Caspers Wilderness Park: Juaneno Loop

Caspers Wilderness Park is a fine patch of preserved wilderness featuring broad canyons supporting oak and sycamore savannas, as well as sage-scrub covered ridges and ocean views. The trail network ranges from easy to strenuous, and the park offers several campgrounds and equestrian staging.


Distance: 10.5
Elevation Gained: 1,800
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Time: 3:25
Critters: Bunnies, hawks, ravens

Get there like this.

Note: It costs $3 for day use entry.

Details:

For my third foray into Caspers Wilderness Park, I opted to test out the Juaneno Trail, which follows the course of the usually dry San Juan Creek for about 2.75 miles before terminating at Highway 74. Juaneno Trail passes back and forth between cobbled and cactus-lined creek beds and shady terraces blanketed with fresh green grass beneath the boughs of spreading oaks. It’s a great path for a cold and still-damp December morning.

Juaneno Trail also passes by some nicely sculpted sandstone bluffs that bear a faint resemblance to the far more massive walls of Zion Canyon. Up above the bluffs is the long, undulating ridge that runs down from a fine viewpoint to beautiful Bell Canyon, which is probably the highlight of the park. The ridge itself offers great views of the Santa Ana Mountains to the east and the ocean to the west.

Looking East

Looking west

After completing the trek down the ridge, the trail deposits the hiker into Bell Canyo, but not before crossing a grassy flat with a great view of Santiago and Modjeska Peaks. Bell Canyon is another wide, open creek bed that supports a large number of sycamores and oaks. This is almost always a fine place for a hike, considering that it is mostly shaded and surrounded by tall grasses swaying and papery sycamore leaves rattling in the breeze. The only knock on it now is that they recently bulldozed the fire road, which left an unsightly gash where the old road bed used to be. Lord knows why they did it, but it does not appear to be an improvement.

Modjeska (left) and Santiago (right) Peaks forming the Saddleback formation

The muddy, ugly fire road didn’t last for long before the Oak Tree Loop split off on the right/west side of the canyon. This former road bed has not been bulldozed, and it is far nicer to walk on and look at. It eventually narrows before passing through a fantastic canopy of twisted, gnarled old oak trees.

Beyond this point, it was an easy and gentle downhill stroll back to the parking lot through open sycamore/oak savannas. Usually, savanna is associated with the plains of Africa, but in this instance it refers to shallow, broad canyons with a high enough water table to support woodlands of sycamores. These locales are pretty uncommon in Southern California, thanks to urban development. Aside from Sycamore Canyon in Point Mugu State Park, Bell Canyon is probably the finest example left in SoCal. A smaller, but satisfying loop at Caspers would travel up Bell Canyon and then back through the Oak Loop Trail for a good look at this habitat.

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