Tag Archives: Los Padres National Forest

Camping at Wheeler Gorge and Hiking to Rose Valley Falls

The original plan was to camp at the Rose Valley Campground, however once we got there Friday afternoon we found that the small drive-up campground was filled. We headed back down highway 33 to the bigger Wheeler Gorge campground and paid for a spot there. We got a fairly nice little spot there that was somewhat secluded and not too close to anyone else.

In the morning we made breakfast burritos and coffee. Damn I love a good camp breakfast.

Oh, we also made a spur of the moment rope swing.

After we ate breakfast and the morning foolishness was done we headed out for some hiking off highway 33. It was an awesome day out in the hills of the Los Padres National Forest.

We finally made our way back to Rose Valley Campground where we had tried to camp the night before. Nothing had changed with all the campsites still taken. We parked in a dirt area right outside the campground and accessed the Rose Valley Falls trailhead. The trailhead can be found towards the back of the camp. Look for the sign.

The hike to the falls is quite short, about a mile round trip, but totally worth going. It’s a nice shaded trail and very well traveled. We saw about 15-20 people on the trail while we were there.

The waterfall is quite impressive.  About 300ft of moss covered rock with water falling over it. When we arrived at the falls there was a crowd of other hikers standing around watching a group of people rappelling down the face of it.

There was also a cave where you could crawl in behind the waterfall. It’s a tight squeeze getting in the cave, and you get a little wet, but once inside the cave is big enough that you can to stand up in it.

We hung out near the waterfall for a while but finally headed back to our camp for food and drink. After sundown we made a campfire and talked and drank into the night.

It would have been nice to have camped at Rose Valley but Wheeler Gorge turned out to be alright. It’s just a bigger campground which also accommodates the RV crowd and is right next to the highway.

Map of Wheeler Gorge Campground:

Map of Rose Valley Campground (Trailhead to the falls):

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).