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The Bird’s-Eye View Overlooking Oak Flat

On the boundary between Los Angeles and Ventura counties, between Angeles and Los Padres national forests, is a land almost no one knows, where almost no one goes.

Oak Flat is the name of this easily accessible, yet often overlooked, escape from Interstate 5.

A path departs mellow Oak Flat Campground and climbs through a geologically fascinating area to a ridge-top viewpoint. The hiker’s reward for this short but stiff climb is a bird’s-eye view of some of the Southland’s great public works projects (Pyramid Lake, old Highway 99 and Interstate 5) and inspiring natural wonders: the dramatic gorge sculpted by Piru Creek and the mountains fractured by the San Gabriel Fault.

Oak Flat’s breccia beds are world famous. The outcrops visible here--a pudding-type conglomerate of fragmented brown rock filled with embedded stone--enable geologists to trace displacements that occurred along the San Gabriel Fault, an early and active member of the San Andreas Fault system.

A brisk winter day is an ideal time to hike Oak Flat Trail. Abundant toyon--known variously as Christmas berry and California holly--is now in bloom, adding some holiday color to the trail.

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The Oak Flat area is bounded by the Sespe Wilderness, where wildlife biologists are reintroducing California condors to their former range. Your chances of viewing a condor from the Oak Flat side of the national forest are slim, but other big birds are frequently glimpsed: ravens, red-shouldered hawks, turkey vultures, even golden eagles.

This area is considered so wild that it’s used for the relocation of “problem” bears from Yosemite and Sequoia national parks--those unable to curb their appetites for the contents of campsite dumpsters. Here, with few garbage cans to raid, the bears resume their natural foraging behavior.

Oak Flat Trail is a nice break from those sometimes-interminable I-5 drives. It’s not a long trail but it is a steep one, and it’s too difficult for small children.

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Directions to trail head: From I-5, six miles north of Castaic (about 10 miles north of Castaic Junction and California 126), exit on Templin Highway. Travel three miles north on Templin (old U.S. 99, for the nostalgic) to the turnoff on the left for Oak Flat Campground. Follow the campground road a quarter-mile; but instead of taking the turn to the campground, continue to the parking lot near the Oak Flat Ranger Station, which also serves as a National Forest Service fire station. The little station office is usually open Friday through Monday. *

The hike: Opposite the parking area is the entrance to a Boy Scout camp, Camp Verdugo Oaks. Walk up the paved camp road 75 yards, then angle through a grassy area to the signed trail head.

Tackle the switchbacks up the oak- and scrub oak-covered slopes. The first part of the trail, maintained by Eagle Scouts, is usually in pretty good condition.

Occasional trail-side benches, plus a picnic bench three-quarters of a mile up the trail, offer a chance to catch your breath.

The trail ends at Whitaker Fire Road. You can follow the dirt road three-quarters of a mile northwest to a 4,000-foot peak and a good view. Or turn left and follow the fire road several winding miles to 4,120-foot Whitaker Peak.

Angeles National Forest

WHERE: Oak Flat area, off Interstate 5.

DISTANCE: 3 miles round trip, with 1,000-foot elevation gain.

TERRAIN: Fault-lined canyon, oak-and brush-covered slope.

HIGHLIGHTS: Great ridge-top views of nearby mountains, a dramatic gorge and some of Southern California’s notable public works projects.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Strenuous.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call Angeles National Forest, Saugus Ranger District, at (805) 296-9710.


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