Posted by: GeekHiker | April 10, 2008

HIKE: Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space (Ahmanson Ranch)

(Sorry it took so long to write this week; I had over 300 photos from this hike!)

Las Virgenes and East Las Virgenes Canyons, once known as Ahmanson Ranch, and is one of those seemingly all-too-rare examples of nature actually winning over development. The central feature of the park is a broad flat mesa, which for several decades had developers salivating at the idea of a few thousand houses, golf courses, etc.

Luckily those who wanted to save the area were successful in stopping those plans (I’m not necessarily opposed to golf courses but, seriously, how many does the world need?), and in 2003 the land was deeded to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the State of California for protection. I’d clipped an article from the paper at the time, out of the sadly defunct Outdoors section of the LA Times, about the new park and stashed it for future reference. Amazingly, I was able to find the article on Friday and made my way there on Saturday.

The park can be accessed from two locations, the end of Victory Blvd. (where you will need to pay the absolutely outrageous amount of $1 per vehicle (yes, I’m kidding, a dollar is pretty darn reasonable)) or the end of Las Virgenes Blvd. You can also hike in from neighboring Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyons. I chose to start from the Las Virgenes Blvd. entrance, mostly due to its ease of access from the 101.

I highly recommend printing out a map from the website below before going; the park is crisscrossed by a network of old ranch roads that make finding turn-offs a bit difficult. Although most of them are closed and marked for area restoration, having a good map with you is helpful.

The added benefit of hiking on the old roads is that they are, for the most part, very wide, making it easy to stand aside for the numerous horses and bikes that share these trails and also reducing the chances of picking up ticks.

From the park entrance, cross through the gate and start heading north up the wide dirt path.

Las Virgenes 01
Starting up the trail; leaving the road and apartment buildings behind

You’re pretty much immediately immersed in another world. I found I couldn’t resist taking a few seconds of video of the birds chirping.

Immediately behind me? Apartment buildings. Just ahead? This gorgeous old oak tree, so large I had to piece this photo together from a dozen pictures:

Oak Photomerge Small
Old oak tree at the beginning of the trail

The sun was already warming up the area, and the park is no doubt quite warm in the summer. Luckily, the weather for me would be a mixture of clouds and sun all day (although this would make for some flat lighting in a few photos; oh, well).

Las Virgenes 01a
Beautiful wildflowers; an allergy sufferers worst nightmare!

Heading up the trail, you’ll pass by the strong smell of a sulfur spring and cross Las Virgenes Creek before reaching a trail junction. This is East Las Virgenes Canyon Road, the old road through the ranch. Turn right and start heading up the gentle canyon.

Las Virgenes 02
Along the trail

Being spring, the hillsides were covered in wildflowers. I couldn’t resist taking picture after picture as I wandered along:

Las Virgenes 04
Flower covered hills

Las Virgenes 03
More spring wildflowers

Las Virgenes 06
Oak in springtime

At about .7 mile from the first junction you’ll pass a trail to the left, marked only by a “stay on trail” sign. Continue on the main trail, but keep this junction in mind as we will use it on the return.

The trail continues up and down over gentle slopes, giving expansive views of hillsides covered in oaks and working its way through large stands of mustard.

Las Virgenes 07
Bikers along the trail

At one point, as the trail passed through one of those large stands, I encountered a number of red-winged blackbirds flitting about and calling to each other, as well as chasing off the occasional interloper.

Las Virgenes 08
Blackbird protecting his territory

After 3.1 miles from the start of the hike you’ll arrive at another trail junction, with the road to the right heading steeply uphill. Continuing left will take you another .2 miles to the Victory Blvd. trailhead (pit toilet, no water).

Las Virgenes 11
Looking east from near the Victory Blvd. entrance

Heading up the hill, I passed by the first of a few snakes I would see on the trip: a small rattler making his way across the trail:

Las Virgenes 13
Rattlesnake working his way towards the brush

As he headed into the bushes he gave me his trademark “don’t screw with me” rattle. I gave him his space. Note: I saw more snakes on this trail than I have on just about any other I’ve hiked. With the wide roads, it’s easy to give them space, but keep your eyes out just in case, particularly if hiking with children or pets.

Heading up to the ridge, you get a good idea of exactly what the area was saved from. Both of these photos were taken from just a few yards apart, just looking in opposite directions:

Las Virgenes 12
To the east: the San Fernando Valley and civilization

Las Virgenes 14
To the west: the open space of the park

Continuing along the road you’ll reach a junction at the start of the broad Lasky Mesa at about 4 miles, with the Mary Wiesbrock Loop trail going off in two directions. I hiked the full loop, and either route is good. Taking the left trail will take you up to the top of the Mesa, with good views to of the hills to the south. The right will wander along the edge of the Mesa and past some beautiful oak trees. For trail distance purposes, I used the left branch.

Lasky Mesa Photomerge
The broad Lasky Mesa

Las Virgenes 15
Along the loop trail

In either case, you’ll end up at a junction with the trail that will return you to the canyon. It’s unmarked, but be sure to look for the two large metal drainage pipes coming out of the hillside nearby.

This trail leads you down a riparian canyon, past some oaks with (this time of year) their fresh new leaves.

Las Virgenes 17
Springtime oak leaves

After 5.5 miles you’ll arrive back at the East Las Virgenes Canyon road. Turn left, retracing your steps for another mile until you reach the trail junction mentioned earlier (it will be coming in from behind you this time).

Turn right onto this trail, which proved to be my favorite section of the hike. This loop heads north up a grassy canyon. Not as well traveled as the main road, I saw no other hikers, horseback riders, or bikers along the path.

East Las Virgenes Trail Photomerge
Looking back towards East Las Virgenes Road on the way to Las Virgenes Canyon

After traveling north the trail will swing west and cross a ridge. From here you have a view down towards Las Virgenes Canyon.

Las Virgenes 18
Heading over the pass, looking down at Las Virgenes Canyon

The clouds cleared overhead, and the hillsides, draped in wildflowers, were amazing in their brightness. Off in the distance a pack of coyotes howled. A hawk flew in slow circles on the thermals overhead. A gentle breeze blew down the canyon. It doesn’t get much better.

Las Virgenes 19
A hillside of flowers

Las Virgenes 20
Along the trail down from the pass

The trail continues downhill towards Las Virgenes Creek. At the junction, turn left and head downstream. I did a little exploring upstream as well; continuing upstream will eventually lead to a trail that crosses the ridge into Cheeseboro Canyon.

You’ll cross the stream a couple of more times before reaching the first junction of this hike. Turn right here and follow the path back to your car.

Las Virgenes 21
Evening light on an oak on the way back

A few more photos here.

Total Distance (as described): 8.7 miles
Total Distance (as hiked): 12.3 miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 700′/700′

Website: http://www.ahmanson.org

Directions: From the 101, exit at Las Virgenes Road and turn north. Drive approximately 1.8 miles to the end of the road and park alongside the road, being careful not to block the gate.

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Responses

  1. It was worth waiting for those photos Mr. GH.

  2. great pictures! I’m jealous!

  3. as always, gorgeous pics. that oak leaf has me salivating for our trees to green up!!

  4. I have to agree with everyone here – great pictures. This hike was on my list once but I took it off for some reason that I can’t remember. I’ll have to reconsider doing it now that the flowers are blooming.

  5. That looks fantastic!

  6. You can mt. bike here?!? I would like to suggest for all future hike posts that you let me know if mt. biking is allowed or not! 🙂

  7. I can see why you’d need a few days for a post like this. I love the photos – especially the oak tree and the field of vibrant yellow wildflowers.

    I wouldn’t of known which ones to include. If I’d of been hiking, it probably would’ve taken me all day to go 12 miles because I’d be stopping every foot or so to take a handful of photos.

    For my non-photographer friends (i.e. pretty much everyone), I’m a pain on trips, LOL.

  8. Those are amazing pictures. Nice work.

    x

    C a r a

  9. Gorgeous blackbird.

  10. Just a girl – Thanks! It took so long to narrow them down…

    Gabe – Thanks!

    Charlotte – Thanks. When they do appear, I hope you’ll post some pictures!

    Homer-Dog – Hope you can make it out there in the next couple of weeks before they all go away.

    Ruby – Oh, it was.

    *kb* – LOL, I’ll take it under advisement! 

    East Coast Teacher – And that’s why the hike took 7 hours!

    Cara – It wasn’t too much work, the scenery was so beautiful it was hard to take a bad photo.

    Gany – Thanks, they were everywhere…

  11. *sigh* I thought you west coasters were the land of smog….

    the pictures are breathtaking per the norm my dear geekhiker…

    I’m jealous, like Charlotte I’m anxious for things to green up around here, cherry blossoms aren’t enough!

  12. By the way Geeky, did you come across any furry animals on your hike?

  13. I know this comes a few years late, but I just happened upon this posting. Great pics of my local hills, geekhiker! Well done!!

    @*kb*

    All of Ahmanson Ranch, Upper LV Canyon and the adjacent Chesebro are open to us MTB riders. We are all respectful of the pecking order out here (horses are first, you hikers are second and we are third — we get it).

    It sounds like you’ve had run-ins with bikers before, and I am sorry about that. I’ve never had a problem with anyone out here, except with horses (they ~DO~ tear up the trails, especially after any rain — horsie potholes everywhere!!! — I’ve got the pics to prove it!). We are just other folks out enjoying the open spaces.


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