About Sycamore Canyon Falls
Sycamore Canyon Falls (also called Rancho Sierra Vista Falls) sits in Point Mugu State Park, which itself resides in the Santa Monica Mountains on the Thousand Oaks side.
Each time we’ve visited this falls, we’ve found it to be quite a popular (read: crowded) attraction.
I’d speculate that the reason for the popularity of this excursion was due to the presence of other attractions in the area.
Such attractions included the Satwiwa Native American Natural Area, nice panoramic views of the rock-exposed Boney Mountain as well as views towards the Hidden Valley basin, and wildflower sightings with the odd wildlife sighting as well.
As for the waterfall, it cascaded in multiple tiers for a cumulative height of around 50ft to 75ft.
Admittedly, these are figures that I just pulled out of my gut.
We also saw numerous people scramble up the slippery rocks alongside Sycamore Canyon Falls to its top.
So this waterfall certainly had no shortage of distractions as well as somewhat of a fun factor.
Timing Sycamore Canyon Falls
Sycamore Canyon Falls was also a waterfall that had a bit of a temperamental behavior when it came to its flow.
Therefore, an optimal experience with the falls required some degree of timing.
Thus, to maximize the enjoyment of this waterfall, we’d want to time our visit for maximal flow.
The first time we visited the falls was during New Years Day during a dry winter (around the 2002 time frame) so obviously we were disappointed that it was hardly flowing.
The second time we made a visit, it occurred shortly after a Winter storm in late January and the falls had nice flow.
The third time we came to Sycamore Canyon Falls, it occurred late in the season in early June on a high rainfall year, but the falls definitely had seen better days.
So I guess given these experiences, we speculate that the falls would be at its most impressive after sustained rainfall likely in late Winter or early Spring.
In addition to the flow, we also realized that photographing this waterfall would be best done in the afternoon.
That’s because our experiences have demonstrated that we looked against the morning sun when we tried to beat the crowds by showing up early.
Hiking to Sycamore Canyon Falls
The hike to Sycamore Canyon Falls used to be as little as 2.4 miles round trip.
However, that was probably back when it was easier to drive closer to the Satwiwa Cultural Center at the heart of Rancho Sierra Vista.
Over the years, we’ve found that a more realistic hiking distance was more like 3 miles round trip.
Each time we’ve done this hike, we generally took between 90 minutes to 2.5 hours depending on how often we made stops.
We easily could have walked more than this distance as it was easy to get sidetracked and take longer than expected.
Indeed, there were many criss-crossing trails with opportunities to go on detours or side excursions.
So we’ll just focus on a couple of routes that we were familiar with – the Satwiwa Loop Approach and the Wendy Trail Approach.
Sycamore Canyon Falls Trail Description – the Satwiwa Loop Approach
The Satwiwa Loop Approach to Sycamore Canyon Falls started from the main parking lot (see directions below).
Over the years, it appeared that the park authorities had made the old Potrero Road approach specific for handicap and park employee access.
Therefore, the main parking lot became the de facto starting point for most people.
So I’d imagine this would be the most common approach to reach the Sycamore Canyon Falls.
From this parking lot, we hiked for about 0.4 miles along a flower-fringed wide path (shared with mountain bikers) as it eventually joined up with the Big Sycamore Canyon Trail.
The Big Sycamore Canyon Trail was paved near the vicinity of the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center and Chumash Demonstration Village (where the round hay shelter was).
At Satwiwa, there were numerous trails that could easily take us in the wrong direction.
So generally, if we cross the bridge to go through the Chumash Demonstration Village and past a pond to our right, then we’d look to veer to the right at a fork around a quarter-mile beyond the village.
This would lead us on another quarter-mile path to a junction with the Danielson Fire Road.
Conversely, there was a more direct trail to the junction with the Danielson Fire Road that didn’t pass through Satwiwa and was skirting the other side of the pond, but that was less obvious to pursue until we returned from the falls.
I would guess that the distance saved by going the direct route would be almost negligible (maybe 0.1-mile).
Sycamore Canyon Falls Trail Descripition – hiking from the junction by Danielson Road to the waterfall
From the trail junction with the Danielson Fire Road, the trail started climbing in earnest as it started to skirt the northern rim of Big Sycamore Canyon.
Along this ascent, we had attractive views into Sycamore Canyon.
The trail also revealed more wildflowers as it continued generally uphill towards the upper reaches of the canyon itself.
After about 0.1-mile from the junctions and past the bench overlooking Sycamore Canyon, we reached a fork in the trail.
At this fork, the path on the left was the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail while the right on the right continued along Sycamore Canyon to the Sycamore Canyon Falls.
Anyways, taking the lower trail on the right to continue on Danielson Road, we’d eventually enter the canyon itself.
As the trail descended somewhat, it joined up with the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail in another half-mile.
By this time, the trail skirted alongside the seasonal creek responsible for Sycamore Canyon.
We then found ourselves in a lush area flanked by burnt trees (from several past fires) as well as more wildflowers in bloom.
After crossing the creek, the trail continued ascending for another 0.2 miles before reaching another junction.
We kept left at the junction to continue on the Waterfall Spur to go the final 0.1-mile to the base of Sycamore Canyon Falls.
The switchback on the right would continue uphill deeper into Pt Mugu State Park on the Old Boney Trail.
Once at Sycamore Canyon Falls, we had the choice of just enjoying the views or scrambling higher up the cascading waterfall in an effort to see its uppermost tiers.
Although many people do the steep scramble to the waterfall’s hidden uppermost tiers, there was definitely an element of danger.
That’s because a slip-and-fall here along with poison oak exposure could ruin a visit.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend that kids to do the scramble to the top as they may not know the danger they would be putting themselves in.
Anyways, the waterfall itself featured small tiers with pools that often had salamanders or water bugs in them.
So it was a suitable place to relax and enjoy one of the Santa Monica Mountains’ more dramatic waterfalls.
After having our fill of the falls, we returned the way we came though there were many options on which return route to take.
That said, to minimize the confusion, I’d generally return the way we came, but there would be nothing to stop us from extending the hike into a longer loop by using some of the other trails.
Sycamore Canyon Falls Trail Description – the Wendy Trail Approach to the falls
The Wendy Trail approach to Sycamore Canyon Falls involved starting the hike from the spillover parking area near the residences along Potrero Road near Wendy Drive (see directions below).
Since this was the directions described in Ann Marie Brown’s book, this had been our favored approach.
From the unpaved shoulder parking area along Potrero Road, we took the Wendy Trail, which started across Potrero Road from Wendy Drive.
The Wendy Trail was a multi-use trail (i.e. they allowed mountain bikers) that ultimately would lead near the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center in another 3/4-mile or so.
That said, we had a choice of hiking paths – keeping right to go towards Satwiwa Culture Center, or keeping left onto the Windmill Trail.
On the way to the Satwiwa Culture Center, the Wendy-Satwiwa Connector to the Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail would ultimately lead us another 0.6 miles to the Danielson Road.
Danielson Road was the trail skirting the contours of Big Sycamore Canyon.
On the other hand, the Windmill Trail led past an old weather vane (i.e. the “windmill”) next to some kind of water tank.
This trail climbed on the foothills offering views back across the valley.
On one of our visits, we used this trail to get nice views towards rare snow-capped mountains of the Sespe Wilderness in the distance.
Anyways, the Windmill Trail ultimately led back to the Danielson Road near the Satwiwa Loop Trail junction (probably another 0.2-mile longer than the direct Lower Satwiwa Trail route).
In any case, once we were on Danielson Road, the trail then veered to the east as it climbed and followed the contour of Sycamore Canyon as described earlier.
The remainder of the hike to the waterfall was on the order of about 3/4-mile one-way.
Sycamore Canyon Falls resides in Pt Mugu State Park, but it’s also within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near Newbury Park in Ventury County, California. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit the NPS website.
It’s roughly an hours drive (without traffic) west of downtown Los Angeles along the US101 Freeway.
There were many approaches after leaving the US101 in Thousand Oaks.
Perhaps the most direct approach would be to leave the US101 at Lynn Road, and then turn left and follow Lynn Road for about 5 miles to Via Goleta Rd.
From there, we’d turn left onto the main park road and take it to the main parking lot.
Overall, this drive would take around 90-120 minutes from downtown Los Angeles depending on traffic.
Alternatively, we’ve taken the US101 west towards Newbury Park getting off at Wendy Drive exit.
Then, we’d take Wendy Drive south towards Potrero Road.
Note that we could have also taken the Lynn Road exit and followed it for 3.8 miles towards Wendy Drive before turning left and heading to Potrero Road.
Anyways, along Potrero Road, there were extensive unpaved shoulder parking around the three-way intersection with Wendy Drive.
This was the so-called spillover parking area (if the main parking lot was too full).
That said, we’ve tended to use this trailhead for a more panoramic alternate hiking approach (described earlier) along a combination of Wendy Trail and/or Windmill Trail.
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