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Hiking / Rocky Peak, Chumash Trails

New Trail Now Open in Susanas

May 05, 1991|JOHN McKINNEY

The Santa Susana Mountains contain some of the least-visited hiking destinations in Southern California. A quick orientation: The Santa Susana Mountains are bordered on the south by the San Fernando Valley and the north by Newhall, Valencia and the fast-growing Santa Clarita Valley. To the west, the mountains adjoin the gentler Simi Hills and extend well into Ventura County. Granada Hills lies on the eastern end of the range.

Surely it's not for lack of beauty that the Santa Susanas are seldom visited. The north-facing slopes are covered with coast live oak woodland, while south-facing slopes present panoramas of coastal sage scrub and grassland. The upper ramparts of the range have an unusually rich population of valley oak, considered by many oak lovers to be the most beautiful variety of quercus.

The main reason that so few hikers tramp the range is lack of public access. Fortunately, the Santa Susana Mountains have a few friends--the Santa Susana Mountain Parklands Assn., the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks District and concerned citizens--who are working to preserve the mountains. Some conservationists suggest that, in terms of development, the Santa Susanas resemble the Santa Monica Mountains of 30 to 40 years ago.

One conservation success story is the preservation of Runkle Ranch, now known as Rocky Peak Park. The park, which straddles the Los Angeles/Ventura county line, sets aside some much-needed "breathing" room for the fast-growing Simi Valley.

The rocks of Rocky Peak are sandstone outcroppings that geologists say were formed about 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic Era. Besides its namesake promontory, 4,369-acre Rocky Peak Park includes Las Llajas and Blind canyons. These canyons have two of the most pleasant seasonal streams in the mountains. After a good rain, waterfalls cascade down the canyons.

Rocky Peak Park, while open to the public, is in political limbo. The land is still owned by entertainer Bob Hope, but used under an interim agreement as a park. Rocky Peak will become permanent parkland if a controversial and complicated land swap is accomplished: Hope would be allowed highway access through national parkland in Cheeseboro Canyon, thus permitting a major housing development and golf course to be constructed; in exchange, Hope would donate/sell land in Cheeseboro Canyon and elsewhere as parkland.

In the meantime, while lawyers argue and politicians posture, hikers can enjoy a trek on the new Chumash Trail, signed and dedicated earlier this month. A new trail, always a cause for celebration in Southern California, is particularly welcome in the Santa Susana Mountains, where access for recreation has always been poor.

Chumash Trail begins in Chumash Park on the outskirts of Simi Valley and leads 2 1/2 miles to connect with Rocky Peak Trail. It provides access to Blind Canyon and the rolling meadowlands of the Santa Susana Mountains to the north. The trail is a good introduction to the charms of the Santa Susanas.

Directions to Rocky Peak trail head: From Highway 118 in Simi Valley (the Simi Valley-San Fernando Valley Freeway), exit on Rocky Peak Road (one exit west of Topanga Canyon Boulevard). The trail head is immediately opposite the end of the freeway off-ramp. Note: You can exit on Rocky Peak Road only by traveling west on Highway 118.

Directions to Chumash trail head: From Highway 118 in Simi Valley, exit on Yosemite Avenue. Head north half a mile to Flanagan Drive, turn right and drive three-quarters of a mile to road's end and Chumash Park.

The hike (via Rocky Peak Trail): Start at the locked gate of the fire road (closed to vehicles) and begin the ascent. Soon you'll get a grand view (if you turn around, that is) across the freeway to the historic Santa Susana Pass, once crossed by stagecoaches.

The fire road continues up and up, with only a lone oak along the trail for shade. Rocky Peak is off to the right (east) of the trail. From the peak and smaller related peaks, you'll get vistas of the San Fernando Valley, Simi Valley, high peaks of Los Padres National Forest, Anacapa Island and the Santa Barbara Channel. Way off to the right (west) is the new Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

From Chumash Park, Chumash Trail heads north from the end of Flanagan Drive. The path soon parallels a creek, makes a half circle around a minor hill, then begins climbing in earnest high above Blind Canyon.

The well-built path was designed by master trail builder Ron Webster, whose recent handiwork is in evidence in both the Santa Monica and Verdugo mountains. Trail connoisseurs will appreciate the gentle but steady grade and the way it flows with the grain of the land.

Two and a half miles of steady ascent brings you to an intersection with Rocky Peak Trail. If you turn right (south) on this trail, it's about a mile walk to Rocky Peak. A left turn leads 2 1/2 miles to the park boundary and a large oak savanna.

Rocky Peak, Chumash Trails Where: Rocky Peak Park Distance: 6 miles round trip, with 1,200-foot elevation gain to Rocky Peak via Rocky Peak Trail; 7 miles round trip with 1,400-foot elevation gain to Rocky Peak via Chumash Trail. Terrain: Rocky peaks, oak-lined canyons. Highlights: New trail, valley and coastal views. Precautions: No facilities of any kind in park. For more information: Call Mountain Parks Information Service. (800) 533-7275

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