Santa Paula Canyon

When I read that this is the most popular trail in the Ojai area I was expecting and easy walk up the canyon.  Wrong!  This is a rugged hike with some rock-hopping and scrambling over boulders – very tough.  Part of the trail was washed away a few years ago but new routes have been established.  This beautiful canyon has been marred by imbeciles with spray paint, overwhelmed to a point where it seems hopeless that it will ever return to something natural and pristine.  Still, a good day of hiking.

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5   Photo 1Early Morning, LA / Ventura County Line – I am treated to a “moonset” as the big orange moon disappears beneath the Pacific.  After driving through the town of Santa Paula along Highway 150, I arrived at the parking area near Thomas Aquinas College.  There is no parking for hikers on campus, you have to park in the pull-out across the road.  There is no fee.  I crossed the bridge and walked up the road 500 feet to the college entrance.  I followed the paved road for just over a mile.  There are numerous signs pointing the way.


Pond in front of the college.

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This chapel and bell tower are new additions circa 2009.  Thomas Aquinas is a tiny, Catholic, Liberal Arts college with a student population of just over 350.

11     12   The paved road continues past dorm rooms and then beyond the college to privately owned ranch land.


VIDEO: The paved road ends at two rocker pumps.  I followed the trail around the fence to the left.

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Very soon after the pumps I was taken down to the creek.  I crossed over and headed upstream.  Hiking through the dense vegetation of Santa Paula Canyon is confusing but the trail is marked, about every 10 yards or so, with some kind of indicator.  There are arrows painted in various colors on rocks, arrow stickers stuck to rocks and red tape tied to tree limbs.  I followed the markers and the trail was be relatively clear.  Without them I would have been trudging through the water and plowing through thick brush for several miles.  Of course it’s difficult to actually get lost because the creek is always close by.  I used the creek as my anchor.  It led me right to my turn around point – the foot of a waterfall/rock formation known as The Punch Bowl.  After the first stint of creek-side hiking, I picked up the old road, which really just looked like a good solid trail to me.

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25       26   The road returned me to the creek once again.  Somewhere along the way you will be able to pick up the road again, which will switchback up the side of the mountain.  At that point you will be traveling above the rough canyon hiking below.  I missed the turn but am now pretty sure where I went wrong.  My advice would be to stick to the right side as much as possible.  If you come across an option to go up to the right then take it and see if it takes you to the continuation of the old road.  I went left at the junction I suspect to be the turn-off and headed back down to the creek.  I had to stick with the creek all the way up to the Punch Bowl and this made for a slow, mentally and physically challenging hike.  Sometimes I was hiking right up the stream and climbing over big boulders.

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Sometimes I was pressed right up against the canyon wall and beneath these scary looking overhangs of crumbling rock.

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There are little pools and falls all the way up canyon.

40     41     42   Photo 2 – When you see signs like this you are close but still have some work to do.  Photo 3 – Go through here and you’re there.


At last, the Punch Bowl.  Actually, I read in one of my hiking guides that the true Punch Bowl is further up canyon still.  Who knows?  This looked like a Punch Bowl to me.

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46   I banged my camera on a rock and left three big gouges on the lens.

47   After such a rough ride up canyon I was eager to find the old road that sits above the Punch Bowl.  I saw a very steep trail heading up the side of the hill and went for it, scrambling up on all fours.  I did find this high road, which kept heading up canyon.


Looking down at the Punch Bowl from the old road above.

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53       54   I headed down the old road in hope of avoiding more rough creek side hiking.  The road led me right back down to the foot of the Punch Bowl.  I was confused and didn’t want to climb back up the hill so I just started back down the creek.  These shots show the mess I had to plow through.  Photo 6 – This is not the side of the trail, this is the trail.

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I came across this great looking snake


Because I missed that turn-off that would have taken me above the creek, this is yet another trail that just begs for a do-over…someday hopefully.


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