Cheeseboro Canyon: Spring north of the 101

Palo Camado view
View of Palo Comado Canyon from the Ranch Center Connector Trail

Although this hasn’t been the greenest of springs in Southern California, one of the lushest hikes around (usually) is Cheeseboro Canyon, near Agoura Hills. Forget hiking here in the summer when it’s Dante’s Inferno. Late winter and spring is when Cheeseboro shines like an emerald gem.

Cheeseboro track copy

We usually do an out-and-back hike about three miles in on the Cheeseboro Canyon Trail to Sulphur Springs — which is great if time is of the essence — but a few weeks ago we opted for an 8.3-mile loop incorporating Cheeseboro and Palo Comado canyons. The canyons are in the northernmost section of the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, technically part of the Simi Hills. It was a great trek but, um, took a bit longer than I thought it would.

Cheeseboro trees

After an initial gentle ascent, the first mile of trail/fire road is mostly level. If you’re an oak tree lover, you’ll find this canyon heavenly. The grass-covered hillsides are peppered with valley oaks and coast live oaks. The slopes were just greening up when we were there, and in a good-rain year they’re vibrant yellow with black mustard, the nonnative plant that’s so well adapted to our Mediterranean climate. We blamed the paltry winter rains on the complete lack of mustard, but parts of the valley floor and hill grasses were verdant green.

We headed 2.5 miles on Cheeseboro Canyon Trail and turned left on to the Ranch Center Connector trail. This 1.1-mile trail is moderately steep and connects the two canyons, offering up gorgeous views, including the Baleen Wall rock formation, directly northeast.

Cheeseboro-Baleen

These canyons were once home to cattle ranches and were grazed for more than 150 years. Hence the abundance of nonnative plants, which took over when native plants couldn’t adapt to the overgrazing. Ranchers eventually killed off the grizzlies that once roamed the hillsides here. Today, the area is a mecca for birdwatchers — keep your eyes peeled for hawks and other raptors, which prey on the canyon’s small mammals and reptiles.

From the Ranch Center Connector, we headed left (south) on Palo Comado Canyon Trail, which eventually bends east (called Palo Comado Connector on the NPS trail map). The views felt more primitive and less expansive in Palo Comado, the trail undulating past a horse property near a turnoff to Smoketree Avenue — an alternative route that eventually leads to Kanan Road.

Cheeseboro sunset

We stayed on Palo Comado as light faded and coyotes began to howl. Palo Comado Connector — an old ranch road — lead to Modelo Trail, which provided views of both canyons. By now it was nearly dark and we skedaddled along the Modelo Spur back to the parking area.

This is one of the NPS areas where dogs are allowed and you won’t wander on to dog-restricted state park land. Keep in mind that horses and particularly mountain bikers also frequent these canyons, so be sure to keep Fido on-leash (plus, it’s a big ticket if a ranger catches you off-leash).

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