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 and hiking trails in the area in addition to its accessibility.
Such attractions included the Satwiwa Native American Culture Center, the imposing rock-exposed Boney Mountain, views towards the Hidden Valley basin, and wildflower sightings along 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, but as you can see in the photo above, it’s certainly no slouch in terms of its size (at least as far as Southern California waterfalls are concerned).
Besides the physical attributes of Sycamore Canyon Falls, it’s also possible to scramble to its top to witness some hidden cascades as well as experiencing the falls from a different perspective.
So this waterfall certainly had no shortage of reasons to motivate a visit, whether it’s neighboring diversions or the fun factor of scrambling in and around the falls.
Timing Sycamore Canyon Falls
We’ve observed that Sycamore Canyon Falls tended to possess a bit of a temperamental behavior when it came to its flow.
Therefore, an optimal experience with the falls required some degree of timing – typically in Winter or early Spring though this depends on how much precipitation had fallen.
To maximize the enjoyment of this waterfall, we’d want to time our visit for right after some significant rain, when it would likely have good flow while the flooding risk would not be as high with the improving weather.
Just to give you an idea of how our timings went, the first time we visited the falls was during New Years Day 2022, which was a dry winter, so 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 2010 that even produced snow in the Sespe Wilderness to the north, and the falls had nice flow.
The third time we came to Sycamore Canyon Falls occurred late in the season in early June 2019 on a high rainfall year, but the falls definitely had seen better days.
Finally, our fourth visit came shortly after a series of atmospheric river storms in January 2023, which produced a sighting every bit as satisfactory as our 2010 visit.
In addition to the flow, we also realized that photographing this west-facing waterfall would get the best lighting in the afternoon.
However, we’ve observed that this place gets quite busy by late morning and into the afternoon, so there’s a bit of a catch-22 where you have to trade lots of people versus taking good photographs.
Hiking to Sycamore Canyon Falls
There are numerous ways to access Sycamore Canyon Falls, and the network of criss-crossing trails can be a bit confusing.
For the purposes of this write-up, we’ll just focus on the two shortest approaches though you could easily combine them to get the best of both worlds (as each trail has its appeal).
The first approach starts from the main parking lot by the Rancho Sierra Vista property and encompasses the Satwiwa Loop Trail via the Satwiwa Culture Center and Chumash Demonstration Village.
The second approach starts from the Wendy Trailhead and encompasses the Wendy Trail, the Windmill Trail, and the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail.
Both trails connect with the Danielson Fire Road, which then becomes the “Waterfall Trail” as the path enters Sycamore Canyon and ultimately arrives at the Sycamore Canyon Falls.
For the hike starting at the main trailhead, my maps indicate that the hike would be about 3.2 miles round-trip (though I’ve seen the signage here suggest the hike could be as little as 3 miles round-trip).
Conversely, the hike starting from the Wendy Trailhead indicates that the out-and-back hike would be about 3.5 miles round-trip (though my trip logs indicated it was 4 miles round-trip).
Nevertheless, each time we’ve done this hike, we generally took between 90 minutes to 2.5 hours depending on how often we made stops.
As far as comparing the two approaches, the Satwiwa Culture Center approach has the advantage of being more family friendly as it’s a flatter trail along with the chance to experience the interpretive center as well as the Chumash Demonstration Village.
Sometimes there’s staff actually running demonstrations and exhibits showcasing the wildlife (including fur samples and plant samples) as well as a native shelter being built up.
The Wendy Trail approach, while slightly longer, has the advantage of panoramic views towards the Newbury Park suburb backed by the mountains of the Sespe Wilderness to the north.
If you’re interested in getting the best of both worlds, I’d recommend doing a loop hike in a counterclockwise manner so you can get the panoramic views on the way back down without needing to remember to look over your shoulder.
Doing the loop hike would add a little over a mile to either approach.
Sycamore Canyon Falls Trail Description – Satwiwa Loop Approach
The Satwiwa Loop Approach to Sycamore Canyon Falls started from the main parking lot nearest to the Satwiwa Culture Center (see directions below).
From the parking area and restroom facilities, we then followed the a wide unpaved road (Pinehill Trail according to my map), which sees lots of mountain bikers in addition to trail runners and hikers.
After about a quarter-mile on Pinehill Trail, we then reached the Satwiwa Culture Center and Chumash Demonstration Village.
From this visitor center, it can get a little confusing about where to go next since there are lots of trails going in all directions.
The most obvious trail to continue on is the Sycamore Canyon Fire Road to the southwest, but the most direct trail is the Satwiwa Loop Trail somewhat hidden to the south of the Chumash Demonstration Village and to the south of a wetland pond.
The Satwiwa Loop Trail is a mostly flat trail flanked by wetland vegetation as well as fringed with wildflowers in the Spring.
After about 0.4-mile, the trail reaches a four-way junction, where we’d want to go straight ahead onto the Danielson Fire Road.
By the way, had we missed the Satwiwa Loop Trail and taken the Sycamore Canyon Fire Road, we would have gone about a quarter-mile or so to the Danielson Fire Road, and then taking it for another 0.3-mile to get to this four-way junction.
The latter approach would be about 0.2-mile or so longer than the more direct Satwiwa Loop Trail approach.
Anyways, following the Danielson Fire Road, the trail then ascends as it skirts the northern rim of Sycamore Canyon.
Along the way, there’s an overlook, which my map labels as the Upper Sycamore Canyon Overlook.
Continuing on the Danielson Fire Road for another 0.1-mile, the trail then reaches another trail junction, where a sign identifies that you’re entering the Boney Mountain State Wilderness.
Keeping to the right at this junction, the trail gets a little narrower while continuing to skirt the canyon for another 1/2-mile before reaching a junction with the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail coming in on the right.
Continuing on the left to remain on the Waterfall Trail, the path crosses the seasonal creek responsible for Sycamore Canyon, and then proceeds for another 0.2-mile to another trail junction.
Keeping to the left at this trail junction (the trail on the right continues the Old Cabin Trail), the path then descends back down to the creek.
This is where the path becomees a little bit of a scramble as it descends to the creek, crosses it one more time, and then goes past a few boulders and deadfall obstacles before arriving at the Sycamore Canyon Falls (or “Sycamore Falls” according to my map).
While the views of the waterfall from here can be pleasant and photogenic, there’s a limited amount of space to enjoy this spot so it can get crowded quite easily.
Therefore, it’s tempting to scramble up the waterfall to its top, where you can experience Sycamore Canyon Falls’ uppermost tiers as well as small pools where we’ve seen salamanders and water bugs in them.
Although many people do this steep scramble, there was definitely an element of danger due to the drop-off exposure and slip-and-fall risk along with some mild poison oak presence.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend that kids do the scramble to the top as they may not know the danger they would be putting themselves in.
Nevertheless, if getting away from the crowds down below is a thing, then this more secluded spot up at the top would be 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 we certainly could have extended the hike to experience the views down the Windmill Trail before returning to the culture center and trailhead.
Sycamore Canyon Falls Trail Description – Wendy Trail Approach
The Wendy Trail approach to Sycamore Canyon Falls started 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.
After going through an opening in the fencing along Potrero Road, we then walked past an interpretive sign.
Shortly after continuing straight at a four-way trail intersection, we then descended towards a seasonal stream before briefly climbing towards the next trail junction (about 1/4-mile from the Wendy Trailhead).
From this trail junction, we had a choice of going right to continue on the Wendy Trail, which heads west to the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center in another 3/4-mile or so.
Or, we could keep to the left and go uphill on the Windmill Trail, which climbs moderately up a combination of slopes, steps, and switchbacks.
The Windmill Trail climbs roughly 200ft while going past three more trail junctions linking with the Lower Satwiwa Loop Trail (which we ignored).
Along the way, we passed an old weather vane (i.e. the “windmill”) next to some kind of water tank with glimpses across an open field peering in the direction of the Satwiwa Culture Center.
As we climbed higher on this trail, the views looking back towards the north continued got better as more of the mountains of the Sespe Wilderness became more prominent.
Eventually after about 0.6-mile after leaving the Wendy Trail, the Windmill Trail reached a three-way intersection with the Hidden Valley Overlook Trail.
In case you’re wondering, the path on the left went east up to the Hidden Valley Overlook, which was an aptly-named hidden basin housing a handful of lakes giving Westlake Village its name.
This detour is also a dead-end, which the trail sign here made sure to mention to keep hikers on track.
Anyways from here, we went right, which briefly went downhill for about a 0.1-mile stretch before joining up with the Danielson Road right at the Boney Mountain State Wilderness sign.
At this point, we followed the northern contours Sycamore Canyon as described in the first hiking route.
This downhill stretch (i.e. it will be uphill on the way back) with a creek crossing and a couple of trail junctions persisted for the remaining 3/4-mile or so before arriving at the Sycamore Canyon Falls.
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.
Sycamore Canyon Falls sat on the western side of the north-facing foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Given that there are a couple of trailheads to choose from to reach the Sycamore Canyon Falls, I’ll describe the directions that’s common to both, and then I’ll present how to get to either one.
So from the US101 and I-405 junction, we’d continue to drive west on the US101 for about 25 miles to the Lynn Road exit.
If we were to go to the main trailhead, then we’d follow Lynn Road for about 7.2 miles to Via Goleta Road, where we’d then turn left onto the Sycamore Canyon Trailhead.
Note that there’s an archway indicating that you’re entering the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Rancho Sierra Vista – Satwiwa (essentially letting you know you’re in the right place).
Follow this road to its end where there’s a parking lot (though there are also spillover parking lots further back if the nearest one is full).
Now if we were to go to the Wendy Trailhead, then we’d follow Lynn Road for about 5.5 miles to its intersection with Wendy Drive.
Turning left onto Wendy Drive, we’d follow this suburban road for about a half-mile to its intersection with Potrero Road, where the trailhead and parking area is directly in front of you.
There’s also the St Matthews Methodist Church across from this trailhead so you could leverage that if you’re using a phone app to route to here.
By the way, if you’re really trying to go for the shortest drive time, it’s also possible to continue on the US101 to the Wendy Drive exit instead of the Lynn Road exit.
Nevertheless, the US101 can be quite prone to traffic so while the stretch between the 405 and Lynn Road can take less than a half-hour, my experiences have shown that it can easily take upwards of an hour if there’s a lot of congestion.
Finally for geographical context, Newbury Park is 45 miles (about 1 hour drive depending on traffic) west of downtown Los Angeles, 24 miles (about 30 minutes drive) north of Malibu, 19 miles (under 30 minutes drive) east of Oxnard, 52 miles (about an hour drive) east of Santa Barbara.
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