Top 10 Ways to Get Lost in Ojai
Sulphur Mountain Road*
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Directions: Follow Highway 150 for 9 miles from downtown Ojai. Turnoff for Sulphur Mountain Road is on the right. Follow the road until it ends, another five miles.
Length: 10 miles from gated access to the Girl Scout Camp near Casitas Springs.
This trail starts at 2,600 feet high at the end of the Sulphur Mountain Road access and follows the winding ridgeline trail (actually, an old road) down to about 400 feet elevation, making this a very gentle, if long, hike of three to four hours. It’s perfect for a sunny spring day, with wide views on both sides of the ridge to Black Mountain’s oak-knolled ranchlands, and the rolling green old ranches that give way to Ventura and Oxnard and the ocean beyond. Look for wildflowers and browsing deer as well as bobcats and the occasional bear.
Directions: From Ojai Avenue, head north on Signal Street until it ends.
Length: 3.5 miles return trip.
An aptly named abandoned road that runs along a shelf above the north side of the Ojai Valley, Shelf Road winds through orange and avocado groves as well as wild chaparral. Every bend in the trail presents you with stunning views of the east end of the Ojai Valley. It takes about an hour at a brisk pace to walk the length of the trail and back between the trailheads at either North Signal Street and Gridley Road. This hike is perfect for visitors or residents to get “ the lay of the land” in Ojai. It is also one of the most “dog-friendly” walks around.
Middle Fork of Matilija Canyon*
Directions: Head north on Highway 33 from Ojai for about 4.7 miles to Matilija Canyon Road. Follow the road to the end — about another two miles.
Length: Up to 7 miles (14 miles return).
Follow the trailhead at the end of Matilija Canyon Road through the gated property to the west side of the creek. The trail, more of a one-track road at this point, heads towards the gates of Blue Heron Ranch, a historic farm with orange and lemon groves, along with an excellent sampling of Ojai’s iconic native rock walls. The trail then clambers through thickening chaparral scrub for another 1.5 miles until you can see tilted slabs of weathered granite and a long, green pool to the right. The trail descends back into the creekside sycamore and willow forest through a series of campsites, swimming holes and geologic marvels. Winding alongside and across Matilija Creek, careful observers can see foot-long native rainbow trout and rare western pond turtles. The shifting and often-concealed trail eventually leads to the Three Falls of the Matilija, where the West Branch of the Matilija enters the canyon at the right through a two-cataract waterfall, and the main North Fork tumbles over a calcite ledge into a deep green pool. (There are four more falls beyond, including the fabled Lost Falls, but travel beyond the falls is recommended only for groups of experienced climbers.)
Directions: Take Highway 150 about nine miles from Ojai to upper Ojai. Sisar Canyon Road is just past Summit School, the trailhead at the end of the road, about a further mile.
Length: 10.5 miles to the Topa Topa Bluffs.
Elevation gain: Nearly 4,000 feet to the top of the bluffs. Only recommended for experienced, well-trained hikers. The first two miles of Sisar Canyon follow the unusually beautiful stream through an enchanting forest of sycamores, bay laurel and enormous oak trees. Both trout and excellent opportunities to swim abound. After that, the trail begins its ascent of the eastern flank of the Topa Topa bluffs. You can also follow the signs to access White Ledge and Ladybug camps from the trail. For serious hikers only, the grueling climb to the top of the bluffs offers world-class views that stretch 360 degrees for hundreds of miles. On any reasonably clear day, you can see beyond Sulphur Mountain to Anacapa, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands, even Catalina Island. The intrepid summiteer is also welcomed by a bench of native sandstone on which to perch far from the madding crowds. Plan on starting early in the morning. This hike can take a minimum of seven hours for even the best hikers.
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.
Directions: From Ojai Avenue, turn north onto Gridley Road. Follow it to the gated end, about two miles.
Length: Three miles to the Gridley Springs, 6 miles to Nordhoff Peak.
Elevation gain: 1,200 feet to the springs. This trail, at the north end of Gridley Road just to the left before the gates to Hermitage Ranch, begins with a steep climb along a seasonal creek before opening on to a bench with spectacular views of the entire Ojai Valley. It follows an orchard road through avocado trees before making a northeastward turn along the rocky western flank of the mountainside. You can often hear the sounds of tumbling water far below in the year-round stream. The trail winds along the steep flank of the mountain until it enters the cool, dense side-canyon wherein lies Gridley Springs, with a watering trough for horses and plenty of inviting shade. You can return from here, or continue to the network of trails that reaches its zenith at Nordhoff Peak, 4,426 feet above sea level.
Directions: Take McAndrew Road to Thacher School. Park in the gymkhana lot.
Length: 2.2 miles to the Pines.
Elevation Gain: 600 feet. Legend has it that intrepid horseman Howard Bald lugged saddlebags full of water up this trail to nurture a grove of pine trees that he had planted after the big fire of 1948. The trailhead begins at a parking lot, just past a dip. The trail winds past the famous school’s observatory along the west side of a usually year-round stream. After four shady, rock-hopping crossings, the trail begins a sturdy and steep set of switchbacks, with increasing vistas expanding on every turn. The pine grove at the top, with 50-foot-tall trees, seems incongruous amid the sage scrub, yet its whispery needles offer a cool welcome. You can see the Channel Islands, as well as the broad, rolling Tuscany-like vistas of Upper Ojai set against the stunning Topa Topa bluffs. This trail continues to the network of trails and fuel breaks that run the ridgeline along the flank of the Ojai Valley.
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous.
Directions: From Ojai Avenue, turn north on Signal Street and drive about 1.2 miles until you see the Forest Service sign on the left. The trailhead is a further half-mile.
Length: 4.4 miles to Nordhoff Ridge.
The Pratt Trail criss-crosses a seasonal stream through the backyards of private properties before opening onto a natural bowl formed by the slope of Nordhoff Ridge. Follow the signs through about two miles of dry and dusty switchbacks until you reach the ridgeline. From there, it’s another two steep, dusty miles to Nordhoff Peak, 4,426 feet above sea level.
Cozy Dell Trail*
Directions: From Ojai, head north on Maricopa Highway (Highway 33) for 3.3 miles. The turnout is on the left, just before and across from Friend’s Ranch packing house.. Cross the street to the trailhead.
Length: 1.9 miles to Cozy Dell Creek.
The trail begins along a seasonal creek and quickly climbs about 640 feet in elevation along a well-forested and wild-flowered canyon to a ridgeline knoll with spectacular views of the Ojai Valley. On a clear day you can see both Anacapa and Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands. You can either return or continue to Cozy Dell Creek, another half-mile to a wooded picnic spot straight out of Central Casting. There the trail continues past the creek to link up to the Ojai’s system of trails and firebreak roads. It’s perfect for an early morning excursion to justify a hearty breakfast.
Rose Valley Falls*
Directions: Take Highway 33 to the Rose Valley turnout on the right, about 12 miles from Ojai. Follow the road four miles to the turnout for the campground.
Length: .5 miles.
The trail begins at the head of the campground. It is an easy stroll along the beautiful shaded stream to reach the first 30-foot cataract. The trail is perfect for families with small children. Rose Valley Road is also the entry place for several popular backcountry trails, including Sespe River Trail, noted for its trout fishing and swimming holes, and Piedra Blanca, with its striking gorges and beautifully weathered white-rock formations.