Category Archives: Adventure

Switzer Falls and the Bear Canyon Trail

Upon hearing that CalTrans just reopened the Angeles Crest Highway on Friday, it just made sense to go check it out. We stopped at the first major parking area which happens to be the Switzer Falls picnic area and trailhead. The parking lot was full when we stopped but we were lucky enough to get a spot from someone who was leaving. The road down to the actual picnic area was still closed, so we had to walk down the road from the highway (that part sucks coming back).

I hadn’t been to this area in years due to the various closures and was excited to be back. It looked like the Forest Service had made some recent improvements to the area including new stairways, picnic tables, and bathrooms. I’m not sure if they were damaged by the fire or if it was just time for an upgrade.

We decided to do a little exploring and went off the beaten path to a cool overlook where we were at the top of a waterfall.

After the detour we got back on the main trail that takes you up to the Switzer Falls lookout, however there was barely any water coming down the falls. While we were at the lookout some forest rangers and volunteer trail builders were on their way out. They had just finished clearing the trail that goes down to Bear Canyon, but they said past that the Bear Canyon Trail gets bad.

Of course we decided to go for it. The part of the trail that had just been cleared was really nice; we got down to the trail junction in no time.

Once we got onto the Bear Canyon Trail we could definitely tell the rangers were not lying about the condition of the trail. There were many parts where we had to bushwhack our way through and there were many stream crossings.

It was worth it though; there was no one else down in the canyon with us and the scenery was amazing. As we got further down the trail we kept coming across awesome pools of water. I could only imagine coming here on a hot summer day; it would be pretty nice.

The trail was virtually non-existent in some places as we pushed on, but it made for a fun adventure down into an area that looked like no one had been in a while.

Eventually we came to an area where a huge downed tree laid across the trail and there was a thick growth of bushes where the trail once was.  At this point we decided to turn back and kick back at a cool spot we had found earlier. Snacks and beers on a mini peninsula next to a waterfall I will classify as a succes.

We had been hoping to find the Bear Canyon Trail Camp but failed to do so. I’m not sure if we might have passed it or if it was further up the trail. I am probably going to go back some day to try and find it; I think it would be an awesome spot to camp. Below is the roundtrip track of our hike.

Backpacking to Big Cone Camp via Santa Paula Creek

Friday afternoon before Labor Day weekend we headed out for Santa Paula Creek in the Los Padres National Forest. We tried to beat the weekend traffic but that didn’t really happen. None the less we got to the trailhead around 5:30pm. Well, actually, the trailhead is behind Thomas Aquinas College, so we had to walk through the campus and then through some ranch.

There were signs posted on the college campus telling hikers to stay on the paved road, this was actually quite helpful. There were other signs as well pointing us in the correct direction.

After passing the ranch and then some oil wells it seemed like we were starting to get into the wilderness.  We ran into Santa Paula Creek and started following the trail upstream.

It didn’t seem like we were too far in and the trail started to get gnarly. At some points it was hard to follow, some parts partially washed out, or there would be various off-shoots. We kept debating if we should cross the stream or not, but we decided to stay to the right side and just kept following it up. This ended up working out; every time we thought we were off track we’d push through and then find the nice defined trail again.

There was one difficult part where we had to push through a grove of fallen trees. Not always easy with large backpacks on.

As we got further along the trail we started noticing orange spray-painted arrows. They seemed like they were pointing us in the right direction so we started following them. There was one point where the arrows took a turn and started leading us up into the hills away from the creek.  We were a little skeptical of this since we were headed for a trail camp, and trail camps are usually next to a water source. We decided just to trust the arrows and follow them up into the hills. The trail eventually leveled out and we finally came into Big Cone, the trail camp we were shooting for.

There was only one other group at the camp so that left us with plenty of other spots to pick from. We got a spot in a corner under a nice sized oak tree. Now the interesting part of this story is that our friends Nader and Lauren were going to attempt to meet us at this camp, however they would be navigating the confusing trail in the dark.

I think it was about 3am when I heard people outside my tent. I thought, “Did they actually make it? How??” I kinda thought I was dreaming. Sure enough in the morning I awoke to see Nader in full pajamas cookin’ up some breakfast. They shared their story of navigating the confusing trail during the night and how they came across a snake dangling from a tree branch right in front of their faces. Sounded like something out of Indiana Jones.

After breakfast we hiked up the trail to where the creek was to check out the area. We had read about other trail camps that were further upstream and thought we’d try and find them.

We came across this pretty neat waterfall where a lot of day hikers were headed. Unfortunately there is a lot of graffiti on the surrounding rocks.

There were only more confusing trails upstream. We were unable to find any other trail camps, but even if we had it would have been a hassle getting all our gear to them due to the stream crossings.

It was cool exploring the surrounding areas though. There was this almost water-slide looking part of the stream that was pretty cool.

Nader and Lauren, who had stayed behind, went down to go swimming at the waterfall after we got back to camp. I ended up checking out some of the awesome vistas near our camp.

It was a pretty fun day for everyone, and we all agreed navigating the crappy confusing trail was worth it.

The trek back to the car on Sunday was a lot easier and quicker than the way in, now that we knew the trail. There was still a lot of poison oak to avoid.

Poison oak was not the only thing we had to be on the lookout for. We ended up happening upon a large rattlesnake basking in the sun near the creek. By the look of the lump in it’s body, we guessed it was digesting a recent kill; it was very inactive.

What better way to end a good backpacking trip than with margaritas?

More pictures from the trip can be found here. Below is the route we took from the college to Big Cone trail camp (oneway).

Visiting Deep Creek Hot Springs

My friends and I have been wanting to visit some natural hot springs for a while now, and finally we got around to doing it.  I don’t really hear about many hot springs in Southern California that often (although I’m sure there are plenty), but somehow we found out about the ones in Deep Creek.

We tried to head out somewhat early Saturday morning, but actually hit the road around 9am.  It took us about 2 hours to get to Bowen Ranch where the trailhead to the hot springs is.  To enter the ranch each person is supposed to pay $5 and put it in an envelope with your cars license plate number on it.

After the entry to Bowen Ranch there is still a little bit of a drive down a dirt road until you finally reach the parking area for the trail to the hot springs.  The road is kind of crappy in some points but I managed to make it out there in my station wagon.

The trail is pretty clearly marked and offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and hills.  It winds 2.5 miles down into the hills towards Deep Creek which is actually in the San Bernardino National Forest.

When we finally arrived down at the creek we were surprised to see how many people were down there.  There weren’t that many cars in the parking lot, but apparently there is another “secret” trail that you can take to the creek which is shorter and where you don’t have to pay.  We were told it just takes some Google mapping skills to figure it out.

The trail ends at a kind of beach area and from there you have to cross the freezing creek to get to the actual hot springs on the other side.  We carried our cooler over so we could enjoy some beers while chilling in the hot springs.

The natural phenomenon of the hot springs was not as impressive as I thought it would be, it’s just kind of like being in a dirty jacuzzi with a bunch of slimy algae and strangers.  So I decided not to spend too much time in the hot springs, instead I found a high perch on top of the rocks which was perfect for people watching.  It was great seeing all the different walks of life gather around these hot pools of water.  Young and old, naked and clothed…  everyone was just hanging out and enjoying themselves.

The hike back out of the creek area can be a little intense if you are not prepared for it.  Luckily for us we consumed plenty of libations down at the creek which helped us  power through the hike back to the cars and completely forget about how bad it was.

San Bernardino National Forest on Google Earth

The US Forest Service has caught up with the times.  They now have a downloadable KMZ file available on their website for the entire San Bernardino Forest (viewable in Google Earth).  It includes trailheads, interpretive sites, picnic sites, day use areas, campgrounds, lookouts, foot trails, and roads.  I can see this being very useful.

Ghost Lights of Anza-Borrego

The Anza-Borrego Desert has a reputation for legends of treasure, folk-lore, ghost stories, and other unexplained phenomena.

The tale of the “Ghost Lights” was the first to catch my attention.  I’m not sure how I came across this, but I found this video which talks about the lights and other strange happenings that take place in the Anza-Borrego desert area.

I have never been out to the Anza-Borrego Desert but it seems like a great place for a spooky camping trip. I’ve plotted out some areas that may be worth checking out if I ever do make it out there in the map below.