Oso Canyon / Aliso Canyon

I returned to Santa Ynez this week and had a great time.  Creekside hiking, ridgetop hiking, meadow hiking – this hike had it all including peace and quiet and plenty of solitude.  I felt physically and mentally strong as my new hiking strategies seem to be paying off big.

1     2     3   From San Marcos Pass (CA-154) I turned onto Paradise Road and drove 5.8 miles to the Lower Oso Day Use Area.  Just before the parking lot I had to drive over a water crossing.  It turned out to be not too deep but I couldn’t help but hold my breath until I reached the other side.  Stalling out in the middle would have been a huge bummer.  Beyond the parking area, I walked over to the fork in the road.  I followed the sign pointing me toward Upper Oso Campground.  I walked up the road 0.3 miles, crossed a little bridge and took the unmarked trail that runs between Lower Oso and Upper Oso camps.

4               5

This was a nice little trail, very grassy and about one mile in length.  The trail parallels the road to the campground.

6       7      8       9

10       11   I arrived at Upper Oso campground and hiked through looking for my next trail, which was marked on my map as “Canyon Trail”.  This trail runs next to Oso Creek and up to Santa Cruz Trail, which would then take me to Nineteen Oaks Camp.  I was confused by my map and also the sign at the end of the parking lot which reads, “Aliso Trail”.  There was no mention of a Canyon Trail and I knew Aliso Trail definitely didn’t start from this trailhead.  I circled around the parking lot again and found no new clues so I took the trail marked Aliso Trail.  Just a few yards later I found myself at a junction with the left fork being the connector trail that leads to Aliso Trail.  I went straight on what I assumed was Canyon Trail.

12     13     14   In a short distance I followed a trail sign that pointed hikers across the creek.  I crossed the creek and wound up on Buckhorn Road, a dirt road that also parallels Oso Creek but is on the other side.  This was confusing, of course.  Why was I on the road and where was the trail?

15               16   I continued up the road, which has a nice view of the creek just below and some interesting rock walls on the other side.

17     18     19   I enjoyed the overcast conditions.  It wouldn’t last long.

20     21     22   I reached a point where the road turns off sharply to the right and Santa Cruz Trail begins.  I immediately felt like I was on a real trail again.  Very soon after I got on Santa Cruz Trail I came to another puzzling junction.  One sign warned hikers that this spot is the last place to get water for another five miles.  The second, another trail sign with arrows, pointed straight down a little trail that broke off from the main one and headed back in the direction from which I had just come.  Was this a short spur which just led down to the creek?  Or was this the trail that I somehow missed which runs next to the creek all the way from Upper Oso?  I continued straight on Santa Cruz for now but would give this breakaway trail a shot on my way back.


24                    2526     27     28   Photos 1 and 2 – I crossed over a little waterfall.


As I made my way north toward camp, Little Pine Mountain came into view.  Santa Cruz Trail leads there and I toyed with the idea of continuing on, but realized it would just be too long a haul.

30               31

Close-ups of the top of Little Pine Mountain.  I thought the orange color on top was dirt when I saw it from the trail.  When I look at the photographs it makes me think the orange might be a thick cluster California poppies.

32     33     34   Photo 1 – There were many beautiful wildflowers blooming next to the trail today.  This one was being enjoyed by a little, green caterpillar.  Photo 2 – Rock Abstract

35       36      37       38

A couple of miles from Upper Oso Campground is the turn-off for Nineteen Oaks Camp, which sits above the trail.  I pictured a small area surrounded by oaks but the camp is pretty spread out.  I only saw a couple of camp sites but short trails encircle the area.

39               40

45   A little gain in elevation led to nice views.

41               42

I’d like to visit this rock.

43     44   Here is a campsite, complete with a primitive stove, picnic table and wagon for gathering fire wood.  I sat at the table for a few minutes and enjoyed the darkness beneath the trees.  A cool wind blew through the site just at the right time.


47       48      49       50

Photo 3 – As I walked past I spotted a snake slither into this brush.  Can you see him?

52               53

The high point in the distance, topped by trees, I’m pretty certain is the Santa Barbara Front Country’s highest point, La Cumbre Peak.

51   Although the trail rambled on, I turned around here and said goodbye to Nineteen Oaks Camp.

54       55      56       57

I made my way back toward Upper Oso Campground.  Right before I exited Santa Cruz Trail I came to that turn-off that I saw on the way up, the one that leads down to the creek.  I figured that maybe this trail ran all the way back to Upper Oso and somehow I missed it on my way up.  I reached the creek and crossed over.  The trail continued on the other side.  The trail seemed to dead end at a grassy meadow.  Maybe it continues and the grass has now hidden it.  In any case, I turned back here because there was no more trail to follow.

58               60

59   I returned to the creek crossing and thought I would just walk straight down the creek to get back to Upper Oso.  The going was really easy for creek hiking.  In fact I had that very thought right before I stepped off a rock and sunk down into the soft mud all the way above my knees.  I tried moving forward and sank a little more.  Old movie scenes in which the hero is trapped in quicksand sprung to mind.  Finally I turned around and grabbed hold of the rock and pulled myself free.  I decided to play it safe, backtrack and return to the dirt road.


62     63   Back near where I first got on the dirt road in the morning, the creek runs through a tight section known as the Narrows.  There is a little trail leading down to the creek at what, from what I could see, is the most dramatic section.



Oso Creek Narrows

66       67      68       69

Photo 1 – Trough overgrown with algae, like it hasn’t been cleaned in years.  I arrived back at Upper Oso Campground, washed off my legs and boots and sat down for lunch.  After a nice rest I headed back out, this time taking the left turn onto the connector trail between Oso and Aliso canyons.

70     71   The connector trail would take me to the top in about a half mile distance.  There was something odd about the plants populating the hillsides.  Something shiny yet dark and I’ve seen this look before when an invasive ivy begins to take over.  A good example of how mercilessly this ivy can spread, here is a yucca plant completely enveloped.



Awesome views from the top.

74     75     76   I reached a flat area and the end of the connector trail.  I began Aliso Loop by continuing uphill to the left for just a few more yards.

77               78

79       80      82       83

The trail runs down along the ridge.  Photo 4 – I believe that’s Sage Hill Campground down below, or possibly First Crossing Day Use Area.


Bright yellow mustard covered the hills in large patches.

84       85      86       91

87   Photo 5 – There were two spots along the trail where I had to pass by swarming ground bees.  I saw this same species when hiking in Point Mugu State Park.  They live underground and are considered one of the more docile type of bees.


The trail got a little too thin and the drop-off a little too extreme for my personal taste, but I managed fine.

89               90

Steep switchbacks took me to the bottom of Aliso Canyon.

92               93

I enjoyed a little shade, but just for awhile.  Photo 2 – Fossilized God

94     95     96   The first mile of Aliso Canyon Trail is an interpretive trail.  I didn’t have accompanying pamphlet so the markers meant nothing to me.  15 is the last marker before the trail climbs out of the canyon again.  Up I went, but the this half of the loop didn’t seem as steep as the first.

97               98

More semi-sketchiness.

100       99      101       102

Photo 2 – Weird wasp with metallic green body and red wings.  Photo 3 – Almost to the metal trail sign where I would complete the loop.  Photo 4 – Accidental photo of foxtails.  I like it for some reason.

103               104

I felt great as I turned for home.  After 11 hours on the trail, I finished fast and strong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *