Santa Paula Canyon Falls (Santa Paula Canyon Punch Bowls)

Santa Paula / Fillmore / Los Padres National Forest / Sespe Wilderness, California, USA

About Santa Paula Canyon Falls (Santa Paula Canyon Punch Bowls)


Hiking Distance: 7.6 miles round trip (to main falls); 9.2 miles round trip (to waterfalls near Cross Camp)
Suggested Time: 4-6 hours (depends on how far up the canyon you want to go)

Date first visited: 2021-02-05
Date last visited: 2021-02-05

Waterfall Latitude: 34.44931
Waterfall Longitude: -119.05654

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The Santa Paula Canyon Falls (better known as the Santa Paula Punch Bowls) consist of several waterfalls, cascades that act like water slides, and the namesake “punch bowls” that make for popular swimming holes.

Even though we’ve been aware of these waterfalls from our Ann Marie Brown book, it wasn’t until early 2021 that we finally had the opportunity to visit them, and I guess you can say we’re late to the party.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_393_02052021 - Santa Paula Canyon Falls (or the Santa Paula Punch Bowls)
Santa Paula Canyon Falls (or the Santa Paula Punch Bowls)

Indeed, the Santa Paula Punch Bowls have been a well-known and very popular spot because people love to play in and swim around waterfalls, especially when it gets hot in Southern California.

As a result of its popularity, this place has had a bit of a bad rap when it comes to graffiti and litter.

When I spoke to some Fillmore locals during my visit, they mentioned that the trail to larger waterfalls on Tar Creek were bulldozed as a result of the litter that threatened the condor sanctuary there.

However, they expressed surprise at the noticeable clean-up of graffiti and litter, which you might have noticed in the photo above (the walls flanking the waterfall used to be all tagged up).

Santa_Paula_Canyon_355_02052021 - Looking down at more punch bowls beyond the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Looking down at more punch bowls beyond the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls

This might have to do with a recent trail re-route, which I’ll describe shortly.

In any case, with this excursion, I had to earn my visit with a bit of a fairly long hike that most people do in a day.

However, I did notice campsites that opened the possibility of overnight backpacking treks deeper into the Sespe Wilderness.

Nevertheless, the reward for the effort were a series of swimmable punch bowls starting with the main 30ft waterfall which I believe is called the Santa Paula Canyon Falls though the locals I met called it the “Lower Punch Bowl”.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_271_02052021 - A tall unnamed waterfall further beyond the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls
A tall unnamed waterfall further beyond the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls

I’m under the impression that most people would be content to stop at this waterfall, play for a bit, and then turn back.

That said, there were even more punch bowls and waterfalls further upstream, and how far you’re willing to go really depends on how much time and energy you’ve got as well as your tolerance of off-trail scrambling and wading.

In this write-up, I’ve given a range for the hiking distance and time, where the lower end of the range is to the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls, but the upper end of the range reflected how far I went.

Therefore, the overall difficulty score encompassed my overall experience, which exceeded the bare minimum effort required to reach the “Lower Punch Bowl”.

Trail Route Changes and The Early Part of the Santa Paula Canyon Trail

Santa_Paula_Canyon_001_iPhone_02052021 - The Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead
The Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead

The Santa Paula Canyon Trail used to pass through the Thomas Aquinas College and then by a handful of oil extraction spots and through an avocado ranch before reaching the actual trail itself.

However, during my early February 2021 visit, the trail was re-routed around the college before rejoining at a paved section of road by the Rancho Recuerdo entrance (which owned the avocado farm as of the time of this writing).

The official Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead is now about 100 yards north of the entrance to the Thomas Aquinas College (see directions below).

Pretty much right off the bat, the trail crossed Santa Paula Creek three times.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_017_02052021 - The third crossing of Santa Paula Creek on the re-routed trail going around the Thomas Aquinas College property
The third crossing of Santa Paula Creek on the re-routed trail going around the Thomas Aquinas College property

The creek had surprisingly healthy flow during my January 2021 visit, which was on a dry year for much of Southern California, and I actually found my trekking poles to be quite helpful on these crossings.

After the third crossing, the trail then meandered through a grove of some trees recovering from recent fires before veering to the right (all the while flanked by fencing and private property signs probably belonging to the Thomas Aquinas College).

At about 3/4-mile from the trailhead, the path coincided with a paved road right in between an oil derrick (or “oil-drilling grasshopper” as Ann Marie Brown called them) and the entrance to the Rancho Recuerdo avocado farm.

The path then passed through the farm before following the paved road alongside some oil pipelines.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_495_02052021 - Context of some oil-drilling derricks (or 'grasshoppers') in the context of Santa Paula Canyon
Context of some oil-drilling derricks (or ‘grasshoppers’) in the context of Santa Paula Canyon

Eventually after another 1/4-mile, the trail left the pavement to go around another field of oil derricks before ultimately reaching the 4th crossing of Santa Paula Creek (roughly 1.3 miles from the trailhead).

Beyond this creek crossing, the Santa Paula Canyon Trail then resembled more of a back-to-Nature path as it would follow Santa Paula Creek for the next 0.3-mile before reaching another man-made contraption.

Beyond this contraption, the signs continued to keep me on the right path as the trail then meandered through a more wide open part of Santa Paula Canyon for the next 3/4-mile.

This dry stretch was noticeably more sun-exposed and warm on the morning of my hike, so I could imagine how much more draining it would be on hotter days later in the year.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_076_02052021 - The Santa Paula Canyon Trail traversing a bit of a wide and dry section that I'd imagine can be brutal later in the year when the temperatures rise quickly in this area
The Santa Paula Canyon Trail traversing a bit of a wide and dry section that I’d imagine can be brutal later in the year when the temperatures rise quickly in this area

Anyways, the canyon would then start to narrow again as the trail encountered the fifth stream crossing.

Beyond this crossing, the trail would then follow the eastern side of Santa Paula Creek for about the next 1/4-mile before the official trail would then start to veer to the right away from the creek.

From here, there was a choice of where to go next.

Santa Paula Canyon Falls: The Easy Way Versus The Hard Way

The signage on the official Santa Paula Canyon Trail pointed the way on the wider and well-maintained path that started a moderate climb.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_455_02052021 - This was the false trail where beyond this line of rocks was the trail that followed Santa Paula Creek, which was the harder way to reach the Santa Paula Punch Bowls
This was the false trail where beyond this line of rocks was the trail that followed Santa Paula Creek, which was the harder way to reach the Santa Paula Punch Bowls

However, I also noticed an unsigned but well-used path that stayed with Santa Paula Creek.

I’ll first describe the official trail before briefly talking about that path that stayed with the creek.

So the climbing section of trail ascended about 400ft for about a mile.

It went around what Ann Marie Brown called the “Hill 1989” (likely referring to its elevation) before ultimately leading up to the Big Cone Campground.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_440_02052021 - Looking down at the context of Santa Paula Canyon Falls from the Big Cone Campground
Looking down at the context of Santa Paula Canyon Falls from the Big Cone Campground

The campground basically consisted of about three (maybe four) fire pits with one of them accessing a steeply climbing “trail” with a distant top down view of the Santa Paula Canyon Falls.

Continuing beyond the Big Cone Camp, the trail then steeply descended towards a tributary of Santa Paula Creek, where the trail then actually went upstream (away from Santa Paula Canyon Falls) before crossing it.

I actually made the mistake of scrambling downstream here towards a tiny waterfall and then past some dicey ledges before finally reaching the base of the main waterfall and its punch bowl.

However, in hindsight, I should have continued following the path, which then steeply climbed the other side of the ravine before veering downstream.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_426_02052021 - This was the signed creek crossing just below the Big Cone Camp
This was the signed creek crossing just below the Big Cone Camp

Finally, the main trail then reached a trail junction, where the path on the left steeply descended towards the base of Santa Paula Canyon Falls.

During my visit, someone had put a rope on that descending trail though I didn’t find that it was necessary.

Overall, reaching this waterfall and “Lower Punch Bowl” was about 0.3-mile of hiking from the Big Cone Camp.

As for the other path that stayed with Santa Paula Creek, it too would eventually reach the Santa Paula Canyon Falls, but it required a more difficult stream and boulder scramble.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_186_02052021 - Someone tied up some rope at this steep descent from the Santa Paula Canyon Trail leading down to the base of the Santa Paula Canyon Falls though I didn't find the rope to be necessary
Someone tied up some rope at this steep descent from the Santa Paula Canyon Trail leading down to the base of the Santa Paula Canyon Falls though I didn’t find the rope to be necessary

Even though I didn’t do this scramble, more than 75% of the visitors that I encountered on my visit actually went this way (whether intentionally or not).

The Fillmore locals that I chatted with told me that they generally go up this way and then back the sanctioned way.

However, other people who didn’t know any better appeared to have struggled to reach the main waterfall, and they actually asked me to guide them on the sanctioned trail to the Big Cone Camp on the way back.

As a result, it was quite clear to me that this unsanctioned creekside trail didn’t save any time, and it yielded minimal benefits (i.e. the additional waterfalls along the way were very puny).

The Next Series Of Punch Bowls And Water Slides Beyond Santa Paula Canyon Falls

Santa_Paula_Canyon_343_02052021 - Looking straight down at the pair of waterfalls or cascades feeding the 'upper punch bowls' just upstream of the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Looking straight down at the pair of waterfalls or cascades feeding the ‘upper punch bowls’ just upstream of the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls

While most people may be content with the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls and its punch bowl (which I can totally see why it can get crowded here), there were actually more to explore further upstream.

So backtracking back to the trail junction just above the steep rope-aided section, I then continued to follow it around a bend, which yielded a precarious top down view of the punch bowl that I was just at.

Shortly past this were more ledges overlooking another series of attractive punch bowls and cascades.

Although I was content to view them from above, the locals pointed out to me that I could have crossed the creek above the uppermost of these immediate waterfalls, then backtrack downstream to a rope-aided descent.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_334_02052021 - Looking down over the brink of the next series of waterfalls dropping into the plunge pools just above the Santa Paula Canyon Falls. Further downstream along this side of the creek, someone tied a rope to make the pools down at the 'upper punch bowls' more accessible
Looking down over the brink of the next series of waterfalls dropping into the plunge pools just above the Santa Paula Canyon Falls. Further downstream along this side of the creek, someone tied a rope to make the pools down at the ‘upper punch bowls’ more accessible

That descent would have taken me down to the level of those punch bowls, which were essentially immediately upstream from the brink of the Santa Paula Canyon Falls.

The locals also showed me a tiny series of “water slides” further upstream from top of the waterfalls feeding these punch bowls.

While at first glance they didn’t look like anything significant, I’m sure under higher waterflow than during my visit that they’d be a fun spot to slide from one pool to the next.

Waterfall and Pool Obstacle Beyond Cross Camp

The Santa Paula Canyon Trail (also seemingly referred to as the Last Chance Trail at this point) continued further up the canyon on an increasingly narrower trail.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_311_02052021 - This was the view into Santa Paula Canyon from the trail as it ascended towards the Cross Camp
This was the view into Santa Paula Canyon from the trail as it ascended towards the Cross Camp

After another 0.15-mile past the upper punch bowls and cascades, the trail then made another moderate 150ft climb eventually reaching the fire rings within the Cross Camp.

I spent some time to pursue some false trails that went from the camp back towards Santa Paula Creek as well as another that climbed up to a ridge for attractive views both up and down Santa Paula Canyon.

However, I’d eventually continue on the main trail that became even more faint as it reached a confluence of a side creek joining up with Santa Paula Creek in another 500ft from the camp.

Keeping left to stay on Santa Paula Creek, I’d eventually stay dry by clinging onto rock slopes and protruding rocks in the stream (my trekking poles really helped here for balance) before reaching the next waterfall.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_260_02052021 - This was the hidden waterfall and plunge pool on Santa Paula Creek that was just beyond Cross Camp, but I wasn't prepared to wade further from here in pursuit of the large Punch Bowl on this visit so I turned back here
This was the hidden waterfall and plunge pool on Santa Paula Creek that was just beyond Cross Camp, but I wasn’t prepared to wade further from here in pursuit of the large Punch Bowl on this visit so I turned back here

This particular one was hidden by an overhanging alcove with an attractive pool fronting it.

Further progress beyond this point required wading in Santa Paula Creek to scale this waterfall and then stream scramble further upstream.

The locals told me that after another 10 minutes of stream scrambling beyond this obstacle would be the “Big Punch Bowl”, which featured an even larger water slide and a rope swing.

Not wanting a repeat of my Grizzly Bear Falls calamity, I just wasn’t prepared to continue up that way during my visit, but I’m sure I’ll come better prepared the next time to complete the experience.

The Tall Unnamed Waterfall

Santa_Paula_Canyon_261_02052021 - Looking upstream at the sloped sandstone that I had to cling onto to the left of this side creek that eventually led up to a tall unnamed waterfall
Looking upstream at the sloped sandstone that I had to cling onto to the left of this side creek that eventually led up to a tall unnamed waterfall

Back at the confluence of the side creek with Santa Paula Creek near Cross Camp, I then decided to scramble up this side creek to see if there was anything more worth exploring.

Well, it turned out that I was able to hug the slope on the left side of this side creek and follow it for 0.2-mile eventually leading to the base of an attractively tall waterfall.

There was no trail for this scramble, and I was fully aware that it might be too slippery to pursue under wetter conditions.

In any case, this particular waterfall was probably 150ft tall or so, and I wonder how much longer it would last later in the year.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_283_02052021 - Looking straight up at the very tall unnamed waterfall from its base. This was the furthest I went on my first visit to the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Looking straight up at the very tall unnamed waterfall from its base. This was the furthest I went on my first visit to the Santa Paula Canyon Falls

That said, the fact that 2021’s Winter had been a disappointingly dry one, it’s saying something that this falls flowed as well as it did about a week after a short-lived all-day storm passed through (only the second such storm during our “Wet Season”).

Ultimately, this was my turnaround point, and if you include all the detours that I took to the intermediate punch bowls along the way, then this waterfall was about 4.6 miles from the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead.

Overall, I spent nearly 7 hours away from the car, which included moments of route-finding and head-scratching as well as resting and snack times.

However, I suggested that 4-6 hours would be sufficient to really experience the Santa Paula Canyon Falls though I am looking forward to the opportunity to come back and go even further than what I’ve described in this write-up.

Authorities

The Santa Paula Canyon Falls (or Santa Paula Punch Bowls) resides in the Sespe Wilderness section of the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Paula in Ventura County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_001_02052021 - Looking back at the entrance to the parking area for the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead. Notice how bumpy it was, which actually scraped the underside of my 2wd car when I first came here
Santa_Paula_Canyon_007_02052021 - The re-routed Santa Paula Canyon Trail skirted by this fencing, which kept the public out of the private Thomas Aquinas College
Santa_Paula_Canyon_010_02052021 - Approaching the first crossing of Santa Paula Creek, which actually had pretty healthy flow, and it made me go back to the parking lot to retrieve my trekking poles
Santa_Paula_Canyon_011_02052021 - Approaching the second crossing of Santa Paula Creek, which was not much further than the first crossing
Santa_Paula_Canyon_021_02052021 - The Santa Paula Canyon Trail went through this grove of fire-scarred sycamore trees as it skirted around the Thomas Aquinas College property
Santa_Paula_Canyon_024_02052021 - The Santa Paula Canyon Trail then went into this open area that skirted by some fencing for some mining and drilling activities
Santa_Paula_Canyon_030_02052021 - The Santa Paula Canyon Trail about to rejoin a paved road between the Thomas Aquinas College property and the Rancho Recuerdo avocado farm
Santa_Paula_Canyon_031_02052021 - This was the entrance to the Rancho Recuerdo avocado farm
Santa_Paula_Canyon_034_02052021 - Looking back at one of the oil-drilling grasshoppers from the entrance of the Rancho Recuerdo
Santa_Paula_Canyon_036_02052021 - The paved road passing through the Rancho Recuerdo avocado farm
Santa_Paula_Canyon_040_02052021 - Following the paved road, which was flanked on one side by an oil pipeline
Santa_Paula_Canyon_042_02052021 - The paved road eventually ended at this trio of oil derricks before the Santa Paula Canyon Trail veered around them
Santa_Paula_Canyon_046_02052021 - Signs indicating the discouragement of leaving litter, which may have contributed to the closure of Tar Creek further to the east near Fillmore
Santa_Paula_Canyon_049_02052021 - Beyond the trio of oil derricks, Santa Paula Canyon Trail started looking more like a real trail again.  This was roughly 1.25 miles from the trailhead
Santa_Paula_Canyon_050_02052021 - Approaching the fourth crossing of Santa Paula Creek
Santa_Paula_Canyon_052_02052021 - During my early February 2021 visit, I couldn't help but notice that there was a fairly heavy presence of bees.  Even on this random rock, this pair of bees were resting near where I had unknowingly rested my trekking poles
Santa_Paula_Canyon_053_02052021 - Following along the Santa Paula Creek after making the fourth crossing
Santa_Paula_Canyon_059_02052021 - Approaching some kind of contraption, where the Santa Paula Canyon Trail continued straight ahead behind it.  This was about 1.5 miles from the trailhead
Santa_Paula_Canyon_061_02052021 - After the contraption, the Santa Paula Canyon Trail briefly continued to follow Santa Paula Creek before the canyon started to open up
Santa_Paula_Canyon_067_02052021 - The Santa Paula Canyon Trail had signage that kept me on the right track even avoid false detours like this one that was branching to the right
Santa_Paula_Canyon_072_02052021 - The Santa Paula Canyon Trail entered this wide open part of the canyon, which I can easily envision being hot and dry.  Heck, it was already warm on the day that I took this photo in early February 2021. So I can imagine just how much warmer it would be towards Spring and especially Summer
Santa_Paula_Canyon_074_02052021 - I noticed this small striped snake making its way across the trail while I was in the open part of Santa Paula Canyon
Santa_Paula_Canyon_079_02052021 - After the fairly lengthy stretch of wide open hiking in Santa Paula Canyon, the canyon then narrowed again where Santa Paula Creek started to flow by the trail again
Santa_Paula_Canyon_080_02052021 - This was the fifth crossing of Santa Paula Creek, which was about 2.4 miles from the trailhead
Santa_Paula_Canyon_085_02052021 - Beyond the fifth crossing of Santa Paula Creek, the Santa Paula Canyon Trail continued to skirt alongside it as well as some odd boulders like this one
Santa_Paula_Canyon_087_02052021 - Sign directing me to veer away from Santa Paula Creek and start climbing up towards the Big Cone Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_101_02052021 - On the moderate 400ft climb above the Santa Paula Creek, around the Hill 1989, and then towards the Big Cone Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_108_02052021 - Context of Santa Paula Canyon and the 1989 Hill (which I believe is that hill to the right side of this photo)
Santa_Paula_Canyon_109_02052021 - Still following the Santa Paula Canyon Trail towards the Big Cone Camp, which was in the hanging valley to the right of the '1989 Hill' in this picture
Santa_Paula_Canyon_118_02052021 - This sign marked the Big Cone Camp, which was a landmark about 3.6 miles from the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead
Santa_Paula_Canyon_123_02052021 - This fire ring at the Big Cone Camp fronted a top down view towards the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_125_02052021 - Descending towards this switchback below the Big Cone Camp as I pursued the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_132_02052021 - Looking down towards a small waterfall on a tributary of the Santa Paula Creek.  The official trail continued a bit further upstream from here before crossing this creek then backtracking towards the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_135_02052021 - When I first showed up to the Santa Paula Canyon Falls, I actually scrambled downstream on the tributary creek thinking that the trail going further upstream was for something else.  The result of that decision was me having to negotiate this dicey ledge
Santa_Paula_Canyon_136_02052021 - Some lower tiers of the cascades just downstream of the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_155_02052021 - Finally arriving at the Santa Paula Canyon Falls, which was partially covered by shadows in the morning
Santa_Paula_Canyon_170_02052021 - Some local guys enjoying the Santa Paula Canyon Falls on a peaceful weekday morning in early February 2021
Santa_Paula_Canyon_176_02052021 - Contextual look at the attractive Santa Paula Canyon Falls and its clear plunge pool. The locals here told me that the wall in the shadows of this picture used to be full of graffiti
Santa_Paula_Canyon_185_02052021 - After having my fill of the Santa Paula Canyon Falls, it was time to climb up to the continuation of the main trail
Santa_Paula_Canyon_192_02052021 - This was the main trail beyond the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_200_02052021 - Looking down towards the upper punch bowls directly upstream of Santa Paula Canyon Falls. Hidden in the brightness of the sandstone on the center left of this photo was a rope that someone set up to make these pools more accessible
Santa_Paula_Canyon_202_02052021 - Looking down towards the Lower Plunge Pool where the two locals that I chatted with were still hanging out
Santa_Paula_Canyon_211_02052021 - Continuing along the Santa Paula Canyon Trail, which followed some of these rusted metal railings along the way
Santa_Paula_Canyon_215_02052021 - Looking across a calm section of Santa Paula Creek, which was actually where some informal 'water slides' were at that a couple of locals showed me
Santa_Paula_Canyon_216_02052021 - Following the narrowing trail as it skirted by some minor rock slides en route to the Cross Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_218_02052021 - The Santa Paula Canyon Trail weaving between these boulders on its way up to the Cross Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_219_02052021 - It was nice and quiet this far upstream from the Santa Paula Canyon Falls, and thus I was noticing other wildlife along the way
Santa_Paula_Canyon_223_02052021 - Roughly 1/4-mile beyond the upper punch bowls, the trail then made another moderately steep climb up towards Cross Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_225_02052021 - The narrow trail clinging to the slope above Santa Paula Canyon as it was getting closer to Cross Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_228_02052021 - This fire ring was one of the primitive sites of the Cross Camp about a half-mile beyond the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_232_02052021 - Beyond the Cross Camp, I continued along Santa Paula Creek, which eventually brought me to this interesting overhanging alcove with a hidden waterfall
Santa_Paula_Canyon_234_02052021 - This was the hidden waterfall with its own punch bowl or swimming pole as seen from an alcove with an overhang
Santa_Paula_Canyon_244_02052021 - This hidden waterfall and punch bowl marked my turnaround point on Santa Paula Creek during my first visit in early February 2021. However, I'm aware that the big Punch Bowl requires wading and scrambling beyond this point
Santa_Paula_Canyon_258_02052021 - Looking back from within the alcove with an overhang as I was about to head back downstream briefly along Santa Paula Creek
Santa_Paula_Canyon_264_02052021 - After turning back at the hidden waterfall on Santa Paula Creek, I then pursued a tributary, when got me to go by this small waterfall.  This pursuit of the side tributary was a pure scramble without a trail
Santa_Paula_Canyon_267_02052021 - Looking back at the sandstone friction-pitch scramble that I had to make to continue upstream on the tributary stream beyond Cross Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_268_02052021 - Approaching the wet rocks near the base of the tall unnamed waterfall on the tributary stream beyond Cross Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_273_02052021 - Finally making it up to the attractive unnamed waterfall on a tributary creek beyond Cross Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_291_02052021 - Full view of the tall unnamed waterfall on a tributary creek beyond Cross Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_300_02052021 - Going back downstream along the tributary stream as I had my fill and was starting to head back to the main Santa Paula Canyon Punch Bowls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_304_02052021 - When I returned to Cross Camp, I scrambled up to a ridge that yielded this nice view back upstream towards that hard-to-see unnamed waterfall hiding in the shadows of this photo
Santa_Paula_Canyon_316_02052021 - When I returned to the punch bowl area, I met up with the two locals I had chatted with earlier in the day.  This time, they showed me to a little water slide on Santa Paula Creek
Santa_Paula_Canyon_318_02052021 - Looking directly at the largest of the 'water slides' in this obscure spot of Santa Paula Creek
Santa_Paula_Canyon_320_02052021 - At the very top of the 'water slide' in Santa Paula Creek, I noticed this interesting submerged red foliage
Santa_Paula_Canyon_324_02052021 - Looking down along the 'water slide' on Santa Paula Creek
Santa_Paula_Canyon_336_02052021 - Looking further downstream from the top of the cascades feeding the upper punch bowls. Had I persisted along this side of the creek, I could have found a rope that someone had set up to descend down to these punch bowls below
Santa_Paula_Canyon_339_02052021 - Looking down over the brink of the cascades feeding the upper punch bowls immediately upstream of the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_347_02052021 - Looking straight down over the pair of cascades feeding the upper punch bowls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_348_02052021 - Continuing further downstream along the narrow trail skirting back over sandstone cliffs responsible for the Santa Paula Canyon Falls
Santa_Paula_Canyon_349_02052021 - Looking down over the upper punch bowl. Notice the rope on the left side of this picture, which could provide access to these punch bowls though it was a rather steep descent
Santa_Paula_Canyon_360_02052021 - Speaking of steep, I noticed this memorial set up near the top of the Santa Paula Canyon Falls, which goes to show you that people can and do die here.  So you really have to healthy respect and fear of Nature when you're out in the wilderness like this
Santa_Paula_Canyon_372_02052021 - Finally back at the Santa Paula Canyon Falls in nice afternoon lighting
Santa_Paula_Canyon_386_02052021 - Direct frontal look at the Santa Paula Canyon Falls in the afternoon
Santa_Paula_Canyon_397_02052021 - Enjoying a nice little view of Santa Paula Canyon Falls while having a snack before I headed out
Santa_Paula_Canyon_420_02052021 - Other people started to show up at the Santa Paula Canyon Falls just as I was about to leave.  All of them came up from the harder way within Santa Paula Creek instead of the more benign and official route via the Big Cone Camp
Santa_Paula_Canyon_424_02052021 - Following the trail back from the Santa Paula Canyon Falls towards the Big Cone Camp. This was the trail I should have taken in the first place earlier this morning
Santa_Paula_Canyon_428_02052021 - Looking back at the pair of guys who followed me along this trail to ensure that they would have an easier time to get back to the trailhead instead of the slog that they were on earlier to get to the Lower Punch Bowls in the first place
Santa_Paula_Canyon_437_02052021 - Back at the Big Cone Camp, I got this contextual view towards the Santa Paula Canyon Falls and the surrounding sandstone scenery around it
Santa_Paula_Canyon_445_02052021 - Heading back from the Big Cone Camp towards the trailhead
Santa_Paula_Canyon_450_02052021 - Afternoon look down into Santa Paula Canyon as I was making my way back to the trailhead
Santa_Paula_Canyon_463_02052021 - Going back through the wide open part of Santa Paula Canyon on the return hike
Santa_Paula_Canyon_474_02052021 - On the way back from the Santa Paula Canyon Falls, I hadn't noticed these steel cables before, but it turned out that I had inadvertently taken a detour route that wound up reconverging with the main Santa Paula Canyon Trail
Santa_Paula_Canyon_479_02052021 - Going back through this extensive burn area as I was getting closer to the Thomas Aquinas College and Rancho Recuerdo properties
Santa_Paula_Canyon_493_02052021 - Making it back to the oil-drilling grasshoppers
Santa_Paula_Canyon_502_02052021 - Following the paved road and oil pipelines back towards Thomas Aquinas College, which you can see in the distance
Santa_Paula_Canyon_508_02052021 - On the return hike, I noticed this road climbing into a different canyon in the distance that seemed to have more oil-drilling derricks as well as some mining activity
Santa_Paula_Canyon_515_02052021 - Making it back among the thin burnt trees around the Thomas Aquinas College property
Santa_Paula_Canyon_525_02052021 - Finally making it back to the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead after a rather long day of hiking and exploring


The Santa Paula Punch Bowls (or Santa Paula Canyon Falls) are on the Santa Paula Canyon Trail, which begins next to the Thomas Aquinas College near Santa Paula.

Driving here is actually pretty straightforward though I’ve found that the best approach was by taking the I-5 north to Magic Mountain (in Valencia, and then heading west on the Highway 126 towards Fillmore and ultimately to Santa Paula.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_528_02052021 - Context of the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead parking, which actually has a bit of a doozy of a bump at its entrance, which is requires care for low-clearance 2wd cars
Context of the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead parking, which actually has a bit of a doozy of a bump at its entrance, which is requires care for low-clearance 2wd cars

After about 36 miles on the CA-126 westbound, I’d then take exit 12 for 10th Street and the Hwy 150.

Turning right onto 10th Street, I’d then drive north through Santa Paula for about 0.6-mile and veer right where 10th Street and Ojai Road (Hwy 150) branch away from each other (to remain on Hwy 150).

About another 5.4 miles north on Hwy 150 (or 6 miles north of the Hwy 126 exit), I’d then reach the turnoff to the Thomas Aquinas College.

But instead of going into the college, I’d drive another 100 yards towards a smaller entrance and unpaved parking area for the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead.

Santa_Paula_Canyon_526_02052021 - Looking in the other direction along the Hwy 150 from the entrance to the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead parking towards the turnoff for the Thomas Aquinas College
Looking in the other direction along the Hwy 150 from the entrance to the Santa Paula Canyon Trailhead parking towards the turnoff for the Thomas Aquinas College

If the limit parking spaces here are full, then there’s alternate roadside parking on the southbound Hwy 150 lane just south of the bend in the road from the Thomas Aquinas College entrance.

Overall, from say downtown Los Angeles, this 72-mile drive would take 90 minutes from downtown Los Angeles though this totally depends on the amount of traffic on the freeways (and even in Santa Paula city itself).

In the past, I would have considered driving the US-101 then heading north on the Hwy 23 towards Fillmore before continuing west on the 126 to the Hwy 150, but the way I described above is the most direct route.

For context, Santa Paula is 15 miles (under 30 minutes drive) northeast of Oxnard, about 31 miles (roughly an hour drive) north of Thousand Oaks, about 44 miles (about an hour drive) east of Santa Barbara, about 65 miles (around 60-90 minutes depending on traffic) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and 105 miles (about 2 hours drive) northwest of Irvine.

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Long video exhibiting the full experience of the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls from both sides of the creek in nice afternoon lighting


Right to left sweep of Santa Paula Canyon Falls from the left side of the creek


Back and forth sweep starting from a bluff above the slanted waterfalls upstream of the main Santa Paula Canyon Falls then looking down towards more pools before going back upstream and ending at a contextual look at the slanted waterfalls


Sweep and walkalong starting from the top of the water slide and ending at the top of a chute waterfall dropping into a steep series of punch bowls


Downstream to upstream sweep showing the tall unnamed waterfall further upstream of Santa Paula Canyon Falls before going all the way to its base for another closer look at this unnamed falls


Back and forth sweep showing a loud waterfall on Santa Paula Creek that marked my turnaround point though i suspect the larger punch bowl required climbing it and wading further

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Tagged with: santa paula canyon, thomas aquinas college, fillmore, ojai, ventura county, santa paula canyon punch bowls, swimming hole, california, waterfall



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