Posted by: James Wapotich | November 30, 2015

Trail Quest: Sisar Canyon

Neatly tucked away in a large valley in the Transverse Range of mountains, the town of Ojai is a great starting point for a number of day hikes. The Ojai Valley is framed to the south by Sulphur Mountain and to the north by Nordhoff Ridge.

There are a number of trails in and near Ojai that take you to the top of Nordhoff Ridge, several of which also provide access down the backside of the mountain to Rose Valley and Sespe River for longer backpacking treks.

The hike along Sisar Canyon Road and Red Reef Trail, east of Ojai, connects to the top of Nordhoff Ridge. The route offers some great views out across the valley towards the ocean, as well as east towards Topatopa Bluff. The hike to the top is about 12-14 miles roundtrip, depending on where you park. White Ledge Camp, which also makes a good return point, is about 8.5-10.5 miles roundtrip.

Sisar Creek Canyon trail hike ojai Los Padres National Forest

Sisar Creek

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, make your way to Ojai. From Ojai, continue east along State Route 150 towards Santa Paula. Past Ojai, the road climbs out of the Ojai Valley to the Upper Ojai Valley. Sisar Road is on the left in the upper valley, between Summit Elementary School and Stagecoach Station store.

Sisar Road is a narrow, one-lane road through a residential neighborhood. The paved road continues a half-mile before arriving at the beginning of unpaved Sisar Canyon Road. There is little parking along the road and so you may have to park back along State Route 150. The unpaved road continues roughly another half-mile to a locked forest service gate. The road is rough, but still drivable with a high-clearance vehicle. At the gate is enough parking space for just a couple cars.

From the locked forest service gate, Sisar Canyon Road continues up the canyon following Sisar Creek for the next two miles. The trail is mostly shaded and leads through a mix of a riparian plants along the creek and chaparral along the canyon sides. In the mix are California bay laurel, toyon, coffee berry, coast live oak, and yes, some poison oak. Adding to the colors are sycamore, maple, and California black walnut, all of which have their leaves turning gold for the fall.

Map Sisar Canyon Red Reef Trail White Ledge Lady Bug Sespe Wilderness area topatopa Los padres national forest ojai

Map courtesy

From the road, there are a number of little sides trails that lead down to the creek for additional exploring. Currently the creek is flowing intermittently, so there are still some quiet pools to be found.

The road then leaves the canyon floor, making a wide switchback as it climbs away from the creek. Here the trail moves through predominantly chaparral and one sees ceanothus, chamise, yucca, yerba santa, buckwheat, and white and black sage. As the road gains elevation it offers some great views back down the canyon towards the Upper Ojai Valley, and, as it continues, offers views up towards Topatopa Bluff.

Topatopa Bluff is an easily recognizable feature, even from Ojai. The dramatic ridge is an exposed outcropping of matilija sandstone and with its nearly horizontal layers of sedimentary rock is a captivating sight. Because the bluff faces westward it is sometimes bathed in a distinctive salmon-pink glow for several minutes at sunset, which some people refer to as the “pink moment”. Conditions for viewing the phenomenon are said to be best on days that are partly cloudy, between November and February.

Sisar Canyon Trail creek hiking backpacking ojai Los padres national Forest

Sisar Canyon and Upper Ojai Valley is seen from Sisar Canyon Road

At the 3.25-mile mark, the road arrives at a second locked forest service gate. Just past the gate is the beginning of Red Reef Trail. Sisar Canyon Road continues northeast, eventually crossing Horn Canyon Trail, before arriving at the top of Nordhoff Ridge, where it meets Hines Peak Road.

Red Reef Trail leaves the road and continues into upper Sisar Canyon. Here, the trail returns into the shade, passing under several large big cone spruce trees before climbing still further through the chaparral. It’s here, along the trail, that the views begin to open up towards the ocean. The view, still limited by the canyon walls, includes just Point Mugu and Santa Barbara Island.

At the 4.25-mile mark, Red Reef Trail arrives at White Ledge Camp. The camp is tucked under a grove of California bay laurel along Sisar Creek. The camp sports a somewhat popular name, and is not to be confused with the White Ledge Camp at the eastern end of Hurricane Deck Trail in the San Rafael Wilderness, or the long forgotten White Ledge Camp in the Santa Ynez Mountains near White Ledge Peak.

The camp has three sites, each with a stone fire ring and an adjustable barbecue grill on a low metal post, a feature found in many of the camps in the Ojai Ranger District. Two of the campsites have enough space to camp in, the third being too small and sloped. Currently there is water flowing in the creek.

Topatopa Bluff Red Reef Trail Sisar Canyon Ojai hike backpacking trip Los Padres national Forest

Topatopa Bluff is seen from Red Reef Trail

Past the camp, the trail continues its climb to the top of the ridge, returning into chaparral. As the trail climbs, it offers views out towards the ocean that now include Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands, and to the east, striking views of Topatopa Bluff.

At the 6-mile mark, the trail reaches the top of the mountains and joins Hines Peak Road. From here it’s just a short way east along the road to Elder Camp, which makes a good return point. The camp features a picnic table and metal fire ring with a grill, but no water.

From Elder Camp, Red Reef Trail continues still further into the backcountry. The trail continues along Hines Peak Road about a half-mile east to Sespe Wilderness and follows the top of the mountains towards Hines Peak. The trail then descends down the backside of the mountains towards Sespe River, where it meets Sespe River Trail. From this juncture it’s roughly a mile to Willett Camp and the nearby hot spring.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to some of the rich scenery of this part of Los Padres National Forest.

This article originally appeared in section A of the November 30th, 2015 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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