Some of the most wondrous exploits can be found not far from home, accessible adventure is sustenance for the soul. To the east of us, not more than thirty minutes, lies a quaint town smothered in sunshine and citrus and adorned with vintage hilltop homes that is the backyard to Ojai and a gateway to beauty.
We’ve taken to wandering here as of late, a weekly pilgrimage to bathe ourselves in the gentle rains that have generously visited us with their magic, shrouding the mountains in wisps of mist causing bursts of wildflowers and fast flowing streams. We are waterfall hunters and Santa Paula is home to a grand one, not far into the hills, found after meandering under canopies of oak.
Roaming is serious business which becomes a holistic experience for us, incorporating the palate, we start the day with fresh roasted coffee and delectable handcrafted beignets followed by homemade granola or spicy Creole Benedict. We figure we will earn it on the trail and acquainting ourselves with the local fare and warmhearted people sets the tone for a joyous escape.
From there it’s all upstream, literally. A few minutes from the charm, up highway 150 and tucked behind St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary is the path to enchantment. Shaded much of the way as it follows the creek to yonder prize, weaving in and out of wild raspberries and manzanita we make our way.
Soon we come to the steepness and welcome it knowing what we seek is close, through an established campsite, up and down a hillside as your heart beats a bit faster not only from exertion but anticipation.
The reward is near the end, which some might consider the beginning as it gives way to the vast Los Padres National Forest. There’s a splendid waterfall and just above it is large white flat rocks that slope into a slot canyon which supplies the rushing stream that pours over the edge into a glorious pool.
This is the moment we’ve come for, the goal…awash in nature and the experience of togetherness, a Saturday well spent in a quest for kinship and adoration for all things wild.
The turn-by-turn directions for the hike to the Punchbowl are: https://www.hikespeak.com/trails/santa-paula-canyon-trail-punchbowls/
- Leave the parking area, cross Route 150, and walk west across a bridge over Santa Paula Creek (0 miles)
- Turn right to enter Thomas Aquinas College (0.08 miles)
- Turn right on the road around the east side of campus (0.15 miles)
- Turn right up another paved road to Ferndale Ranch (0.67 miles)
- Pass through a gate and bear left (0.7 miles)
- Stay to the left past a road on the right (0.8 miles)
- Descend a hillside and bear right at a split in the road (0.87 miles)
- Follow the road through Rancho Recuerdo avocado grove, making a right turn just after the identifying gate (1.05 miles)
- When the pavement ends, bear left and follow a dirt trail along the side of a fenced-off drilling area (1.3 miles)
- Meet Santa Paula Canyon Trail on the far side of the fence (1.45 miles)
- Cross Santa Paula Creek and bear right to head upstream (1.5 miles)
- Cross a road rising to the left to remain along the creek (1.75 miles)
- Pass through an oaky area and turn left up the wide, gravel canyon bottom (2.15 miles)
- Follow the trail as it rises to the left and then bear right on a wider trail (2.35 miles)
- Reach a shaded log at the end of the wide stretch of trail, coming just before an important, but faint junction (2.5 miles)
- Bear right, cross Santa Paula Creek, and proceed up the trail on the other side alternatively, you can remain on the west side of the canyon and forge a route to Punchbowl Falls(2.53 miles)
- Bear right at a split to head up the side of the canyon (2.73 miles)
- Bear right again to continue up the side of the canyon (3 miles)
- Pass through Big Cone Camp (3.65 miles)
- Descend to a junction with trails to the bottom and top of the Punchbowl (3.75 miles)Bear left to descend a ravine toward the main fork of Santa Paula Canyon just below Punchbowl Falls. Explore the waterfall (3.85 miles)and then return to the junction or take a steep path connecting to the next part of the trail to the Punchbowl
- Bear right, cross the bottom of the ravine, and head up to a junction at a switchback. Bear left and follow the trail across a ledge above Santa Paula Canyon to the top of the cascades and chutes called the Punchbowl (4 miles)