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Upper Las Virgenes Canyon, near Calabasas at the edge of the San Fernando Valley, is one of those places where you can make the sight and sound of a huge metropolitan area simply disappear after a short drive from a major freeway and only a few minutes’ walk. The area even seems quite removed from the flight paths of major aircraft.

The out-and-back jaunt into the upper canyon is a great one for kids, too. What creatures might they discover? Cottontail rabbits, for sure. A frog perhaps, or (as I did) a scorpion. If the kids get tired at some point, you can turn back anytime. Expect to encounter two or three foot-wetting and possibly muddy stream crossings in the early part of the hike, depending largely on how much rain has recently fallen.

To get to the trailhead from San Diego, drive through L.A. and head west through the San Fernando Valley on the Ventura Freeway (Highway 101). Exit at Las Virgenes Road and go 1.4 miles north to the end of that road, where you will find the Las Virgenes Trailhead. The area ahead is public “open-space parkland” that until 2003 was part of the private Ahmanson Ranch.

From the trailhead, simply head north on the main trail (an old dirt road), which imperceptibly gains elevation in the canyon’s initially wide flood plain. In a couple of places ahead, narrow side trails higher on the canyon slope exist, but they may be too overgrown by vegetation to follow. All along the way, enjoy the toasty, pungent fragrances of wild grape vines and riparian vegetation baking in the sun. There are enough oaks, sycamores, and willows around to keep much of the trail decently shaded, even during the middle of the day.

After about 2.5 miles the ascent into the upper canyon quickens, and you go sharply up and sharply down twice. Afterward, you bend right and transit a gorgeous gallery of overarching coast live oak limbs. The trail then executes a hairpin turn and starts to climb out of the canyon at a point below Peak 1913. You’ve come 2.7 miles from the start and gained about 400 feet of elevation. This is a good place to turn back — for this casual hike, at least. If your goal is to connect to the extensive trail systems lacing through the Cheeseboro and Palo Comado open-space areas to the west, then press on.

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.

Las Virgenes Canyon
Discover sylvan splendor in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon near Los Angeles.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 150 miles
Hiking/biking length: 5.4 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate

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