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HIKING: Simi Valley

Amid the 'Burbs, a Peak That's the Real McCoy

November 01, 1998|JOHN McKINNEY

Two hundred years ago a cross atop a Simi Valley peak was a landmark to the friars and other travelers who trudged the dusty trail from mission to mission. A cross still stands atop this peak, now named Mt. McCoy. It remains a beacon to travelers and a ready reference point for valley residents.

Thanks to recent efforts by the Rancho Simi Trail Group, the cross and 1,325-foot mountaintop are now accessible by a well-constructed new footpath. From Mt. McCoy's summit ridge, hikers can join an old dirt road that leads to Presidential Drive, which, in turn, leads a short distance to the entrance of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

For a half-day adventure, hike over Mt. McCoy through Reagan Country to the presidential library, tour the museum and have lunch at the museum cafe, then march back to the trail head.

During California's mission era, the padres' pathway (El Camino Real) skirted Mt. McCoy as it crossed the Simi Valley on its way from Mission San Fernando to Mission Buenaventura. American cartographers noted the presence of a cross atop the summit on their maps as early as 1858.

In the 1920s, the cross was replaced using enormous timbers hauled up the hill by industrious 12-year-old Methodist Sunday School boys. The current reinforced concrete cross was erected in 1941.

The new Mt. McCoy Trail, with its carefully engineered switchbacks, replaces a straight-up-the-hill path that appeared to be made by use, not design. The reward for the now-moderate ascent to the summit is clear-day vistas of Mt. Baldy and the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Monica Mountains and the Ojai back country.

Directions to trail head: From westbound California 118 (Ronald Reagan Freeway), in the city of Simi Valley, exit on Madera Road south and go one mile south to Royal Avenue. Turn right, then make an immediate right on Acapulco followed by an immediate left on Washburn Street. Drive a block to the trail head on the left. Park carefully and courteously along this residential street.

Alternatively, from the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) in Thousand Oaks, drive north on California 23 and exit on Olsen Road. Head east on Olsen, which soon becomes Madera Road and bends north. Turn left (west) on Royal Avenue, then follow the above directions.

The hike: The path heads southwest, skirting the base of Mt. McCoy. Off to your right, you'll spot the old retired trail, which makes a switchback-less, straight-line assault on the summit.

Most of the mountain is covered with common chaparral, but two threatened-with-extinction plants cling to life on Mt. McCoy's slopes: Lyon's pentachaeta, a small yellow member of the sunflower family, and the Conejo dudleya, a bluish-green, fist-size succulent.

Shadeless Mt. McCoy Trail twice passes tantalizingly close to (but does not enter) an oak grove. Near the top, the trail builder's fine art is displayed: well-done switchbacks over the volcanic rock topping Mt. McCoy.

Make your way to the cross and admire the views. Simi Valley itself is a checkerboard of suburban developments. The oldest ones (with mature trees and landscaping) appear as dark green squares, newer 'burbs as a sea of shimmering roofs.

Reagan Library-bound hikers will double back along the summit ridge and join the dirt road heading south, then bending west. The view south takes in a couple of reservoirs and golf courses as well as Conejo Ridge, crowned by 2,403-foot Simi Peak.

The dirt road ends at Presidential Drive. Ascend the drive 0.3 mile to the Reagan Library.

Hiking/Simi Valley

Mt. McCoy Trail

WHERE: Mt. McCoy, Rancho Simi Recreation & Park District.

DISTANCE: To Mt. McCoy summit is 2.6 miles round trip with 600-foot elevation gain; to Reagan Library is 4 miles round trip.

TERRAIN: Landmark peak on suburbia's edge.

HIGHLIGHTS: Valley and mountain views; trail access to Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, tel. (805) 584-4400.

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