Distance: 11.7 Miles
Elevation gain: 2,000′
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Time: 4 hours, 37 minutes
Critters: an injured coyote, a healthy coyote, feral parrots, squirrels, rabbits, quail
How to Get There: Take 101 north (or south, depending on whether you’re coming from Ventura). Exit Wendy Drive in Newbury Park and head south. Wendy Drive terminates at the Satwiwa Loop trailhead.
- Expansive ocean and mountain views
- Easy to access trailhead that is very close to civilization
- A great mix of classic southern california ecosystems
- Some long stretches of trail dominated by old growth chapparal can limit your views. I found these sections to be a bit tedious, even if I was grateful for the shade
- Sycamore Canyon is very popular with mountain bikers. Most bikers are courteous, but some treat it as a speed way and give hikers little warning of their approach
- Satwiwa Loop is popular with hikers walking their dogs. Be on the lookout for turds
Hiking around the Satwiwa Loop Trail, Danielson Monument, and Boney Mountain is like getting together for lunch for an old friend. I’ve been hiking here regularly for 15 years, and I know the area well. The quirks are welcome, the contours always familiar, and there’s a friendly sense of comfort that doesn’t come with a lot of other hikes in the area (Malibu Creek excluded). This area of hiking offers a tremendous variety of experiences. Casual hikes over rolling green (or brown if it’s summer of fall) plains make for a leisurely afternoon. With a little more ambition, you can descend into Upper Sycamore Canyon to see the Waterfall. Take on several hundred feet of climbing over gentle switchbacks, and you can make it up to Boney’s waist, where the shady, peaceful Danielson Monument, and one of my favorite stretches of trail anywhere in the Santa Monicas, awaits. Or, if you prefer masochism, and you can climb Boney’s steep, rocky slopes.
On this hike, I settled for a little of everything, including for a remote stretch of the Old Boney Trail that I have never attempted before; even old friends always have something new to show you. I knocked off work at noon, and set off on the trail under the unusually hot January sun. The fields around Satwiwa were already a vivid green due to the heat and a recent rainstorm, and when this area is green, it looks decidedly like the Shire. After half a mile, I made a quick descent down the sun-baked north slope of Upper Sycamore Canyon, the narrower, deeper beginning of the wide, flat Sycamore Canyon so popular with mountain bikers. At the bottom of this hike, one can go east toward the waterfall and the Old Boney Trail, or west through the canyon. I opted to go east toward the waterfall and planned to return via the canyon.
The waterfall is a popular destination for hikers, and it never fails that there will be other people there. And with good reason: the waterfall is almost always flowing, although recently it has been trickling due to lack of rain. Furthermore, it is always cool, shady, and tranquil inside the small grotto. After a brief handful of trail mix, I set off toward the Danielson Monument over .4 miles of trail that gains 500 feet of elevation.
I was already tired from a long day of work (4am – noon), and that helped me learn a valuable hiking lesson. Speed and massive energy expenditures are good things if you are trying to whip your body into shape for ambitious hikes up mountainsides or if you simply want to burn off a ton of calories. However, that is really no way to enjoy a hike. I had been blasting my way through so many hikes recently that I was starting to run the risk of turning hiking into an exercise regimen. It is that, but it is, above all else, a way to enjoy one of the greatest sides of life. It should not always be work. With that in mind, I slowed down to a comfortable pace. I never once became winded, even over steep hills, and I took in the scenery, the scents, and the sounds with an uncluttered and tranquil mind. Move at a comfortable, measured pace, and as with all things in life, you will get where you need to go in due time and with much less stress. In that state, I rounded a bend and come upon my favorite stretch of trail with my favorite Santa Monicas view:
This stretch of trail leads to the Danielson Monument. As it comes around the bend, the view of Boney, coupled with the sycamore and bay lined canyon below, present the best scene in the Santa Monicas, at least to me. It’s not as impressive as the vistas from Sandstone Peak, nor is it as famous as the buttes in Malibu Creek, but it is quiet, peaceful, resplendent, and magnificent all at the same time. The monument was erected for Richard Ely Danielson at the site of his old cabin. He owned the land that comprises much of Pt. Mugu State Park, but he deeded it to the state before he died. As a result, the best parts of the Santa Monicas were spared from development. Slightly further past the cabin site and monument, the trail that reaches the top of Boney Mountain at Tri-Peaks begins its punishing ascent. This is always a great place to stop for some rest, some food, or some yoga stretching.
I backtracked three tenths or a mile towards the junction for the Old Boney Trail. The Old Boney Trail wraps around the northwest and west flank of Boney Mountain, dropping down into Sycamore Canyon along the Fossil Trail. I followed it through dense thickets of chaparral until the view opened up to a vista of Boney, the entirety of Pt. Mugu State Park, the Oxnard Plain, the ocean, and the Channel Islands shown in the panorama at the top of the post. After a few bends in the trail, the impressive western flank of Boney comes into view.
From here, the trail gradually descends into shady Blue Canyon, carved out by a tributary stream that feeds into Sycamore Canyon’s creek. This trail also passes through the Danielson multi-use area, which is a good halfway point if one is hiking Sycamore Canyon from Newbury Park to the beach. Blue Canyon is not the most remarkable canyon, but it a welcome relief after a long sun-drenched stretch of chaparral and switchbacks.
From here, I turned right onto Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. This road descends from the Satwiwa Loop trails and further descends gently until it ends at Sycamore Cove, where there is a great beach and a really nice, but almost always booked-up campsite. It is wide, flat, and paved, and therefore very popular with mountain bikers. Along the route, you can enjoy some impressive sycamores and wide open savannahs that, at this time of year, were full of tall, green grasses.
Once you approach the hills that leads back up to Satwiwa, you have two options. First, you can take the fire road up a long, steep, winding stretch that has been affectionately (but not pejoratively) dubbed “The Black Bitch” by some mountain bikers. Note that this name has nothing to do with racism and sexism; instead, it refers to the color of the asphalt and punishing nature of the climb. This stretch is best avoided in favor of the second gentler, more scenic option, Upper Sycamore Canyon.
Upper Sycamore gently ascends for 1.5 miles back to the junction with the Danielson Fire road through an ever-narrowing canyon. This route is almost always in the shade due to Boney Mountain’s tendency to block off the sun. This contrasts nicely with the full sun exposure on the fire road route. As I reached the top and merged back onto Danielson Fire Road, I was treated to the same views I had witnessed earlier, only this time painted in rich golds and dark shadows by the setting sun.
From here, it’s a quick .5 mile stroll back to the trailhead on Wendy Drive. Winter sunsets are the perfect time to experience this section of the trail. The sun casts long shadows over the trees and tall grasses of the plain. The red earth becomes redder. The clouds are painted in light and dark contrasts. And on this day, the windmill, usually creeking and complaining with the breeze, stood silently, witnessing the sun’s descent.
I walked back to the car, exhausted and footsore, and turned around to snap one last shot of the sun sinking back into the hills through which I had just walked.
January: 112.2 Miles
Year-to-Date: 112.2 Miles