Nordhoff Peak Is Challenge

<i> McKinney is the author of hiking books and a regular contributor to The Times</i>

California . . . a mild climate, not enervating but healthful and health-restoring; a wonderfully and variously productive soil, without tropical malaria; the grandest scenery; strange customs, but neither lawlessness nor semi-barbarism. --Charles Nordhoff, 1872: “California: for Health, Pleasure, and Residence”

Prussian-born journalist Charles Nordhoff was one of the 19th Century’s biggest boosters of California and the California way of life. Nordhoff, an editor with the New York Evening Post, traveled extensively throughout the Golden State in 1870-71 and wrote “California: for Health, Pleasure and Residence,” an enormously popular book that prompted much visitation and settlement.

The book had a profound effect on the nation’s attitude toward California. No longer would California be regarded as the uncivilized Far Western frontier, but as the perfect place in the sun, a chance to build a home or business, to raise crops or children in America’s answer to the Mediterranean.


One of Nordhoff’s favorite discoveries--quintessential Southern California as he saw it--was a beautiful valley located about 15 miles inland from Ventura. Nordhoff wrote about this valley for several Eastern magazines and newspapers; as a result, the peaceful hamlet here quickly grew into a town. Grateful townspeople named it Nordhoff in 1874. Nordhoff it remained until 1916, when the anti-German sentiment of World War I prompted a change of name to Ojai.

Nordhoff’s name remains on the 4,425-foot peak that forms a dramatic backdrop for the town of Nordhoff, er . . . Ojai. The summit offers splendid views of the Ojai Valley, the Ventura County coastline and the Channel Islands.

Ascending Nordhoff Peak is no picnic. Its slopes bear scars from the fury of the 1985 Wheeler fire. The trail crosses steep, sun-baked slopes, but if you’ve picked a clear day for this trek, the views will reward your effort.

Directions to trailhead: From the intersection of California 33 and 150 in Ojai, proceed east on the latter road, known as Ojai Avenue. You’ll pass through town, and about 2 miles from the intersection look for Los Padres National Forest Ojai Ranger Station on the left, at 1190 Ojai Ave. This is a good place to get the latest trail information.

Proceed east another half mile and take the second left beyond the ranger station--Gridley Road. Follow Gridley 1.7 miles to its end. Signed Gridley Trail is on the left.

The Hike: Gridley Trail climbs a brushy draw, overhung with tall ceanothus. A half mile’s gentle ascent brings you to Gridley Fire Road (Forest Service Road 5N11). Turn right and follow this crumbling dirt road as it ascends above avocado groves planted on steep slopes.

Leaving behind the “Guacamole Wilderness,” the route enters Gridley Canyon, climbing to the northwest and the cooler side of the canyon.

Not much remains of Gridley Springs Camp, incinerated along with thousands of acres of the Ojai backcountry in the Wheeler Fire. Still, the vegetation in the area has made an astonishing recovery, and the spring, named for an early homesteader, still flows.

Past Gridley Springs, peak-bound hikers will continue along the dirt road into an east fork of Gridley Canyon and join a switchbacking trail for the rigorous ascent.

Notice the superb succession of sedimentary rocks displayed by the Topatopa Mountains above you. Far below is the Pacific Ocean.

Two miles from the springs, you’ll meet Nordhoff Fire Road (5N05). Turn left and follow this road a mile to Nordhoff Peak.

To the south is Ojai Valley, with Lake Casitas and the Pacific beyond. To the west rise the higher peaks of the Topatopa range, including the 6,21O-foot signature peak, Topatopa. Also to the west is Sespe Condor Sanctuary, empty of the great birds and a sad reminder of past puny efforts to save the last of the California condors. To the north are the Pine Mountain range and many more Los Padres National Forest peaks.


Gridley Road to Gridley Springs is 6 miles round trip; 1,400-foot elevation gain; Gridley Road to Nordhoff Peak is 12 miles round trip; 3,500-foot elevation gain .