I’m not going to mince words here, or try to shoehorn a 68 point Scrabble word, the Ventura River Preserve is awesome. I am a wee bit biased; I live within 0.75, 1.5 and 2.25 miles from the three trailheads (I can hit the McDonalds with a 3 iron!) I receive a regular income from the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, who happen to do a bang-up job of designing, maintaining and promoting 40 miles of trails on almost 1,600 acres of protected land surrounding three miles of the Ventura River. And of course, I’m a huge plant and nature nerd. Who needs porn when you have the Santa Monica Mountains Wildflower Finder site?
By my humble estimations I’ve logged 1,000 miles per year for the past 6 years on the VRP, so I think I can share a nugget or two of wisdom with my fellow nerds. Difficulty levels on the preserve range from flat and paved to moderately difficult and scrambly. We’ve got river bottom, chaparral, deep oak forest and a million ecotones in between.
Before we get to the trails here are the basics. There are some pretty good maps here on the OVLC website. Three trailheads; Old Baldwin Road, Rice Road, and Oso Road (from south to north). For a point of reference on the difficulty scale I’d consider a 1 paved flat road and a 10 rocky scrambly and 30 degrees slope or more, which we don’t really have around here. Hiking times assume a 3 mile per hour average walking pace. And not to alienate half of my 14 readers, but I don’t enjoy sharing the trails with horses and their calf-high steaming piles of manure every 10 yards.
This week we will tackle the three closer trails: Let’s do it.
The Basics: Ample parking at the Old Baldwin trailhead. First 1/8 of a mile is paved for wheelchair access. Two main trails, one along the river, one closer to the houses on the east edge of the preserve, with a few connectors in between, making various loops possible. Can connect to the other OVLC trails as long as the river isn’t too high. Mostly flat terrain, difficulty a 2 at worst. Nice views of surrounding mountains. Trailhead available 7:30 to sundownish, after which the gate is locked with walk-in access. And, so you know, if your car is locked in for some reason, the gate will automatically open if you pull up close enough.
Common Species: Black sage, white sage, hoary ceanothus, black walnut, oak
Rare Stuff: Sugarbush, prickly pear, turkish rugging, Fish’s milkwort, bush lupine
Why I Love It: Half mile from my house. Flat, easy and somewhat scenic. Though there is plenty of horse parking, not many of them use it. The least populous of the trailheads.
Why I Avoid It: It can get a bit boring, not much of a workout. You can see all the houses on Old Baldwin and Rancho Matilija, so it’s not as remote as I usually like.
The Basics: You can start at the north or middle parking lot. Two somewhat parallel trails running north/south, with a number of connector trails between. You do not cross the river (you can, but those will be covered in other trails). Very flat, maybe some gopher holes on the side to watch out for, a 2 on the difficulty scale. Tad more than 3 miles end to end, an hour hike.
Common Species: Bigberry manzanita, coast live oak, toyon, buckwheat, black sage
Rare Stuff: Bush poppy, Matilija poppy, chaparral honeysuckle, canchalagua
Why I Love It: It is my favorite rainy day hiking trail. Most trails around here either get very slippery, or the mud cakes to your boots until you are 6 inches taller and then it falls off in mid-stride and you almost trip. Riverbottom is mostly sand so it doesn’t clump. It’s also flat and pretty and very familiar.
Why I Avoid It: Busy busy busy. Lots of horse traffic (and their attendant refuse), bikes, people with dogs off leash who really don’t belong off leash. I avoid this trail like the plague on weekends and holidays.
Wills/Rice Canyon Loop
The Basics: You can start at the north or middle parking lot. Cross the Ventura River at either the north or middle crossing and into the forest you go. “Cowtown”, in Rice Canyon is technically Forest Service land, between the two gates. Wills Canyon is a stunning deep forest of old growth oaks and acres of snowberry from which you can connect to the Fern Grotto (and then Chaparral Crest) trails. A nice mix of forest, chaparral and river bottom. About 5 miles total, with some pretty good little hills, I’d give it a 4 on difficulty.
Common Species: Snowberry, hummingbird sage, poison oak (in the forests), purple sage, scrub oak
Rare Stuff: Fuchsia flowered gooseberry, chaparral currant, hairy ceanothus, fairy lantern
Why I Love It: Great variety of flora. Plenty of shade in Wills Canyon, good for hot summer hikes. Cowtown has some great wildflowers.
Why I Avoid It: Can also be busy with riffraff on weekends, I’d go early if possible. Crossing the river can be tough in wet years. Cowtown lives up to its moniker in spring and summer, piles of cowflop all over the place.
Next post, we hit the harder trails and do some climbing…