Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #38: Matilija Falls

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #38: Matilija Falls

After two weeks of big bump healing, it felt great to get back out on the trail. This Sunday I chose to hike to Matilija Falls. This hike leaves from the same trailhead as the Murietta Trail I did earlier this year. I had actually mistaken this hike for another. There is a hike that follows the Upper North Fork Matilija Creek which I have done portions before. When I read the description the day before the hike I realized that the Matilija Falls were on another trail (i.e. there are three trails leaving from the same trailhead, not two).

I got up early on Sunday and got to the trailhead at 6:45 am. On the way I had to drive around fallen rock on Matilija Road. This road closes often which must drive the residents crazy in the rainy season.

This morning it was COLD - 44ºF. Well, cold by California standards that is. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt jacket which kept me pretty warm as I walked up the dirt road. What I had forgotten is gloves. My hands were frigid so I pulled the jacket sleeve up to cover my hands which worked well. There was a chilly breeze most of the day and I kept the jacket on for about two thirds of the hike - a lot longer then I expected.

The road passes through the Matilija Canyon Ranch Wildlife Refuge before heading deeper into the canyon. The road follows the Matilija Creek, crossing the creek twice. I was surprised to find one of the fords that had always been covered in water to be dry - damn this drought!

The road continues past the signed Upper North Fork trail off on the right and the signed Murietta Trail on the left a little further on. The road continues until you come to a 'T'. Turn right and you reach a wooden gate. The road crosses private property here - the forest service has easement rights. There was a sign on the gate that said "STOP - No Entry - Fire Hazard." I stopped and contemplated the sign briefly, looked around to see if I could see anyone in the nearby ranch buildings - nobody in sight, and decided to say "to heck with it" and walked through the gate and continued on the road. If the trail was really closed I figured that there would have been more signage and a threat of fines or something. The fact that the Matilija Wilderness area is not in the Zaca Fire closure area also seemed to indicate that it was open to hikers.

The road continues through the ranch. Once you pass through the other side of the ranch land, the path narrows to a single trail. The trail takes you to a camp at about the 2 mile point before turning left and follows the creek up. I found a geocache at this camp, "Matilija Camp". When I was looking for it I was smacked in the face by a tree branch. I didn't think much of it until I was finished signing the cache log. I put the cache back in it's hiding place and looked around - everything was blurry. I closed my left eye - things were clear. I opened my left and closed my right - things were blurry. I blinked a few times but it was still blurry. There was no pain and it didn't itch or anything. It was just blurry out my left eye. This kind of sucks as my right eye is a little near sighted and the left eye is a little far sighted. The blurred left eye limited my distance vision. I walked over to the stream and splashed some water (running water which I assumed to be relatively clean) into my eye. Nothing. I decided to keep on going figuring it would get better.

The canyon, quite wide where the road goes, narrows here and the cliffs overhead are pretty cool. There was a variety of trees along the trail including some that showed some of their fall colors. In southern California you sometimes forget that trees change in the fall.

At this point the trail becomes a little iffy. The trail is not maintained. Some parts are in great shape and easy to follow. Others parts, not so much. The best advice here is keep going upstream.

I kept going upstream. I kept loosing the trail - the blurry eyesight didn't help much. Each time I reached a dead in I would cross over to the other side of the creek and I would inevitably find a trail. There were cairns every now and then on the many rocky portions of the trail but there probably should have been more.

At one point I followed what I thought was the trail up the side of the canyon. After climbing the steep hill for a short while, I decided that I was going the wrong way. I headed back down the hill but not on the trail that I had gone up on. This was possibly a mistake on my part. The hillside was covered in crumbly shale and climbing down felt more like surfing. I'm surprised I didn't fall on my behind. I made it down to a level spot about 8-10 feet above the creek. I looked for a way down to the creek. The only place that appeared doable was a steep rock face with some teensy-weensy hand/foot holds. A tree was growing near the creek and a thick branch ran parallel to the rock face and I figured I could use this to steady myself on the way down. I started crawling down on my butt - crab style - searching for footholds. I reach up with one hand and grabbed the branch. The act of reaching knocked the precarious hold friction had on my rear-end and I started to slide like a stone across the sheet (that's curling terminology for those scratching your heads). Realizing friction was not going to stop me I grabbed the branch with both hands. The branch bent with my body weight but stopped my slide with my boots about a foot from the edge of the creek. I got back on my feet, took inventory, and then reached around and felt my behind - two tears in the seat of my pants - one on each butt cheek. @#$%^! Fortunately these holes are small and I can patch them up. I can't afford to replace my pants after every hike. I didn't take any pictures of my pants - sorry.

At about the 4.4 mile point you come upon a side canyon. I turned up this canyon looking for a cache ("Two Trees") and located it right beside the first waterfall. It's quite impressive. More rain would have made it more impressive but then crossing the creek would have been more difficult. The waterfall was two tiered. I climbed up to the top of the bottom tier where I found an impressive pool. A little too cold to swim in today though.

I left the falls and went back to the main canyon turning upstream in search for the other waterfalls and caches hidden about a quarter mile further up. The rock hopping was pretty strenuous and it was tough going at times. I found another cache, "Backpackers Cache", before heading up to the second waterfall. The second falls was also impressive. It was also the end of the trail. There is a third waterfall and pool above these falls but to get there you have to climb a rope. I looked at the rope and realized it went straight up a shear cliff. I decided that two waterfalls were enough.

By this time my stomach was growling so I walked back to a small camp (there are several along the creek), sat down on a makeshift chair of rocks and logs left by past campers, and ate lunch. I looked around and could see that my left eye was still blurry. Things seemed a little better but I wasn't sure if it was my brain adjusting to the blurriness and just using the right eye more or if there was really any improvement in the left eye.

I headed back down the creek and hiked back to the car. I passed a few people, hikers and residents of the area, on the way back. By the time I made it back to the car my legs were tired. All the rock hopping really sapped the strength.

This was a great hike despite the aching muscles and the blurry eye. My eye, by the way, is better after a good nights sleep. I found a total of five geocaches and searched for eight (two have been missing for a while and I just couldn't find the third). Pictures can be found here. The total distance hiked was 9.28 miles with about 1,201 feet of vertical.


  1. Minus 2...brrrrr!

    You are getting to know us too well. Of course we'd want a picture of the pants. Heh.

  2. Looks like a cool hike, something you may want to do again in the spring should we get any decent rainfall this year.

    What is it with you and destroying pants? ;)

  3. JaG: BRRR! Southern California does not have real cold. I've lived here so long that my body doesn't remember real cold. I have experienced cold before though -10 ... -15.

    I know you all want to see my buns of steel but they belong only to my lovely wife. :)

    GH: Matilija Canyon is a beautiful place. If it rains a lot then you would have to be prepared to wade as many of the stepping stones I used to cross the creek would be under water.

    I am in search of pants as tough as my keister.

  4. Who needs the buns? I just want to see the pants.


    (my verification contains twit. I wonder what blogger is trying to tell me?!)

  5. JaG: LOL! My buns must be in charge of the verification.