Fall Color Hikes in Southern California

10.27.11


ColorFall Hikes

What's gold and orange and red all over? Southern California's fall foliage—if you know where to look. Here are three great places to enhance your leaf-peeping pleasure.


Hoegees Trail Big Santa Anita Canyon

Hoegee's Hues

There's more than waterfalls flowing at Big Santa Anita Canyon: A less-traveled woodland loop in the area is currently awash in autumn colors. Jump on the 5-mile (round-trip) Lower Winter Creek Trail to Hoegee's Trail Camp, and it's likely to be just you and the gargling streams and rustling trees. The hike starts on the busy, paved section of the Gabrielino Trail, but within half a mile you'll lose the crowds and begin walking through a canopy of sycamores, alders, and big-leaf maples whose yellow-orange leaves blanket the path. Add in the deep red of the occasional poison oak and the contrasting dark green of low-growing ivy, and the kaleidoscope is complete. A moderate 1.5-mile climb passes rustic cabins and tops out at Hoegee's Trail Camp. The campground sits next to the creek's most playful stretch and is shaded by large oaks dropping acorns (watch your head!). Have a snack at one of the picnic tables before returning by way of the Upper Winter Creek Trail. Early switchbacks gain elevation quickly, and then things smooth out on a narrow, canopied trail that hugs the side of the canyon. Near the finish, a few breaks in the trees frame distant views of L.A. to close the loop on a colorful afternoon.

From the 210 in Arcadia, exit Santa Anita Ave. and drive north for 2 miles until it becomes Chantry Flat Rd. Continue 3 miles up the mountain until the road ends at the Chantry Flat trailhead and parking lot. Buy a $5 Adventure Pass at Adam's Pack Station. (If general parking is full, Adam's will let you park in its lot for $10—no Adventure Pass needed.) Begin down the paved trail at the Chantry Flat trailhead; after 0.5-mile at the signed junction, head west on Lower Winter Creek Trail to Hoegee's Trail Camp. After 1.5 miles, pass Hoegee's, and continue upstream to a signed junction. Take a left on Upper Winter Creek to return to Chantry Flat trailhead after 3 miles. Dog-friendly!

Sycamore Canyon Trail Point Mugu

Winged Wonderland

Falling leaves aren't the only things fluttering on the 4-mile out-and-back Sycamore Canyon Trail in Point Mugu State Park. The arrival of monarch butterflies also marks the advent of autumn, and Sycamore Canyon is one of the best places for spying them. The trail is lined with camouflage-trunked sycamore trees whose leaves transform from green to yellow to golden brown in fall. As carpets of fallen foliage crackle underfoot, keep an eye out for amber-colored airy dancers: northern-dwelling monarchs are currently migrating to cushier climes, and Southern California offers a balmy respite. Follow the mostly level trail for 2 miles to a couple picnic tables nestled under a grove of stately oaks with gnarled branches as thick as elephant trunks. Return the way you came to complete your fall foray.

TIP: Hike in the morning when the sun-powered monarchs are likely to be active.

The trailhead begins in Sycamore Canyon Campground, 13.3 miles past Kanan Rd. in Malibu on westbound Pacific Coast Highway. There is a $12 day-use fee for parking in the campground. From the parking lot, walk on the paved road that cuts across the campground to a locked gate where the Sycamore Canyon Trail begins and the pavement ends. Walk for 2 miles to picnic tables under oaks, and return the way you came. No dogs.

Hike Placerita Canyon

Golden Touch

There's a gold rush happening less than an hour from L.A. Placerita Canyon near Santa Clarita is home to the site of California's first gold discovery in 1842 (several years prior to San Francisco's famous gold rush). Today your chances of finding gold are next to none, but lace up the hiking boots for a 4-mile roundtrip hike and the surge of golden fall colors will have you feeling like you've struck it rich. Amidst changing leaves of yellow, orange, and red, follow the Canyon Trail upstream along Placerita Creek (mostly dry in fall) to Walker Ranch, home of early pioneer Frank Walker, his wife, and their 12 children. Enjoy the bright yellow leaves of cottonwood and alder trees and the golden brown of the occasional big-leaf maple tree. Poison oak provides vibrant splashes of oranges and reds—especially on your skin, so keep a fair distance. The canyon narrows into a rocky gorge before opening up to the park's campground and early 20th-century remains of cottages built by the Walker family. Picnic tables shaded by live oaks make a perfect pit stop before returning the way you came. Gold standard.

Placerita Canyon Park is located at 19152 Placerita Canyon Rd. in Newhall. From the nature center, take Canyon Trail to Walker Ranch and return the way you came. (Stay straight at a right fork that appears after 100 yards on Canyon Trail.) The nature center is open 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 661-259-7721. Here is a map. Dog-friendly!

Winter Warmup

Ready to start planning your summer vacation in the sun? You don't need to wait! New Zealand's summer is November through February. In this tiny country, small has never been so big with endless outdoor experiences. Take your pick: hiking through lush rainforests, kayaking turquoise waters, wine tasting on rolling vineyards, lounging on golden beaches, cruising through mile-high fiords, and climbing icy-blue glaciers. (Yes, you can go glacier hiking in a T-shirt and your sunnies!) Not sure where to start? Check out these Top 10 Must-Dos for your New Zealand adventure. It’s easy to tick all these off your list in one fabulous trip.

New Zealand’s trusted partners have put together packages and deals so you can enjoy the best outdoors experiences in one unforgettable "summer" vacation. When it comes to variety, New Zealand takes the cake. Mix and match your interests: Walk the sunny Abel Tasman Coastal Track along pristine beaches and explore their spectacular rock formations. Take a thrilling jet boat ride or go bungy jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. Kayak with dolphins in Milford or Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park. And don’t forget New Zealand’s award-winning wines. Sip world-famous Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs in stunning vineyards all along the way. Winter getaways don’t get any better than spending summer in New Zealand.

BONUS: One of the best ways to see New Zealand is to hike it: Check out the nine Great Walks and lace up those boots!

Check out newzealand.com to plan your adventure.

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