Not surprisingly, the state of California is home to the most National Parks (9). Unfortunately, this blog has nothing to do with them. Gina and I spent 95% of our time in California within eyesight of the Ocean, and all but two of the National Parks are further inland. Besides living the California experience and swimming in the ocean while everyone back “home” in Wisconsin froze, we explored several hiking trails in SoCal (That’s Southern California for those of you who aren’t “hip”;) Unfortunately, Gina wasn’t able to participate in some of the more involved hikes because of physical limitations caused by a car accident a few years ago. When she did come with us on a few of the moderate hikes, boy did I get my work out in helping her through it! I’m so proud of her for the ones she did try, even though she had to pay for it for several days after the fact 🙁 She and I were both thankful we met a few friends to go hiking with me in her place!
1. San Onofre State Beach (Easy)
Gina and I went here in search of a dog beach area that we never ended up finding. It was $15.00 to access the park which I felt was a little excessive, but state parks/beaches need to make their money somehow to keep it maintained and protected! We took Roxi and Shirley for a walk on the bluffs trail which had a beautiful view overlooking the ocean. At one point, we came to a fork in the trail which we could continue walking the trail on top of the bluffs or make a steep decent to the beach below. Of course we chose to walk down to the beach, but it was such a mistake! Roxi was being SO naughty. The trail was already quite steep, and all of her pulling made it even more difficult to trek. Once on the beach, she kept pulling as hard as she could toward the water making it an unpleasant walk for everyone. I can’t really be mad at her about it, though. We should have known better than to bring Roxi near a body of water when she couldn’t swim in it. Needless to say, that visit didn’t last very long. We walked back to the top of the bluffs, kept to the easy trail for a short time, and eventually got bored and left. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend this place for others to visit, I just didn’t feel like it offered anything special.
2. Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail (Easy)
On Halloween night, Gina, Bromance (our friend “Alyssa”), and myself all dressed up to go out. Gina was Velma, Bromance was Shaggy, and, naturally, I was Scooby-Doo. While partying at San Diego’s only lesbian bar/nightclub, Gossip Grill, we bumped into a couple whom were so fatefully dressed up in our two missing characters: Daphne and Fred! We hit it off that night with Rebekah and Shanna and met up for a hike at Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail the following week. When we got to the park, there were rangers collecting $3.00 from each car for parking. They asked how many dogs we had, and I replied, “One dog and squirrel.” The park ranger’s face became concerned as she informed us that, on average, they lose about one small dog a month to the coyotes. She said the coyotes weren’t really afraid of humans around there, and they would snatch up a small dog right under your nose in the middle of the day. That immediately threw Gina into turmoil, and she vowed to carry Shirley the entire way. That didn’t last very long, and Shirley survived. The trail was a 7 mile loop, flat and easy. The first half was pretty well shaded, but there wasn’t any shade at all on the way back. Around the halfway point, we encountered a cluster of boulders which usually spilled a waterfall. Unfortunately, it had been much too dry in California at that time for there to be one, but we enjoyed the small stream and body of water in it’s place. While lost in conversation on the way back to the cars, Gina believed one of us was about to step into a pile of dog poop, so she warned us to look out. As she finished her sentence, we realized that the “pile of poop” was actually a curled up snake! After yelping and jumping over the death worm, it began to slither away. Now, we all know how utterly afraid of snakes Gina is, right? Well, despite that, she turned around and pulled out her phone to record it! WHAT?! When we watched the video later, two things stood out: A distinctive pattern…and a rattle! It was a baby rattle snake which we learned are more deadly than an adult rattle snakes because they cannot regulate their venom properly. Gina proceeded to have a melt down, exclaiming how she narrowly escaped with her life followed up with a lot of “I told you so’s” since I’ve always told her she didn’t need to worry about encountering snakes on the plane…er trail. Besides the giant snake nightmares that followed for Gina that night, we enjoyed the trail.
3. Sturtevant Falls in Angeles National Forest (Easy-ish to Moderate)
This trail, which was a little over 3 miles out and back (slightly over 6 miles), felt like a little slice of home. It resembled what it’s like in Wisconsin during early fall except much warmer with less humidity. It wasn’t something I expected to find just outside of the busy city of LA. The trail to Sturtevant Falls wasn’t strenuous by any means, but it felt more like an actual hike than a stroll through the woods. We went with Roxi, Shirley, and our friend, Bromance. The first 0.6 mile or so was a steady decline on dark pavement. The sun was beating down pretty hot that day without much shade, so we had to keep checking the pavement with the back of our hands to make sure the dogs paws weren’t burning. After that first part, the trail was very shady. It was a beautiful hike through the trees littered with old cabins. We made our way to a full waterfall which Roxi romped around in joyously. Apparently, we needed to get a $5.00 parking pass, but the office said it was only open one day a week. We just threw our National Parks Pass in the dash and called it a day. Later on, I saw a review online that said you need to buy a day pass at REI (a popular camping/outdoor store in the area). Well, it isn’t clearly addressed anywhere, so, do what you want, I guess. 🙂
4. Lake Calavera Trail (Moderate)
The first time we tried to hike Lake Calavera was on Thanksgiving when it was about 90 degrees. Since California lacks suffocating humidity, it really didn’t feel so hot out. We learned quickly that the lack of humidity also makes it harder to detect signs of dehydration before it’s almost too late. Quickly into the hike, Roxi and Shirley were panting abnormally for the distance we had walked. We stopped three times in the first mile of the 5 mile loop hike to give them water. There wasn’t any shade, and Gina was also not really feeling like herself, so we thought it would be better to go to the dog beach instead. When we were almost back to the car, Gina began showing signs of heat exhaustion. We stopped at a near by gas station to get her a slushy and an ice cold water which helped tremendously. With that being said, I warn you, do not underestimate the heat. DRINK PLENTY OF WATER! We returned a few days later when it was cooler outside to finish the hike. We went with “our boys” Mateo and Joe who became very good friends of ours as they were our neighbors during our stay in Oceanside. The trail is a gradual incline to the top of an extinct volcano. At the summit, there are several “memorial shrines” of sorts which were kind of neat to see and add to. The view from the summit was slightly better than average, but still less than spectacular. Also, I just have to add that Mateo wore slippers to hike in…
5. Murphy’s Ranch Trail (Easy-ish to Moderate)
The main reason I wanted to hike Murphy’s Ranch Trail was because of the promise of abandoned/dilapidated buildings which were once part of a self-sustaining Nazi-sympathizer camp. I really enjoy urban exploring and photographing, and the history on top of it is always a bonus! Unfortunately, I never did get to see these abandoned structures because I held my head too high. Literally. You know how everyone is always telling you to take your eyes of the ground and walk with your head up confidently? Yeah, well, I missed all of the faded signs spray painted on
the ground which would have told us where to go. The trail was paved most of the way on a steady incline up the mountain. Many reviews online were complaints about all the graffiti everywhere, but that’s kind of the point. Some people think it’s trashy, some people think it’s art. Just know what you’re getting into! As we were walking up the mountain, we noticed an area to our left with a steep set of concrete stairs. GO DOWN THERE. If you are capable of walking stairs, that is the way you should go to get to the abandoned buildings. They are quite steep and seem to go on forever, but they lead to where you want to go. TRUST ME. If you miss those stairs (it’s hard to miss), or if you can’t trek those stairs for mobility reasons, or if you want to see the abandoned water tower before you descend, keep on walking. You’ll eventually come to some more stairs which go down to an abandoned water tower. You can easily see the tower from the paved path. After taking photographs, proceed to the valley side of the abandoned water tower. There, you will find stairs much like the first set that will lead you to the old camp. Finally, if you still don’t feel comfortable taking the stairs, there will be a fork in the path a little further up the mountain. On the ground, someone spray painted “Murphy’s Ranch” with an arrow pointing the way you need to go. That path is an actual trail with a gradual decline. Since we weren’t paying attention to all of the signs sprayed on the ground, we continued climbing up the mountain via the paved road until several miles later when we eventually made it to the entrance of some sort of religious camp. COOL. On our way back down the mountain after becoming frustrated that we walked all that way in the wrong direction, we noticed the spray paint on the ground pointing the way. Because by that time we were tired, hungry, and annoyed, we decided to try and go back another day. Unfortunately, the day we planned to make the trip again was THE ONLY TIME IT EVER RAINED MORE THAN 10 MINUTES IN CALIFORNIA.
6. Monserate Mountain Trail (Moderate to Hard)
I really thought this trail was going to be a piece of cake. I had recently conquered one of the most strenuous hikes I had ever done (I’ll tell you more about that in a minute), I had been working out almost daily for the past two months, and if anything, I figured I would at least be able to easily keep up with the boys since they showed up with no water, and Mateo was wearing flip flops haha! Well, looking back, it may have been a piece of cake if it weren’t for the 3 liters of water, food, and clothes I stuffed in my back pack. I always pack for the worst possible scenario haha. So, the boys and I started up the mountain off of a busy highway. They glided up the mountain side like gay gazelles as I trudged behind like a fat ogre. I stopped frequently pretending to “appreciate the view”, but there was nothing to see, and I was just simply dying. When we finally reached the top, I found an old metal bucket filled with papers and notebooks that appeared to have been there for several years. People wrote poems, inspirational quotes, and simple messages such as “we made it! (Insert date)”. I can’t remember what I wrote, but I’m positive it was something super sarcastic. The view was of the highway and construction/land development below. Though it felt like we hiked for miles, we never really escaped the sounds of the streets. I would only recommend this hike if you’re looking for a good work out, not for a great view or to connect with nature.
7. Iron Mountain Trail (Moderate to Hard)
I thoroughly enjoyed hiking Iron Mountain Trail. It was a challenging 3.5 mile out and back trail (about 7 miles total), submersed in the peacefulness of the mountains. I feel like hiking is always best when I’m hiking toward something, and the view at the summit did not let me down. The only thing that I really disliked about the trail was how busy it was. I guess it’s because it’s a great trail, and everyone in the area knows it!
8. Three Sisters Falls Trail (Hard)
Three Sisters Falls. Hmm…Well, one description of the trail found on the All Trails App (A must have for hikers by the way!) said, “…only recommended for very experienced adventurers…” Heed this! The trail head starts at the top of the mountain, and ends down in the valley. This is important to remember because it is much easier getting down to the falls than it is getting back up to your car. I hiked the trail with an old high school friend named Rosie, her Paramedic pal Kellen, and Bromance. Kellen worked in the area as a paramedic, and he advised us that many people have to be air-lifted out of the valley each year because they underestimate the severity of the hike back up the mountain. The reason it is so exhausting compared to other mountain hikes is because there aren’t any switch backs. IT. IS. EXTREMELY. STEEP. If you don’t have good hiking shoes, you are guaranteed to lose your footing more than once going down, and we had to use our hands to help us climb a bit on the way back up. The trail is only 3.5 miles out and back (about 7 miles total), but it sure felt a lot worse than that due to the terrain. There were even several warning signs for those who needed that extra slap in the face like, “Hey, we’re really not kidding. This is going to suck, so don’t be dumb.” The water fall was unfortunately dried up when we went, but it was still fun to climb over all of the boulders and walk across where the water would normally be rushing down. On the way back up, we got lost and were quickly running out of water. I started experiencing symptoms of dehydration, but I was afraid to drink too much water since we had no idea where we were. That being said, bring all the water you can! You’ll need plenty of it, and the trail isn’t marked very well, so you may be out longer than you had anticipated! I also suggest bringing a complete change of clothes to keep in your vehicle for when you return. There’s nothing like putting on fresh, dry clothes after a gross and sweaty hike like that, and I was thankful I did! I plan to hike Three Sisters Falls Trail again sometime just to experience the falls flowing!
There were a handful of other hikes in the area that we just didn’t have enough time to get to, such as Potato Chip Rock, but I’m confident we will see California again soon. We were fortunate to have made the hike to the Hollywood Sign, but that needed a blog all on its own! Obviously hiking in the National Parks is the way to go if you are visiting the area, but I hope you find this list helpful if you’re looking of something closer to the popular cities of SoCal.