ForestWatch organized a volunteer clean up of the area with over 80 participants. The volunteers removed more than 2.5 tons of garbage that had been left there over the years.

Today, the site is in better condition. Nevertheless, it is disappointing to see that the site is being used illegally for target practice. Along the road one can easily find evidence of recent target shooting activity, including spent cartridges, clay pigeons, and even stand-up targets, as well as empty cans and other litter that has been left behind.

At about the 2.5-mile mark, the road starts its climb out of the canyon as it makes its way towards the saddle that divides the drainages of Upper North Fork Matilija and Cherry Creeks.

Mountain Lion Tracks cherry creek canyon road trail hike Los Padres National Forest

Mountain Lion tracks in the snow along Cherry Creek Road

At the saddle, one is treated to views out across Upper North Fork Matilija Canyon and out towards the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day one can see Anacapa, Pt. Mugu and the Oxnard Plain. From here, it’s about 1.75 miles down to Maple Camp along North Fork Matilija Trail.

To the left of the North Fork Matilija Trailhead, Cherry Creek Road continues a short way further to the beginning of Ortega Trail. The 9-mile trail is open to motorcycles, and leads back down State Route 33, arriving at State Route 33 about a mile north of Wheeler Gorge Campground.

Ortega Trail follows an old jeep road that served as the “winter route” allowing travelers to bypass Upper North Fork Matilija Creek during the rainy season. The trail features a trail camp about 2.5 miles from the top, which has a picnic table and fire ring, but no water or shade. Both the trail and the camp take their name from Ramon Ortega, who ranched nearby at Potrero Seco in the 1860s.

Continuing along North Fork Matilija Trail, the trail drops down into Upper North Fork Matilija Canyon and enters Matilija Wilderness. The trail offers views out across the headwaters of Upper North Fork Matilija Creek, and passes through a mix of chaparral, including chamise, ceanothus, holly-leaf cherry and scrub oak, before arriving at the canyon floor. From here, it’s less than a quarter-mile downstream to Maple Camp.

North Fork Matilija Trail Canyon wilderness hike Cherry Creek Road Los Padres National Forest

Upper North Fork Matilija Canyon is seen from Cherry Creek Road

Maple Camp is one of the nicer camps in Matilija Wilderness. The site is located in a clearing with a half dozen good size maple trees surrounded by California bay laurel and other riparian plants. Upper North Fork Matilija Creek generally has water in it year round at Maple Camp. The camp has a grated stove and fire ring, as well as two nearby ice can stoves.

From Maple Camp one can explore further downstream towards Upper Matilija Camp, about 3.5 miles round trip. In fact, one way to visit the area is by making a shuttle trip. That is, starting from either the trailhead for North Fork Matilija Trail and coming out at Cherry Creek Road or reversing the route. The total length of that hike is about 12 miles, and there are a number of trail camps along North Fork Matilija Trail that can make for good overnight destinations.

Regardless of how far you hike you will get to see some of the historic route that was once used by travelers between Ojai and the Cuyama Valley.

This article originally appeared in section A of the February 2nd, 2015 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

North Fork Matilija Trail peak hike backpacking wilderness Los Padres National Forest

Scenery along North Fork Matilija Trail

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