Happy Camp Canyon, near Simi Valley and Moorpark, nuzzles in a crease between two long, rounded, oak-studded ridges -- part of the many caterpillar-like, parallel segments making up Ventura County's share of the east-west-trending Transverse Ranges. Oil-bearing shales predominate in the region, evidenced by various oil wells and dirt roads built to access them. While visiting the canyon, keep an eye out for bright red stones, sometimes exhibiting a glassy texture, some right under your feet and others visible in outcrops. These rocks were formed by the slow combustion of oil-like organic material trapped in layers of shale.
Happy Camp Canyon and its surrounding hillsides are included in a 3000-acre Ventura County regional park spacious enough for hikes of a half day or more. The walk described here, with an out-and-back distance of 9.4 miles and an elevation gain of only 700 feet, takes you along the canyon bottom where much of the native riparian and oak woodland vegetation managed to survive last year's Simi Fire. This coming rainfall season's hopefully abundant rainfall will likely trigger impressive displays of fire-following wildflowers, perhaps by February or March.
To get to the Happy Camp Canyon's principal trailhead, follow the 118 Freeway west from Simi Valley or the 23 Freeway north from Thousand Oaks to the New Los Angeles Avenue exit. Go west 1 mile to Moorpark Avenue (signed Highway 23), turn right, and proceed 2.6 miles to where Highway 23 makes a sharp bend to the left. Keep going straight there, then make a quick right turn on Broadway. Proceed a short way to the east end of Broadway, which is where you will find a dirt parking lot and marked trailhead.
On foot, follow the trail, which winds north and east along gentle, grassy slopes down onto the wide floor of Happy Camp Canyon. As you look down on a golf course at the canyon's mouth, note the terraced aspect of the landscape on both sides. These are fluvial (streamside) terraces -- sedimentary deposits from earlier flows of Happy Camp Canyon's creek.
At 1.0 mile you join a dirt road in the bottom of the canyon, and 0.2 mile later you pass through a gate marking the start of the "wilderness" section of Happy Camp Canyon Park. Ignoring dirt roads on the right and left, keep straight (north) into the main canyon.
By 2.0 miles, the canyon floor has become narrow, you've turned decidedly east, and you are strolling through beautiful coast live-oak woods (plus native sycamore and walnut trees), which continue intermittently up the canyon in the next 3 miles. A small stream flows in the bottom of the canyon during and for some weeks or months after the winter rains. You pass the ascending Wiley Canyon Road on the left at 4.1 miles, and at 4.7 miles you reach the site of an old well and pump. Large oak trees nearby provide enough shade for a convenient lunch stop. Savor the splendid isolation of this secluded retreat before you head back the same way.