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Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks is Ventura County's most scenic suburban park. The scenery here has been imprinted in the minds of many in the over-50 age group: the area was once an outdoor set for old Hollywood movies, as well as for television's Rifleman, Gunsmoke, and Wagon Train.

The short but steep hike -- down and then up -- described here takes you to Wildwood Park's scenic gem: the Arroyo Conejo gorge and Paradise Falls. To reach the starting point, exit Highway 101 at Lynn Road in Thousand Oaks and follow Lynn Road north 2.5 miles to Avenida de los Arboles. Turn left and follow Avenida de los Arboles one mile west. Make a U-turn there, and park on the right at Wildwood Park's principal trailhead.

Now, find and follow the narrow, scenic Moonridge Trail, descending sharply from the east (left) side of the parking area. Right away you come to a T-intersection amid oak woods. Turn right, remaining on the Moonridge Trail. The trail descends a sunny slope covered with aromatic sage-scrub vegetation and dappled with succulent live-forever plants that sprout white, comical-looking flower stalks. There's a brief passage across a shady ravine using wooden steps and a plank bridge. At 0.5 mile, you cross over a dirt road and continue on the narrow Moonridge Trail.

Ahead, the trail curls around a deep ravine without gaining or losing a lot of elevation, edging into the crumbly sedimentary rock. This passage is exciting enough for hikers and worrisome for parents with kids. At 0.9 mile you join another dirt road and use it to descend toward a large wooden teepee structure on a knoll just below. Make a right at the teepee, further descending into the Arroyo Conejo gorge. As you descend, watch for the narrow side trail on the left that will take you straight down to Paradise Falls -- a beautiful 30-foot-high cascade that makes its presence known by sound before sight. The high water table in the canyon bottom ensures a nearly year-round flow of water.

After you've admired the falls, continue by climbing back up the slope in the direction you came and by taking the fenced, cliff-hanging trail around the left (east) side of the falls. Beyond that fenced stretch, the narrow trail descends a little and sidles up alongside the creek, where large coast live oaks spread their shade. Soon, you'll find yourself continuing on a path of dirt-road width. Stay with that path until you reach a major crossroads. The small Wildwood Nature Center is just around the bend to the right.

Back at the crossroads, take the Indian Creek Trail north and pay your debt to gravity by ascending nearly 300 feet in about 0.7 mile. The beautifully tangled array of live oak and sycamore limbs along this trail keeps your mind off the climb. At one point, you can look down into a deep ravine where an inaccessible mini-waterfall and pool lie practically hidden. When you finally reach Avenida de los Arboles, turn left and return a short distance to the trailhead parking lot.

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