Hike Ventura County

Ventura County offers the hiker a generous sampling of lonesome canyons, skyscraping peaks, oak woodlands, sparkling rock formations, waterfalls and wildflower-strewn meadows. The county also boasts a widespread and engaging selection of trails near population centers—perfect for fitness hikes and quick getaways into nature.

Ojai Valley is one of the many wonderful places to hike in Ventura County. (photo Lynn Malone)
Ojai Valley is one of the many wonderful places to hike in Ventura County. (photo Lynn Malone)

I got well acquainted with—and frequently wrote about—Ventura County’s abundant hiking opportunities during my long tenure as the Los Angeles Times hiking columnist. It was gratifying to hear from locals (Ventura Countians) as well as hikers from all over the Southland, about how much they enjoyed discovering trails from the Conejo Valley to the Ojai Valley, from the Simi Hills to the remote Los Padres backcountry.

HIKE Ventura County collects accounts of my favorite trails, including write-ups of classic trails and descriptions of newer, less-publicized pathways. This guide is your invitation to climb among the white sparkling rocks of Piedra Blanca, slosh through Sespe Creek, and tramp among the pines on Pine Mountain. Walk historic trails in the footsteps of the native Chumash, tread trails of the padres and pioneers who followed them, and take a hike for vistas of the backcountry, cities and shoreline.

About half of Ventura County is public land. The wild side of Ventura includes national forest land, national parkland, county parks and state parks, as well as lands administered by a number of parks districts and conservation agencies. Happily, most trails and trailheads are quite accessible to county residents and within a reasonably short distance of residents in the San Fernando Valley and greater Los Angeles.

During the go-go, hyper-growth 1980s, Ventura County actually laid claim to being one of the ten fastest-growing counties in the nation. Conejo and Simi valleys, as well as the Oxnard area, experienced particularly rapid growth. With a burgeoning population came the demand for more parkland. As a response to—or mitigation for—residential and commercial development, many parks, greenways and open space areas, accompanied by hiking trails, were created.

Most locals and local media split Ventura County between the eastern portion, often associated with the San Fernando Valley, and the western portion, often referred to as “Oxnard- Ventura.” The major population centers of the Oxnard Plain and the Simi and Conejo valleys are in the southern part of the county. North of Highway 126, the county is mountainous and mostly uninhabited national forest. All parts of the county boast plenty of trails and lots of good hiking.

Ojai’s Wikipedia write-up mentions hiking twice: “The town is known mostly for its hotels and services catering to tourism, recreation including strong hiking…”

And there’s more: “Ojai’s culture is heavily focused on ecology, health and organic agriculture, walking/hiking, spirituality, music and local art.”

Ojai is not the only community in the county offering “strong hiking.” Hiking is a key component to the recreation and culture of such population centers as Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. Hike Ventura County details a number of the best day hikes in a very geographically diverse county.

(BTW the hiking Ventura County is too topographically spread-out to include all of the highlights in one Trailmaster guide. Consult my other guides for accounts of hikes in the area around Mt. Pinos (8,831 feet), Ventura County’s high point with great hiking in the shade of pine and fir plus fabulous vistas. A western portion of the Santa Monica Mountains lie within Ventura County; learn about the best day hikes in HIKE the Santa Monica Mountains.)

Begin in Buenaventura and head for the hills. One viewpoint that shows Ventura to good advantage is from the foothills above the city in Arroyo Verde Park. From these heights, the hiker can glimpse downtown, a fertile valley, the Ventura Harbor and the Channel Islands.

Be sure to check out the brand-new trail that leads from Ventura City Hall to Grant Park. Finally, after 95 years, there’s a pathway connecting Old Town with the park and landmark Serra Cross!

Explore Wildwood Park, the Los Robles Trail network in the Conejo Valley, ascend Mt. McCoy and Simi Peak for grand vistas. Enjoy must-do classic SoCal hikes through Cheeseboro Canyon, through Santa Paula Canyon, and in the foothills above Ojai.

Hike smart, reconnect with nature and have a wonderful time on the trail.
Hike on.
—John McKinney

Interested in more hikes in Ventura County? Check out my “HIKE Ventura County Pocket Guide at The Trailmaster Store