The 10-mile-long, 3-mile wide Ojai Valley, surrounded by coastal mountain ranges has always had a sequestered feeling. The native Chumash called this region Ojai, meaning “nest.”
Four trails at the edge of town combine to form a loop hike and offer fine vistas of the lovely valley, which has spawned an artists colony and music festival as well as a number of health resorts, faith-based enclaves and spiritual retreats. Ojai Valley was the setting for Shangri-La in the 1937 movie “Lost Horizon.”
Gridley and Pratt are Ojai’s most easily accessible and popular north-south trails. East-west trending Fuelbreak Road and Shelf Road connect to Gridley and Pratt to create a memorable hike. Fuelbreak Road Trail is the wilder of the two with grander views, while Shelf Road is more multi-use with lots of dog-walkers.
This loop hike offers great vistas of the town and valley: Ojai’s harmonious Spanish architecture, sweet-smelling citrus groves and the sometimes misty, sometimes mystical Ojai Valley.
From Highway 33 in the heart of downtown Ojai, turn north on North Signal and drive 0.8 mile to a water tank and a signed road on your left. Turn left and drive 0.3 mile on this road, past Ventura County flood control works and Stewart Canyon Debris Basin to a turnaround and parking.
Join signed Pratt Trail and hike briefly west then north along Stewart Creek. The path dips into brushy, boulder-strewn Stewart Canyon, zigzagging beneath oaks and tangled understory of native and nonnative shrubs. Signs, lots of them, clearly define private property and public right-of-way. The path meanders behind some lovely residential gardens and meets a paved road that leads to a gate and forest boundary at the 1-mile mark. Get your bearings at the hand¬some map/display and hike on.
Continue on dirt road past a water tank and a signed junction with Foothill Trail, then past Foothill Connector Trail and onward to a Y-junction. Pratt Trail goes left, but you go right on the USFS Fuelbreak Road.
The dirt road alternately dips and rises and, just as you begin to wonder if the trail will ever deliver a view, climbs eastward out onto open slopes for great vistas of Ojai Valley. Shangri-La, indeed.
Continue to a gate at the end of Fuelbreak Road Trail, a vista point and a junction. Gridley Trail (dirt road) ascends left to Gridley Spring (see hike description). Descend right down a brushy draw 0.5 mile to a cul de sac at the top of Gridley Road. Walk down Gridley Road 0.3 mile to Shelf Road on your right.
Follow Shelf Road, closed to vehicle traffic, west into the hills. Skirting orange trees and avocado groves, Shelf Road serves up views that are just a little less-dramatic than those offered by higher Fuelbreak Road. After 1.7 miles of travel, reach a gate and North Signal Street, which you’ll follow 0.2 mile south down to the turnoff for the trailhead. Turn right and walk 0.3 mile back to the trailhead.
Interested in more hikes in Ventura County? Check out my guide: HIKE Ventura County.