Matilija Creek Canyon

Matilija Creek Canyon + A Thomas Fire Area Tribute

This post is a tribute to California’s coastal backcountry chaparral, much of which burned in the Thomas Fire earlier this month.  The chaparral consists of oak trees and shrubs with small, thick, evergreen leaves for drought-tolerance, and is, naturally, prone to wildfire.  Normal Santa Ana weather conditions appear each year in these regions of Southern California and Baja Mexico, where wildfires spread rapidly, and the landscape tends to burn completely.

Looking at these photos of the area, taken last spring, it’s hard not to see only the thickly grown chaparral that has, likely, completely burned away.  We won’t have the chance to see the area for awhile, as the road is closed for now.  But, when it, eventually, reopens for use, we look forward to re-visting the area to view the effects of the fire on this area of the Los Padres National Forest.

Here is a look at a short backpack trip in the spring of 2017.  We found this trail and backcountry campsite ideal for families and beginner backpackers.  The trail is wide for much of the  flat, one and a half mile hike in.

Matilija Creek


To reach the Matilija Creek Trailhead from Ventura, drive highway 33 north towards Ojai.  Turn left on Matilija Canyon Road, between Meiners Oaks and Wheeler Springs.  Drive the tight, windy road along the hillside to the road’s end with dirt parking and a gate.

One of a few river crossings.


The hike to the first campground at Matilija Creek in Ojai begins with a fire road that starts behind a gate.  At one time, this area was closed because it cross’ a section of private property.  However, since then, an easement has been granted and hikers may pass through while staying on the designed dirt road trail.

For the the beginner’s route, hike a flat three quarters of a mile, staying on the trail until it turns into a single track trail.   This main trail continues up Matilija Canyon another four miles for additional hiking and campsites. To find the closest campsites, watch for a trailhead sign on your right that follows another three quarters of a mile trail, wandering back and forth across the creek, before arriving at creek-side backcountry campsites.

Matilija Creek campsite, one and a half miles from the trailhead.


The backcountry campsite, closest to the trailhead, has 6 designated sites, with a fire ring for each.  Water is easily accessed, and swimming holes are inviting during warmer months if there is still plenty of water running in the creek.

Collecting + treating water from the creek by the backcountry campsite.

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