Santa Paula Peak Los Padres mountains, Ventura countyMarch 8, 2009
A steep climb through an explosion of flowers above a lush, green valley


4730 ft. Santa Paula Peak is part of a ridge towering above the fertile Santa Paula valley, a wide swath of rich farmland northwest of LA between Santa Clarita and the Pacific Ocean. This south-facing wall of the Los Padres mountains serves as the southern boundary of the immense Los Padres National Forest and the Sespe Wilderness. Year round sunshine and the protective mountains creates a favorable growing climate and the majority of the valley is covered with citrus farms. A few miles northeast is the Sespe Condor Preserve, where California Condors are making a comeback from the brink of extinction.

The easiest and most popular peak path is accessed from the south via Hwy. 126, but it's on private property and permission from the landowner is required to enter a locked gate and to park at their home. The owners, the Diamonds, are gracious people and allow hikers to use their road to park and begin the climb through their property. From the house, it's approximately five miles to the top of Santa Paula Peak, but with an elevation gain of 3600 feet, it's a serious workout. The first two miles are up farm roads through orchards and then cattle trails, the last three up a series of switchbacks. Near the top, the trail enters the Los Padres National Forest.

Another, much longer public path around the back/north side of the mountain is reached by following the E. Fork trail along the Santa Paula Creek from St. Thomas Aquinas College on Hwy. 150.

From the summit, you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands, the northern Santa Monica mountains, the San Gabriel front range as far as Mt. Baldy, and the surrounding peaks of the Los Padres mountains to the north. Remnant steel cables and the concrete foundation of a large antenna that was removed are still on the summit.

There is also a granite marker of a man whose ashes were scattered there. No disrespect intended, but it seems somewhat selfish and intrusive for the family to install a tombstone on this beautiful public summit. Scattering his ashes, sure. But what if everyone started putting tombstones atop favorite peaks? They'd resemble cemetaries and that's not fair to the rest of us. Still, it's impressive they got this 75 lb. slab of granite up here, probably by horse most of the way.

Santa Paula Peak shares the ridge with an unnamed cone-shaped peak one quarter mile to the west. This unnamed peak is several hundred feet taller and the most prominent on the ridge when viewed from below. I'd hope to bag this peak in addition to Santa Paula Peak, but there's a steep, craggy promontory on the razor-like saddle between the two and it appears that there is no non-technical approach from Santa Paula Peak.

Be aware that there is at least one gigantic, shiny hornless black bull that probably weighs 1200 lbs. I found myself face to face with him, and to my dismay, he didn't race off as I approached like the cows behind him. Instead he stood near the road ahead of me, all gleaming, bulging muscle, his neckless head as wide as my shoulders, chewing his cud and glaring disdainfully as if to say "you're on my grass, puny human". Needless to say, I stopped and began slowly side-stepping up the hill away from him to give him a wide berth, talking to him as soothingly as possible. Was I wearing red? I did a quick scan of my clothes, not sure if that was just a myth or not. Whew! No red! I sure didn't want to scramble up the steep hill to get away if he came after me because he could bound up on to me in a few easy leaps. Having trekking poles for defense gave me only a twinge of comfort as the impasse lasted 20-30 extremely long seconds as he stared me down. He started moving and for a moment, I thought I was dead meat. Then he turned very slowly and trotted off into the brambles. "Yeah, run home, ya big sissy!" I called after him.

He was actually a beautiful animal - so powerful and imposing. I've gained a lot of respect for cattle by hiking mountain pastures. They are incredibly agile and sure-footed, moving easily through steep and difficult terrain on which humans must use extreme caution.

It's a good idea to make noise as you approach tall thickets so as not to spook the cattle, as they often graze near the trail where they can't be seen and tend to stampede when surprised. The explosion of noise is startling to say the least...

Trail / Conditions / Maps
There are two ways to hike Santa Paula Peak - the short way and the long way.

map of Santa Paula Peak trails
Santa Paula Peak trails
The short way is through private property via Timber Canyon Rd. off Hwy 126, 8 miles west of Fillmore. It's about 5-6 miles from parking to peak. Beginning elevation is 1130 ft., and the summit is 4750 ft. for a gain of 3620 ft. - an energetic climb, to say the least. There are no water crossings, so bring plenty. I went through most of 3 liters on a mild March day - in summer you may want more. Parts of the Los Padres National Forest are sometimes closed in summer when fire danger is extreme. Call first.

Timber Canyon is a private road that's gated just a few yards off Hwy. 126 and it's 1.8 miles from the gate to the house that is the beginning of the hike. It's basically a long driveway which ends at the Diamond residence, the only house on the road. The Diamonds are nice, gracious people who allow hikers to park on their property and walk up their driveway and behind their house. Call the Diamonds the day before to get the gate code. (Email me for their phone number, I'm not listing it online.) Apparently, most Peak hikers are members of the Sierra Club, who get the Diamonds' contact number through the club. I had to drive out the day before to get it from neighbors. Beware of their large, scrappy-looking dog of undeterminable species.

From the gate at Hwy. 126, Timber Canyon Rd. passes through several private orchards and farm road intersections. Stay straight at a fork and through another gate which stays open. Below the Diamonds house, park on the right shoulder of the road at the bottom of the driveway, and walk up the driveway to the farm road on the right/east side of the house.

Following the dirt road a half mile, there is a heavy steel barbed-wire topped gate you'll have to climb over. From here to the first switchbacks, you're in cow country and may come across a herd at any time. The road is little more than a tractor path full of deep hoof ruts and droppings.

After a mile, you'll see a grassy ridge, the spine of which points north to Santa Paula Peak. Follow the road around the left/west side of this ridge. After about 2 miles, get off the main road at an overgrown road/cattle trail on the right through an oak grove along the base of the grassy ridge. Follow this path north, then south up the hill at a switchback.
As you follow this overgrown, grassy road south and up, look for a footpath on the left. This is the beginning of the main trail and leads directly to the first series of switchbacks up the west face of the first mountain. I stacked some rocks on the way down, as it was unmarked, but it's an active cow trail and they'll get knocked over and scattered.

If you miss this path and continue south up the hill, you'll come across a barbed wire fence 20 yards further atop the grassy ridge. Next to this fence is a substantial-looking path up the ridge, but it quickly climbs away from the main path into thickets and brambles and the tall grass hides deep cow hoof holes in the mud that will trip you up. Soon, there's a steep clambor up a loose rock spine with long dropoffs on 2 sides, then more tall thickets and brambles. I went up this way because I had no more info for my hike than "stay on the right side of the canyon and you'll find the trail". I got many scratches and tripped and fell over a hidden stump that could've been disastrous. Get on the switchbacks, as you won't have fun going this way! It was easy to determine the main path on the way down.

After the lower switchbacks, the trail winds around the east side of the mountain to the upper switchbacks on the south face of Santa Paula Peak. The upper switchbacks put you on high on top of a ridge where you can first see the Los Padres backcountry that is blocked by the Peak. Around the north side of the mountain, look for the summit trail up on the left. Except for a broken, worn out sign that says "National Forest", it's easy to overlook. (If you go straight, you'll end up far down the back side of the mountain at Santa Paula Creek) Near the summit, there's a scramble up a long red rock scree slope and you're there.

The long way to Santa Paula Peak is via the Santa Paula Creek trail from St. Thomas Aquinas College. It's between 8-10 miles from parking lot to the summit, and involves several miles of boulder hopping and scrambling along the creek trail up to and beyond the punchbowl waterfalls. (See that hike here). It's mostly public land through the Los Padres National Forest. Overnight camping is allowed with a Wilderness Permit from the Forest Service. Campfires aren't allowed in much of the Los Padres mountains as fire danger is extreme most of the year.

The Diamonds plan on selling their home in 2010 and the new owners may not allow hikers on their property, so the long way may become the only way to Santa Paula Peak in the near future.

Santa Paula Creek Peak via Timber Canyon Rd.March 8, 2008
Elevation gain:3620 ft.
Distance: 5-6 miles one way
Duration: 3 hours up, less down
Difficulty: Challenging
Water availability: None.

Directions / Permits / Links
Santa Paula Peak is halfway between Fillmore and Santa Paula on the north side of Hwy. 126. From LA, you could take I-5 north to Hwy. 126 west out of Santa Clarita to Fillmore, but I recommend the scenic route through Grimes Canyon:

From the San Fernando valley in LA, get on the 118 west 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 8 mi. to Timber Canyon Rd. It's 34 miles from Topanga Canyon Blvd. and Hwy. 118 to the trail head.

Map, Los Angeles to Santa Paula Peak
Map, Los Angeles toTimber Canyon Rd.
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 Fillmore


Getting there          

Approaching Fillmore and the Santa Paula valley on Hwy. 23/Grimes Canyon Rd. in Ventura county.

The Santa Paula mountains mark the southern boundary of Los Padres National Forest, home of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and the Sespe Wilderness.

The ridge with Santa Paula Peak towers above orange groves in the Santa Paula valley. In this photo, SP Peak is obscured by San Cayetano mountain (The peak on the right) directly in front of it.

Looking north up Timber Canyon Rd., a private, gated road through several farm properties to the Diamonds' house, where you park and begin the hike. SP Peak is just right of the tower.

The trail starts at the dirt road to the right of the driveway beside the Diamonds house.

The Trail          

After almost a mile, you have to climb over this barbed wire-topped gate. Hope you're good at climbing. Now you're in cattle country.

The road accesses numerous orchards and grazing meadows.The fence keeps several herds of cattle in, including a gigantic horn-free black bull that may scare the bejeezus out of you, but he's not confrontational, thank god.

The grassy ridge is a significant landmark. The wooded mountain just beyond it is where the footpath starts in earnest. Follow the road around the west/left side of the ridge.

Looking back, south.

After about 2 miles, look for these trees, where you leave the main road and turn right onto an overgrown road/cow path which follows the western base of the grassy ridge.

You can see a cairn I made, which will be knocked over in course by cows like others cairns here have been. It's a major bovine thoroughfare, apparently. It's easy to miss this road if you're not paying attention...

Good idea to make noise as you walk through these densely thicketed meadows, so as not to spook a stampede. The racket can be a little unnerving at close quarters...

The overgrown road goes north then switchbacks south up this flower strewn ridge. Looking back north to Santa Paula Peak, center. You can see what once was a road is just a wide grass trail.

Look for this faint footpath on the left that I've marked with cairns. It leads directly to the first set of switchbacks.
Looking south down the valley just ascended at the switchbacks on the west side of the first mountain and the grassy ridge below it pointing toward the entrance.This is probably the single most important pic to orient the trail position to the road.

Lots of erosion-formed terrain.

Southeast towards Fillmore and the Santa Susana mountains behind it

Santa Paula Peak (right) and its unnamed neighbor peaks

To the west, the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands are visable, but don't show up well in this photo.

Looking northwest at the summit of Santa Paula Peak and the steep narrow, saddle connecting it to its sister peak

The summit path turns off to the left. If you go straight, you'll end up on the Santa Paula Creek path to St. Thomas Aquinas College (if you go the right way) The sign says "National Forest".

The last few hundred yards are a scramble up scree.

The unnamed sister peak is less than 1/4 mi. west but would be a risky climb from Santa Paula Peak without technical gear. This is the peak seen most prominently from the valley floor.

From the summit, looking south down the canyon just ascended. You can see the switchbacks and the grassy ridge beyond them. The mountain to the south is cleverly named "South Mountain." Behind it in the distance is southern Ventura county and the Pacific Ocean.

Summit marker reads "US Coast & Geodetic Survey Triangulation Station. For information, write to the Director, Washington, DC. $250 fine or imprisonment for disturbing this mark. Santa Paula" Elevation is illegible
Vic and Sue Henney, from West L.A., have bagged an impressive number of local peaks. They arrived at the summit just 10 minutes before me.

Tombstone of a 45 year old guy whose ashes are scattered here, I'm told.

Looking northwest

The deep valley northwest holds the E. Fork trail along Santa Paula Creek which begins at St. Thomas Aquinas College on Hwy. 150.


Looking northeast. In the distance is TopaTopa Peak and the Sespe Condor Sanctuary.

Make sure you check for ticks. Flicked off 6 of the little buggers I found crawling on my legs while hiking, and #7 on the bathroom floor after a shower.

Explosion of flowers.


Some clouds had moved over the peak as I came down, but I waited for a while, and eventually they cleared off.



These cows were grazing in tall grassy thickets yards away from the trail, hidden from view. Before I saw them, they all took off in loud crashing thunder of hooves and breaking bushes and in few seconds were high on this ridge, from where they eyed me disdainfully. It was startling to say the least.
Since 3.09