Part of the Transverse Ranges, the Santa Monica Mountains stretch from Point Mugu to the Hollywood Hills. The western end of the mountains overlook the Conejo Valley, and although this section of the mountains was burned in the 2013 Springs Fire, it was also consequently spared during the 2018 Woolsey Fire.
The hike to Sycamore Canyon Falls, on the northern side of the mountains, is about three miles round-trip. The hike can be extended by continuing up to an old cabin site and the Danielson Monument, about six miles round-trip. The hike leads through parts of both Rancho Sierra Vista and Point Mugu State Park.
To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south past Camarillo. Continue over the Conejo Grade and exit at Wendy Drive. Head south on Wendy Drive to Lynn Road. Turn right onto Lynn Road and continue toward Via Goleta, and left to enter the park. The trailhead is about an hour from Santa Barbara.
From the Rancho Sierra Vista parking area, follow the unpaved access road that leads over to the Satwiwa Native American Cultural Center. The road leads through an open area dotted with coyote brush and coastal sagebrush before following a side wash lined with willows. Growing on the low hills next to the wash are laurel sumac and sticky monkey flower in bloom.
At about the quarter-mile mark, the road arrives at the intersection with Big Sycamore Canyon Trail. To the left is Satwiwa Native American Cultural Center, and to the right, Big Sycamore Canyon Trail continues toward Point Mugu State Park.
Dominating the view to the south is Boney Mountain. The striking mountain ridge with its volcanic rock summits, peeking out from the chaparral, rises close to 3,000 feet. The mountain overlooks the large open plain where the Chumash village of Satwiwa was located. Satwiwa mean bluffs in Chumash and is a reference to the mountain’s appearance.
The village was located near a trade route that connected the interior area, where Newbury Park and Thousand Oaks are now located, with the coast. The route followed Sycamore Creek down to the Pacific Ocean. Big Sycamore Canyon Trail follows a similar route and is about 16 miles round-trip.
For the shorter hike to the waterfall, continue to the left toward Satwiwa Native American Cultural Center. Outside the main building is a replica of a Chumash ‘Ap, or house. The domed-shaped structure is traditionally built using willow and tule.
The Chumash would gather willow and, after preparing it, plant the base of the poles in the ground forming a circle. The tops of the poles were bent over and lashed to the ones on the opposite side of the circle. Horizontal crosspieces were added to the outside and also lashed in place with willow bark. The frame was then covered with tule or other plants.
The Cultural Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and is staffed by Native American guest hosts or park rangers. The center includes an interpretive center and bookstore with resources related to the park and its natural history. The center also hosts Native American workshops, presentations and art shows throughout the year.
From the Cultural Center, I continue along the trail that passes to the east of the pond and leads through Satwiwa Natural Area. Among the plants growing around the pond are tule and mule fat. Already on the hike I’ve seen a variety other plants used by the Chumash.
For example, the fruits from laurel sumac can be pounded and dried in the sun and eaten. Coastal sagebrush was used to cure headaches and also had a number of ceremonial uses. Mule fat can be used as a spindle in conjunction with a hearth board to make friction by fire. Many of these plants are readily available in the environment and it’s a testament to the Chumash’s connection to the natural world that they made use of so many of these plants.
Continuing past the pond, I soon arrive at a four-way intersection and turn right, knowing that it will connect up with Danielson Road, which leads towards the waterfall.
Just past the intersection, I arrive at a wooden post with a small shelf just large enough for a camera. The post is part of a program that allows park visitors to become citizen scientists and help track and monitor post-fire recovery on the landscape.
In May 2013, the Springs Fire burned more than 24,000 acres in just four days before being contained. The fire started near Highway 101 and quickly made its way south toward the ocean before turning east, burning through much of Point Mugu State Park and parts of Rancho Sierra Vista.
Along the trails are 10 of these camera stands, each with instructions inviting visitors to place their camera there and take a picture of the landscape; and then post it on Twitter or Flickr using the hashtag designating which site the picture was taken at, for example #SpringsFire02. The images are gathered by the National Park Service to create a time-lapse view of the landscape’s recovery. For a map of the different locations and more information, go to http://go.us.gov/N5Mh.
Continuing up the trail I arrive at Danielson Road, which also connects back over to Big Sycamore Canyon Trail. From here, Danielson Road continues eastward along the ridge overlooking Sycamore Canyon.
At about the one-mile mark the road enters Point Mugu State Park and Boney Mountains State Wilderness Area. It starts to descend toward the creek, passing through mostly chaparral dotted with deer weed, along with some golden yarrow and penstemon.
Point Mugu State Park was created in 1967, with the acquisition of the 6,700-acre Broome Ranch. In 1972, Richard Danielson sold 5,800 acres of Rancho Sierra Vista at one-half its appraised value, effectively doubling the size of the park. In 1981, Boney Mountain State Wilderness Area was created within the park to help preserve the natural features of the area. The wilderness area covers more than 6,000 acres.
Both Rancho Sierra Vista and Point Mugu State Park are part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 150,000 acres and is a mix of parkland and open space preserves. The recreation area was established in 1978 and is administered by National Park Service.
In 1980, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area purchased the remaining 850 acres of Danielson’s land adjacent to Point Mugu State Park, creating Rancho Sierra Vista Open Space Park.
A map of the trails within Rancho Sierra Vista and Point Mugu State Park can be found online at www.nps.gov. National Geographic makes a trail map of the Santa Monica Mountains, and there is also a Tom Harrison map of Point Mugu State Park.
Continuing down along Danielson Road into Sycamore Canyon, the trail arrives at the intersection with Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail, which follows the creek downstream and connects back over to Big Sycamore Canyon Trail.
Past the intersection, Danielson Road quickly crosses Sycamore Creek and continues up the canyon. The trail then branches at an unsigned intersection. Here, a side trail leads up to Sycamore Canyon Falls, while Danielson Road starts to climb out of the canyon on its way to the old cabin site.
The side trail leads a short distance to the base of the falls, which is a series of a half-dozen cascades and pools. The falls are currently flowing but are perhaps more impressive after a good rain. However, as an added bonus, the creek is home to California newts and watching these rust-colored amphibians make their way along the creek and swimming in the pools can bring a smile.
Although the area was burned in the fire, the creek is still shaded by oaks and sycamores, and growing along the creek are wild blackberry, scarlet monkey flower, Humboldt lily, ferns, and yes, poison oak.
Returning back to Danielson Road, I start the climb toward the cabin site as the old road cut follows a series of switchbacks. Growing on the hillsides is a profusion of canyon sunflower. Other wildflowers also in bloom along the trail include lupine, morning glory, white and golden yarrow, chaparral pink, and more sticky monkey flower.
The trail then arrives at the intersection with Old Boney Trail. To reach the cabin site, continue to the left along Danielson Road as it returns into upper Sycamore Canyon. Here, the views stretch up the canyon toward Boney Mountain.
The trail crosses the creek, now dry, and then continues up toward an unsigned juncture where the trail splits. To the left is Danielson Monument, and to the right is the chimney from the old cabin.
Danielson Monument features a metal archway and stone patio surrounded by a low stone wall that honors Danielson for his generosity in helping to expand Point Mugu State Park.
The nearby cabin was used by Danielson’s Rancho Sierra Vista as part of its cattle and sheep ranching operation and was also used as a hunting lodge. The cabin was destroyed during the 1956 Hume Fire and wasn’t rebuilt.
From here, an off-trail route continues past the cabin. The rutted and at times steep trail leads to the top of Boney Mountain, for a longer hike of about nine miles round-trip.