Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hiking The Sycamore Canyon

I had grand plans for the MLK weekend. 3 days off, what far flung peaks could I get myself lost in? Sadly work conspired against me and I was left with taking off midmorning for a reachable trail. What did I end up with? An enjoyable little trail system once again off the 60 called Sycamore Canyon/Hellman Park.

I pulled up to the trailhead with very little cars and lots of warning signs about mountain lions. I was a little depressed as I started my hike and oil derricks were stand-ins for the trees.

However, the trail quickly gave way to actual wilderness (well wilderness surrounded by houses but still you could "get away from it all") and all was right with the world. Again, I was hiking on a trail that wasn't used that much so again I encountered grass.

I was also taken aback because while there were certainly elements of West Coast hiking

A lot of it reminded me of hiking back East, in fact hiking during the Fall (man our seasons are so screwed up out here).

After about a mile and a .3, you can continue on to the ominously named Dark Canyon or you can take the appropriately named Sycamore Canyon Switchback trail which then leads to Hellman Park. Be forewarned, if you take the switchback trail, it really is switchback central for .60 of a mile and your legs will feel it if you aren't prepared.

Because this hike wasn't in the mountains or over 10 miles (it ended up being about 7) and I was running short on time, I decided to make this a "practice" hike. Practice in that I really wanted to try and work out my pacing problems that have reared their heads over the last year. I decided to hike slower up these switchbacks (and the switchbacks I encountered later) but not take as many stops, slow and steady and it actually worked, I couldn't believe it! Still, it was nice to see the end of the switchbacks as I made my way to Hellman Park.

The trail connects with a broad ridegline trail which offers sweeping views of the mountains to the North and the OC to the South. There is also some great views of various temples along the way.

Now let me pontificate for a few moments about the trails in the park. They are generally wide fireroads (canoe trails) although there are smaller, narrower trails that can offer a nice challenge to the hiker. You know me, I tend to take the tougher trail and looking at this trail split, can you guess which one I took?

If you get a chance to hike here, take the trail up because it offers amazing views (it is probably the highest point in the park) and very little people beat feet to get up there.

One other thing about the trails is that there are side/kayak trails off the main ones but very little signage to tell you if they in fact meeting up at some point. For example, where do these three trails go?

There are signs there but I found myself having to bushwhack my way out of dead ends or trails that were clearly leading away from the main ones. My 2 cents? Stay on the main wide trails unless you can see the smaller ones hooking up with them.

Hellman Park is essentially a loop and you make your way to the "reservoir"

And then around the concrete to more switchbacks and another ridgeline.

There were a lot of people out on the trails on MLK day and that made me happy to see people enjoying nature on their day off. It also seems like the park gets a good amount of use given the trail work that was apparent on this one spur of the trail.

And lots of cacti, did I mention the cacti?

Overall, the trail was nice, the day was overcast (and thereby nice) and I enjoyed my 7 mile jaunt around the hills of the OC.

If you want to enjoy this hike as well, check out this map:


  1. September 19 2013, I have been running that trail system for over 30 years. The community in the area have recently had the city post permit parking only all around the Hellman Park Trial-head. That is a public space, paid for by public money, as are the streets surrounding the area. It is absurd to ask visitors to the area to go down to the city and by a "Parking Permit"....I hope Big Oil gets its way and starts drilling up there. We will see how much pull the community around Hellman trail head have when big oil comes-a-knockin


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