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Sunrises are as spectacular as they come when viewed on clear, late fall or winter mornings from the Old Stagecoach Road -- now a hiking trail rising into the foothills outside Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. From this vantage, I once watched a hundred thousand valley lights fade while the cirrus-streaked eastern sky cycled through a spectrum of hue and intensity. To the west, boulder-stacked hillsides materialized out of gray gloom to become perfect copies of the golden backdrops seen in so many Western movies and television productions.

Hiking the Stagecoach Road at dawn is inspiring -- but not recommended unless you're familiar with the area. Any clear day is fine, too, and there will be plenty of those during the next three months when intermittent Pacific storms or Santa Ana winds chase away the layer of smog over the valley.

You start hiking at the entrance to Chatsworth Park South (west terminus of Devonshire Street). Find the path signed "Old Stagecoach Road" on the left. After reaching the west end of the park (0.4 mile) you start climbing into the bouldered hills, where a maze of roads and old vehicle tracks complicates route-finding. Head generally southwest and uphill toward a low ridge distinguished by a row of bushy olive trees (0.6 mile). From there, turn right (northwest) up the ridge and aim toward a large, white, rectangular plaque embedded in sandstone on the hillside about 0.4 mile away. You're now on a well-preserved section of what used to be called the Devil's Slide, a key link in the 1860-90 coastal stage road linking Los Angeles and San Francisco. As you walk up the hard sandstone bed, notice the carefully hewn drainage chutes on both sides. With a little detective work you may also find a couple of old cisterns, used to capture rainwater for relay teams of horses that pulled wagons up the unusually steep grade.

The tiled historical plaque was placed here in 1939. Beyond the plaque, you can follow the stagecoach roadbed another 0.3 mile to the Devil's Slide summit (1630 feet), where you cross the L.A.-Ventura county line and reach a trailhead sign amid scattered houses on a rural street called Lilac Lane.

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