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Features: Sespe Creek flows from the wild Topa Topa Mountains in northern Ventura County. Because most rivers and streams in southern California have been dammed, diverted, and channelized, the free flowing Sespe is a significant low-elevation stream with a relatively high potential for maintaining its ecological integrity, primarily because it flows through public lands (Los Padres National Forest). The creek supports high quality riparian and aquatic habitat that nurtures important populations of endangered southern steelhead, arroyo toad, and California red-legged frog.
CalWild helped protect much of lower Sespe Creek with the establishment of the Sespe Wilderness by Congress in 1992. The same legislation also designated more than 29 miles of Sespe Creek as a Wild & Scenic River. But the middle and upper segments of Sespe Creek remain unprotected and have been included in proposed additions to the Sespe Wilderness and the Sespe Wild & Scenic River in H.R. 4685,the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act introduced by Rep. Lois Capps.
The Middle Sespe Trail (22W04) parallels the middle segment of Sespe Creek proposed for addition to the Sespe Wilderness and Wild & Scenic River. It also is perhaps one of the easiest trails in the Sespe to access, with a trailhead on scenic Highway 33. The trail provides outstanding views of the Piedra Blanca sandstone formation in the Sespe Wilderness and if you’re lucky, an endangered California condor soaring overhead. This easy to moderate trail is enjoyable as a there-and-back hike of up to 16 miles round trip. If you have two cars, you can do a one-way eight mile hike with a car shuttle between the Middle Sespe Trailhead on Highway 33 and the Piedra Blanca Trailhead at the end of the Rose Valley Road.
The Middle Sespe trail is accessible year round but because Sespe Creek flows through a relatively arid region, the best time to hike the Middle Sespe is in the late spring or early summer. This portion of Sespe Creek also flows seasonally, although a few year round pools provide relief for hikers and important refuge for fish and amphibians. The trail crosses Sespe Creek twice, so hikers should take caution and avoid crossing the creek during storm events.
Directions: Drive north on Highway 33 from Ojai 17.1 miles. Past the clearly marked Rose Valley Road turn-off, the highway drops down from Dry Lakes Ridge two miles into the Sespe Creek canyon. Slow down and look for the difficult to see unmarked trailhead – an old road closed by berms – on the right. If you reach a road marked DzFaser Cold Springs Ranchdz or where the highway begins to parallel the creek in the Sespe Gorge, you have driven too far. Park at the limited turn-out on the highway and walk 100 feet down the closed road to another set of berms.
The unmarked single-track trail starts on the right and drops steeply down through chaparral to a rocky ford on Sespe Creek. Proceed with caution as this ford may not be crossable during high flows. Once you cross the creek, the trail continues east through chaparral punctuated by sandstone and shale outcrops, climbing a steep bluff above Sespe Creek, and parallels the stream. In 7.2 miles, you reach a trail junction. The route to the left is the Piedra Blanca National Recreation Trail, whichheads north and uphill into the Sespe Wilderness. Your route (if you are doing a one-way hike with car shuttle) continues east downstream .8 miles on the Middle Sespe Trail to the second creek crossing and the Piedra Blanca Trailhead.
For Your Safety: Hike with a friend and let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Avoid hiking this trail during big rainstorms, as the creek crossings can be dangerous. Rattlesnakes may be encountered along the trail. Bring plenty of water and food, as well as clothing for changing weather conditions. Always filter or treat water from streams and springs. Use of common sense will help ensure an enjoyable hike!
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.
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- Central Coast Adventures