Southern California abounds with duplicate place names such as Devil Canyon, Devil’s Canyon, Devil’s Peak, Devil’s Punchbowl, and the like. In the particular Devil Canyon described here, which lies at the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, you can appreciate (outside the hellish summer season, anyway) live oak trees, growths of small willows, and an intermittent brook. Fire and flood have long since removed almost all traces of an old auto road in the canyon; in its place, hikers and mountain bikers have beaten down a narrow trail.
The canyon can appear quite stark in the fall season, but once winter rains come, plant and animal life is revived. In winter, wear an old pair of shoes to deal with tramping through lots of good, clean mud. Or wait until early spring to enjoy blooming wild lilac (ceanothus) on the hillsides.
To get to the trailhead, first navigate by means of either Interstate 5 or Interstate 405 to the 118 Freeway at the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley. Head west on the 118 and exit at Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Chatsworth. Turn north and immediately go west on Poema Place. On the hillside to the right, just below a newly constructed condominium complex, is a small dirt lot, which serves as the current trailhead for the Devil Canyon Trail.
From the dirt lot, note the path and accompanying wooden fence a short distance up the hill. This new, rerouted (as of 2008) segment of trail passes alongside and behind the just-built condominium complex and descends into Devil Canyon beyond. The at-first unexciting scenery improves as you swing around a couple of sharp bends and lose sight of wall-to-wall condos on the bluff above. Scattered riparian vegetation accompanies you most of the way as you work your way up along the canyon bottom.
You can go as far as a pipe gate (2.3 miles), pausing along the way to admire the wind- and water-carved sandstone bedrock along both sides of the canyon. This sandstone, a part of the same formation exposed at nearby Stony Point and Santa Susana Pass, originated from sediments laid down in a marine environment roughly 80 million years ago. Do the sandstone formations appear vaguely familiar? They should, in view of the fact that so many old movies and television shows were shot at nearby locales featuring the same type of rock formation.
Shallow sandstone caves can be found in Devil Canyon’s tributaries — especially Falls Creek — if you don’t mind trying a little off-trail bushwhacking to find them.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.
Explore the not-so-devilish Devil Canyon on the margin of the San Fernando Valley.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 150 miles
Hiking or Biking length: 4.6 miles round trip