Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2016

Trail Quest: North Fork Lockwood Trail

With an elevation around 8,300 feet, Sheep Camp has the distinction of being the highest camp in Los Padres National Forest. The camp is located in the Chumash Wilderness, in the mountains near Mount Pinos. At 8,831 feet, Mount Pinos is the tallest mountain in Los Padres National Forest. Sheep Camp can be reached as part of a day hike or backpacking trip.

A hike to the camp along North Fork Lockwood Trail from Lockwood Valley is around 12 miles round trip and because of the altitude and elevation gain can also be a great conditioning hike for treks in the Sierras.

There are two ways to reach the trailhead from Santa Barbara. The first is to make your way to Ojai. From Ojai, continue north on State Route 33. The road climbs over Pine Mountain Summit before descending down towards the Cuyama Valley, where it meets Lockwood Valley Road. Turn right onto Lockwood Valley Road and continue east towards Boy Scout Camp Road. Turn left onto Boy Scout Camp Road and follow it to the end.

North Fork Lockwood Canyon Trail hike backpacking Chumash Wilderness Los padres national forest

North Fork Lockwood Canyon

The second route, is to take Highway 101, south, to Ventura, and then take State Route 126, east, to reach Interstate 5. Continue north on Interstate 5, past Gorman, and exit onto Frazier Mountain Park Road. Continue west on Frazier Mountain Park Road to Lockwood Valley Road; and from Lockwood Valley Road, turn right onto Boy Scout Camp Road.

The drive to the trailhead along either route is roughly two hours. Parking is found along the road outside the entrance to Three Falls Boy Scout Camp, which of course explains why the road is called what it is.

Three Falls Boy Scout Camp was established in 1933, and hosts programs year round. The camp takes its name from the three waterfalls that can be found in the nearby mountains, including one that can be easily reached from North Fork Lockwood Trail.

From the camp entrance, follow the road through the camp to the signed beginning of the trail. Please respect private property. The trail then continues along an unpaved access road that follows North Fork Lockwood Creek, which is dry this time of year. The road leads through a mix of pinyon pine and sage.

Map North Fork Lockwood Trail Mount Pinos Sheep Camp Lily Chumash Wilderness Los Padres National Forest

Map courtesy Maps.com

At about the 2-mile mark, the road arrives at the beginning of the single-track trail that leads up the south side of Sawmill Mountain. Just past the beginning of the trail, the road ends. However, by continuing up the creek a short way one can reach the base of North Fork Lockwood Falls, currently little more than a trickle.

From the road, the trail climbs away from the creek, offering views back down the canyon. Here, the trail enters Chumash Wilderness. The trail then rejoins the creek, above the falls, and continues upstream towards Lily Meadows.

The trail through the canyon leads through a mix of canyon live oak and pine, with willow lining the creek. Amongst these plants is a surprising standout, flannel bush. With its bold yellow flowers in bloom, the large shrub ablaze with color, appears almost out of place. Flannel bush takes its name from the fuzzy, flannel-like hairs on its leaves, which can cause irritation to skin and eyes if touched. The plant is found throughout the southwestern United States and can grow from 5 to 20 feet in height.

Flannel Bush Fremontodendron californicum chumash wilderness north fork lockwood trail los padres national forest

Flannel Bush

At about the 3-mile mark, the canyon opens up and the trail arrives at Lily Meadows Camp, sometimes spelled Lilly Meadows. Although there are plants in the lily family found in the Chumash Wilderness, it’s more likely the camp was named for the western blue flag irises found below the camp, which are sometimes referred to as lilies.

Western blue flag iris, also known as Rocky Mountain iris, can be found throughout the western United States and Canada. The plant prefers moist areas and blooms in late spring, and although fading here, still has some flowers. The distinctive flower has three white sepals with lilac-colored veins turning golden yellow as they move towards the center.

Lily Camp is shaded by Jeffrey pines and features a stone fire ring and picnic table. Currently, there is no water flowing in the creek below camp, however, by continuing back downstream along the trail to where the canyon narrows one can find a tiny trickle of water in the creek.

Lily Meadows Camp North Fork Lockwood Trail Chumash Wilderness backpacking hike Los Padres National Forest

Scenery near Lily Meadows

From Lily Camp, the trail levels out some, passing through mostly pines as it continues along North Fork Lockwood Creek. Here, as with elsewhere on the trail, one can’t go more than a quarter-mile without hearing the raucous cries of stellar jays to keep you company.

About 1.75 miles from Lily Camp, the trail leaves the creek and begins the toughest part of the hike as it climbs roughly 1.25 miles along the ridge separating the Lockwood Creek drainage from that of Apache Canyon. Here, the views extend out across the upper Cuyama Valley.

Because of the altitude, some care should be taken when hiking to allow for the higher elevation. From the beginning of the single-track trail, already at roughly 6,000 feet above sea level, the trail gains around 600 feet to Lily Camp, and from there, another 1,700 feet to reach Sheep Camp.

At about the 6-mile mark, the trail arrives at Sheep Camp. The camp has four sites, amongst the pines, each with a stone fire ring and grated stove. The first is near an overlook that provides some great views out across the valley toward Pine Mountain. The second is near the spring, and the other two are past the spring along trail.

Sheep Camp Chumash Wilderness North Fork Lockwood Trail Los Padres National Forest Tumamait

Scenery near Sheep camp

The site was originally used as a base camp by ranchers from the San Joaquin Valley in the early 1900s during their sheep drives. The camp has a reliable spring which provides a steady trickle of water.

Surrounding the spring are more irises, as well as crimson, or western, columbine. The plant with its red and yellow flowers blooms from April to August and prefers places that are moist. The plant can be found throughout western North America. Other flowers still in bloom along the trail include, paintbrush, lupine, and mariposa lily.

Past Sheep Camp, North Fork Lockwood Trail continue towards the top of the mountains, less than a quarter-mile, where it meets Tumamait Trail. To the west, Tumamait Trail continues towards Cerro Noroeste Road, and to the east continues towards Mount Pinos. The trail runs along the top of the mountains and was named for Chumash elder Vincent Tumamait, who passed away in 1992. Tumamait helped to revive and preserve Chumash culture through presentations in schools and public lectures, by sharing stories and dances, and teaching about the Chumash.

Western blue flag Western blue flag iris Rocky Mountain Missouri Sheep camp chumash wilderness los padres national forest

Western blue flag iris

Sheep Camp can also be reached from either the Cerro Noroeste or Mount Pinos trailheads for shorter roundtrip hikes of four miles or eight miles respectively. The Mount Pinos Trailhead is reached from Cuddy Valley Road, which starts from the intersection of Lockwood Valley Road and Frazier Mountain Park Road. From Cuddy Valley Road one can reach Cerro Noroeste Road, by turning onto Mil Potrero Highway just as Cuddy Valley Road turns towards Mount Pinos. Mil Potrero Highway intersects Cerro Noroeste Road just as it turns towards Cerro Noroeste.

From Sheep Camp, one can also extend their backpacking trip, by continuing another 5.5 miles over to Mesa Spring Camp. The camp is reached by continuing west along Tumamait Trail to Puerto del Suelo and following Mesa Springs Trail down to the camp which also has reliable water.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to explore a unique part of the southern Los Padres National Forest.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 11th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Crimson Red Western Columbine Aquilegia formosa chumash wilderness sheep camp los padres national forest wild flower

Crimson Columbine


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