Matilija Creek overnight via Matilija Canyon Aug. 16-17 2008
An overnight hike along a deep and twisty mountain canyon to waterfalls and swim holes


Needed a good over night hike to test some new gear in anticipation of my coming 4 day Labor Day weekend hike in Yosemite, so back to the rugged North Fork of Matilija Creek and about 4 miles up into the Los Padres mountains, this time with a full pack. Adjusting to carrying all my food and anything with a scent in a bear-proof food cannister —required in Yosemite backcountry—was the challenge for this hike, as it's a big item to stash in a full pack.

Trail / Conditions / Maps / Stats
The trail starts out as a gravel/dirt road through a private nature sanctuary, crossing 2 streams. At the split 1 1/2-2 miles in, go left and up and then right to a gated ranch. This is private property but the Forest Service has easement rights through it to the Matilija Creek trail. Through the wood gate and out the far side of the ranch, almost a mile, there is a small stream - dry by summers end - and the footpath begins. Matilija Creek is only a few minutes away from this point. Stay right at the first split. The next right side split leads to an unusual slanted rock. There are well-used camps and swimming holes along the first mile of the creek path.

The path is easy enough to follow at first, but it crosses to different banks repeatedly and starts disappearing often enough that it's easier just to blaze your own up the creek. It's about five miles or more to the big falls via a mostly unmaintained trail. This means sometimes you can find a path, but mostly you just make your way up the creek the best you can, looking for signs others have been before you. The creek flows year round and provides a gurgling soundtrack as you negotiate sloping rocks, prickly cactus, scratchy bramble and downed trees.

The first 2 miles, the path is easy enough to follow, but the last 2-3 mi. shows no signs of being maintained at all (or it gets washed out every winter). It's a boulder-climbing, creek-jumping, tree-ducking scramble. At about 4 miles, there's an intersecting canyon on the left where I read there was another large falls. I hiked up several hundred yards without seeing it before deciding it would have to come after I found the main falls.

Because of the trail-free exertion, this is a challenging hike—definitely not for the unfit (or the unprepared). The summer heat can be deadly, so access to clean drinking water is a serious consideration. Be careful to watch for ticks and poison oak

But the rock formations are awesome, and the payoff of a big waterfall around the next canyon wall spurs you on.
Matilija Creek via Matilija Creek Rd.Aug 16-17, 2008
Elevation gain:Less than 300 ft.
Distance: 4 miles one way
Duration: 2 hours one way
Difficulty: Challenging
Water availability: Matilija Creek flows year round.

Directions / Permits / Links
From LA, the easy way to get here is the 101 freeway north to Hwy. 33 to Ojai.

My favorite is the scenic route through Moorpark, Grimes Canyon and Santa Paula. From the San Fernando valley in LA, get on the 118 west for 10-12 mi. to Moorpark and exit westbound on Los Angeles Ave. T/R on Moorpark Ave. / Hwy 23, which is the 3rd or 4th light. Follow Hwy. 23 10-15 miles, through a sharp left and a sharp right through the orchards, then down into amazing Grimes Canyon and into Fillmore. T/L on Hwy. 126/W. Ventura St. and follow it 10 mi. or so to Santa Paula. Exit Hwy. 150 and through town, stay right at light. Stay on 150 / Santa Paula Ojai Rd. 15-20 mi. or so into Ojai. (Outside Santa Paula, note dirt parking lot across from the entrance to St. Thomas Aquinas college. Park here to hike to the amazing Santa Paula Punchbowl.)

A mile or two beyond downtown Ojai, T/R on Hwy. 33 N. Go about 5 miles, passing Matilija Rd. S, and T/L Matilija Canyon Rd., a steep road that angles up to the left. (There was a road closed sign both times I was there, apparently leftover from some long finished road work, but there was no construction, no emergency it's not closed. Matilija Canyon rd. winds along Matilija Creek and ends after 5 miles or so at a gate where there is a gravel parking lot. This gated road is private property but the USFS has easement rights. It constitutes the trailhead, although there is no sign.
You don't need a wilderness permit to overnight in the Los Padres NF, but you are required to carry a free campfire permit, should you want a fire.

Parking at the dirt lot is free and you don't need an Adventure Pass to park here according to the Ranger Station in Ojai. Leave nothing that looks valuable visable in your vehicle.
US Forest Service, Manages Los Padres National Forest
Ojai Ranger District, 1190 E. Ojai Ave. Ojai, CA 93023 (805) 646-4348
NOAA Weather National Weather Service forecast for Ojai


Getting there          

Taking everything I need—and then some—for a 3 night outing, for practice, although this was just one night out. Bear cannister is big plastic jar top left. I can "bare"-ly figure out how to open it myself. =0|

Its all in there, except for the boots, about 35 lbs.

East Ojai valley from Highway 150, looking northwest.

Into the mountains on Matilija Creek road. Temperature in high 80's, but cooler by the water.

The Trail          

The trail in is getting familiar now, up this gravel road and through a nice ranch for a mile before it becomes a footpath.

Found a great site above the creek to set up camp, then cooked dinner under a full moon and warm star-filled sky.

Breaking camp after breakfast. Lightweight tent is only 4 lbs.

Hiking out the next morning on a beautiful day. Everything went perfectly, though I'll shed some items for the next trip.

For lots of Matilija Creek pictures, see my Matilija Falls hike.

On the way out          

Bambi didn't want to get off the road. I followed slowly for several hundred yards.

Matilija dam and reservoir at Hwy 33.

Looking back up Matilija canyon.

Since Jan.09

See my Matilija Falls hike for lots more Matilija Creek pictures