Sycamore Canyon Falls

Santa Monica Mountains / Pt Mugu State Park, California, USA

About Sycamore Canyon Falls


Hiking Distance: 3 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 90 minutes

Date first visited: 2002-01-01
Date last visited: 2019-06-01

Waterfall Latitude: 34.14132
Waterfall Longitude: -118.95752

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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.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_026_01242010 - Sycamore Canyon Falls
Sycamore Canyon Falls

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 (and wildlife) sightings.

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.

Optimizing the Sycamore Canyon Falls Experience

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_133_06012019 - Sycamore Canyon Falls in low flow as we showed up late in the season in June 2019 despite it being a wet year
Sycamore Canyon Falls in low flow as we showed up late in the season in June 2019 despite it being a wet year

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.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_019_01242010 - Lots of people at Sycamore Canyon Falls when it had good flow back in January 2010
Lots of people at Sycamore Canyon Falls when it had good flow back in January 2010

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.

Finally, the hike to Sycamore Canyon Falls used to be as little as 2.4 miles round trip, but 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, however, due to the many criss-crossing trails with opportunities to go on detours or side excursions, it was easy to get sidetracked and take longer than expected.

Anyways, we’ll talk about the two main ways we’ve done this excursion so you can have an idea of the pros and cons of either approach.

The Wendy Trail Approach to Sycamore Canyon Falls

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_001_01242010 - The Wendy Trail Approach to Sycamore Canyon Falls from Potrero Road, which started opposite some church (not pictured)
The Wendy Trail Approach to Sycamore Canyon Falls from Potrero Road, which started opposite some church (not pictured)

This 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 Portrero Road, we took the Wendy Trail, which started across Portrero Road from Wendy Drive.

We then had a choice of hiking paths.

The Wendy Trail to the Satwiwa Culture Center

The first decision point gave us a choice of following the Wendy Trail on the right or continuing towards the Windmill Trail on the left.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_007_01242010 - Looking towards the Chumash Demonstration Village near the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center
Looking towards the Chumash Demonstration Village near the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center

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.

However, we kept left to continue another 0.2 miles to another decision point.

At this fork, we kept left to go another 0.1-mile to another fork in the trail. The path on the right rejoined the Wendy Trail.

Choosing Between the Lower Satwiwa Loop or the Windmill Trail

At the next decision point (after keeping left), we had a choice of keeping right to take the Wendy-Satwiwa Connector Trail to the Lower Satwiwa Loop, or we could have kept left to take the more undulating Windmill Trail.

The Wendy-Satwiwa Connector to Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail would ultimately lead another 0.6 miles to the Danielson Road, which was a trail skirting the contours of Sycamore Canyon.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_049_01242010 - Looking towards the so-called Windmill, which was how the Windmill Trail got its name
Looking towards the so-called Windmill, which was how the Windmill Trail got its name

This trail undulated through a combination of grasslands flanked by wildflowers as well as even a rosemary grove.

The Windmill Trail led past an old weather vane next to some kind of water tank.

This trail climbed on the foothills offering views back across the valley, and in one of our visits, we used this trail to get nice views towards rare snow-capped mountains near the Sespe Wilderness in the distance.

The Windmill Trail eventually led back to the Danielson Road near the Satwiwa Loop Trail junction (probably another 0.2-mile longer than the direct Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail route).

However, we could have also taken the Windmill Trail further up the hill towards the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail, but then we’d have to backtrack down the hill towards Danielson Road to resume the waterfall hike.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_063_06012019 - On the Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail, which skirted through more grassy lands with some spots of overgrowth
On the Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail, which skirted through more grassy lands with some spots of overgrowth

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.

Danielson Road to Sycamore Canyon Falls

Along this stretch, 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 where the left fork was the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail while the right fork continued along Sycamore Canyon to the falls.

Note that if you took the Windmill Trail to Hidden Valley Overlook Trail, this is where you would have backtracked to in order to reach Danielson Road.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_079_06012019 - The bench overlooking Sycamore Canyon along Danielson Road
The bench overlooking Sycamore Canyon along Danielson Road

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 and 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 and we entered 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.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_100_06012019 - Danielson Road followed the northern contour of Sycamore Canyon before eventually entering the canyon itself
Danielson Road followed the northern contour of Sycamore Canyon before eventually entering the canyon itself

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 as a slip-and-fall here along with poison oak exposure could ruin a visit here.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend 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.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_152_06012019 - This was the uppermost tier of Sycamore Canyon Falls that I was able to reach
This was the uppermost tier of Sycamore Canyon Falls that I was able to reach

After having our fill of the falls, we returned the way we came though there were many options on which return route to take.

The Satwiwa Loop Approach to Sycamore Canyon Falls

This 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 Portrero Road approach specific for handicap and park employee access, and that 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.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_015_06012019 - Julie on the flower-fringed trail leading from the main parking lot to the Satwiwa Native American Culture Center
Julie on the flower-fringed trail leading from the main parking lot to the Satwiwa Native American Culture Center

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).

Possible Confusion to get from Satwiwa to Danielson Road

Because there were at least four trails leaving from the Satwiwa area, it was very easy to get sidetracked and wind up going away from Sycamore Canyon Falls (we’ve certainly made that mistake ourselves).

So we’ll talk you through the options in an effort to minimize the confusion.

First, there was a bridge that left the paved part of the Big Sycamore Canyon Trail.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_039_06012019 - The Satwiwa Native American Culture Center
The Satwiwa Native American Culture Center

On the other side of the bridge, we headed on a wide path to the left right to the heart of the Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa area (i.e. the cultural center).

Continuing on this wide path past the cultural center would continue further east onto the wide open grassy Satwiwa Loop Trail just north of a pond.

This trail was part of the Satwiwa Loop Trail, and it would eventually intersect with the Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail in about 0.4 miles or the Windmill Trail in another 0.2 miles.

From there, if we took the Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail, we’d have to backtrack 0.3 miles along it to reach Danielson Road.

If we took the longer route to Windmill Trail, we’d have to backtrack about 0.6 miles to get to the same junction.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_048_06012019 - Looking back over the pond just east of Satwiwa Culture Center along the Satwiwa Loop Trail
Looking back over the pond just east of Satwiwa Culture Center along the Satwiwa Loop Trail

On the Windmill Trail, we would also have the option to go further uphill towards the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail, which would require us to backtrack towards a fork with Danielson Road about 0.1-mile up the hill from the main junction with Danielson Road as described earlier.

The Most Direct Approach from Satwiwa to Danielson Road

However, the most direct trail to the Sycamore Canyon Falls actually climbed immediately to the right after crossing the bridge leaving Big Sycamore Canyon Trail.

Since that path wasn’t signed, it was very easy to miss, especially since the larger signed path went to the Culture Center away from this narrower path.

Anyways, this direct trail went southeast for about 0.4 miles to the Danielson Road (passing south from the pond).

It was as if they wanted you to hike the Satwiwa Loop Trail in a clockwise manner and not in the other direction, which was the most direct route leading to Danielson Road.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_088_06012019 - The fork on Danielson Road, where the left fork was the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail while the right fork went into Sycamore Canyon and to the waterfall
The fork on Danielson Road, where the left fork was the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail while the right fork went into Sycamore Canyon and to the waterfall

Once at Danielson Road, there were many other trails joining up here right at the edge of Sycamore Canyon.

The Least Confusing (but not the shortest) Approach from Satwiwa to Danielson Road

Of course, if you find it confusing trying to figure out of which of the many paths to take, you could always continue south on the paved Big Sycamore Canyon Trail.

Taking this slightly longer approach south for another 0.3 miles, it would eventually join up with Danielson Road, where we’d leave the pavement and follow the Danielson Road east.

After about 0.3 miles of hiking on Danielson Road (which now skirted the rim of Sycamore Canyon), we’d ultimately arrive at the junction with several other trails in another 0.3 miles.

From this junction, we’d continue on the Danielson Road, which still followed the contours of Sycamore Canyon, and we’d follow the directions as stated above for the final 3/4-mile or so to reach the Waterfall Spur and ultimately the Sycamore Canyon Falls.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_041_01242010 - Looking out over some homes towards new snow in the mountains of Ventura County from one of the trails we were coming back from after visiting Sycamore Canyon Falls.  This elevated trail allowed us to see where we were going on the way back
Looking out over some homes towards new snow in the mountains of Ventura County from one of the trails we were coming back from after visiting Sycamore Canyon Falls. This elevated trail allowed us to see where we were going on the way back

After having our fill of Sycamore Canyon Falls, you can see that there was certainly no shortage of return routes (and subsequent potential for getting lost or confused).

At least on the return, you have the benefit of being in higher ground so you would generally have an idea of where you’re going.

Authorities

Sycamore Canyon Falls resides in Pt Mugu State Park, but it’s also within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit the NPS website.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_003_01242010 - Given the saturation rains that lasted a week prior to us hiking, we could see why the trail was muddy
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_005_01242010 - Looking back towards snow-topped mountains over residences that we were leaving behind
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_008_01242010 - The pair of bridges fronting the Satwiwa Native American Indian Natural Area
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_010_01242010 - Entering Point Mugu State Park along the multi-use Wendy Trail
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_012_01242010 - On our 2010 visit, we took the Boney Mountain Trail to Sycamore Canyon Falls, which involved a bit more climbing than some of the more popular routes to reach Sycamore Canyon Falls.  I recalled on our first visit back in early 2002, we were on the other side of the creek, which I believe was part of the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_013_01242010 - Looking towards some protruding rocks on mountaintops with interesting shapes.  I believe this mountain was called Boney Mountain
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_015_01242010 - The trail we took in 2010 then entered the Boney Mountain State Wilderness at Danielson Road
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_041_01242010 - Nice panoramas of the Hidden Valley basin along the Old Boney Trail section
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_017_01242010 - Mom (with Julie up ahead) crossing the creek
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_029_01242010 - Lots of people climbing to the top of the falls
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_038_01242010 - We weren't kidding when we said Sycamore Canyon Falls was popular
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_043_01242010 - Panoramic view back towards Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa from the Danielson Road
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_045_01242010 - Heading back to the trailhead
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_046_01242010 - A coyote on the prowl for gophers or rabbits, which we saw on the return hike
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_003_scanned_01012002 - How the falls looked the last time we visited back in the 2001-2002 timeframe
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_001_06012019 - The main parking lot for Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_015_06012019 - Lots of wildflowers (mostly invasive black mustards) flanking the main trail during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_021_06012019 - We were surprised to still see California poppies during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_025_06012019 - More interesting wildflowers seen during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_033_06012019 - We managed to see quite a few rabbits or hares during our June 2019 visit to Sycamore Canyon Falls
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_035_06012019 - Approaching the bridge leaving Big Sycamore Canyon Trail (paved) and heading towards the Satwiwa Culture Center and Chumash Demonstration Village
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_038_06012019 - Keeping left past the bridge and heading towards the main part of Rancho Sierra Vista
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_043_06012019 - The Chumash Demonstration Village
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_046_06012019 - Another rabbit seen during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_049_06012019 - More wildflowers seen along the Satwiwa Loop Trail during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_071_06012019 - When we realized that we had to backtrack on the Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail during our June 2019 visit, we looked in the distance towards the more direct trail that we should have taken in the first place
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_081_06012019 - Ascending Danielson Road as we hiked along the northern contour of Sycamore Canyon during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_084_06012019 - Looking down across Sycamore Canyon towards someone hiking on the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_097_06012019 - Still more wildflowers that we saw along Danielson Road
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_104_06012019 - As we got deeper along Sycamore Canyon, it started closing in just as the trail was descending towards its lush interior
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_108_06012019 - Still more interesting wildflowers seen during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_110_06012019 - Looking up at some denuded and blackened trees that I'd imagine must have been burnt during the Woolsey Fire in late 2018 (or from a different Springs Fire in 2013)
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_112_06012019 - Julie entering the lush confines of Sycamore Canyon as the Old Boney Trail joined up with Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_113_06012019 - Still more interesting wildflowers seen during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_116_06012019 - Walking along the seasonal creek within Sycamore Canyon
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_121_06012019 - Julie looking at the trail climbing up to continue the Old Boney Trail
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_123_06012019 - Julie continuing towards the Waterfall Spur our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_125_06012019 - Julie negotiating a little bit of rock scrambling near Sycamore Canyon Falls during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_127_06012019 - Finally back at Sycamore Canyon Falls in early June 2019
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_139_06012019 - Looking up towards the top of Sycamore Canyon Falls during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_142_06012019 - Looking down at other scramblers carefully making their way back down the steep terrain alongside Sycamore Canyon Falls
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_145_06012019 - This was one of the upper tiers of Sycamore Canyon Falls that I encountered though continuing further up from here required even more tricky scrambling
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_158_06012019 - This was the highest part of Sycamore Canyon Falls that I was able to scramble to during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_163_06012019 - The cliff on the left was the precarious part that I clung onto in order to reach the uppermost part of Sycamore Canyon Falls during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_170_06012019 - Last look back up at Sycamore Canyon Falls before we headed back
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_182_06012019 - Still more wildflowers seen during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_185_06012019 - There was definitely no shortage of wildflowers seen during our June 2019 visit
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_195_06012019 - Looking into Sycamore Canyon as we were returning from Sycamore Canyon Falls
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_224_06012019 - Julie descending on the direct trail that we should have taken earlier on as we were approaching Satwiwa Culture Center
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_228_06012019 - Yet another rabbit we spotted on the main trail as we were returning to the main parking lot
Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_234_06012019 - Finally returning to the main parking lot to end off our June 2019 visit

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Sycamore Canyon Falls sat on the western side of the Santa Monica Mountains near the cities of Thousand Oaks, Malibu, Oxnard, and Camarillo. 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.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_011_06012019 - The main parking lot for Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa
The main parking lot for Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa

Perhaps the most direct approach would be to leave the US101 at Lynn Road. Then turn left and follow Lynn Road for about 5 miles to Via Goleta Rd.

From there, 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 and taking it south towards Portrero Road. Note that we could have also taken the Lynn Road exit and following it for 3.8 miles towards Wendy Drive before turning left and heading to Potrero Road.

Along Potrero Road, there were extensive unpaved shoulder parking around the three-way intersection with Wendy Drive.

Sycamore_Canyon_Falls_050_01242010 - Mom and Julie approaching Potrero Road and residences as we were about to conclude our January 2010 hike where we took the Wendy Trail approach
Mom and Julie approaching Potrero Road and residences as we were about to conclude our January 2010 hike where we took the Wendy Trail approach

This was the so-called spillover parking area (if the main parking lot was too full), but 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.

Bottom up sweep of the main part of the waterfall before panning downstream along the waterfall's trajectory


Back and forth sweep near the top of the waterfall


Back and forth sweep of the uppermost drop of the falls and surrounds

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Tagged with: santa monica mountains, los angeles, malibu, thousand oaks, canaan, mugu, california, southern california, waterfall, oxnard, camarillo, ventura, satwiwa, newbury park



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