Hill Canyon

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Hill Canyon is a treat.  It’s for one of those days when you just want to be outside and enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature but you are just not feeling epic.  There is a maximum 250 foot elevation gain on this one.  Round trip is about 4 miles, but you can keep it shorter or take one of the connector trails to make it longer.  It is family and dog friendly and is well used and loved by those who live in the area.  You will see rabbits, deer, and quail as you saunter along.  You will spot fish, turtles and ducks in the Arroyo Conejo Creek which runs along the trail.  Large mammals such as moutain lions, bobcats and coyotes take refuge in the canyon as well but it’s unlikely you will see them.  I highly recommend this trail for those who want to begin hiking.  Take it for a test-drive, you are going to love this little hike!

History

Hill Canyon is part of the Conejo Canyon Open Space trail system.  By 1970’s the Hill Canyon had fallen into a state of neglect.  It was used by many as a trash dumping area.  It was littered with graffiti.  People in the surrounding communities began to recognize this area for the local treasure it is.  After a forty year effort by residents and government agencies, 1,430 acres were preserved as a permanent open space.  This space connects the Wildwood, Arroyo Conejo and Lynnmere trail systems.

Hill Canyon open space

Hill Canyon was home to the Chumash for thousands of years.  There have been numerous discoveries of Chumash artifacts and pictographs along the creek.  I would like to include some folklore about the Chumash here.

On the trail you are likely to see Coyote Melon.  I spotted several patches as I walked this trail.  The plant smells amazingly like your car smells when you have taken 6-8 teenage boys home from soccer practice.  In August.  It is not pleasant.  The melon itself is not edible either.  It is called Coyote Melon as the Chumash observed that only the coyote would eat it.  The Chumash had several uses for the melons.  The seeds could be ground down to make a type of porridge.   The gourds and the roots of the plants were used as soap.  If the melon was found with the seeds intact after drying out it was used as a rattle.

Hill Canyon Melon
The pulp in any form acts as an emetic (you will puke your guts out) if swallowed and cause incredible diarrhea.  It will absolutely clean out the digestive tract.  It is NOT recommended for human consumption.  You will become suddenly, convulsively ill.

You might also notice the Tobacco Tree ( Nicotinana glauca).  I saw a few trees near the creek along the trail.  The Tobacco Tree is not native to California.  It is native to South America in Bolivia and Argentina and is an invasive species here.  The Chumash did not use the Tobacco Tree leaves in smoking rituals.  A tea was made from the leaves and used as an appetite suppressant.  The adults would drink this tea in times of drought and famine so that they could give what food they had to the tribe children.  The leaves contain a toxic alkaloid called anabasine.  Ingestion of the leaves can be fatal.

Hill Canyon Brody in the flowers
The Tobacco Tree can be found lining the Arroyo Conejo Creek
Hill Canyon flowers (2)
The tree is sometimes used in yards as an ornamental plant.  It should not be used for any other reason as the leaves can cause death if ingested.

Hike Statistics

Type of Route: Out and Back
Distance: 4.0 miles
Elevation: 433 feet (This is no mountain)
Elevation Gain: 250 feet
Time: 2-4 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Dogs Permitted: Very dog Friendly
Permit: none
hill-canyon-hike map
Map Image retrieved from Google Images 8/9/2017

The Hike

The Hill Canyon Trail was officially dedicated in 2014.  It is a wonderful wet surprise for those of you who image that all hikes in Camarillo are dry and dusty.  You can get there from Santa Rosa Road in Camarillo.  When traveling along Santa Rosa Road you will turn onto Hill Canyon Road (you will see a sign for Santa Rosa Regional Park).  Follow Hill Canyon Road, going over a single lane bridge until you reach a dirt parking lot on the left.  This parking lot is directly across from the Conejo Canyons Bridge.  There always seems to be cars in the parking lot.  The lot is fairly large and there is usually parking.  There are multiple trails that can be accessed from this lot and on the weekends it is a little harder to find parking.

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It’s fairly easy to spot oncoming traffic on the way into the park when crossing this single lane bridge. It’s a little harder because of the incline on the way out.  The parking lot is to the left  just beyond the bridge.
Hill Canyon Brody and the bridge
The trail is very dog friendly.  Brody is ready to go.
Hill Canyon Bridge
The 145 foot Conejo Canyons bridge was built in 2012. The trail is trafficked by hikers, horse back riders and bicycles.  I have often seen people fishing from the bridge.  The bridge crosses the Arroyo Conejo creek.

The Hill Canyon trail can be completed in 3, 4, or 5 mile out and back hikes.  Today I will describe the 4 mile hike.  There are numerous connector trails along the way as you hike Hill Canyon.  The four mile hike connects briefly with the Hawk Canyon Trail.  I like to take this route because you spend most of the time near the Arroyo Conejo Creek.  I have hiked this trail to Paradise Falls in Wildwood, a 10 mile loop.  The great thing about this trail system is that you can customize your hike to suit your needs.

Hill Canyon Trail Head
There is very good trail information at the trail head.  You can see on the lower left hand side of the bulletin board that there are yellow maps of the Conejo Canyons Open Space.  These are very helpful should you decide to go beyond Hill Canyon.
Hill Canyon entrance picnic table
To the left of the trail head you will find picnic tables.  Just beyond the trees is access to the Arroyo Conejo Creek below the bridge.

The trail is a fairly wide and will occasionally narrow to a single track.  The trail occasionally offers shade though it is mostly  exposed to the sun.  Just around the bend you will come upon your first sight of the Arroyo Conejo Creek.

Hill Canyon Trail

The Arroyo Conejo Creek will be to your left side as you follow the trail.  Arroyo Conejo (Spanish for “Rabbit Creek”) is the longest creek in the Conejo Valley.  It travels through the cities of Camarillo, Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks and Santa Rosa Valley.  It covers 43 square miles in the Conejo Valley and 14 miles in Santa Rosa Valley.  The creek originates in the Conejo Hills and eventually travels through an estuary at Mugu Lagoon into the Pacific Ocean.  It is the primary drainage for the City of Thousand Oaks.

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Your first view of the Arroyo Conejo from the trail.  The walls of the canyons have eroded over time towards the trail.   The heavy rains we experienced this winter did quite a bit of damage.

 

I have seen deer drinking from the creek.  There is an occasional duck sighting.  You will also see fairly large fish who hide under the shadows of the trees.  In 2013, the protected Steelhead Trout was found in the creek.  Other fish species include the Brown Bullhead, Green Sunfish, Bluntnose Minnow and the Mosquito Fish.

Hill Canyon Ducks
The Arroyo Creek offers a water source to a variety of wildlife in the park.

To the left of the trail you will be treated to nice view of the Mount Clef Ridge and it’s volcanic outcroppings.  As you walk further along the trail, you will see grassy trails leading off to the left.  This side trails are guaranteed to lead you to the creek.  In some  areas the creek is deep enough to swim in.  There is a lot of poison oak to be found on the side trails to the creek.

Hill Canyon canyon walls
Mount Clef Ridge
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Horses often take these grassy trails off of the mail trail. They lead down to the creek.
Hill Canyon Creek
That grassy trail leads to this lovely section of the creek

At about the one mile mark Hill Canyon trail will veer left into a wooded oak grove.  Again, you will find lots of poison oak.  There is a picnic table here near the trail and lots of interesting vegetation.

Hill Canyon Crossroads
At this section go towards the left to head towards the Oak Grove and the Creek.
Hill Canyon teepee
On today’s hike I noted this interesting structure in the Grove. When I returned two days later it had been knocked down. It was in this area where I first began to notice the Tobacco trees.
Hill Canyon tree1
There is a picnic table nestled among the trees here on the trail.

Travel a little further along the trail and you will come to another left hand turn.  This will lead you to a small silt barrier.  If you cross the creek here you will find yourself on the fire road which leads to the water treatment plant.

Hill Canyon dam
I have always called this “the dam” but I believe it is some sort of silt barrier.  Crossing the creek here will lead to the fire road which goes towards the water treatment plant. You can connect to trails here which will lead you to Wildwood and Paradise Falls. It will add about 5-6 miles to the round-trip.

You will run into lots of interesting vegetation on this hike.  Many, I have learned, are poisonous.  And hallucinogenic, but still, poisonous.

Hill Canyon plant
THORNAPPLE. (Datura stramonium).  The Chumash used to ingest the small black seeds of the datura to “commune with deities through visions”.  Hmmm.  Another toxic hallucinogenic plant.  It has proven lethal to many curious though poorly informed partakers.  It also contains atropine and during the late 18th century the leaves were used (smoked) in Europe as a treatment for asthma. 
Hill Canyon Closed Yellow flowers
SACRED DATURA (Eriogonum cinereum) D. wrightii is sacred to some Native Americans and has been used in ceremonies and rites of passage by Chumash, Tongva, and others.  Among the Chumash, when a boy was 8 years old, his mother gave him a preparation of momoy to drink. (Momoy was made from the Sacred Dutura stems fermented in water.  After fermentation, white sage leaves were added.)  This was supposed to be a spiritual challenge to the boy to help him develop the spiritual well being required to become a man. Not all of the boys survived.
Hill Canyon Flowers2
ASHY LEAF BUCKWHEAT. (Eriogonum cinereum). This shrub is endemic to the coastline of California, where it grows on beaches and bluffs and in coastal scrub and chaparral. This is the food plant for the Bernardino dotted blue butterfly.
Hill canyon butterfly
The Bernardino dotted blue butterfly . I wish I had taken this picture, but I didn’t.  Photo Credit: Google Images.
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I did capture this Lorquin’s Admiral…
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and this spider busily making repairs…
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and this hummingbird having breakfast….
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and this mouse trying to get away from me. I think my screaming scared him. There are lots of small critters on the trail

You leave “the dam” and go back towards Hill Canyon Trail and continue on to Hawk Canyon Trail.

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Go towards the left to Hawk Canyon Trail

Hawk Canyon adds about another mile to this hike.  It is optional.  If you head toward the Western Plateau you will begin to experience a significant elevation gain.

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Hawk Canyon trail will loop eventually back to Hill Canyon trail. It’s dryer back here as you are moving away from Arroyo Conejo Creek.
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Take a left here to continue the loop.
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Continue left on Hawk Canyon trail. Keep going left. When you come out onto the fire road just beyond this tree…go left.
Hill Canyon Trail5
The trail widens again at this point. Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits were everywhere!!  Except in this pic.  This is not Where’s Waldo.  The bunnies do not hang around for a close-up.  When you come to the end of this road you will turn right to head back to the parking lot.

Well there you have it.  An easily accessible, thoroughly enjoyable and entirely memorable hike in our own back yard.  I hope you take the time to enjoy this gift of a trail.  I’m off in search of the next adventure.  I’ll head a little further south this time to Malibu Creek State Park, home of the M*A*S*H* site.

Malibu creek truck

 

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