Posted by: GeekHiker | October 14, 2009

Hike: Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa Ramble

Ranch Sierra Vista/Satwiwa is located at the northwest edge of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a good hour’s drive from Los Angeles.  The open landscape sits right next to the outer edge of suburbia, neighborhoods you’ll be driving through on the way to the trailhead.  The open land here is the border between city and nature: on the northern side lie tract homes while to the south is the Boney Mountain State Wilderness inside Point Mugu State Park.

For much of its history the area had been home to the Chumash and Tongva/Gabrielino tribes, who used Sycamore Canyon as a trade route down to the Pacific.  Part of the park is reserved as a cultural center and natural area and often has speakers and events celebrating the native peoples who populated the area.  Later, the area was part of a Spanish land grant and then home to ranching operations.  The last owner of the land, Richard Danielson, sold it to the National Park Service in 1980.

The route below is rambling, walking through open fields, chaparral, riparian areas with old-growth oaks, deep canyons and seasonal waterfalls.  It can also be shortened in a number of spots to suit your tastes and time.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 01
Entrance to Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa

(Note: the pictures below are a mixture from 2008 and 2009.  I’d originally hiked the Satwiwa Loop Trail last year but, owing to the few decent pictures and a bad GPS track, elected not to write up the trip.  The hike detailed below is a longer ramble from last weekend.)

From the parking area, cross the road heading west and pick up a spur trail, walking uphill towards an old oak tree and picnic table.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 02
One of the most scenic picnic tables in the Santa Monicas

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 03
Lone California Quail, the lone lookout from a flock that flew off at my approach

Passing the oak, turn left onto the Ranch Overlook Trail, heading uphill and over a ridge and giving you good views to the east and your first view of Boney Mountain, before dropping steeply down to the main road through the park.  To the south, the hulk of Boney Mountain looms, long sacred to the original inhabitants of the area.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 04
Boney Mountain emerging from the morning mist

Turning left, a short few feet will take you to the Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center, where you will find a small display section on the natural environment and way of life of the tribes who lived here.  Park rangers are also on staff and a large selection of books is available for sale.  Be sure to pick up a park map here as well.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 05
Satwiwa Cultural Center

Just outside the center is an open area for events that are held at the center, and often a dwelling under construction.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 06
Native dwelling under construction

From here you have the option of taking the Satwiwa Loop Trail uphill to the east, past a small pond and stand of oaks, to shorten your trip.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 07
Pond just east of the Cultural Center

Exiting the Cultural Center, turn right (North) continue down the road .2 mile to the Wendy Trail, which will appear on your right nearly paralleling the road.  Make the u-turn and head up the Wendy Trail, crossing through open fields of grasses over the next .6 mile.  Stay right at the first junction (the left fork will take you to the Wendy Drive trailhead) until you reach a T-intersection.  Turn right and head up the hill.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 08
Looking back eastward along the Wendy Trail

The trail takes you south, around the eastern edge of the open Natural Area, open views interspersed with towering chaparral.  Stay left as the trail passes two trail junctions (the second junction, which is the Satwiwa Loop Trail from the Cultural Center, will be at the old windmill).  Either of these trails can be used to loop back down to the Cultural Center and shorten your trip.

Rancho Panorama 01
180 degree panorama of the wide open Natural Area

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 09
Old windmill spinning in the breeze

After dropping down into a small canyon and switchbacking up to a ridge, you’ll reach a trail junction with the Hidden Valley Connector trail at about 2 miles from your start.  Continuing straight will take you down the remainder of Satwiwa Loop Trail.  Turn left on the connector, reaching the Old Boney Trail after only a few yards.

Below you is Upper Sycamore Canyon, headwaters of the large canyon that sweeps all the way down to the Pacific.  To the left, the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail climbs a mile along the canyon wall to a saddle separating Hidden Valley, a farming community to the east, from the headwaters of Sycamore Canyon.  The trail has no outlet. (Note: The out-and-back to the Overlook is not included in mileage or elevation track below.)

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 10
Looking down into Hidden Valley

Turning right, walk .1 mile to the junction with the Boney Mountain Trail.

At the junction, the path ahead will take you back down to the main road and the trailhead.  Instead, turn left, on to the Old Boney Trail (an old ranch road, now maintained as a fire road), entering Pt. Mugu State Park and the Wilderness Area.

Over the next half mile, the trail descends into the upper reaches of Sycamore Canyon.  When you reach the junction with the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail, under the shade of old-growth oak trees, continue straight (east) another .2 miles to the Waterfall Trail, marked only with a small sign saying “no horses”.

Rancho Panorama 04
Oaks at the Old Boney/Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail Junction

The waterfall trail will take you a few hundred feet further up the canyon, curving right to the seasonal waterfall.

Returning to the main trail, continue uphill on the Old Boney Trail.  As you climb, the view of the valley below opens up.

Rancho Panorama 02
Looking West over the park while ascending the Old Boney Trail

After .9 miles, the Old Boney Trail makes a u-turn and continues climbing to the right, eventually crossing a ridge and descending to Sycamore Canyon.  Continue straight (left and down) .3 miles, dipping down across the creek (dry this time of year; this same creek feeds the waterfall below) and climbing a short way uphill to the Danielson Monument.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 11
Danielson Monument

Danielson is buried here, and the statement on the arch was apparently a favorite of his wife.  According to the park ranger at the visitor center, Danielson has a certain significance in state history: his accountant was apparently the first to discover that donating lands to the NPS could be used to finagle a large tax write-off.

The trail has no outlet here, so return 1.4 miles back to the trail junction with the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail.  Take this trail, which winds another 1.4 miles down the canyon, mostly shaded under oak and sycamore trees.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 12
Upper Sycamore Canyon from the Sycamore Canyon Road (Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail runs through the riparian vegetation at the canyon bottom)

The Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail ends at the paved Big Sycamore Canyon Trail.  Turn right, take a deep breath, let out a sigh of resignation, and begin climbing.  The next ¾ mile will take you up and out of the canyon, rising 400 feet in that short distance.

At the top, turn back and look out over the deep Sycamore Canyon.  On a clear day, the view is spectacular.

Rancho Sierra Vista Satwiwa 13
Looking down Sycamore Canyon, the road just ascended on the right

Continue along the road, walking .3 miles back to the Cultural Center.  Take the wide road on the left just across from the center .4 miles back to the parking lot and your car.

(Historic Side Trip: Turn left when exiting the park and continue down Lynn Rd. The flat plain will abruptly end and the road will wind down the canyon to the coastal plain. As you exit the canyon, a large number of white buildings will appear on your right, about 5 miles from the park. These buildings are now California State University, Channel Islands. Before being re-purposed for that use though, they were Camarillo State Hospital, which may or may not have been the setting for The Eagles “Hotel California”, depending on who you talk to.  Whatever the case, the facility is beautiful from the road, and someday I hope to stop and take a look around.  From there, you can u-turn and go back up Lynn Road to the freeway.)

Total Distance: 8.7 Miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,500’/1,500′


Directions: From US-101 in Thousand Oaks, exit at Lynn Rd, turning south. Drive 5.6 miles to the park entrance on left, (signage is marked “National State Park”). Follow the entrance road to the parking lot at the end. Restrooms and water available. No entrance fee.

Hike Profile:Rancho Satiwa Hike Profile



  1. Many thanks from the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains for the great pictures and description of the hikes here! The photo of the picnic table is fantastic.

  2. WOOHOO! I’ve been on this trail. Great Hike. Of course, my writeup didn’t get the attention of the National Park Service. I suppose the fact that you write better than me has something to do with it.

  3. Oh wow, comment from NPS!!! You’ve GOT TO think about a career change, man! How about a travel writer, or working for the government writing up trail reports? Seriously, it’s gotta be your dream job. Go for it!

  4. Oh and forgot to say, great pix, as usual!

  5. Lauren – Why thank you, and thanks for stopping by!

    Homer-Dog – Did you happen to do this exact route?

    K – LOL, do they pay people to write up trail reports?

    K – Thanks. 🙂

  6. Not exactly. I started south of the marked gate, over to the windmill over to the old cabin site, back to the visitor’s center, before going across the meadow to the trailhead.

    My more pathetic writeup is here:

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