Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #37: Chief Peak

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #37: Chief Peak

My latest hike was a trek up to the top of Chief Peak. Chief Peak gets its name from its shape – it looks like a reclining Indian Chief complete with headdress.

The hike starts at the Rose Valley campground. I have been here a few times visiting Rose Valley Falls. The campground is usually full but, on this chilly Saturday morning, there was only one camper. I headed for the gate that lead to Rose Valley Road. Some people call this road Chief Peak Road.

The road is open to four wheel drive vehicles and you soon see why. The well maintained road - bulldozer tracks are visible and would be useful on the return – is steep in places. The first two miles winds up the hills to the top of the Nordhoff ridge. On the way you have views of the campground, mountains, canyons, and the Piedra Blanca that I hiked earlier this year.

By the time I reached the ridge I was whipped. The steep road was tough. At the top of the ridge you reach a 'Y' in the road. To the right is the road to Nordhoff Peak ( I will be going there early next year) and the left takes you to Chief Peak and places beyond. The ridge road was a gently rolling road with views in all directions. I was surprised that there weren't any trees up on the ridge. The ridge was covered in short scrub and dwarf trees no taller then 10 or 12 feet. From this vantage point you had a beautiful blue sky above and you could look down on the top of the marine layer. The marine layer filled half of the Ojai valley. The road up here was very quiet. The only sounds were the sounds of the occasional bird and the low rumble of a commercial plane flying overhead - this place seemed like a plane superhighway. Look at all the contrails.

I walked about two miles along the ridge. The description I had described a “marker on the right for the narrow trail” up to the peak. I got closer and saw a wide path that seemed to head up to the peak but the sign said “Area Closed” so I continued on. Further along the road I stopped to look for a geocache - “C4P Frogs and Me”. When I didn't find it, I decided to continue on the road. You could see the distinctive strata of Topa Topa in the distance.

At the five mile point the road ahead turned away from the peak. I assumed I missed the trail. There was a jeep trail that I could see but It didn't look like it went in the right direction. So I turned around and, muttering expletives under my breath, I hiked back. I looked for the cache again and found it this time – Yay for me! I never found the narrow signed path. I reached the wide path I had passed early on and decided to ignore the sign. As I got closer, I noticed the small print on the sign that said “to motor vehicles”. Not being a motor vehicle, I felt better about ignoring the sign and headed up the correct trail.

This wide path climbs up sharply to the first of three peaks. The first peak represents ... well ... um ... well, it represents the Chief's “package”. At least that's what it looks to me. The trail scales the next peak that represents the chest of the Chief. This was a tough section. Very steep and covered in small rock. The trail then dips down the chief's neck before climbing up to the highest peak – the head of the Chief. At his chin you run into a rocky cliff. Cairns direct you around to the right. The trail is a little unclear in parts when the path requires a scramble up the rocks. I added stones to the cairns as I went by. The vague trail takes you up to the Chief's forehead at the 5,595 feet mark. I wonder if the altitude had something to do with my huffing and puffing?

I sat down at the peak and ate my lunch and took in the 360ยบ views. The marine layer had pulled back somewhat and you could see all the way to Lake Casitas. When there is no marine layer you can see the islands. Not today. The haze was thick on the horizon. This didn't diminish the view much – it was totally spectacular. I looked for a cache that was once on the peak but I'm pretty sure it wasn't there anymore. I found the peak register and signed my name on the critter chewed notebook. From here I could see that the jeep trail, the one I saw just before I turned around, did go up to the peak so I could have come up that way saving me some distance. Oh well.

I took some pictures and started back down the trail. It was really tough going with the trail covered in loose rocks and dirt. I made it back down to the ridge road and headed back. The sun was out and it was quite a bit warmer then on the way up. It seemed a lot longer and more hilly going back. Doesn't make much sense. I passed my first hikers on the way back. On the way up I only had one companion. I had expected to see more people.

When I got back the the "Y" in the road, the hike started to get hard again. I discovered that the safest way down was to walk on the bulldozer tracks. The tracks were softer and allowed me to dig in the heal of my boots. On the other parts of the road the rocks were like ball bearings on the hard vehicle packed dirt. I managed to get all the way down without falling on my butt but I came close several times.

I prefer single narrow trails through the woods to dirt roads with few trees. Having said that, I liked this hike. The spectacular views from the ridge were amazing. Missing the trail up to the peak added about 2 miles to the length of the hike. In the end I hiked 10.79 miles with 2,186 feet of vertical. Pictures are here.


  1. Oooh, that 4x4 road calls to my truck...

    Hiking above the marine layer is fun, isn't it? Looks like a cool hike!

  2. If you do it, try to get there on a clear day. Maybe a mild Santa Anna to blow the clouds out to see. The views would be spectacular.

    Hiking above the marine layer does result in some unique views. The vistas really make this hike.

  3. contrails... maybe , just maybe... oh nevermind