Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hiking with the rug rats (Millard Canyon Falls)

What's so great about it? The hike up to Millard Canyon Falls is less than a mile long, alongside a trickling creek, under the shade of oaks, eucalyptus, cypress and who knows what other trees. Follow the well-worn single-track trail up the creek bed, crossing the stream about a dozen times, and before you know it you'll be looking up at a 60-foot waterfall.
Kids will love this hike because it's short, involves jumping over an ankle-deep creek and remains cool even on the hottest summer days.
No, there is not enough water for kids to swim in. For that, I recommend Eaton Canyon Falls, a three-mile hike just down the road along Altadena Road. (A post on Eaton Canyon is coming soon.)
What to expect: The falls will be crowded on weekends. Start early to avoid the crowds. Also, to park at the lot at the trail head you need a national forest parking pass. The park rangers don't check often but if they do and you don't have a pass, you'll get nailed.
Directions: From the 210 freeway, take the Lake Avenue exit north until it ends and turn left on Alta Loma Drive. Continue until you see a flashing yellow light overhead. Turn right on Chaney Road. Continue until it ends in a parking lot. From the lot, follow the trail toward Millard Canyon campground. After you pass the campground, the trail will head to the right along the creek bed.
(photo credit: me)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Get hooked on fishing (Castaic Lake)

What's so great about it? There will be great debate over the best fishing lake in Southern California.... Don't get me started. Lake Casitas near Ojai is great and so is Diamond Valley in Riverside County. But if we are talking about lakes within a short drive of downtown Los Angeles, Castaic is it. Professional anglers believe Castaic has a strong chance of producing a world's record bass. But what makes it great is how accessible it is. From Los Angeles, you can get to the lake in less than an hour (depending on traffic, of course). The entrance fee is only $11, and, as the photo demonstrates, anyone can land a whooper. Of course, it can get crowded on weekends so I suggest calling in sick from work and show up early on a weekday.
Directions: Take I-5 north about 37 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Take the Parker Road exit. Turn right on Ridge Route Road and another right on Castaic Lake Road. For more details to to the lake's website.
(photo credit: Castaic Lake State Recreation Area)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Modern camping with kids (Lake Casitas)

What's great about it: Lake Casitas has it all for the hard-core angler and camper and for the water-loving kids in the family. At Lake Casitas, you can pitch a tent in a primitive campsite or park an RV on a spot with sewer and electrical services. As for fishing, Lake Casitas is considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the state. Just check out the photos of the monster fish at the bait shop next to the dock. Keeping the kids entertained will be easy: Let them loose in the water park and lazy river. Both are supervised by lifeguards. My favorite section is the lazy river. Just grab an inner tube and let the current push you around all afternoon.
Camping supplies are available at a store within the park.
Warning: This place gets pretty crowded on weekends. Get there early or call to make reservations. For more details, go to
Directions: From Los Angeles, take U.S. 101 north for about 70 miles. Take California 33 east toward Ojai and continue for about 10 miles. Turn left onto California 150 (Baldwin Road), then left again onto Santa Ana Road. The park entrance is on the right.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Run Forrest, Run! (Santa Ynez Canyon Trail)

What's great about it: This loop trail takes you through all the wonderful terrain that Southern California has to offer, from scrub land to shady woods. Be ready to jump over streams and duck under fallen branches. But the payoff to this run comes when you reach the summit and get a view of the Pacific Ocean, with Catalina Island in the distance.

What to expect:: This 9.5-mile loop has a 1,400-foot elevation gain in Topanga State Park. It's a moderately difficult run with a rugged climb near the start and a three-mile descent at the end. The loop goes along the Trailer Canyon Fire Road to the Temescal Ridge Fire Road to the Eagle Road Fire Road and ends on the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail.

Directions: From Sunset Boulevard, drive east on Palisades Drive, turn left on Vereda de la Montura and look for the trail head on the right.

For more details go

(photo credit: MTB Trail Review)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Get lost in these tide pools (Portugues Bend, Palos Verdes)


What's great about it? These wonderful tide pools are in the Abalone Cove Ecological Reserve off Portuguese Bend. A great tide pool is an attraction for the whole family and requires almost no skills to enjoy. Just watch your footing when stepping around the tiny critters in the water.
What you'll see: Hermit crabs, anemones, star fish, shells, sea weed and lots of other crawling, darting, swimming creatures.
Address: 5970 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes.
For more details go to the city of Rancho Palos Verdes web site.
Fees: $5 parking fee per car.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Star gazing in the desert (Joshua Tree)

What's so great about it: Joshua Tree is about as far from civilization as you can get in Southern California. And that means city lights won't ruin your view of the night sky. But more than that, Joshua Tree is also a wonderland of boulders, cacti and shrubs. No need to worry about trees blocking your view of the heavens. Telescopes and binoculars will bring the stars and planets to life but you can get a great view with the naked eye.

Where to go? Try to be there on a night for a scheduled star party, hosted by the Andromeda Society, the local astronomy group. The group holds their parties at Happy Valley picnic area. The gatherings are free to the public. The amateur astronomers allow visitors to peek through their telescopes. For details on the parties, go to the Joshua Tree web sites.

A note of warning: Joshua Tree can get extremely hot during the summer. Spring and fall are better times to visit.

Directions: Go to the Joshua Tree web site for directions.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Los Angeles, ranked 18th and moving up.

For those of you who still doubt that Los Angeles has anything to offer society other than police chases, tabloid fodder and movies based on old 1970's TV shows, here is a Forbes article that ranks Los Angeles in the top 20 of outdoor towns.

(Photo: The city skyline of Los Angeles.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bird watching in the big city (Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve)

What's so great about it? This 225-acre reserve, only a few miles from shopping malls and busy freeway interchanges, is home to a menagerie of glorious birds, such as egrets, cormorants, hawks and dozens of song birds. No need to drive miles up a winding mountain road to snap photos of wonderful feathered creatures. Once in the reserve, follow the smooth dirt paths to Wildlife Lake, where you will see an amazing variety of birds. (OK, so this is not the beautiful Bosque Del Apache, but where else can you see so many birds so close to a smoggy, traffic-choked megalopolis?) Bring water, a camera and binoculars.

A note to visitors: Volunteers with the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society lead tours on the first Sunday of every month from 8am-11:30 am, year-round. There is also a Bird Walk on the second Saturday of winter months between October and March starting at 8:30 A.M. and ending around 11:00 A.M.

Address: 6350 Woodley Ave. Van Nuys, CA 91406
For more info go to the reserve website.
(Photo by the Los Angeles Times)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Down by the old swimming hole (Hermit Falls)

What's so great about it? The hike to Hermit Falls in the Angeles National Forest is almost as soothing and picturesque as a dip in the swimming hole above the falls. You hike for less than five miles along a single-track dirt path, through groves of cottonwood, eucalyptus and oak trees, bordering a cute, trickling stream. The swimming hole is deep and bordered by huge granite boulders, perfect for kamikaze cannonball dives. Then dry off on the warm rocks.

A note of warning: Jump at your own risk. There are no medical emergency services nearby. You get injured and you are going to have to limp back out.

Directions: From Interstate 210, take Santa Anita Avenue north to the Chantry Flats. Go past the gate and down the paved road into the canyon. Trail signs direct you to Hermit Falls. A large metal pipe on your left marks the swimming hole.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

April showers bring desert flowers (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park)

Anza-Borrego Wildflowers

What's so great about it? From the window of a jet, flying overhead, the desert east of San Diego seems like a vast stretch of wasteland, devoid of life and beauty. But in the spring, Anza-Borrego flourishes with wild flowers that carpet the desert floor with brilliant shades of purple, white, crimson and yellow.

What you'll see: Sand verbena, ocotillo, desert lilies, chuparosa.

Favorite thing to do: Give everyone in your party a camera and challenge them to come up with the best flower photo. I did this with my ten-year-old daughter and we had a great time.

When to go? The flowers start to sprout and bloom in March and begin to fade by the end of April. Call the park for updates and directions to the blooms. (760-767-5311).

Directions: Drive in along Highways S22 and 78. From the coast, these highways descend from the heights of the Peninsular range of mountains with spectacular views of the great bowl of the Colorado Desert. Highway S2 enters the park from the south off of Interstate 8. Look for the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center, 200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs.

For more details go to the park website.

Mountain biking on the cheese! (Cheeseboro/ Palo Comado Canyons)

What's so great about it? The fire roads and trails at Cheeseboro/Palo Camado Canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains in Agoura Hills cut through grassland hills and oak woods, skirting along babbling creeks and climbing to peaks that look down on the Conejo Valley. These trails are perfect for beginners and intermediate riders. Nothing too technically difficult. The toughest sections you'll encounter are steep drops over "baby-head" rocks.

My favorite feature? The land is home to a menagerie of animals, including some beautiful hawks and majestic deer. Take your time to spot the critters and breathe in the scent of wild flowers.

Where to ride? First time riders should stick to the Cheeseboro Canyon trail from the main entrance off Chesebro Road. It follows a stream bed, past picnic areas and near a sulfur springs where you can smell the odor of rotten eggs. (Maps of the trails are available at the trail head.)

For a more challenging ride continue beyond the "Sheep Corral" near the north end of the park and follow Palo Comado Canyon Trail to the Simi Peak at 2,403 feet above sea level. The view is worth the climb.

A word of warning: There is no drinking water in this park so pack plenty. Shade is also minimal so dress appropriately on hot days.

Directions: From Highway 101, take the Chesebro Road exit near Agoura Hills and head north, following the signs to the main park entrance. Bathrooms are located at the trail head. Click here for a trail map.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This spring is really hot! (Deep Creek)

Deep Creek 018

What's so great about it? Deep Creek has a series of hot spring pools, each one hotter than the other. The hottest spring pool is searing hot and it feels great to soak for a few seconds and then jump into the cool waters of Deep Creek. The hot springs are in the cradle of a bend in Deep Creek, surrounded by massive granite boulders, willows, cotton wood and Joshua trees. The scenery is breathtaking.

A few notes of caution. The hot springs are located in the desert south of Apple Valley, where temperatures can be brutally hot. Plus, you will be soaking in water over 100 degrees, so dehydration is a definite danger. So, bring lots of water. In fact, bring twice as much as you think you will need. One more thing: The springs are clothing optional so if you are uncomfortable with nudity, beware. Lastly, bring sunblock. During my last visit, I spent so much time standing naked in the sun, staring at other naked bathers that I got sun burned in parts that should never get any sun.

No overnight camping.

Directions. From Los Angeles, drive north on Interstate 15 toward Hesperia. Exit east on Bear Valley Road and continue for about 10 miles. Turn right on Central Avenue and go about
three miles, turning left on Ocotillo Way. Go two miles to Bowen Ranch Road. Paved road becomes dirt. Continue on Bowen Ranch Road for about six miles.

When you reach private property known as Bowen Ranch, you will come to a stop sign. The ranch owner charges $5 to park on the land. Slip the money into the supplied envelope, write your license plate number on the outside and drop the envelope into the metal slot. Take a trail map offered at the ranch entrance. Trail posts numbered “3W02” mark the route. Follow it two miles to a bend in Deep Creek, where you will see a rope stretched across the water. Cross there.

For more detailed directions go to