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Hiking: Santa Clarita Valley

A Santa Susana Mountain Retreat

January 09, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

The natural attractions of the Santa Susana Mountains are many. North-facing slopes are covered with coast live-oak woodland; south-facing slopes present panoramas of coastal sage scrub, and both faces have ample grasslands. The upper ramparts of the range have a rich population of valley oak, considered by many to be the most beautiful variety of quercus .

Conservationists are attempting to create a 6,000-acre Santa Clarita Woodlands preserve within the mountains. They are off to a modest start with the preservation of part of Towsley Canyon, a tranquil retreat on the north side of the Santa Susanas, just out of sight and earshot of busy Interstate 5.

The Santa Susanas are an east-west range bordered on the south by the San Fernando Valley and on the north by Newhall, Valencia and the fast-growing Santa Clarita Valley. Conservationists have suggested that the range--whose middle and upper reaches are undeveloped except for a few oil wells and ranches--resembles the Santa Monica Mountains of 30 years ago.

The comparison with the Santa Monicas reveals some interesting differences. The highest peak in the Santa Susanas (Oat Mountain) reaches 3,740 feet; the Santa Monicas can claim only one peak higher than 3,000 feet, and most of the range is considerably lower. A second difference: While the Santa Monicas are chaparral-cloaked, oak and grassland predominate in much of the Santa Susanas.

The park in the canyon is named for longtime Los Angeles police chief and state Sen. Ed Davis, who authored legislation funding the purchase of Towsley Canyon in 1989. The park is administered by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, under the auspices of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Docents lead guided family nature hikes (reservations not required) on some weekends. Walks last about two hours.

Stop at the Sonia Thompson Nature Center, a small facility with nature and history exhibits. Towsley Canyon Lodge, which sleeps 18 and comes complete with meeting rooms and swimming pool, is available for rental by interested groups. For lodge reservations, call (805) 255-2974.

Directions to trail head: From Interstate 5 in Newhall, exit on Calgrove Boulevard. Turn west, then proceed south on the Old Road half a mile to the signed entrance for Ed Davis Park/Towsley Canyon and turn right. Continue another half-mile to the small parking lot near the nature center.

The hike: Canyon View Loop Trail begins near a seasonal creek, just east of the nature center. In short order, the path will take you through or near the various plant communities typical of the Santa Susana Mountains: grassland, coastal scrub and oak woodland.

The path climbs south, then east, up a hogback ridge. Ridge-top views include the impressive canyon rock formations and the burgeoning Santa Clarita Valley.

You'll descend from the ridge and bear left onto Wiley Canyon Trail, then make another left onto the park entrance road to return to the trail head.

Canyon View Loop Trail, Wiley Canyon Trail

WHERE: Ed Davis Park, Towsley Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley.

DISTANCE: 2 miles round trip.

TERRAIN: Oak and walnut woodland, prominent rock formations.

HIGHLIGHTS: Dramatic vistas, tranquillity just off interstate 5.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call Mountain Parks information Service at (800) 533-PARK.

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