West Falls Matilaja (4/27/13)
Matilija Creek seems to have water in it, no matter how sparse the rain year. The 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons have been especially bad, yet there is an abundance of water and many places to swim or just cool your feet.
Due to my cartilage-free knees, I didn't feel up to making the 9.2-mile roundtrip hike required to get to the West Falls and back. The first 2.2 miles of the hike is on a road, so I had the brilliant idea of using a mountain bike (actually a hybrid) for that part of the trip, then walking from there on the single-track trail. It's a steady uphill climb, but not too taxing. I'm telling you, it was wonderful to hop on that bike near the end of a tiring hike, and go all the way back to the car, 2.2 miles away, practically without pedaling. If you're interested in using this method, ride until the road peters out and becomes a single-track trail. We pushed our bikes a little father, across a dry stream bed, and stashed them in the bushes near some concrete culverts on the left.
Shortly after leaving the bike parking spot, you come to the first campground. This is a marvelous spot, large, shady, and near the creek, with many stone fire pits already made for your use.
Not too far after the first campground, you arrive at the second campground. This is smaller in area, but still very nice. It's main attraction is a large stone fireplace, surrounded by flat stone seats (with flat stone backs, no less!). I can't imagine that this is a natural formation, so someone went to a lot of trouble to drag these stones around.
There are so many interesting spots along this hike: cool, shady areas where you can plop down on rocks in the creek for a rest, an area where the creek is flowing over flat rock steps, and an enormous boulder perched above the creek channel that you have to wonder how it came to be there, and why it hasn't slid all the way down into the creek.
There are a few places where the trail is not obvious, but with a little searching and common sense, one should be able to re-acquire it. After all, you are going up a narrow canyon will limited routes. At one point, we purposely deviated from the trail, because it passed through a forest of poison oak. We took the flat rocks along the creek, and rejoined the trail after the P.O. Generally speaking, you will be better off if you try to stay on the trail as much as possible, as the terrain can be quite rugged otherwise. Even so, there were a lot of large step-ups and step-downs over rocks and trees, that proved challenging for my old knees. Trekking poles were very useful in helping me get up and down with less pain.
After 2.4 miles of hiking from our bike parking spot, we arrived at West Falls. It is a few hundred feet up (to the left) a canyon from the main Matilija Creek channel. This is a nice two-tier falls. The lower tier is about 15 feet high. At it's base is a small shallow pool, though not good for wading since it is strewn with angular rocks. In fact, the whole area around the pool is covered in scree, affording only one or two large flat rocks for sitting. You can take a short trail leading to a nicer flat area above the lower tier, if you're not too tired for a little climb.
At this point, most people that hike this far go back down to the main channel and continue for another 0.2 to 0.3 miles upstream to Matilija Falls. I have not done it and honestly, I couldn't spot any trail going up steam, though I really didn't look very hard for it. My son has tried it, but found it too difficult, but I know that many people do go there, so it can't be too bad. Matilija Falls are more impressive than West Falls, with more water going over. If you're in good shape (with young knees!), I'm sure it would be worth the effort.
To get to the trail head, take highway 33 out of Ojai. After a couple of miles you start to enter the mountains. Immediately, you will see a sign and entrance road for the Ojai stone quarry on your right. In a short distance after the quarry, you will see a road departing the highway on the left and going uphill. Take that road. It immediately make a sharp hairpin turn and continues uphill. At the top of the hill, the road turns right to come out in the Matilija Canyon (you can see what's left of Lake Matilija on your left). Follow until the road ends, about 3 miles. There's a parking area on the left, or you can park at several places along the side of the road.
Your hike will take you through a private ranch, so please be respectful of the property owners and stay on the road. After the ranch, you will come to a trailhead on the right for Middle Matilija Camp, then in a very short distance, the trailhead for Murietta Campground on the left. Continue to go straight. After about 0.4 mile, the road makes a sharp turn to the left, but you'll want to continue straight up-canyon, passing through another ranch and by a No Trespassing sign. If you don't look like you'e a troublemaker, the