Washington area travelers heading to Southern California for some mid-winter hiking will find that the heavy rain and mudslides that ravaged the area earlier this month brought good news and bad news.
On one hand, waterfalls and creeks that are dry or little more than a trickle for most of the year are now gushing at full force, and vibrant green hills lend a picturesque touch to even the dullest of hikes. On the other, many trails, though not permanently damaged, are partially blocked by mudslides, loose boulders and flooded patches.
While only a handful of trails were damaged enough to shut down indefinitely, the record-breaking rains left their mark on dozens of well-traveled paths in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Angeles National Forest, the Los Padres National Forest and other national and state parks in the region:
The parking lot at Zuma Canyon, a busy hiking hub off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, is closed while park rangers assess the water damage to the half-dozen trails that branch off from the lot into the Santa Monica Mountains.
Cheeseboro Canyon, another popular spot off the Ventura Freeway in Agoura Hills, is open, but National Park Service rangers are warning hikers about tough-to-navigate mudslides near the trail ridge.
Rangers at the state-run Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach are telling mountain bikers to stay away because of mud and erosion, though hikers are permitted on its miles of wildflower and ocean-view trails.
Among the trails worst hit by the storms were those in Los Padres National Forest near Ojai, a mountain town about 40 miles north of the beachfront community of La Conchita, whose devastation by a landslide on Jan. 11 made headlines worldwide. All Los Padres hiking trails, save for one, are closed indefinitely, according to the forest's Ojai Distric Ranger Office.
Most of the trails are inaccessible because of overflowing creeks and the closure of two main roadways, Highway 33, a north-south route that links Ojai with the Ventura Freeway, and Highway 150, which runs between Ojai and Santa Paula to the southeast. Even the single trail that is open, a six-mile trek from downtown Ojai to Nordhoff Ridge, has pockets of mudslides and flooding, according to rangers.
For the most part, the damage reports haven't kept hikers off the trails. The two-mile Inspiration Point loop trail at Will Rogers State Park was packed the first sunny Saturday after the storms let up. Malibu State Creek Park in the Santa Monica Mountains also drew crowds on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, although the trails were in far from pristine condition.
Other popular trails that sustained little damage were Runyon Canyon in Hollywood and the Betty D. Dearing Trail at Fryman Canyon, a 2.6-mile loop that begins just a mile north of the spot where a multimillion-dollar mansion had collapsed in a mudslide during the peak of the storms.
The trails at Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium were also open for business last weekend, although rangers are still warning hikers away from the trails around the southwest side, or North Broadway entrance, of the city park.
For updates, call the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area at 805-370-2301 or go to www.lamountains.com/parks_search.asp. For Ojai trail conditions: 805-646-4348.
-- Laura Randall